The Comparative Prince and the Repetitive King: An Examination of the Difference of Image Use in 1 Henry IV and Richard II

by Jeremy R. Strong

“Thou hast the most unsavory similes…” – Falstaff in 1 Henry IV (1.1. 68)

            My concern is to address the plays Richard II and 1 Henry IV and to discuss the fact that the use of imagery in these two plays differs greatly. The types of images used differ in the following way; in Richard II the images are as Madeline Doran states in her article Imagery in Richard II and Henry IV, ‘direct or explicit, complete, correspondent, point by point, to the idea symbolized and separate from one another’ (236), while in 1 Henry IV the images ‘tend to be richer in implicit suggestion and in ambiguity, not fully developed, fluid in outline and fused with one another’ (236). The images in Richard II are complete and most part of a larger pattern such as the four elements, the changing of the seasons, the idea of England as a garden, Richard as an actor, the comparisons of the king to the sun and the many images used to allude to blood and inheritance. The images in 1 Henry IV are more varied, running the gamut from animal comparisons to the emblemology of luxury represented by a cushion and in contrast to Richard II, these images are not used repetitively and don’t form any kind of recognizable pattern. 

            The way in which the images function in the two plays is completely different. In Richard II, these complete images, building in intensity eventually create a lasting thematic impression in the mind of the reader or audience, while in 1 Henry IV the images function on a purely individual basis, serving to make quick comparison and in some cases only alluding ambiguously to wider meaning.

            First I will outline the many image patterns various scholars in the field have discovered that are present in Richard II, before going on to demonstrate why the images in 1 Henry the IV are used in such a different manner and don’t follow a pattern.

            The way the images function in Richard II is, as Richard D. Altick contends in his article Symphonic Imagery in Richard the Second, like the ‘leitmotivs in music’ (67) where the words are not just used for the sake of their poetic sound. ‘Language has become the willing servant of structure, and what was on other occasions only a source of exuberant but undisciplined wit now is converted to the higher purpose of poetic unity’ (67). Altick says of Shakespeare’s use of symbols that ‘they are woven deeply into the  thought-web of the play. Each word-theme symbolizes one or another of the fundamental ideas of the story, and every time it reappears it perceptibly deepens and enriches those meanings and at the same time charges the atmosphere with emotional significance’ (67).  Altick cites as examples the insistence of the words ‘tongue, speech and word’ in Richard II (67). These words appear continually and heavily underscore the major image of Richard as an actor and orator. The words just mentioned are used frequently, though Altick argues that earth is the central word of the play (76), contending that the play is dominated by symbolism surrounding the words ‘earth, land and ground’ (68).

            Altick finds even more patterned image in Richard II, such as reference made to gardening, tending the land, trimming unwanted growth all as simile and metaphor for England and its people (71). Altick also points out the continued metaphor of the changing of the seasons (71). Images are presented of blood being used to make things and people grow (72). Tears and weeping are also persistently presented in Richard II (75). Altick also references the word blood and its many symbolic uses in the play, particularly how blood is used as a metaphor for the showers that grow the English garden (71), and how it is used many times through imagery to imply inheritance and descent (73). Altick also finds significance repetitive use of the word blood as it relates to the color of King Richard himself and the historical hints that he would blanch and blush a lot (73-74). Many direct images are used in these ways in Richard II, referencing both what is going on in the play and how the king responds to the events (74). This evidence for the direct use of image in Richard II supports the main argument of this paper.

            Altick’s mention of the garden metaphor is underscored and supported by Caroline Spurgeon’s important discussion of England as an untended garden in her book Shakespeare’s Imagery and what it tells us. In chapter XII: Leading Motives in the Histories, Spurgeon writes that ‘the most constant running metaphor and picture in Shakespeare’s mind in the early historical plays as a whole is that of growth seen in a  garden and orchard. (216). Spurgeon asserts that the central image of Richard II is that of England as a garden and that there are many references in the text that support this, “And so what has been but an undertone – at first faint, later clear and definite – in the earlier historical plays, here in Richard II gathers strength and volume, until it becomes the leading theme” (222).  She believes that the culmination of these images is in the garden scene, a scene that is out of character for Shakespeare in its sheer transparency of meaning (222). All of England’s history and the tragedy of human nature are here compared to an untended garden and therefore a plausible solution is presented as to how it can be tended, through proper care, or leadership. Both Altick and Spurgeon support the idea of direct explicit imagery in Richard II. 

            Continuous metaphor is used to create an image of Richard II as a character who is weak in person but grand in speech and appearance. Spurgeon asserts (on page 233) that these metaphors are maintained through Richards self comparison to the sun and that even Bullingbrook supports these metaphors when he says “See, see, King Richard doth himself appear, as doth the blushing discontented sun from out the fiery portal of the east” (Richard II, 3.3.62-7).

            Other scholars find different recurrent images in Richard II. In his book Imaginary Audition, in chapter three “Here Cousin, Seize the Crown” Harry Berger Jr. Discusses the ever present theme of Richard II as an actor; “the image of an actor does not pursue Richard so much as he pursues it” (67). He then explains that Richard maintains an actor’s behavior throughout the play “Poet, actor, dreamer, passive spectator – all these qualities unavoidably lead him to revel in imagery whenever he speaks. Instead of deciding, he interprets the situation by means of elaborate similes; instead of turning to action, he prefers to reflect upon his own state” (75). This assertion that Richard’s behavior and symbolic language remain constant throughout the play supports this papers contention that images are used directly and explicitly in Richard II.

            In his introduction to the new Cambridge edition of Richard II, Andrew Gurr, the editor, writes that Richard is represented by the sun and Bullingbrook by a flood of water and that Richard as the sun is always threatened by the rising flood waters of Bullingbrook (24). This image is continually repeated throughout the play. At first Richard denies that the sun can be touched by either the flood or the breath of worldly men, but later, as Gurr points out in his introduction, “Richard half concedes the transfer of the sun image from himself to Bullingbroke, ‘from Richards night to Bullingbrokes fair day’ (27).

Gurr further insists that most of the major events in the play of Richard II relate to the four elements, and relate directly; “fire (Richard II) and water (Bullingbrook) struggle for the earth of England and conduct their fight with the airy breath of words” (23). 

            Gurr then goes on to describe other images that continually appear in the play Richard II, such as blood and inheritance, which is a constantly repeated image (28). Strengthening the argument made by Altick, Gurr writes that Bullingbrook “debases his ‘princely knee’ by touching earth with it, an allusion to Bullingbrook’s share in the royal blood of Edward. At the end of the play the blood on Bullingbrook’s hands is that of Cain, shedder of family blood” (30). Gurr then writes, “All the images of blood, kinship, kingship and time run together in York’s protest to Richard over his seizure of Gaunt’s property and Bullingbrook’s inheritance” (30). Gurr discusses other patterns, such as food images of sweet and sour (30) and kneeling and swearing of oaths (31). Gurr’s contention that much of the symbolism in Richard II somehow relates to the four elements (28) and his demonstration of other repeated imagery supports the argument of this paper that the image patterns in Richard II are direct and correspondent to each other.

            Now that Richard II has been shown to contain direct and explicit image pattern, I must examine I Henry IV and present evidence for a lack therein. Caroline Spurgeon in her book Shakespeare’s Imagery and what it tells us states that “an undertone of running symbolic imagery is to be found to some extent in almost every one of Shakespeare’s plays, contributing in various ways to the richness and meaning of the play, and, in some cases, profoundly influencing it’s effect upon us” (215).

Then, marking them out amongst all of the History plays and even all of Shakespeare’s work as a whole, she remarks that “the two parts of Henry IV are curiously free from any continuous imagery of this kind (215).”  It is Spurgeon’s insistence that she can find no central recurrent symbolic theme in 1 Henry IV that best describes the remainder of this papers purpose. Richard II has been discussed in depth and clear patterns of Imagery been presented, supported by the writing of a variety of experts in the field. Now I shall present examples of the images used in 1 Henry IV and discuss whether these images have some kind of observable pattern or if Spurgeon and some other scholars are correct and 1 Henry IV uses mainly indirect, unrelated and ambiguous imagery.

            I would like to begin with the closest thing I can find resembling a patterned image and that is the image of the King as the sun. Even Spurgeon grants that the sun imagery is constant in 1 Henry IV “The first part of Henry IV, as we have seen, opens with the king being pictured as the midday sun” (235). I have also found that prince Hal is compared to the sun at midsummer (4.1.102 and 1.2.208) and King Henry IV compares himself to a comet and to the sun. (3.2.47 and 3.2.78). Also, Hotspur similarly makes metaphor of the sun (2.3.18-21). In this we see that there are definitely celestial metaphors in the play. However, throughout all the histories and many other plays, Spurgeon asserts (235) that the king is often compared to the sun and so this is more an indication of a wider pattern of image use in many plays as opposed to being the theme of 1 Henry IV.

            Another possible hint at the beginning of pattern could be the fact that Soil, blood and a possible allusion to the garden all appear in the fist lines of 1 Henry IV:

No More the Thirsty entrance of this soil

Shall Daub her lips with her own children’s blood

No more shall trenching war channel her fields

Nor bruise her flowerets with the armed hoofs (1.1.5-8)

But rather than set up a pattern of image for the current play, these quick mentions of images so well used in the previous play of Richard II serve the purpose of quickly helping the reader connect the two plays. These are the two closest examples I can find of recognizable pattern in 1 Henry IV and both fall far short of the kind of distinct patterns earlier discussed that Richard II contains.

            Image use in 1 Henry IV is quick and successive, contrasting with the long emphasizing image use in Richard II. Madeline Doran provides a good example of this when she compares a selection of text from 1 Henry IV (Act 3, Scene 2 Lines 60-84) to one of King Richards’ speeches in Richard II (Act 5, Scene 5 Lines 1-32). Doran says of the selection from 1 Henry IV:  “Notice the rapid succession of images, the quick suggestion rather than elaboration in such compact and elliptical lines…the rapidity, complexity, and fluidity of the images in Henry’s speech help (as well as their substance) to increase their obliquity. Fewer doors are closed (238).”

Doran goes on to argue that images in Richard II are fully explicatory while in 1 Henry IV the same kinds of images are wholly implicit (240). Doran argues that in Richard II the similes are fully extended, as in the example she provides in which Bollingbroke makes an extended simile of King Richard compared with the sun (3.3.62-67). She examines this side by side with scenes in 1 Henry IV where the similes are brief and colloquial, using as an example the way that Falstaff and Hal quickly characterize one another with witty similes that are not repeated (240-241). Doran also points out the importance of the fact that Allegorical or sustained metaphor is only used in Richard II and not in 1 Henry IV (241).

            Nor is Doran the only scholar who has noted this difference in the two plays. James L. Calderwood in his article Richard II to Henry IV: Variations on the fall discusses Richard II and his abundant metaphors; “The most extravagant of these is his sustained conceit identifying himself as times ‘numbering clock’ (5.5.49-60).” The selected text in question is twelve lines of Richard comparing his body and emotions with the workings of a clock. Compare this with any of the short metaphors in 1 Henry IV and the distinction between long drawn out thematic imagery and short humorous allusions becomes striking, such as the above cited speech by Richard compared to this short exchange between Prince Hal and Falstaff that I have selected from 1 Henry IV:

Fal. Yea, for obtaining of suits, whereof the hangman hath no lean wardrobe. ‘Sblood I am as melancholy as a gib cat, or a lugged bear.

Prince. Or a lion, or a lover’s lute.

Fal. Yea, or the drone of a Lincolnshire bagpipe.

Prince. What sayest thou to a hare, or the melancholy of Moorditch?

      Fal. Thou hast the most unsavory similes…

            Another author, Audrey Yoder in her book Animal Analogy in Shakespeare’s Character Portrayal notes the unusually high number of animal references and comparisons in 1 Henry IV, being of a total 189 and higher than in any other of the plays (65-69). This is another example of how quick similes and metaphors are used in the play without necessarily being part of a larger image pattern. Many of these animal references are fast ways for Falstaff to be characterized in comic ways or for him to characterize another character. My favorite example would be when Falstaff compares the hostess to an otter (3.3. 107-113). 

            The best example in 1 Henry IV of an image being used in a contrary way to the images used in Richard II is demonstrated in the article Shakespeare’s Imagery: Emblem and the Imitation of Nature by Judith Dundas. In her article, Dundas asserts that the scene in which Falstaff uses a cushion to represent the crown on his head purposefully contains symbolic imagery, that the cushion has well known connotations of luxury and that nowhere is the significance of this symbolism directly stated (47). This is a perfect example of many of the images used in 1 Henry IV, where instead of directly completing the imagery through simile or metaphor, Shakespeare has more deftly left the image open to the interpretation of his audience, instead of telling us what the image alludes to as in Richard II. 

            A second example can be found in the curious instance of the only mention of a specifically named clock in all of Shakespeare’s work. In his short article Henry the IV part 1, Charles Edelman examines this curious instance of Falstaff mentioning the Shrewsbury Clock and comes to the conclusion that it is very strange for Shakespeare to have alluded to a clock that would not have been anywhere near the battlefield. Edelman writes that this is “consistent with the overall style of the Henry IV plays, in which the scenes involving the King, the Percies, and other historical characters are set in the past, while those involving Falstaff and his gang are part of the Elizabethan world that Shakespeare and his audience knew from their daily lives.” (6). My contention is that this clock is likely another ambiguous image that the audience at the time was likely fully aware of, connecting the audience to the Falstaff world, just as with Dundas’ cushion. 

            This is not to say that ambiguous images do not exist in Richard II. Robert M. Schuler, in his article Magic Mirrors in Richard II, explains in great detail the iconographic significance of the mirror used in three important scenes in the play (151). This image is not so direct and explicit, but rather more resembles the cushion and the clock in 1 Henry IV. But images of this kind are the exception, while Richer and more drawn out images like that of the garden seem to be the rule. 

            The thesis of this paper stated that the image use in the two plays differs greatly in that the images in Richard II are direct and explicit and fall into a distinct repetitive pattern and the images in 1 Henry IV are ambiguous and not part of any discernible pattern. I have proven point by point that this is so, providing a multitude of succinct examples from a variety of authorities on the subject. Thus I have proven this important difference in image use between the two plays. 

            The function of these images has also been proven very different, as the images like “leitmotivs in music” (Altick 67) in Richard II build in the play until they reach a crescendo of feeling and by being so emphasized leave a lasting impression on the mind of the images of Garden, the Elements and others. While in 1 Henry IV, the quick successive simile and metaphor, not repeated, function more to dilute the symbolic meaning while strengthening the expression of character (Dundas 51).

            In researching this paper I have learned that it is likely Shakespeare was fully aware that he was playing with language itself in the writing of 1 Henry IV, as he has his characters make several of these cheeky references to simile and metaphor in the play. It could even be that Shakespeare purposefully made his use of image more open to interpretation in 1 Henry IV in an attempt to change his writing style, appeal to the changing tastes of his audience or to leave his feelings about the central characters less understood and therefore more guarded. It does seem as though many of the characters in 1 Henry IV are conundrums and it might be much harder to build progressive image patterns based on characters that exhibit such contradictory behaviorOverall, I believe this research paper has been a very successful endeavor.

Works Cited

Altick, Richard D. Symphonic Imagery in Richard II.  From Twentieth Century Interpretations of Richard II. Prentice Hall Inc. New Jersey. 1971. Ed. Paul M. Cubeta.

Berger, Harry Jr. Imaginary Audition. University of California Press. California. 1989.

Calderwood, James L. Richard II to Henry IV: Variations on the fall. Modern Critical Interpretations of Richard II. Chelsea House Publishers. New York. 1988. Ed. Harold Bloom. 

Doran, Madeline. Imagery in Richard II and Henry IV.  From Henry The Fourth, Part 1. W.W. Norton and Company. New York. 1962. Ed. James L. Sanderson.

Dundas, Judith. “Shakespeare’s Imagery: Emblem and the Imitation of Nature.” Shakespeare Studies. Vol. 16: pages 45-56. Associated University Presses. 1983.

Edelman, Charles. Henry the IV Part 1. Explicator; Fall 2005, Vol. 64 Issue 1, p5-7.

Evans, G. Blakemore, Editor. Supplement to Henry IV, Part 1.  Shakespeare Association of America Inc. 1956. 

Gurr, Andrew, Editor. King Richard II: Updated Edition. Cambridge University Press. New York. 2003.

Shakespeare, William. The Yale Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Barnes and Noble. New York. 1993. Eds. Cross, Wilbur L. And Brooke, Tucker.

Schuler, Robert M. Magic Mirrors in Richard II. Comparative Drama, (38:2-3), 2004, Summer-Fall, 151-81. Publication Year: 2004.

Spurgeon, Caroline. Shakespeare’s Imagery and What It Tells Us. Cambridge University Press. New York. 1966.

Writing from Within and Outside the Margins of Power and Language: J.M. Coetzee’s Foe

by Jeremy R. Strong

     Jonathan Culler wrote in his book On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism that deconstruction does not clarify texts or even make sense of them but that it rather illuminates the metaphysical oppositions in them; the ways in which they co-depend on one another and the intricacies of causal relationships in them. And Derrida wrote in Of Grammatology that one cannot begin writing about something and not expect it to give birth to more and more and more writing. Both of these ideas are insightful considerations and both of the utmost importance when studying a work like J.M. Coetzee’s Foe. But in order to do so, it is also imperative to understand Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.

      One can certainly read Foe and be vastly pleasured by its author’s command of language and be drawn in by its compelling narrative style without having read Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The Susan Barton of the text assumes a depth within its first pages that will not soon release any reader; it is likely many have followed her through to her sad death in the final pages with no previous knowledge of Robinson Crusoe. And yet, to truly understand the complexities of what Coetzee is telling us about language and about power and especially about how the two are so interdependent, one should first read Robinson Crusoe

     In Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe’s Crusoe is a man willing to stop at nothing to have his freedom, throwing one of his companions in slavery overboard and threatening “I’ll shoot you through the head, for I am resolved to have my liberty” (Chapter 2). He refers to his fellow slaves as “moors” (Ibid) and speaks to them as inferiors although in his condition of slavery, he is subservient to the same master. In his treatment of the boy Xury, Crusoe goes from being willing to drown him to handing him over to the captain of the rescue ship on the condition that the boy serve ten years and become a Christian (Ibid). Here we see the power of language being enforced in Defoe’s work; for what does Crusoe do but take away the voice of the child by deciding on his behalf his future? Not only does Crusoe decide the boy’s physical fate, but takes assumed mastery over his spirit by forcing him into Christianity. We see these themes pulled from the margins of Robinson Crusoe and laid bare in Foe. We see Susan Barton emerge as the voice of all of the marginalized and silenced characters in Robinson Crusoe when she argues with Crusoe that he should have been keeping a diary, that the details of he and Friday’s time on the island surviving are important. She tries to convince him that he could write with “the bile of seabirds” (Page 18) and the “cuttlefish bones” and the gull’s quill’s” (Ibid). In response to this, Crusoe defends that he “will leave behind my terraces and walls” and that “they will be more than enough” (Ibid). This is Coetzee’s genius at work as the argument made by Barton is really an argument made for fleshing out the important lives of those that have no voice of their own (women, Friday, slaves and others). In Crusoe’s response we see a reflected commentary not just on Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe but on the entire of western colonial history; Coetzee is trying to tell us that for a character like Crusoe and what he represents, what he has built will immortalize him and him alone, silencing the voices under him, the oppressed ones.

     Turning again to Culler, who writes that deconstruction can be sustained as a kind of mediator (Page 91), we can begin to understand the importance of Coetzee’s writing and what he is trying to do in the text of Foe. He is not trying to discredit or destroy Robinson Crusoe, nor is he trying to prove that his text is better or the truth; far from it. Coetzee is trying to get deep within the complex interconnected system of language; his text examines the strengths, the weaknesses and the power struggle of voice in all writing; whether or not these voices are prominent or marginalized. This is made plain by the fact that Friday does speak in Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, though perhaps not eloquently. In Chapter 16 we can see both Defoe’s attempt (perhaps unintentionally) to comment on the savage nature of non-Christians and the (likely intentional) commentary on the subservient nature of non-white or non-western peoples. He writes that Friday says:

“Wish we both there; no wish Friday there, no master there.” In a word, he would not think of going there without me. “I go there, Friday?” says I; “what shall I do there?” He turned very quick upon me at this. “You do great deal much good,” says he; “you teach wild mans be good, sober, tame mans; you tell them know God, pray God, and live new life” (Chapter 16).

This exchange between Friday and Crusoe is sharply contrasted in Foe by Coetzee, who is attempting to show us the nature of the power that language commands. In Foe, Susan Barton notices early on in the text Friday’s propensity for silence; and even though she has experience of slavery and its subservient nature, she questions why two men stranded together on an island might not pass the time in conversation: 

“How many words of English does Friday know?” I asked. “As many as he needs,” replied Cruso.  “This is not England, we have no need of a great stock of words.” “You speak as if language were one of the banes of life, like money or the pox,” said I (Page 22).

     Barton goes on to learn that Friday has had his tongue cut out; a further commentary by Coetzee on Defoe’s work and that being that the ability to speak does not always grant one the power to manipulate language.  Foe continues with Cruso going on to describe that Friday’s tongue was cut out by “The Slavers” (page 23) and that perhaps “they wanted to prevent him from ever telling his story” (Ibid).  These characters in Foe are speaking about the nature of language not because Coetzee is attacking Robinson Crusoe or its author, or even because he is attacking anything. Rather, they exist to the purpose of having marginalized voices speak or by showing which marginalized voices cannot speak, to finally let them do so. 

     Culler’s argument from Chapter 2 – Writing and Logocentrism that writing can undervalue the very philosophy that it attempts to describe, discuss or impart (91) has a particularly useful application in this case of Foe and Robinson Crusoeand the question of whether Coetzee’s writing does in any way undervalue the particular point Coetzee is trying to make. Before that question is answered however, we have to ask why it is necessary to assume that Coetzee is trying to make any point at all. If after all, as Culler points out, literary criticism as an institution has attempted through its proponents to become a ‘true discipline’ (90) and failed in that any great piece of writing will only generate more and more and more writing – then we should praise works like Foe; the text functions not only as complex literary criticism and a brilliant piece of artistry in its own right, but more profoundly, Foe functions as a general commentary on the nature of the importance of voice, especially as it relates to power. What we learn from Foe, especially through our knowledge ofRobinson Crusoe is that characters (or people in general) who are not given voice, ultimately lose their signification. And as Culler discusses, the signified is a direct result of the signifier and if that signifier is language, then one must use it in order to signify anything.

     By utilizing Culler’s writing, which builds heavily on Derrida’s own work in Of Grammatology, we can delve deeper into Coetzee’s Foe to extract further examples of how the characters in Robinson Crusoe are marginalized, what they represent and what implications this has for understanding the importance of Coetzee’s work. In Foe, Susan Barton represents what is almost entirely lacking in Robinson Crusoe and that is the presence of a female character. In Foe, Barton does what she can to make herself signify something in the tale. She first begins by using her powers of logic and reason to argue with Cruso about how best to go about things on the island, such as when she asks him “whether there were laws on his island, and what such laws might be” (36) to which Cruso replies that laws are made “for one purpose only” (Ibid) and that the purpose is for holding “us in check when our desires become immoderate” (Ibid). The conversation then turns to argument when Barton expresses her “immoderate desire” (Ibid) to be saved and Cruso tries to silence her voice stating that he does “not wish to hear of your desire” (Ibid). These conversations that question Crusos right to authority on the island only enrage him and she is forced to abandon this methodology to keep peace. Cruso then eventually forces himself upon Barton sexually, which she allows, perhaps in the hope that her body can succeed to give her signification where her powers of speech and reason failed. Later in the novel, this becomes crucially important as Daniel Foe becomes an extension of Cruso and works to eliminate hers and Friday’s voices from the narrative, while at the same time using Barton for her body, completing the total rape of her individuality and indeed her very existence.

     Daniel Defoe created Robinson Crusoe and it enjoys its place in famous world literature for many reasons; but it took Coetzee’s Foe to highlight many of the most important reasons that the former text should be studied. However, Foe does not do so by clarifying any aspect of Defoe’s writing, nor does it do so by making sense of it in any certain way; what it does instead is to illuminate the intricacies of the importance of language, the subtleties of the nature of human voice and the power held by the one who wields that voice. Also, Foe in no way lays claim to being a “final say” on the subject of voice in literature or even specifically on themes present or lurking in the margins of Robinson Crusoe. What it does instead is to invite, as Derrida reminds us that worthwhile writing always does, more and more and more writing. It is instead the way that Coetzee’s work invites us to read and write that is significant – and that is with an eye not only for what is said in fiction, but what is not and the boundless stories both left untold and silenced under some form of oppressive power. 

     Susan Barton and Friday are both marginalized in Foe, less in the beginning but more and more as the story unfolds until eventually their voices are drowned out by those of others. By not being allowed to speak and therefore not being allowed to signify, the two literally and figuratively drown in London. This initially begins with Cruso dying aboard the rescue vessel causing Friday to lose his only voice in the “master” who spoke for him. Similarly, Barton is right away seen as Mrs. Cruso (43) and is urged by the ship’s captain to bring her story to the printers in London. Here, we are told, the booksellers ‘trade is in books, not in truth” (40). Once we have discovered the narrative is Barton writing to Foe, we sympathize with her plea that her voice not be removed from the story. Culler’s discussion of the importance of signification and the difference when it is written or spoken is important here; we see that Susan Barton’s diaries can be taken by Foe and because they are “stamped upon the page” invites “that it be criticised, evaluated and its meaning obscured, convoluted, confused and rebuked” (91). Foe does just this, re-writing the narrative as he sees fit, using his power over language to marginalize those he doesn’t see fitting with his idea of a good story. This instance is of course a stand in for Defoe’s own marginalization in Robinson Crusoe of certain voices and if Coetzee wants us to glean anything from his writing in Foe, it is the fact that those voices are marginalized that matters; and our understanding of the power language has to do that matters even more. 

Works Cited

Culler, Jonathan. (1982). On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

Coetzee, J. M. (1986).  Foe. New York, Penguin Group Inc.

Defoe, Daniel. (1995) Robinson Crusoe. Wordsworth Editions Limited, Great Britain.

The goddess at the crossroads: Hecate and the forces of evil in Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream

by Jeremy R. Strong

            I propose to compare the destructive elements held in check in A Midsummer Night’s Dream to similar elements that are indeed released in Macbeth. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the threat of violence follows most of the mortal characters from the first scene to the last. Also, scenes involving all of the characters, even the fairies, contain hints of physical, sexual or male domination. There is also the presence of the exact same evil, the goddess Hecate, in both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and in Macbeth, though this evil is held in check in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, while in Macbeth, it is released with bloody results. Both plays also contain elements of Greek Mythology that are relevant to the destructive forces in the play; specifically, both plays reference legendary monsters. The Medusa is present in Macbethand the violent threat it represents is made a reality, while in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Minotaur is represented but the threat of violence that it represents is held in check.

In order to compare the two plays, I will examine articles on the nature of the heavy violence present in Macbeth and articles on the threat of violence hidden within A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as discuss the sexualized violence in both plays. I will also closely examine and discuss lines relating to Hecate and the significance of their presence in the two plays. I will then juxtapose the presence of the two mythological monsters and explain why their presence is so important to understanding the two plays in terms of destructive elements being withheld or released. 

The Sex and Violence

Destructive is one of the first words to come to mind when thinking of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Macbeth murders his king, his friend, a former friend’s family and others. Lady Macbeth is driven mad and commits suicide, and finally Macbeth himself is slain. The play is filled with blood, severed heads, darkened thoughts and the characters actions are influenced by evil witches. In contrast, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, all of the characters that are introduced in Act one, are still breathing in Act five. Even so, I contend that the play contains just as much destructive potential as Macbethand will now compare the sexual and violent elements of each.

 Macbeth is filled with sexual undertones and double meanings mostly associating the sexual act with violence and the act of murder. Lady Macbeth is constantly challenging her husbands’ masculinity; and after all it is only after his first murder that he begins to act like a man and Lady Macbeth begins to act like a woman. In his article “Macbeth: Masculinity as Murder” James J. Greene discusses this subject matter in detail, pointing out that in the play the “obsessive concern with defining, testing and re-testing masculinity in terms of aggressive behaviour has obviously clear and powerful sexual implications” (156). These acts of violence perpetrated in the play are so numerous that they actually take the place of the sexual acts that are implied. Therefore, even though it seems that sexual energy is withheld in the play, because it is expressed in another way, through violence, it is not really withheld.

Greene has identified several aspects about Macbeth that support a highly sexualized reading of the play, asserting that “the witches’ gender ambiguity and the heavy concerns over progeny” (Ibid) are only some of the highly sexualized aspects of the play and I would agree. He further discusses the explicitly sexual connotations of the murder of King Duncan and how it generally seems overlooked that there is a heavy sexual element to the murder. Greene writes that “Macbeth’s slaying of the sleeping king is a surrogate act of copulation, a murderous and twisted displacement of sexual energy for both husband and wife, an attempt to achieve virility for Macbeth” (Ibid). This insight (which is also supported by other scholars) that Macbeth’s murdering of Duncan is a form of losing his virginity sets the two plays apart, with Macbeth as a play in which violent and sexual intentions are realized and A Midsummer Night’s Dream as one in which they are held at bay. A good example would be to compare Greene’s theory to Mordecai Marcus’ idea in his article “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Dialectic of Eros Thanatos”, in which he links violence and eroticism and describes how the play “variously illustrates the love-and-death tension in imbalance and in pursuit of balance” (269).  He further contends that the Hippolyta-Theseus plot “provides a framework for the play and for the love and death theme” (Ibid). The lovers have “converted aggression into sexual love” (Ibid). This is interestingly the exact reverse of the way things work in Macbeth. Even so, the violence threatened in A Midsummer Night’s Dream being restrained is wholly dependent on the success of the fairies to properly right the confused lovers in the woods. 

Another scholar arguing the potential for violence, sexual or otherwise in A Midsummer night’s Dream is David Bevington in his article “‘But we are spirits of another sort’: The Dark Side of Love and Magic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Bevington writes that the debate in the play between Puck and Oberon “reflects a fundamental tension in the play between comic reassurance and the suggestion of something dark and threatening” (25). He also writes that “The forest itself is potentially a place of violent death and rape” (Ibid). Earlier I contended that the threat of violence hangs over the characters of A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the entirety of the play. Early in the first scene, Egeus enters the court of Theseus, the Duke of Athens and proclaims “full of vexation come I, with complaint/against my child, my daughter Hermia” (1.1.23-24). He then pleads for Theseus to enforce “the ancient privilege of Athens” (1.1.42) and have Hermia executed if she refuses to marry Demetrius. In this way we are introduced to the situation of the four lovers and the coming marital celebration of the Duke and his bride to be. But more importantly, right from the first scene, this threat of violence is established and is maintained throughout the play until the ending. Nor is this the first and only incidence of destruction that is threatened in the play. When Helena follows Demetrius into the woods in Act 2, he makes direct threats on her life and her virginity, arguing that she trusts him, a man that doesn’t love her, too much and also trusts “the opportunity of night/and the ill counsel of a desert place/with the rich worth of your virginity” (2.1.222-224). No less threatening is Theseus reminder to Hippolyta that he “wo’oed thee with my sword,/and won thy love doing thee injuries” (1.1.17-18); or the players assertion in scene two that should the roar of the lion frighten the ladies, “That would hang us, every mother’s son” (1.2.67). In the chapter “Popular Festivals and Court Celebrations” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Texts and Contexts, Gail Paster and Skiles Howard make it very clear that mayday celebrations in England were associated with public executions and unrivalled sexual liberty and violence (91-110). But upon finishing the play, we as readers are struck with amazement; that none of these things happen. Nobody is raped in the woods (though some scholars such as Kott argue some ambiguity there), there is no execution for disobeying Egeus or Theseus and the silly clownish players are not hanged for their hilarious and short production.

When comparing A Midsummer Night’s Dream to almost any other play, one would be struck with the difference in violence. Certainly Romeo and Juliet, any of the histories or tragedies contain elements of violence; from murder to suicide, warfare and rape. But Macbeth certainly makes for the best example, being a play of unrestrained violence. No sooner is an act contemplated it seems, than it is then committed. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth discuss the murder of King Duncan; Macbeth wavers only slightly and is quickly convinced by his wife, stating “I am settled, and bend up/each corporeal agent to this terrible feat” (1.7.90-91). The second Act then begins immediately with Duncan being murdered between scenes 1 and 2. When comparing this to the death discussed in the first act of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one is struck by the fact that this first threatened act of execution looms over the whole play, only to dissolve in relief for the audience while in Macbeth the first threatened act of violence is immediately carried out, only to be followed by more and more killing, as though a floodgate had been opened and the waters were Scottish blood.

A very important distinction is to be made between perpetrated and realized violence but at the same time, if some of the violence perpetrated in Macbeth can be read as James J. Greene believes it can as “misplaced sexual aggression” then some of the sexual aggression displayed by characters in A Midsummer Night’s Dream could consequently and counter argumentatively be seen as displaced violence. For example Demetrius threatening Helena with rape ( or Lysander trying to convince Hermia to bed with him (2.2.40-68) or Titania’s mention of enforced chastity which could be a hidden reference to the limitless pleasure her and bottom will enjoy (3.1.187). Greene further argues that alcohol in Macbeth is one of the devices that link murder with sex (164).  He also makes a strong case for a gender reversed oedipal conflict within Lady Macbeth that could be a reason she is attracted to the thought of murdering Duncan, a father figure (166). He then asserts that after the murder may be the first time in the play that Lady Macbeth grants her husband sexual status, as he has only just proven his virility by murdering a man that resembles her own father (Ibid).

Greene then associates the scenes in which Macbeth convinces two men to commit the murder of Banquo with sexuality and virility when he points out that Macbeth links the word “perform” with the act of murder and that the two men are asked if they are men, associating murder with manliness (174).

Greene is not the only scholar to make the connection between sex and violence in Macbeth; Carol Strongin Tufts discusses in her article “Shakespeare’s conception of moral order in Macbeth” the idea that the “murder of Duncan becomes the climax of the love-making of Lady Macbeth and her husband” (350) and that what “they, in fact, give birth to, is not “the ornament of life” after which they have lusted, but a world of death” (351). If violence and sex can be outlets one for the other, than another relevant article “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: ‘Jack shall have Jill;/Nought shall go Ill’” by Shirley Nelson Garner discusses the relationships between men and women in A Midsummer Night’s Dreamand how in order for harmony to exist, male authority must be asserted and maintained and that the threats of violence in the play are mostly centred around relationships that are threatening to the men, such as Hermia and Helena’s friendship (58). If one examines the play from this perspective, then even innocent seeming love advances by Lysander can be seen as potentially violent, as they serve to destroy the friendship between Hermia and Helena. But aside from comparing the two plays in terms of potential vs. realized violence, I have also found what I believe to be a very relevant symbolic presence in both; a presence that I believe convincingly solidifies the potential violence as withheld by certain forces.


The most telling and potent symbolic similarity between the two plays, is one which I believe to be most significant to the topic at hand. This particular point of discussion is the appearance in both plays of the evil goddess Hecate[1]. Though the origins of Hecate’s nature as a goddess are a matter of fierce scholarly debate, during Shakespeare’s lifetime and the writing of both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth, she would have been directly linked to evil, witchcraft and the underworld[2]. In Macbeth, Hecate is directly involved in the events that take place, orchestrating the outcome of Macbeth’s fate from slightly behind the scenes and appearing directly in the play to influence the final outcome of events (3.5.1-38). Therefore, she is in a sense directly responsible for the violence that occurs in the play. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hecate is mentioned by Puck as the force of darkness driving the fairies: “And we fairies, that do run/By the triple Hecate’s team,/From the presence of the sun,” (5.1.373-375). This quote implies the fairies run from the sun and are of darkness. It also implies one of the established images of Hecate as a three headed goddess, the heads of which are represented as that of a dog, Snake and Lion; sometimes, a horse head is interposed for one of the others. This would surely have been known to Shakespeare and brings forth the interesting consideration that both a lion and a horse head (ass head) appear in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Puck also takes the form of a Horse and a Hound to chase the players through the woods (2.2. 95-100) and these are both forms Hecate is believed to take. Much of the potential evil is due to Puck’s mischief and Puck identifies himself as an agent of Hecate both by mentioning her and her form and by using some of the same words Hecate uses in Macbeth. An example of this; in the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Puck says “give me your hand, if we be friends/and Robin shall restore amends (5.1.428-429 emphasis my own)”, while in Macbeth Hecate says “But make amends now (3.4.14 emphasis my own).” Not only do they use the same language, but I believe Hecate may also refer to Puck in Macbeth when she says “Hark! I am called; my little spirit, see,/Sits in a foggy cloud and stays for me (3.5.36-37).” I might even suggest that things go well in A Midsummer Night’s Dream only because Hecate is busy with other affairs and has no time to unleash her full evil on the lovers in the woods.

 It is also curious that the Medusa mentioned in Macbeth would have a head filled with snakes as Hecate sometimes appears with the head of a snake. Hecate appears physically in the play with the realized violence, while in the play with the threatened violence, she is only given mention as a force at play. The dark acts that almost happen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream; such as the rape and or murder of Helena by Demetrius; the execution of Hermia; and the bestial interlude between Bottom and Titania – are things that would indeed have happened had Hecate made herself fully present, for as we read the play we realize that these bad things are only narrowly averted.

Greene makes note of Hecate and her appearance in Macbeth, writing that Macbeth “Evokes the vision of those creatures associated with destructive sexuality, sleeplessness and death—the witches and their goddess Hecate” (162). I assert that Hecate is a definite link between the realized destructive forces in Macbeth and those same potential forces that lurk just outside the boundaries of the conscious mind in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. From my own reading, I also propose the following: the first is that in Hermia’s dream there is evidence of Hecate’s presence. Norman H. Holland in his article “Hermia’s Dream” discusses the themes of fidelity and possession and how a careful examination of the dream will yield these and other ideas present in the play. I do not disagree but rather add to these ideas my own, which is that Hermia dreaming of a snake eating her heart is also a veiled reference to the Goddess Hecate, who visits her in her dreams. For what are dreams but an extension of possible realities? Hecate is also known as the goddess of crossroads, which could be interpreted as choices. The choice made by Macbeth leads him down the path of evil, while in A Midsummer Night’s Dream the characters are given similar choices and instead make the right ones; Hermia and Lysander to sleep separately and Demetrius not to rape and or murder Hermia. If these links are valid then Hecate is a force at work in both plays, in the case of Macbeth unleashing evil and in A Midsummer Night’s Dream holding it back.

Greek Mythological Monsters

The goddess is not the only important symbolic presence in the two plays. In another interesting parallel between Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, two separate ancient Greek myths are represented, both with direct implications to the argument involving destructive elements. The first is the presence of the Medusa in Macbeth. In his article “Under the Eye of Gorgo: Apotropaic Acts in Macbeth and King Lear” François-Xavier Gleyzon discusses the mention of the Medusa myth in the play and the several important allusions to it throughout, explaining that Macbeth’s vision during his visit to the witches, in which he sees a gorgon-like reflection of his own future, is the setting in motion of a gorgon-esque nebula-like future of repetition (30). Similarly, in the article “A Midsummer Night’s Dream: The Monster in the Labyrinth”  David Ormerod insists that viewing the play in relation to the myth of Theseus, the Minotaur and the Labyrinth is key to a “more acute focus” (31) and to interpreting “a metamorphosed minotaur in the half-beast, half-human figure of the transformed bottom” (Ibid). Ormerod further discusses many of the violent sexual elements at play in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, from bestiality to rape, how these acts are implied rather than realized and how the negative connotations are bestowed upon the woman and the positive upon the beast (42).

What I find most relevant is the way in which the myth used in Macbeth is directly correlated with realized violence, while the Minotaur myth in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is used to imply the threat of violence that is fortunately for the characters, averted. Gleyzon explains how intricately tied to the violence the image of the head is when he writes “the image of this head is, without any doubt, the proleptic and apotropaic foreshadowing of Macbeth’s own decapitation at the end of the tragedy, it is also the symbol of his tragic destiny” (29). So if the reader directly relates the mythological symbolism to violence, while in A Midsummer Night’s Dream understands the same mythological comparison as the threat of violence – that of innocents lost in a maze with a beast, then the reader will use the same device (mythological comparison) to interpret the two plays.

Based on the presented evidence, I contend that the plays A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth, although seeming very different upon first glance (one being a comedy in which nobody is killed and the other a tragedy is which virtually everybody is), actually contain more similarities than one might expect. With respect to destructive elements, those unleashed in Macbeth bear remarkable similarity to those held in check in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, as those elements all centre around violence and sexuality, the goddess Hecate and symbols of ancient Greek monsters. I have shown how interconnected and representative the violence and sex in the two plays can be and have made a strong argument not only for Hecate’s presence and influence in both but also for a possible connection between the two plays involving the goddess and Puck. 

Works Cited and Consulted

Bevington, David. ‘But We Are Spirits of Another Sort’: The Dark Side of Love and Magic in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  From New Casebooks: Midsummer Night’s Dream. St. Martin’s Press. New York. 1996. Ed. Richard Dutton.

 Berg, William. Hecate: Greek or “Anatolian”?  Numen, Vol. 21, Fasc. 2 (Aug. 1974), pp. 128-140. Brill Publishing. 

Boedeker, Deborah. A Transfunctional Goddess in the Theogony?  Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974-), Vol. 113 (1983), pp. 79- 93. The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Braunmuller, A.R. Ed. Macbeth. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK. 1997.

Byles, Joan M., Macbeth: Imagery of Destruction. American Imago, 39:2 (1982:Summer) p.149-164.

Carroll, William C. Ed. Macbeth: Texts and Contexts. Bedford/St. Martin’s. New York. 1999.

Furness, Horace Howard Ed. A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: 

Midsummer night’s Dream. Philadelphia. 1895.

Garner, Shirley Nelson. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: ‘Jack shall have Jill;/Nought shall go ill’. From New Casebooks: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. St. Martin’s Press. New York. 1996. Ed. Richard Dutton.

Gleyzon, François-Xavier. Under the Eye of Gorgo: Apotropaic Acts in Macbeth and King Lear. Journal of the Wooden O Symposium, (7), 22-41. 2007.

Greene, James J., Macbeth: Masculinity as Murder. American Imago, 41:2 (1984:Summer) p.155-180.

Marcus, Mordecai. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: The Dialectic of Eros-

Thanatos , American Imago, 38:3 (1981:Fall) p.269-278.

Mebane, John S. Structure, Source, and Meaning in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.  Texas Studies in Literature and Language, 24:3 (1982:Fall) p.255-270.

Moffat, Laurel. The Woods as Heterotopia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Studia Neophilologica 76: 182-187, 2004.

Ormerod, David, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”: The Monster in the Labyrinth Shakespeare Studies, 11 (1978) p.39-52.

Paster, Gail Kern and Howard, Skiles Eds. A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Texts and Contexts. Bedford/St. Martin’s. New York.1999.

Shakespeare, William. The Yale Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Barnes and Noble. New York. 1993. Eds. Cross, Wilbur L. And Brooke, Tucker.

Strongin Tufts, Carol. Shakespeare’s Conception of Moral Order in “Macbeth”. Renascence, 39:2 (1987:Winter). p.340-353.

[1] William Berg argues in his article Hecate: Greek Or “Anatolian” that the goddess Hecate is of Greek origin and also that she is properly identified as the goddess of crossroads among other things.

[2] In her article Hecate: A Transfunctional Goddess in the Theogony? Deborah Boedeker discusses the multitude of different interpretations of Hecate’s function as a goddess, including the likely incorrect modern (post ancient Greece) interpretation of Hecate as an evil goddess.

An Atmosphere of Personal Apocalypse: Cyclical Mood and Symbol in Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther

by Jeremy R. Strong

            Scrutinizing the way in which a person interprets his or her surroundings, can serve to reveal much about the inner workings of the mind of the subject in question. For this reason, I believe it to be useful to consider the way in which Werther, In The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, describes his surroundings. These descriptions, at least at face value, serve simply to reveal to the reader Werther’s mood while advancing the plot. An example would be in Werther’s entry for the 26th of May near the beginning of the novel, when he describes the first time he encounters Wahlheim as follows:

It is most engagingly situated on a hill, and when you are up above and following the path out of the village you suddenly have a view across the entire valley. A kindly innkeeper, obliging and cheerful in her old age, has wine, beer and coffee to offer; and best of all are the two linden trees whose spreading boughs shade the little church square, which is surrounded by farmers’ houses, barns and yards. It has not been easy to find so pleasant and cosy a spot; and now I have my little table and my chair carried out of the inn, and drink my coffee there, and read my Homer. The first time I walked beneath these lindens, by chance, one beautiful afternoon, I found the square perfectly deserted. Everyone was out in the fields except a boy of about four years old who was sitting on the ground and holding another child of perhaps six months that sat between his feet; he was holding it to his breast with both arms, so that he served as a kind of armchair; and, despite the vivacity that sparkled in his black eyes as he gazed around, he sat quite tranquilly. (32)

Despite the completely preposterous notion, introduced on the following page of the novel, that these two children aged 4 and six months could sit still for over two hours, this passage serves to capture for us Werther’s joyous attitude. This is accomplished through copious use of positive adverbs and adjectives, such as “engagingly situated” or “kindly innkeeper” (32). Even the children are not excluded from Werther’s circus of privileged wonder; to him, the one child becomes an image of relaxation, the “armchair”, upon which the younger child rests (32). 

However, in reading subsequent passages throughout the novel, through which Werther’s descriptions of his surroundings convey to us his emotional state, a pattern in his thinking emerges that helps us better understand not only Werther’s mind, but perhaps that of Goethe’s as well as both being guided by the cycle of the seasons. This metafictional wormhole within the text quickly reminds us that autobiographical considerations continue to haunt this work, even after 240 years; and in this case, even Roland Barthes would be hard-pressed to ignore them and perhaps have trouble advocating his “death of the author mandate” for literary criticism, were he himself still living.

Werther’s emotive glossing of his surroundings match up well with traditional ideals of the seasons. The novel begins at the end of the springtime, and as Werther renders his surroundings through the positive language that appears above, we could deduce that he is embodying the traditional equating of spring with new life and rebirth. He does allude in the first paragraph of the novel to a romantic entanglement he played a role in that didn’t end well, which we might assume at least partly occupied his winter months (25). He certainly seems to have escaped from some winter calamity, as he writes to Wilhelm, “how happy I am to be away” (25) before remarking on the 10th of May that “a wonderful serenity has taken possession of my entire soul, as these sweet spring mornings have” (26). If his language in May is evocative of renewal and his fixation on the children he paints for two hours symbolic of new life, then we could look to Werther’s language the first month of summer as designed to demonstrate his altered state of mind, given the change of season. In writing of his walks towards the “hunting lodge where all [his] longings lie”, Werther interprets his surroundings in a new fashion that is almost orgasmic in its imagery:

The chain of hills, and the gentle valleys!—Oh, to lose myself amongst them!—And I hastened there, and returned without having found what I was hoping for. Oh, distance is like the future: before our souls lies an entire and dusky vastness which overwhelms our feelings as it overwhelms our eyes, and ah! We long to surrender the whole of our being, and be filled with all the joy of one single, immense, magnificent emotion. (44)

This passage appears within the wider context of the letter, which is devoted to pleasure and unlimited access to nature, ideals that correspond best to traditional depictions of summer. You might admonish me at this juncture, for an arbitrary attribution of Werther’s patterns of describing his surroundings to the changing of the seasons, rightly pointing out that throughout the novel, the mood of his character is often unstable. However, it is when he is at his most desperate of moments, in the thrall of his decision to commit suicide, that Werther writes a bleak winter letter to Wilhelm in which he asserts “it would be better if I were gone” and “one ought not to pick the fruit before it is ripe” before two desperate final iterations of “farewell” (113-114). That Werther pens this letter on the precise date of the Winter solstice in 1772 Germany, December 20th, is no insignificance, particularly in consideration of the earlier orgasmic summer description example, which is drawn from a letter dated June 21st, the precise date of the 1771 summer solstice. The longest day and the shortest day are both part of the wider cycle of seasons and consequently of life, that Goethe has symbolically built into the structure of the novel. A cyclical movement of mood is crafted in this fashion, one that can only end in destruction for Werther. This personal apocalypse is foretold in the novel through the allusion to the symbol of the Ourobouros that appears at the dying of the last summer month of August:

And so I go my fearful way betwixt heaven and earth and all their active forces; and all I can see is a monster, forever devouring, regurgitating, chewing and gorging. (66)

Works Cited

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang Von. The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). Ed. Michael Hulse. London: Penguin, 1989. 

Dark [interrupting] Ecology

by Jeremy R. Strong

            *Note: Though I once met Timothy Morton and thought he was a very intelligent and friendly person, I stand by this older critique of Ecology Without Nature.

The catalogue of literature and pop culture references that Timothy Morton draws upon in his book Ecology Without Nature is astonishing for its lack of diversity. Though Morton uses a large number of illustrative examples to supplement his very intriguing theory that the idea of capital “N” nature prevents human beings from being ecological (1), his theory relies on examples that when taken together are a veritable circus of white privilege. For example, the theorists acknowledged within the first three pages make up a catalogue of entirely white and almost entirely male group of elites including: John Elder; Angus Fletcher; Susan Stewart; William Cronon; David Harvey; Aldo Leopold; Deleuze and Guattari; Walter Benn Michaels; Marx; Benjamin; Lacan; Latour and Heidegger. That Morton acknowledges debts to three non-white scholars—Freud, Derrida and Zizek—would be refreshing, if the appearance of their names were not all but obligatory in many modern theoretical arguments. Morton’s insistence that he will primarily focus on the Romantic Movement in his quest to engage with theories of contemporary political ecology leads to a similar white cavalcade: Blake; Coleridge; Wordsworth; Thoreau and others. One would think that after setting up such a distinctly white male critical and literary framework for the book, that when Morton brings in popular culture, it would incorporate more cultural and ethnic diversity. However, the final list is even more startling in its whiteness: Beethoven; J.R.R. Tolkien; Pink Floyd; The Orb; David Abram; Val Plumwood; Alvin Lucier; John Cage; M.C. Escher and David Toop. Here Morton’s inclusion of Leslie Marmon Silko as one of the only non-white artists is almost ironic, given Silko’s lifelong commitment to bringing attention to white cultural imperialist bias. Morton’s book introduces the concept of dark ecology in opposition to the aesthetic pleasure that drives our approach to the idea of ecology and lays bare the willful ignorance of the average person to the realities of “consumerism” (181). Morton indicates that dark ecology requires an acceptance of the narcissism that leads us to embrace the “queer idea that we want to stay with a dying world” (184-5). In order to further understand the connection Morton envisions between queer theory and ecology—a partnership he feels is “long overdue” (186)—this essay will examine Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erikson’s Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire, alongside Morton’s theoretical framework for dark ecology. This dual textual exploration reveals that dark and queer ecologies, if they are to prove truly successful as theoretical frameworks, must engage more closely (and in Morton’s case, must engage period) with critical race studies and also with more inclusive definitions of queerness. Then, to demonstrate the usefulness of critical race theory in interrupting Morton’s primarily white cultural catalogue, the essay will temporarily interrupt Ecology Without Nature, particularly the section “Dark Ecology”, with a queer/dark ecological examination of Benh Zeitlin’s film Beasts of the Southern Wild. The essay will first demonstrate that critical race theory shares much common ground with queer ecology through an examination of coalition resistance in the film read against similar notions in Queer Ecologies, before closing with a reconsideration of what Morton’s dark ecology would look like if it did not ignore identity politics.

            Though Morton is clear that understanding dark ecology requires an embrace or interaction with pain, he seems primarily to have in mind individuals who in the course of their daily lives experience relatively little of it (182). I am thinking here of Morton’s opening this section of the book with reference to John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), a film (and director) for which the primary audience is made up of white middle-class American males. The horror film allows access to fantasies of terror, violence and pain in order to round out the safe, peaceful and pleasant daily lives of the middle class. A film like this is less likely to appeal to minority groups who have long been—and still are—marginalized, oppressed and subjected to painful realities. So while Morton rightly identifies that a human subject might experience the horrifying screaming of the thing in the film as a paradoxical blend of inert nature and acts of subject definition (speech or action), the question remains: what subject does Morton have in mind? 

With Morton’s relating the continual failure to maintain distinct identity and also be “immersed in nature” directly to “bohemian Romantic consumerism”, it seems that he is assuming dark ecology is a mode of thought available only to the privileged; hence his correlation of the distracting nature of an ambient life of supermarkets, airplanes and technological utopianism (183). Morton claims that the “ultimate fantasy of ambience is that we could actually achieve ecology without a subject”, clearly indicating that the fact of our living as though there were no subject involved in the degradation of the environment is ludicrous (183). By unconsciously assuming a white subject, Morton positions the critical choice to act upon global warming as a white struggle. This likely isn’t intentional on Morton’s part, but is a very large oversight in a project that seeks to “broaden” the field of ecocriticism, which Morton notes has “held a special, isolated place in the academy” (5). One major question should be—in a text that claims to be unafraid of “difference, of nonidentity, both in textual terms and in terms of race, class and gender”—why are discussions of these major issues continually positioned as important and overdue for mergers with ecocritical theory but also simultaneously postponed (5)? It may be that Morton sees aesthetics as divorced from questions of race and gender, though the work of Kierkegaard, upon which Morton heavily draws in his discussions of God and beauty, is itself problematic for its reliance on European notions of Christianity and Patriarchy and has been criticized as racist. Morton does acknowledge that elitism may exist for those who can lose possession of “the beautiful soul” and who can “recognize that we did it, we caused environmental destruction, not you, whoever you are” (185). It is odd however, that Morton doesn’t explore further the potential racial dimensions of who precisely might be hypocritical enough to destroy the environment and then take a bizarre kind of pleasure in being powerful enough to do so. It is also interesting to wonder who the italicized you represents in this case; as the lower order of those not powerful enough to destroy the environment, is Morton just carelessly reifying othering here? Morton makes assertions that seem to cry out for an intervention of critical race theory, such as when he notes “dark ecology dances with the subject-object duality” (185). Subject-object duality comes up frequently in writing interrogating racism and the tendency of white power structures to objectify minority groups. While Morton’s work certainly could be usefully tempered by considerations of race, his writing does gesture sparingly to useful overlaps with some of the concerns of queer theory, particularly Judith Butler’s notions about gay definitions of melancholy identity and mourning (186). Morton also hints at a very interesting contact zone with queer anti-futurity work such as Lee Edelman’s No Futurewhen he notes that dark ecology is “based on negative desire rather than positive fulfillment” (186). This resonates fairly powerfully with Edelman’s idea that “narcissism associated with homosexual desire […] becomes […] the basis for social survival by being severed from itself, undergoing transvaluation from primary to secondary, from life negating to vital” (Edelman 53). These two nods to Butler and Edelman make up the most promising extent of Morton’s reach into queer theory in the book. Any lack in the work done to bridge queer theory with ecocriticism in Morton’s Ecology Without Nature, however, seems supplemented by Catriona Mortimer-Sandilands and Bruce Erikson’s comprehensive exploration of the same in Queer Ecologies, a text that thoroughly explores the relationship of sexuality to natural landscapes.

            In the introduction to Queer Ecologies, Mortimer-Sandilands and Erikson argue that rural landscapes have the power to “naturalize” queer sexualities (2). They turn to the relationship between Jack and Ennis in Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005) in order to demonstrate this, noting that the wilderness can serve to reify—even for gay men—the importance of performing “heteromasculinity” (3). However, through their position as shepherds and their exploration of homosexual love in opposition to the heterosexual relationships they both participate in when in their urban environments, Jack and Ennis trouble the Christian heteronormative tradition and their narrative “resists the normative pairing of nature with sexuality” (4). The writers set the stake of the book as a project that reveals “the ongoing relationship between sex and nature that exists institutionally, discursively, scientifically, spatially, politically, poetically, and ethically” (5). A similar recognition of the relationship between race and nature is distinctly lacking in Morton’s text. Though Mortimer-Sandilands and Erikson don’t deal with race at great length in their long introduction either, Chapter 8 of their book does. In “Undoing Nature: Coalition Building as Queer Environmentalism”, Katie Hogan points to the concepts of “pure nature” and “pristine wilderness” as being linked in American environmentalism to “racial, gender and sexual oppression throughout American History, with specific instances of social purity and racial hygiene campaigns involved in eugenics like ideologies” (234). Here, it seems natural to question Morton’s work for a failure to devote any space to this subject, particularly given that he spends a great deal of time using similar terminology in his discussion of the aesthetics of human interactions with nature. Hogan examines the documentary film Ballot Measure 9 and its coalition building in revealing “disturbing overlaps between racism and […] homophobic violence” (241). She also points out that the film reveals the “environmental disaster of hate” through its linking of queers and visible minorities as equal targets of the Oregon Citizen’s Alliance (OCA), which sought to drive them out of the state by perpetrating horrific acts of violence on their animals and property (242). Hogan points out that nature has a “eugenics-like potential”, in which queer theory has the power to intervene (246). Though I don’t take my criticism of Morton’s work so far as to accuse him of making gestures to eugenic arguments, I do find his neglect of race problematic, in that the same eugenics-like potential identified by Hogan seems to go unaddressed by Morton. The question then becomes what exactly a useful variation in Morton’s textual archive would be and how exactly it could help to clarify some of the troubling aspects of his understanding of ecology. I take Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild as only one example of a queer and race focused example of art that could raise some important questions for Morton’s theory and interrupt the notion of dark ecology, if only to help ground its definition in a return to questions of identity politics.

             Beasts of the Southern Wild follows the sideways growth (to borrow Kathryn Bond Stockton’s terminology) of six-year-old Hush Puppy as she learns to survive and build community in the Bayou region called the Bathtub. Hush Puppy does not live under a typical heteronormative family structure, as her father Wink is separated from her mother and is hardly ever around, being in and out of the hospital, away fishing, or most often, passed out drunk away from home. The film also allows Hush Puppy to become part of a queer community, made up of dynamic individuals who are black, white, men, women, other children, and retirement age veterans of Bayou life. The members of the community support each another when a massive hurricane forces many others to leave the Bathtub for safer urban spaces. The authority figures in the film, presumably FEMA employees, become a collective and unwanted threat that attempt to forcibly remove Hush Puppy and her queer family from the Bathtub. This is presumably so that they can be cared for in the dry, safe environment of the hospital, though the film—through its undercurrent of resistance to such biopolitical controls—implies that a queer community living unrestrained and without dependence on the state apparatus, is the real reason for government intrusion. What kind of freedoms would the state be concerned might be explored in an environment like the Bathtub? 

Sexual or gender freedoms come immediately to mind, as in Beasts, Hush Puppy is often encouraged to explore her identity outside the trappings of her femininity. For example, her father Wink often refers to Hush Puppy casually as “man”, as though they are just buddies hanging out and not confined to the limits of a father-daughter relationship. This is echoed in Hush Puppy’s having her own house and her father calling on her to “beast it” when they are having dinner with the other members of their community, a call taken up by everyone in a moment more reminiscent of a fraternity initiation than that of a family dinner. Wink also often calls on Hush Puppy to “man-up” or to “be a man”. This articulation of Hush Puppy’s freedom to experiment with her gender identification serves as notice that in the bathtub, sexuality is also something that exists in a state of exception from state control. This recalls Mortimer-Sandilands and Erikson’s notion of “eco-sexual resistance” in their introductory section about ecological politics. They write that the “articulation of sexuality and nature” together form resistance to “ecologically implicated heteronormativity” (21). They also point out that: “we should reorient our politics and take on something like a queer ecological perspective, a transgressive and historically relevant critique of dominant pairings of nature and environment with heteronormativity and homophobia” (22). The narrative and imagery of Beasts represents such a reorientation and supports much of the thrust of Queer Ecologies in laying out a mandate for sexual and ecological politics unified against damaging mainstream attitudes (27). When Wink and his friends attempt to blow up the levy that keeps their community flooded, one of the men, filled with fear, fails to detonate the homemade gator-bomb. Hush Puppy, having hidden in the back of the boat, successfully sets off the explosives—a clear indication that masculinity in the Bathtub is renegotiated through the child and through the feminine. This is fine with the men in the film, who celebrate Hush Puppy’s achievement as an act of heroism. The levy is a symbol of the colonial control of natural resources as well as the policing of the movement of bodies, and its destruction represents the kind of unification of ecological and sexual political resistance presented in Queer Ecologies

The overarching narrative of Beasts can be read as that of a queer community that shares a positive relationship with its natural surroundings. Hush Puppy cares for her animals, and though she will eat them if she has to in order to survive, she explores almost every other option her environment has to offer (including scrounged cans of cat food) before she would have to needlessly kill her pets—who are consequently also her friends. Hush Puppy and the queer community she belongs to, like the gay communities examined in Queer Ecologies, create “different spatial-political relationships to natural environments” in Beasts of the Southern Wild. This makes the film, despite some of the sorrows it presents, a positive example of human beings participating in ecology with nature through queer notions of community and sustainability.

The racial dynamic within Beasts of the Southern Wild also raises several really important questions for Morton’s definition of dark ecology that I outlined earlier. As a film in which some of the characters must live in a close and precarious relationship with their environment because of the racial politics of exclusion, and also because those characters, like Hush Puppy, still manage to thrive, Beasts leads to questioning what Morton calls the “noir form” of ecological politics (187). In Morton’s terms, dark ecology “undermines the naturalness of the stories we tell about how we are involved in nature” (187). However, this position should be dismantled for its bias towards urban, technological and other clinical embodiments, which could be argued as primarily the realm of the white middle class (those who listen to Pink Floyd to feel melancholy and watch John Carpenter movies to understand fear). The characters in Beasts don’t need to tell false stories about how involved they are in nature; they feel its every move on the swell of the tide and understand human caused resource depletion when they must search for their food in the murky depths of a swamp. They are living their involvement in nature and are not detached from it or their environment. In the film, Hush Puppy’s desire to find her mother becomes a journey taking her outside of nature, as she travels on a ferry that offers more protection from the elements than her (or her father’s) house ever did and arrives at a brothel, Elysian Fields, that is symbolic of the western fantasy escape from death and the limits of the natural world. Hush Puppy ultimately redirects this desire towards the community that really supports her when she returns to bury her father and take her place among the people she wants to identify with. Her acceptance of her community and of life in the Bathtub is also Hush Puppy’s recognition of her place within the natural world, as a being that embraces the limits of nature.

 Morton does acknowledge that desire plays a large role in the make-up of ecological thought and that “love must be more excessive, exuberant, and risky than a bland extension of humanitarianism to the environment” (188). What is odd is Morton’s decision to read desire and ecological thought through reference to the revolutionary politics of the replicants in Blade Runner instead of looking to more concrete examples of revolutionary race politics in the real world (188). Morton’s assertion that “solidarity has, unexpectedly, become a choice”, is a strange claim to divorce from the politics of race relations or gender identity (188). If Morton considered the idea of coalitions between collectives and their potential interrelationships with ecology and environment (in the way that Katie Hogan does)—it might recover the place for identity in his definition of dark ecology. As it stands, Morton looks to the collective as that which emerges in a spontaneous or natural fashion, “rather than being enforced” and seems tickled by the idea of a “natural capitalism” that is “attuned to the rhythms and resources of the planet” (189). Beasts of the Southern Wild, however, depicts a group of people forced through economic and racial segregation to create their own sustainable community in response to anything but a whimsical natural capitalism. There are complex human factors (like greed: corporate and individual) and unsavory historical American human trafficking legacies (like slavery) behind what leads the individuals to form a queer community in the film. This shouldn’t negate the fact that this community develops really promising sociological landscapes in opposition to those of the mainland oppressors; the point is that there is nothing really spontaneous about their collective—they need to form it to survive. The agency of human beings is also another way in which a critical race reading of Beasts problematizes Morton’s theory of dark ecology, a theory that seems to lean heavily on the idea of new organicism as that through which nature could be seen as “pure mechanism” (191). This seems to reduce the human responsibility in the act of damaging something valuable; if nature is merely a mechanism, then that implies what we break can be fixed. Beasts demonstrates, particularly through the narrative paralleling of the flooded and ruined ecosystem alongside that of Wink’s flooded and ruined body, that defining who is responsible for destructive actions is the most important thing that there is. While the levy stands in for the inhumane decision making process of US authority, Wink claims his destroyed liver as his own by refusing to allow doctors to save his life—as by doing so, they reduce the other despicable actions of the state.

Morton ends with a reading of Frankenstein, through which he again dodges a discussion of race by footnoting the relevance of that text to the critical tradition of the monster being an “inconsistent object of racist fantasy” (194-5). He also attacks both humanism and posthumanism rather hypocritically by indicating we should care for the “creature” of man and that doing so would “acknowledge the monstrosity at the heart of the idea of nature” (195). But Morton himself is willfully in ignorance of any concrete discussion of socio-cultural or biopolitical relationships between human beings, advancing many interesting extensions of high philosophical theories that remain disconnected from lived human experience. It is therefore difficult to imagine how one would go about embracing a dark ecology that loves “the disgusting, inert, and meaningless” (195), when there is beauty, vibrancy and meaning even where ecological sustainability is at its breaking point—as it is in the Bathtub. 

This essay has demonstrated that dark and queer ecologies provide useful philosophical and political methodologies for engaging with the world. But in using Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild to test the weak points, the queer ecological ideas presented by Mortimer-Sandilands and Erikson in Queer Ecologies prove a more useful theoretical approach than Morton’s concept of dark ecology, because they don’t negate or ignore lived experience and the coalitions that are possible between queer identities and ethnic minorities. That isn’t to say that Morton’s Ecology Without Nature is without other merits in its challenge to ecological modes of thinking—far from it—but the book, in claiming to be “unafraid of nonidentity” (5), should be investigated for the ways in which it is afraid of engaging directly with identity through important lived realities of class, gender and as this essay has argued, race.

Works Cited

Beasts of the Southern Wild. Dir. Zeitlin, Benh. Perf. Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry. E1 Films Canada, 2012. DVD.

Edelman, Lee. No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. Print.

Mortimer-Sandilands, Catriona., and Erickson, Bruce. Queer Ecologies: Sex, Nature, Politics, Desire. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana UP, 2010. Print.

Morton, Timothy. Ecology without Nature: Rethinking Environmental Aesthetics. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard UP, 2007. Print.

Stockton, Kathryn Bond. The Queer Child, or Growing Sideways in the Twentieth Century. Durham: Duke UP, 2009. Print.

The Unique Posthuman Racial Politics of Edgar Allan Poe’s “Loss of Breath”

by Jeremy R. Strong

Edgar Allan Poe’s writing was predictive of many concerns and questions about what it means to be a person in the world that we still grapple with today. More precisely, much of Poe’s short fiction shows a particular obsession with defining and defying the edges of human consciousness and human biology and how interrogating both in his fiction leads to considerations of identity and personhood. In this sense, Poe was not only instrumental in the founding of science fiction as a genre, but also in establishing a literary tradition of—and precedent for—posthuman inquiry. Poe’s early fictional experiments in posthumanism are not limited to the tales I examine in this essay. However, by focusing in on “Loss of Breath”, I will show that there is a unique interrelationship between Poe’s posthuman and racial themes. Examining the two in tandem reveals that Poe acknowledges in “Loss of Breath” that the general treatment in the 19thcentury of African Americans was inhumane and this troubles oversimplified claims of Poe as racist. I will also demonstrate that Poe’s more nuanced understanding of racial struggle was foundational to his status as a pioneer of posthumanist science fiction for its capacity to convey how human identity could more broadly be troubled by definitions of personhood. In order to support my reading “Loss of Breath” from this perspective, I will then briefly compare the tale to “The Man That Was Used Up” and “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains”, to demonstrate that Poe anticipates the tenets of posthumanist discourse widely in his fiction. He does this by exploring the ability of humans to transcend the constraints of human biology in “The Man That Was Used Up”; and the implications such abilities might have to conceptions of mortality in “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains”. When examined together, the concerns of these three tales carve out a space welcoming to further critical posthumanist investigation of Poe’s work, and the essay adds to a growing body of work challenging assumptions about Poe and his relationship to racial discourse.

In his book Universes Without Us: Posthuman Cosmologies in American Literature, Matthew A. Taylor includes Poe’s work as part of an important tradition of writing that incorporates individuals into “non-human processes” and that invites “a redistribution of agency and significance to the world” (11). His approach to exploring notions of posthumanism and their early manifestations in literature is guided by defining posthumanism against the tenets of traditional humanism:

The humanist self is formed by a constitutive exclusion of the world, whereas the posthumanist self is born of an ostensible inclusion of it, but the distinction is largely semantic: in both, the nonhuman world serves our all-too-human agendas, either by being our slave or by becoming ourselves. Put another way, posthumanism can uncannily echo the means-end logic of the anthropocentric metaphysics it supposedly corrects, ending the dialectic with otherness only to achieve a final synthesis of the self. (7)

My reading of Poe’s fiction highlights the fact that understanding the posthumanist philosophical tendencies apparent in his work is integral to bringing into the foreground of the text some important racial implications that could otherwise go unnoticed in stories that are primarily read as science fiction. In other words, when a story becomes the vehicle for the scientific innovation being presented, like “The Man That Was Used Up”, racial considerations could become marginalized. A Posthumanist reading however, necessarily ponders both the science and the human components of the tale, including how the human form is defined or destabilized against the advancement of science. Race and racial difference both figure prominently as ways in which the definition of the human is accomplished in Poe’s tales, and not always when they are clearly demarcated in the fiction, as in “The Man That Was Used Up” and “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains”. Turning again to Taylor’s Posthuman Cosmologies, the importance of discussing race to elucidate more clearly the aims of posthumanism and of allowing a posthumanist reading to reveal the uncomfortable truth about pernicious racist understandings of the world is made clear in this excerpt from a discussion about slavery:

As Paul Outka has recently argued, such attempts, though less obviously violent in their effects, commonly perpetuated slavery’s “core mystification” of “view[ing] African Americans as an extension of the natural world.” Consequently, African Americans were not only excluded from transcendental experiences with wilderness (because they could not unite with what they already were), they also were conscripted within an instrumental, anthropocentric worldview that made them merely another spiritual resource for, in Muir’s words, a “tired, nerve-shaken, over civilized people.”” (120)

Poe’s work is also about defining personhood through its constant and uncomfortable confrontation with racial difference, its interrogation of the boundaries between human being and animal and its complex early investigations into psychological states. John F. Jebb warns in his chapter “Race, Pirates and Intellect” in Edgar Allan Poe: Beyond Gothicism, that the “easily accepted notion that Poe had racist tendencies has infected Poe scholarship for years and perhaps has discouraged others from sifting the evidence, both biographic and literary” (18). Therefore, my reading of “Loss of Breath” seeks to carefully consider Poe’s ambiguous treatment of race as a potentially necessary component of early posthumanist writing.

            “Loss of Breath” is one of the more distinctly understudied of Poe’s tales and I argue that it provides an excellent place to begin this exploration of how early posthumanist ideas intersect with race. After the narrator has violently seized his wife by the throat and is about to “convince her of her insignificance”, he is surprised to discover that he has literally lost his own breath (151). Right from the beginning, this tale is clearly about power: interpersonal and hierarchical as well as elocutionary and physiological. The tale first seems to be about gender imbalance and the narrator’s loss of sexual power in marriage, as he retires to his “private boudoir” in a “paroxysm” of sorrow before later commencing a “vigorous search” for his breath (152-153). The use of the terms boudoir and paroxysm were both more closely aligned with the feminine in the 19th century and his search for his breath, which must be conducted in private, has a distinctly physical quality to it, as though the narrator were searching for his own genitalia. Considering Jacques Derrida’s notion of Phallogocentrism, the powers of speech should directly correlate to the narrator’s masculinity in this case. 

The tale however, quickly proves to be about a different sort of power imbalance, with the narrator’s relationship to his wife acting only as the signpost for the oppressed and marginalized body. Racial difference is the primary subject of this story and readers are given a major clue to that effect in Poe’s calling attention to Anaxagoras, who “it will be remembered, maintained that snow is black” (153). The narrator then proceeds to lay out the tale of how he has “since found [this] to be the case” (153). In a strange connection to the detached body parts in “The Man That Was Used Up”, the narrator is rewarded for all his searching about the house with “a set of false teeth, two pair of hips, an eye and a bundle of billets-doux” (153). The love letters are interesting in that they are from one Mr. Windenough, the lover’s name being another indication that language is connotative of sexual prowess and set against the narrator’s name, now revealed to be “Lackobreath” (153). The narrator then decides that his best course of action is to leave the country and integrate himself into a “foreign climate” where he will be able to “conceal [his] unhappy calamity” (154). The narrator’s notion that a foreign climate will be the best place to shield himself from notice could imply that he will travel to a place where the population is already oppressed, positioning that place as the feminine to his masculine home country. He mentions committing to memory the dialogue and events of  “Metamora”, a tragic 1829 play about the last of the Wampanoag Native American tribe in order to fool his wife that his reliance on “deep guttural” sounds is merely his theatrical ambition for this play (154). Though this portion of the tale seems at first to be an attempt at humour, calling attention to this play is a distinct reminder of colonial America’s genocide of aboriginal populations and could imply that the narrator’s plans to travel to a “foreign” climate may include going south to the Caribbean or even as far as to Africa. 

Another detail within the tale that the narrator’s loss of breath aligns him with marginalized black bodies is more forceful; the narrator is thrown out from the coach in which he travels “at the sign of the “Crow,” (by which tavern the coach happened to be passing) without meeting with any farther accident than the breaking of both my arms under the left hind wheel of the vehicle” (155). The marking out in brackets by Poe of the arbitrary nature of that particular tavern actually functions to draw attention to the name and should guide the reader to understand the term “Crow” for all the racial connotations that term would carry in the early “Jim Crow” America of blackface performance. The narrator’s death-like appearance leads to his being thrown from the coach as though he were not human, and the fact of the coach wheels running over both of his arms demonstrates purposeful disrespect of his body. With the narrator now in a state of living death, with a twisted head, broken arms, all other limbs dislocated and finally a crushed skull, the story becomes a posthuman tale.

            The narrator is subjected to progressive violations that recall many of the same horrors enacted upon slave populations in the south, practices Poe would likely be familiar with, if not directly through his family plantation, then likely through his adopted father’s network of slave owners and traders. The narrator has his ears cut off, several of his “viscera” removed and is tied up like an animal and left alone in a garret where two cats battle it out to eat his nose (156-57). Finally, in strange resonance with the body swapping in “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains”, the narrator becomes through incredible accident the physical substitute for a criminal, a “mail-robber” (language thief) that he bears uncanny resemblance to. When he is led to the gallows, his execution should be understood as a lynching, because the narrator has no recourse to a fair trial and is in effect being judged based solely on his appearance. 

The practice of lynching would have been all too common during Poe’s lifetime in 19th century America. The fact of its use in this story implies that the narrator’s entire posthuman journey has been as a black man. This story could serve to slightly recuperate interpretations of Poe’s understanding of racial injustice during his lifetime, as the reaction of the crowd to the lynching takes on a sarcastic or ironic tone. After he has been lynched, the crowd reacts to his death convulsions with disquieting enthusiasm: “The populace encored. Several gentlemen swooned and a multitude of ladies were carried home in hysterics. Pinxit availed himself of the opportunity to retouch, from a sketch taken upon the spot, his admirable painting of the “Marsyas flayed alive”” (158). It is well known that historically marginalized and persecuted peoples end up buried in mass or unmarked graves, and therefore interesting that the narrator states: “no one made a claim to my corpse, it was ordered that I should be interred in a public vault” (158). The narrator then moves about the crypt, describing himself in terms that are connotative of place and his potential race but certainly explicitly outline his non-human status:

“This has been, no doubt, in every sense of the word, an unhappy—an unfortunate man. It has been his terrible lot not to walk, but to waddle—to pass through life not like a human being, but like an elephant—not like a man, but like a rhinoceros.”

“His attempts at getting on have been mere abortions, and his circumgyratory proceedings a palpable failure. Taking a step forward, it has been his misfortune to take two toward the right, and three toward the left.” (159)

The use of the elephant and rhinoceros are connotative of Africa and the objectification of bodies, as both animals are frequently hunted for their tusks. Poe could be drawing attention to the treatment of African slaves as animals, and the lines that follow, drawing attention to the difficulties faced by oppressed peoples in progressing towards equality when he mentions taking a “step forward”. The narrator’s claim that he has passed through life “not like a human being”, when read against his ability to live without breathing, invite a posthumanist reading of the text, in coordination rather than opposition to the racial reading provided above.

            Whether a reading of “Loss of Breath” considers the fantastical elements of the narrator’s journey beyond the boundary of death as analogy or not, the fact remains that Poe was writing on a theme that is prevalent in his work, the idea that it is possible to transcend the seeming limits of body and of mind. In his book on apocalypse and science fiction in American literature, New Worlds for Old, David Ketterer claims that common perceptions of Poe being simply a “horrific” writer are far too simplistic and undermine the fact that Poe should more justifiably be “understood as a visionary, a species of transcendentalist” (56). By briefly comparing Poe’s treatment of the human form in “Loss of Breath” to that depicted in “The Man That Was Used Up” and “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains”, it becomes clear that Poe’s contribution as an early posthumanist writer is substantial.

While I have hitherto advanced the argument that in “Loss of Breath” the narrator embodies the identity of a black American to reveal the severity of racial discrimination, the story is also simultaneously a science fiction tale about transcending physical death. In this fashion, the tale echoes very closely the structure of “The Man That Was Used Up”, which is on the one hand a distinctly science-fictional narrative about a cyborg, and on the other a tale about colonial confrontation and the dehumanization of General ABC Smith’s servant Pompey. Of ABC Smith’s abuse of his manservant, John F. Jebb writes that it “gains assertiveness as [Smith] becomes whole” (30). Jebb points out that this story is often read as a satire about war heroes or as a science fiction tale, but that the most important thing about the tale may be what it reveals about Poe’s complex relationship to race and racism (31). Despite the comedic element that is, like in “Loss of Breath”, present in much of the tale, Jebb asserts that Pompey is not “simply a comic servant: he is the recipient of ironic abuse despite his necessary status with his abuser” and he “has complete control over the General” (31). In an interesting parallel with the “Loss of Breath” narrator’s lack of voice leading him to experience what it means to be black in America, when ABC Smith is disassembled and has a squeaky mouse voice, it is as though he isn’t even in the room. The narrator is only then able to notice the “old negro valet”, who in essence very temporarily stands in for General Smith. But as Smith regains his powers of speech, he most notably calls attention to Pompey’s holding back from giving him his voice: ““Pompey, you black rascal,” squeaked the General, “I really do believe you would let me go out without my palate”” (316). 

As Peter Goodwin points out in his chapter “The Man in the Text: Desire, Masculinity, and the Development of Poe’s Detective Fiction” in Edgar Allan Poe: Beyond Gothicism, when Pompey inserts the palate, “the General regains the power to articulate and perform his white manhood” (57). In this sense, the General is like any other machine of the white, patriarchal order that will not function properly until all of the component parts are assembled; Pompey is the indentured worker—that loathe as he may his position—knows his own survival depends on his diligent assemblage of the machine. In his book Mesmerists, Monsters and Machines, in the chapter “The Human Experiments of Edgar Allan Poe”, Martin Willis writes of the story: “In conflating mechanics with class status, Poe very carefully places the machine within existing cultural structures” (109). Willis draws attention to the fact that generally, Poe’s writing about “mesmerists and machines” was very much at the forefront of nineteenth century scientific inquiry (94). He notes that the fields of mechanical science and animal magnetism were both in the process of revolution in the United States and that their impact “altered the landscape of science in nineteenth-century North America irreversibly and profoundly” (94). Consequently, the largest major parallel between the three tales discussed in this essay is transcendent posthuman figures, represented in the mechanical form by General Smith and in the metaphysical form by the narrators of “Loss of Breath” and “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains”.

With a servant to ensure that he is put together, General Smith becomes virtually immortal, with no indication that any integral body part is impossible to render synthetically. As Ketterer notes, “Poe should be distinguished from virtually all visionary writers including the transcendentalists and Blake because of the markedly “scientific” or science-fictional nature of his visionary reality” (56). In reading Poe’s mesmeric tales, it is important to acknowledge as Willis does that mesmerism in the time during which Poe lived, was a recognizable pursuit of the serious scientist: “Like the science of mechanics, mesmerism was widely seen as a developing area of science that pushed the boundaries of human capability” (95). Willis also points out that a place where “mesmerism had made some headway was in the medical sphere” (95). Though Loss of Breath isn’t as distinctly as mesmeric a tale as “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar”, “Mesmeric Revelation” or “Ligeia”, the tale does focus distinctly on losing the breath as a meticulously documented physical experience and involves the intervention of several third parties to determine the narrator’s state of being. Therefore, “Loss of Breath” mimics the structure of the other mesmeric tales and all of them are reminiscent of Willis’s definition of the art of its practice as a science: “Mesmerism as it was being conducted in the large teaching hospitals and infirmaries coalesced around a triangular relationship between patient, trance state, and doctor” (96). This naturally gave rise to questions about borders between patient and doctor.

Just as a person in the 19th century (and a person of today) might question the point at which the General in “The Man That Was Used Up” ceased to be human, one could question as Willis does, “How human did one remain if a mesmerizer was able to control one’s physical motions and mental capabilities? Did the results of mesmerism mean that we had to redefine the limits of humanity?” (96). Exploring the redefining of those human limits is one the goals of posthumanist writing, and “Loss of Breath” grapples with that monumental challenge just as strenuously, if not more so than “The Man That Was Used Up”. Both stories explore limitations to the social definitions of the human being through racial discourse and both also test the necessity of the physical human body to an understanding of personhood. “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” is similar in its approach of juxtaposing the ability of human beings to defeat the limits of biology against the cruel reminder of the way in which race traps one into perpetual punishment or servitude.

            In Daniel J. Philippon’s chapter “Poe in the Ragged Mountains: Environmental History and Romantic Aesthetics” in the book Edgar Allan Poe: Beyond Gothicism, Poe’s treatment of race is discussed in terms of his general feelings towards “the American Indians around the mid 1840-s” to whom “he was clearly growing sympathetic” (95). Philippon also discusses Poe’s Orientalizing of the state of Virginia as part of a strategy to “spoof on popular Romanticism in America” (99). In his insistence on arguing for landscape as the primary concern in “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains”, Philippon’s chapter reduces focus on the events and characters of the story and instead reads the treatment of the landscape as the more important aspect of the tale. Setting is of course important in any story, but Philippon’s argument that “mesmerism, metempsychosis, and animal magnetism…fail to address the full significance of [Bedloe’s] experience”, sidelines the fact that change in landscape is reflected by the changing of bodies in the tale (100). And this changing of bodies is the important area of overlap shared with the other two tales. 

In “Loss of Breath” a white body becomes a black one, indicated as I mentioned earlier by allusion to the famous quote about white snow really being black. In “The Man That Was Used Up” the body parts are exchanged slowly but certainly (over time and through various war campaigns) for mechanical replacements, until what is left of General ABC Smith’s actual physiology likely resembles the body of detective Alex Murphy as depicted in Jose Padilha’s 2014 remake of Robocop [see appendix A]. The main difference between the aforementioned works and “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” is that a complete and total swap of bodies takes place in the latter, and the maintenance of consciousness that takes place after the swap defies both space and time.

In his description of  “A Tale of The Ragged Mountains”, Philippon mentions the flowery Orientalist descriptions of Bedloe’s dream state. What he doesn’t mention however is that for all the time spent describing the landscape in detail, there is a nearly as lengthy description of Bedloe’s physical appearance in the beginning of the tale. This description bears some measure of pondering and I will reproduce it in full:

In no regard was he more peculiar than in his personal appearance. He was singularly tall and thin. He stooped much. His limbs were exceedingly long and emaciated. His forehead was broad and low. His complexion was absolutely bloodless. His mouth was large and flexible, and his teeth were more wildly uneven, although sound, than I had ever before seen teeth in a human head. The expression of his smile, however, was by no means unpleasing, as might be supposed; but it had no variation whatever. It was one of profound melancholy—of a phaseless and unceasing gloom. His eyes were abnormally large, and round like those of a cat. The pupils, too, upon any accession or dimunition of light, underwent contraction or dilation, just as is observed in the feline tribe. In moments of excitement the orbs grew bright to a degree almost inconceivable, seeming to emit luminous rays, not of a reflected, but of an intrinsic lustre, as does a candle or the sun; yet their ordinary condition was so totally vapid, filmy and dull, as to convey the idea of the eyes of a long interred corpse. (655)

Not only does this passage deliver a veritable geography of Bedloe’s strange human face, but it also compares his likeness to that of a cat, interesting in light of the common cultural attribution to cats of extra lives. In that sense, the passage invites comparison to other moments of transmigration in Poe, such as the reappearance of the cat in “The Black Cat”, the reforming of “Ligeia” and the return of the Baron in “Metzengerstein”. Mr. Lackobreath and General ABC Smith push the limits of the human body beyond even our current understanding of clinical death, but Bedloe completely eradicates those limits through his capacity to transfer bodies completely. According to Willis, when working at “the fringes of mesmeric competence, Poe utilizes the limitrophic nature of this science to comment on the collisions, conflations, and contradictions that appear when human society and scientific culture meet” (128). This is in essence why it is so crucial to read Poe not only as a writer of science fiction, but also as an early posthumanist writer, perhaps even an early transhumanist.

 Investigating “Loss of Breath” for its posthuman and racial undercurrents proves vastly informative, particularly when the tale is compared to “The Man That Was Used Up” and “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains”. If Poe did indeed envision the narrator of “Loss of Breath” as a marginalized and persecuted black man, as I hope to have shown, then assumptions about his personal philosophy about race need to be destabilized. David Ketterer describes Poe’s spiritual philosophy of reality existing as “not a spiritual realm but an alternative dimension” and in Poe’s denying “the existence of spirituality except as “unparticled matter, permeating and impelling all things”” (55-56). Perhaps Poe’s views on the lack of clear definition and subjectivity surrounding the human form imply a similar acknowledgement of his understanding of the lack of any reality to the perceived importance of physical, social or cultural differences between people.

Works Cited and Consulted

Berkley, James. “Post-Human Mimesis and the Debunked Machine: Reading Environmental Appropriation in Poe’s ‘Maelzel’s Chess-Player’ and ‘the Man that was used Up’.” Comparative Literature Studies 41.3 (2004): 356-76. ProQuest. Web. Accessed, December 6th.

Frank, Adam. “Valdemar’s Tongue, Poe’s Telegraphy.” ELH 72.3 (2005): 635-62. Print.

Fink, Bruce, and Barnard, Suzanne. Reading Seminar XX. In SUNY Series in Psychoanalysis and Culture. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. 2002. Ebook. Web, accessed December 6th, 2014. 

Goulet, Andrea. Optiques: The Science of the Eye and the Birth of Modern French Fiction. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania, 2006. Critical Authors & Issues. Print.

Hutchisson, James M. Edgar Allan Poe: Beyond Gothicism. Newark: Lanham, Md.: U of Delaware; Rowman & Littlefield Pub. Group, 2011. Print.

Kennedy, J., Weissberg, Liliane. Romancing the Shadow: Poe and Race. Oxford; New York: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.

Ketterer, David. New Worlds for Old: The Apocalyptic Imagination, Science Fiction, and American Literature. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1974. Print.

Moskowitz, Sam. Ed. Masterpieces of Science Fiction. Cleveland: World Pub., 1967. Print.

—. “Poe’s Influence on Science-Fiction.” Fantasy Commentator 9.1 (1996): 24-32. ProQuest. Web. Accessed November 28th.

Olney, Clarke. “Edgar Allan Poe: Science-Fiction Pioneer.” Georgia Review 12 (1958): 416-21. ProQuest. Web. Accessed November 28th.

Petersen, Pam. “Mesmerism, Popular Science, and Poe.” Ed. Michael T. Marsden. Bowling Green State Univ. Popular P, 1976. 251-262. ProQuest. Web. Accessed December 6th.

Poe, Edgar Allan, and Beaver, Harold Lowther. The Science Fiction of Edgar Allan Poe. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976. Print. Penguin English Library.

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Tales. Library of America Edition. Penguin Books Ltd., New York: 1984, 2006. Print.

Stone-Blackburn, Susan. “Consciousness Evolution and Early Telepathic Tales.” Science Fiction Studies 20.2 (1993): 241-50. ProQuest. Web. Accessed November 26th

Taylor, Matthew A. Universes without Us: Posthuman Cosmologies in American Literature. Mineapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. Print.

—. “Edgar Allan Poe’s (Meta)Physics: A Pre-History of the Post-Human.” Nineteenth-Century Literature 62.2 (2007): 193-221. ProQuest. Web. Accessed November 28th

—. “The Nature of Fear: Edgar Allan Poe and Posthuman Ecology.” American Literature: A Journal of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography 84.2 (2012): 353-79. ProQuest. Web. Accessed November 28th

Tresch, John. “Extra! Extra! Poe Invents Science Fiction!” Ed. Kevin J. Hayes.Cambridge UP, 2002. 113-132. Cambridge Companions to Literature~~CCtL ProQuest. Web. Accessed November 28th

Willis, Martin. Mesmerists, Monsters, and Machines: Science Fiction and the Cultures of Science in the Nineteenth Century. Kent, Ohio: Kent State UP, 2006. Print.

Figure 1: Robocop Disassembled     

Figure 2: Robocop Assembled

The Radical Nature of the Will to Live: Delaying Suicide in Matilda and Manfred

by Jeremy R. Strong

            In both Mary Shelley’s Matilda and Lord Byron’s Manfred, the respective main protagonists seem to have their mental health affected by participation in a socially taboo sexual relationship. These two texts deserve more comparative reading, as the literary treatments in addition to the biographical connections share incredible similarities. Though the degree of responsibility that Matilda bears for her participation in the relationship with her father could be interpreted as vastly different from the responsibility Manfred readily accepts for his role in the relationship with his sister, both protagonists suffer under a similar weight of existential angst brought about by incest that force them to reject the material world. In another interesting parallel, neither Matilda nor Manfred clearly commit suicide in the standard understanding of the term as a self-obliterating act. Both characters seem to decide that they should no longer live, but trust to nature to end their lives. The encounters with the natural world in each text reach extremes that perpetually threaten the lives of the two forlorn protagonists. This extreme depiction of interactions with nature is designed to echo, extend and enhance the breaking of the boundaries of human relationships in each text. While the sudden change in the nature of Matilda’s relationship with her father immediately thrusts both of them into mortal danger during the epic pursuit section of the narrative, Manfred’s unspecified transgressions with his sister continually bring him to the brink of the natural world, poised at the precipice of The Alps. Ultimately, both texts depict characters that test the limits of societal and natural boundaries in tandem, making them distinctly radical protagonists. The potentially suicidal endings should then be reconsidered in light of the more distinct suicides that do happen within each text. In other words, if suicide is the natural response of a person that feels they have committed a social transgression, such as Matilda’s father and Manfred’s sister Astarte, and if “no man ever threw away life, while it was worth keeping” (167) as David Hume argues in his Essay on Suicide, then suicide is not the truly radical act in these texts. The radical act is instead performed by characters who refuse to distinctly and clearly bring and end to their lives despite recognizing their—forever altered—place in the social order. By not committing suicide in distinct acts of self-obliteration, these characters defy the expectations of the human world.

            In his book Critical Issues: Mary Shelley, Graham Allen foregrounds his chapter “Matilda” by reminding readers that given the biographical details of Shelley’s life, it would “seem perverse of critics to pursue anything but a psycho-biographical reading” (41-42). Then however, after presenting some of the arguments made in this vein, Allen delivers a skilful critical cathartic turn, aligning himself with a similar argument by Pamela Clemit and explains that the privileging of psycho-biography in critical analysis of the text makes some dangerous assumptions, not the least of which is one that it was “Godwin’s apparent refusal to return the manuscript to his daughter [that] caused the text to remain unpublished” (44). Allen then argues that reading Matilda requires a careful balancing of biographical concerns with literary ones. This essay respects that strategic position and seeks to reveal that Matilda problematizes romantic sensibility surrounding suicide and that this is a major point of intersection this text shares with Byron’s Manfred

Manfred demands a similar care in critical approach to that brought to bear in the study of Matilda by Allen. In an argument similar to Allen’s, Emily A. Bernhard Jackson resists any temptation to read the text of Manfred as only either “a form of confession” or “playacting” (133), insisting much like Allen does that this text is “both fiction and non-fiction simultaneously” (134). After delineating some compelling connections to the work of David Hume, Jackson also points out that Manfred is really a text about the “ramifications of Immaterialism” (146). Aside from a similar argument having developed about approaches to the two texts, the play and the novella also share the theme of incest. In her article “From the Fields of Fancy to Matilda: Mary Shelley’s Changing Conception of her Novella” Pamela Clemit is careful to remind readers that there were “varied uses of incest” as a theme in “other works of the period” (155), before explaining that Shelley’s work deviates from Byron’s in that the former is driven by “guilt” (156), while the latter is driven by “defiance” (155). I find that agreeing with this assessment hinges to a great extent on the ultimate philosophical positions the protagonists seem to embrace by the end of each of the works. Both ultimately seem to reject material understandings of the world and also to resist the act of suicide as an unfitting punishment given their respective beliefs in the metaphysical. And so ultimately, both characters are defiant in their refusal to commit distinct acts of suicide that would serve as biopolitical punishment on their physical frames but filled with guilt as demonstrated by their desire to die as part of a natural course of progression into some other state of being.

Manfred’s desire for his sister seems to go against the design of nature. In the play, she is described as being so alike Manfred that they are almost twins:

She was like me in lineaments—her eyes

Her hair, her features, all, to the very tone

Even of her voice, they said were like to mine;

But soften’d all, and temper’d into beauty;

She had the same lone thoughts and wanderings,

The quest of hidden knowledge, and a mind

To comprehend the universe. (2.2. 199-205)

The physical and mental similarities described in these lines seem to preclude the possibility that Manfred should be attracted to Astarte. There is nearly no trace here of the oppositional quality that typically marks an attractive potential mate in much of the fiction of romantic sensibility—like Lotte’s attractiveness to Werther in Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther or Geraldine’s to Desmond in Charlotte Smith’s Desmond—in both of these texts, the temperament and aspect of the women are almost the polar opposite to that of the men. But if indeed Manfred has acted against nature by transgressing with his sister, then his refusal to quit the world when he has the opportunity to do so early in the play might indicate that the only judgement to which he will submit is that of nature. He certainly refuses to be guided to his death by the judgement of the spirits, the common people or the Abbot of St. Maurice. Matilda is similarly unimpressed by the social forces that would ostracize her. When she is at London after her father’s death, she notices that her feelings don’t fit in with the standard human sentiments about her father’s suicide. Her family members think that her father “lost his wits” and that “he was mad and [Matilda] was fortunate” and so Matilda, seething internally at what she considers to be “blasphemy” seeks to disguise her true feelings (186). She does this by characterizing those feelings through zoomorphism: “I with my dove’s look and fox’s heart” (186). Matilda is unable to reveal the true depth of her emotional distress at the death of her father and so she characterizes herself as deceptive (a fox) and therefore becomes a radical in her going underground emotionally, before later abjecting herself physically from society. Her zoomorphism could be interpreted as a direct challenge to material reality, as the physical appearance of the dove is proven to be a flimsy shell in being only a look, while hiding beneath is the abstract concept of heart, the driving concept behind most human agency. In excluding herself from the social world until Woodville’s arrival, Matilda seems to be leaving judgement of her role in her father’s misguided sentiments to nature, not even succumbing to her socialized tendency to self-judgment. She doesn’t rush to commit suicide, an act certainly available to her, if not as blatantly as that available to Manfred when he is in position on the mountain.

Manfred’s teetering on the brink of the mountain and not throwing himself over the edge is in defiance of the act that he should commit as the socially responsible punishment for his actions (1.2.275-80). Similarly, Matilda’s long wait living in exile is her sustained refusal to commit the same act as her father. In that sense, her attempt to have Woodville join her in suicide is one way in which she attempts to socially recuperate her love for her father as legitimate. In her mind, if the honourable Woodville were to join her in death, it would vindicate her desire to reunite with her father as equal in measure to Woodville’s desire to reunite with Elinor. The fact that Matilda is here ready to commit suicide by taking an overdose of Laudanum begs comparison to the way in which she does exit the world. Ingesting Laudanum would poison the body, and perhaps Matilda first decided on this cure as the just punishment for one that already possesses a poisoned mind. Her suicide in this case would be a sensible action done in the service of the state, and therefore not a crime but a boon to the social order. In his essay on suicide from Essays on Suicide and the Immortality of the Soul, David Hume imagines himself grappling with just the type of quandary that Matilda finds herself in:

But suppose that it is no longer in my power to promote the interest of society, suppose that I am a burden to it, suppose that my life hinders some person from being much more useful to society. In such cases, my resignation of life must not only be innocent, but laudable. (165)

In addition to the linguistic coincidence of laudanum being potentially laudable as Matilda’s death vehicle, Hume’s argument here points to suicide as a justifiable and even socially responsible act. In keeping with Hume’s exceptionally logical treatise then, Matilda’s suicide would not only be sensible in consideration of her inability to contribute meaningfully to wider society, but would also not at all qualify as a radical action. Therefore, I would like to position Matilda’s refusal to commit suicide as the truly radical action in the text, because she defers to nature over the social order. Her final lines to Woodville are rich with the images of nature that surround her during her final hours. For example, Matilda urges Woodville to “shed a few natural tears due to my memory: and if you ever visit my grave, pluck from thence a flower, and lay it to your heart; for your heart is the only tomb in which my memory will be interred” (209). These lines clearly indicate Matilda’s certainty that she belongs only to nature and not to any socially constructed order if to any higher power. The image of the plucked flower invites the reader to view Matilda in just such a way, a thing of beauty that was brought to its end through the determined course of the natural world. Matilda clearly gives herself up to these natural forces, noting that it was “in May, three years ago that my folly destroyed the only being I was doomed to love. May is returned, and I die” (209). This placing of emphasis on the cycle of the seasons bringing about her end demonstrates that Matilda has made a conscious decision to allow nature alone to judge and punish her. Directly following her assertion that May will bring her to death, she writes: “I caused myself to be led once more to behold the face of nature. I caused myself to be carried to some meadows some miles distant from my cottage” (209). Graham Allen marks wandering figures as a clearly important theme in the text of Matilda and points out that Matilda’s wandering suggests a loss of identity and direction (52-53) This implies that Matilda has rejected her earlier initial response to self-destroy and that such a response would really be a form of acting on behalf of the state; instead, she prostrates herself before the personified “face of nature” as the ultimate monarch over her fate and is “carried”, as though by the decreed force of nature, to “meadows some miles distant”, themselves perhaps alluding to the Elysium fields of Ancient Greek belief as Allen points out (55). Matilda also ends her letter to Woodville with one final reminder that her pain is caused by nature, when she describes through biblical allusion to Isaiah an “anguish that covers [her heart] ‘as the waters cover the sea’” (210).

            Manfred is similarly subject to the forces of nature in the play and is constantly rejecting the assistance of any being that attempts to assert power over him, such as the Chamois Hunter, The Witch of the Alps and the Abbot of St. Maurice. In his book, Byron and Place: History, Translation, Nostalgia, author Stephen Cheeke discusses the use of the Alps in Manfred and Byron’s evocation of nature as an abstraction (86). To Cheeke the Alps are “a literary mode, rather than a place” and so “stand for a certain ideal model of the human mind”, and he argues that this “asserts the sovereignty of the mind” (86). I agree with Cheeke’s assessment in this instance, as in composing my final response paper last week, I found much focus on the primacy of mind in the text. The only direct experience in the text that Manfred seems to trust is that of mind, which he seems to read as simply an extension of the natural world. Like in Matilda, Manfred seems only to feel a sense of responsibility towards the natural world, a fact supported by comparing his disdain for societal constructs to his reverence for nature. In his first meeting with the Abbot, Manfred is polite to a point, but when the conversation turns to authority and control over the self, and the Abbot urges Manfred to “reconcile thee / With the true church” (3.1.50-51), Manfred refuses to acknowledge that such a public institution has any power over him, stating clearly that he “shall not choose a mortal / To be my mediator” (3.1.54-55). Like with Matilda’s death then, Manfred’s demise is not clearly suicide for the reason that a distinct act of self-destruction would be motivated and subject to the pressures imposed by the human world. So Manfred’s death is closely aligned with the natural world. Just as Matilda is judged under the “face” of nature, so too is Manfred concerned only with the judgements and movements of natural bodies. 

This is made clear in the personification of the sun and Manfred’s attention to its face in Act III, Scene II: 

HERMAN. My Lord, you bade me wait on you at sunset:

He sinks beyond the mountain.

MANFRED. Doth he so? 

I will look on him. (3.2.172-75)

This similarity in the anthropomorphising of nature in both texts reveals that although both characters refuse to participate longer in the social human world, their minds still seem to desire the creation of a figure of judgement or superiority, something to represent or serve as God. Both characters however, are also careful to distance themselves from a distinctly Christian God, another radical similarity the texts share; references in each story allude to distinctly pre-Christian belief systems in Ancient Greece. When Christian allusions are made, it is often to highlight the undesirable position of each narrator. For example, Manfred alludes to the Nephilim in Act III, Scene II when he also addresses the sun in the place of the Christian God: 

Glorious Orb! The idol

Of early nature, and the vigorous race

Of undiseased mankind the giant sons

Of the embrace of angels…(3.2.174-177)

If he is comparing himself with the Nephilim, then Manfred is at once an impure being but also a being supernaturally superior to man through close connection to the angels. There is a similar moment in Matilda when she draws attention to her status as a fallen creature, “cursed and set apart by nature. I thought that like another Cain, I had a mark set on my forehead to show mankind that there was a barrier between me and them” (203). Both narrators abject themselves from the social world by drawing attention to their impure status; just as Cain and the Nephilim had to be destroyed, the implication is that Manfred and Matilda also deserve a similar fate. So the act of suicide would in this sense be a final reiteration of state biopower and the self-denial of true autonomy. This is one way in which the “suicides” of Manfred and Matilda are problematized in the texts in a way that the suicide in The Sorrows of Young Werther is not. Werther’s act of shooting himself in the head should not be read as a rebellious and romantic act, but rather as the only possible result of the social forces that operate against him in the text, such as the social scrutiny he is subject to and even the (all but subtle) connection of Lotte and Albert to the guns that become the implement of state and patriarchal authority. In this sense, the text is very materialistic, and might complicate the tendency to read Goethe as an anti-materialist writer.

            Both Matilda and Manfred are ultimately less complicated in terms of their positions regarding materialism however; both works ultimately seem to reject notions of materialism. Stephen Cheeke points this out in relation to Manfred in his discussion of that text as a “metaphysical meditation” that is “engaged in a critique of a certain form of materialism” (88). According to Cheeke, mind in Manfred becomes a place all its own (88). I find the same focus on the separation of mind and body exists in Matilda, particularly in Matilda’s assertion that through suicide her and Woodville could “become Gods” (201). Matilda then goes on to allude to Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene and compares her offer to help Woodville transition from the physical to the metaphysical plateau to Una’s rescue of Redcrosse Knight from the “dark cavern” of despair (202). Una’s rescue of Redcross Knight could be read as an allegory for mind held over—or separate from—matter, in that mind has the power to alter the destiny of the body. In this, my reading of Matilda’s philosophy of suicide differs from that of Katherine Hill-Miller, who in her book,“My Hideous Progeny”: Mary Shelley, William Godwin, and the Father-Daughter Relationship, sets out the argument that Matilda commits suicide in a bid to destroy her filthy materiality. Though I certainly think that Matilda sees her death as an end to the trappings of her materiality, I disagree that she commits suicide as a form of self-punishment. Matilda does not place primacy on the form of the body and sees her movement from the material world into another realm as her translation to a higher place. It is in this higher realm that she claims she will “be with my father” as death alone will “unite me to my father when in an eternal mental union we shall never part” (208).

Finally, in positioning Matilda and Manfred as radical not for what they do under their disquieting circumstances, but for what they don’t do—namely commit suicide by direct violence—the actions of both Matilda’s father and Astarte should be examined and discussed as clearer suicides that are equally non-radical in nature. There is a potential allusion in Manfred to Astarte’s opening her veins: “I have shed / Blood, but not hers—and yet her blood was shed– / I saw, and could not staunch it” (2.2.214-15). Astarte, now abjected from society, has done the material work of the state; as Hume argues “prudence and courage should engage us to rid ourselves at once of existence, when it becomes a burthen” (167). In Matilda, the father leads Matilda on a wild chase across the country, to the great inconvenience of a large number of guides, servants and his own daughter. He then flings himself from a cliff in a bold statement punctuated by the breaking of his body on the rocks below that is implied by the cottagers that look “aghast” and the fact that his body is “covered by a sheet” (184). It isn’t difficult to read Hume’s philosophy on suicide against the situation of Matilda’s father. The father is no longer “promoting the interest of society” (165) through his impossible attraction to his daughter, a relationship that could produce no socially viable children and will certainly, as Hume suggests, “hinder[s] some person from being much more useful to society” (165). So following logically the philosophy of Hume, a person that serves no social use or has the impression they serve no purpose, is performing a distinct service to society. As Manfred and Matilda both seem to feel quite firmly that they have no useful place in the social order after incest, their refusal to commit suicide as distinct acts of violence represents their refusal to conform to social expectation.

Works Cited

Allen, Graham. Mary Shelley. Houndmills, Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. Print.

Bernhard Jackson, Emily A. The Development of Byron’s Philosophy of Knowledge: Certain in Uncertainty. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print.

Byron, Lord George Gordon. “Manfred.” 1821. In Required Readings for Romantic Radicalism (course-pack). Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Bookstore, 2011.

Cheeke, Stephen. Byron and Place: History, Translation, Nostalgia. Palgrave MacMillan, New York: 2003. Print.

Clemit, Pamela. “From the Fields of Fancy to Matilda: Mary Shelley’s Changing Conception of her Novella.” Romanticism 3.2 (1997): 152-69. Web. Accessed November 22nd, 2014.

Wollstonecraft, Mary and Mary Shelley. Mary, Maria and Matilda. Ed. Janet Todd. London: Penguin, 2004. Print.

Works Consulted

Allen, Graham. “Mary Shelley as Elegiac Poet: The Return and ‘The Choice’.” Romanticism 13.3 (2007): 219-32. Web. Accessed Nov. 22nd, 2014.

—. “Beyond Biographism: Mary Shelley’s Matilda, Intertextuality, and the Wandering Subject.” Romanticism 3.2 (1997): 170-84. Web. Accessed Nov. 22nd, 2014.

Byron, Lord George Gordon. “Manfred.” 1821. In Required Readings for Romantic Radicalism (course-pack). Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Bookstore, 2011.

Chatterjee, Ranita. “Filial Ties: Godwin’s Deloraine and Mary Shelley’s Writings.” European Romantic Review 18.1 (2007): 29-41. Web. Accessed Nov. 22nd, 2014.

Dennis, Ian. Lord Byron and the History of Desire. Newark: U of Delaware, 2009. Print.

—. “‘I Shall Not Choose a Mortal to Be My Mediator’: Byron’s Manfred and ‘Internal Mediation’.” European Romantic Review 11.1: 68. Web. Accessed Nov. 28th, 2014.

Faflak, Joel. “The Inoperative Community of Romantic Psychiatry.” European Romantic Review 20.5 (2009): 721-31. Web. Accessed Nov. 22nd, 2014. 

Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality. Volume 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. Vintage Books, New York: 1990. Print.

Gillingham, Lauren. “Romancing Experience: The Seduction of Mary Shelley’s “Matilda”.” Studies in Romanticism 42.2 (2003): 251-69. Web. Accessed Nov. 23rd, 2014.

Hill-Miller, Katherine. “My Hideous Progeny”: Mary Shelley, William Godwin, and the Father-daughter Relationship. Newark: London; Cranbury, NJ: U of Delaware; Associated UPes, 1995. Print.

Kelley, Theresa M. “Romantic Temporality, Contingency, and Mary Shelley.” ELH 75.3 (2008): 625-52. Web. Accessed Nov. 22nd, 2014.

Moore, Melina. “Mary Shelley’s “Mathilda” and the Struggle for Female Narrative Subjectivity.” Rocky Mountain Review 65.2 (2011): 208-15. Web. Accessed Nov. 24th, 2014.

Raben, Joseph. “Milton’s Influence on Shelley’s Translation of Dante’s ‘Matilda Gathering Flowers’.” The Review of English Studies 14.54 (1963): 142-56. Web. Accessed Nov. 24th, 2014. 

Rowley, William. “On Suicide.” From A Treatise on Female, Nervous, Hysterical…Diseases. 1788. In Required Readings for Romantic Radicalism (course-pack). Ed. Michelle Faubert. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Bookstore, 2011.

Sheley, Erin. “‘Demolished Worlds’: Manfred and Sublime (Un)burial.” Byron Journal 40.1: 51. Print.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Crook, Nora, and Clemit, Pamela. The Novels and Selected Works of Mary Shelley: Volume 2. London ; Brookfield, Vt.: W. Pickering Masters, 1996. Print.

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Bennett, Betty T, and Robinson, Charles E. The Mary Shelley Reader: Containing Frankenstein, Mathilda, Tales and Stories, Essays and Reviews, and Letters. New York: Oxford UP, 1990. Print.

Spark, Muriel. Mary Shelley. Manchester: Carcanet Press Ltd., 1987, 2013. Print.

Spence, Gordon. “The Supernatural in Manfred.” Byron Journal 32.1: 1. Web. Accessed Nov. 24th, 2014.

Stevenson, Warren. Romanticism and the Androgynous Sublime. London: Fairleigh Dickinson UP; Associated UPes, 1996. Print.

The identity Crisis of Swift’s Modest Proposer

By Jeremy R. Strong

            The way in which the narrator of Jonathan Swifts A Modest Proposal confronts the unfamiliar idea of utilizing the poor children of the country for sustenance helps us to understand the narrator as completely sarcastic. On the surface it also helps us understand the political situation in Ireland, the situation of the poor, the religious and political beliefs of the writer and the situation of landlord’s price gouging the already poor Irish commoner. But upon further investigation, there are many subtleties hidden within the work that give us a much more layered understanding of the real Swift, hidden behind his Modest Proposer. This paper sets out to prove that a deeper reading reveals a Jonathan Swift that was frustrated and disgusted by the problem of Irish poverty, but one who also suffered from a crisis of identity that heavily influenced the writing of A Modest Proposal. In doing so I would also like to examine how the piece uses an unfamiliar and barbaric concept like cannibalism to make its point.

            I would assert that it must be said that there are two narrators of A Modest Proposal. The first is the narrator as he presents himself, the shallow and horrible version that exists on the humorous side of the proposal. This is the narrator who speaks with inhumanity about the children of Ireland when he states “Whoever could find out a fair, cheap, and easy method of making these children sound and useful members of the commonwealth would deserve so well of the public as to have his statue set up as preserver for a preserver of the nation” (Page 417). We know upon further reading that this narrator’s idea of making the children useful is by eating them. Compare this narrator with the narrator that states “I grant this food will be somewhat dear, and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children” (419). This second narrator is markedly different. The voice that breaks through here is the true voice of Swift, a man with deep feelings of sympathy for the injustices carried out on the Irish people. This is not the voice of a man who would suggest boiling and eating children as a sensible solution. 

            It is the second narrator that we benefit most from studying, as the true voice of Swift tells us more about his true intentions in writing A Modest Proposal and gives us some important clues as to his inspiration for doing so. This narrator is so filled with despair and disgust about the Irish situation that he is beyond expressing himself through angry and recriminating attacks, appealing to common sense and human decency. Instead, this narrator, past his initial anger, is able to write satire so biting and so extreme and is able to do so with such skill that we almost believe he is serious.

            What we can learn from the clues in the text is best demonstrated by Ian Campbell Ross, in his article A Very Knowing American”: The Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and Swift’s Modest Proposal. Ross presents a fascinating account of the highly likely source of Swift’s inspiration for writing A Modest Proposal. This article helps us to understand how astounding amounts of information can be revealed about the narrator, including the title’s allusion to the knowing American. Of the difficulty of pinning down the identity of the narrator, Campbell writes that “Swift himself was capable of adopting the attitude of contempt for the supposedly barbarous Irish-speaking Roman Catholic peasantry” (Page 19) and that Swift “could even do so as (or after) he distinguished himself from the English, whom he held responsible for Ireland’s contemporary political subjection and economic woes” (Ibid). And that encapsulates Swift’s Identity Crisis. Not English, Not Irish. Not a victim and not a victimizer but deeply invested with understanding the problem from both sides and feeling powerless to move anyone to action. In helping us to understand why Swift was so inspired by the writing of Garcilaso, a man who was “both Inca and Spanish (or neither)” (Page 18), Ross helps us to learn more about Swift himself. He writes that it is unlikely “that Swift would not have had a clear sense that the historical source on which he drew was the work of a writer who, like himself, occupied an uneasy position between two cultures” (Ibid). 

            Another scholar in the field has a different interpretation of the inspiration behind A Modest Proposal. In his article Swift, A Modest Proposal and Slavery John Richardson contends that the largest influence on the content of the Proposal was likely slavery (Page 2). Of the voice presented by the narrator in A Modest Proposal, Richardson believes a specific effect was desired by Swift, writing that “The strangeness of the solution ought to resurrect the reader’s sense of the dreadfulness of the familiar situation, and perhaps prompt a determination to seek change” (Page 1). I agree with this statement and think that Richardson is also correct in believing that the “Authors complicity is evident throughout A Modest Proposal” (Page 13). But also that “Swift is not quite the Proposer, since the latter is married and a father” (Ibid). This supports the idea in my thesis that one should not read A Modest Proposal without considering the two different voices used. Of Richardson’s assertion that the main inspiration for the work was slavery, I do not agree. I find Campbell Ross’s evidence that Swift had been a known reader of Garcilaso far more striking than Richardson’s simple assertion that Slavery was happening during that time period. What I do find in my own reading of the piece are some connections to be made to slavery, supporting a more inclusive idea that the piece was inspired in different ways. Such mentions are brief, but could be interpreted as pertaining to slavery such as “I am assured by our merchants that a boy or a girl before twelve years old is no saleable commodity; and even when they come to this age, they will not yield above three pounds, or three pounds and half a crown at most, on the exchange” (418). Other examples are the wives as “breeder” (Ibid) and the processing of child’s meat as “industry” (421). 

            When considering the two voices in the piece, the overwhelming majority is written in the first voice, that of the fictitious narrator. Swift only gives us a few small glimpses of the second voice, as in the example cited above. For our purposes though, the first voice can also tell us just as much about Swift as the second. Herbert Davis, in Jonathan Swift: Essays on his satire and other studies, a comprehensive book on Swift’s satire, in an essay on the moral satire of Swift, writes that Swift was “parodying himself” (Page 159), and that Swift “has learned that he has no longer any power as a politician; he is unable to influence the government…he is unable to rouse the people” (Ibid). Davis goes on to argue that Swift only could have had one avenue of purpose left open in writing A Modest Proposal, and that is “to appeal to the conscience of mankind” (Ibid). Therefore according to Davis, the purpose of A Modest Proposal and by association, the voice of both narrators, is to raise a shocking moral question in order to demonstrate the hopelessness of the situation in Ireland. This is a device that Swift was forced to resort to after years of writing serious proposals that fell on deaf ears and failed to motivate any real change in the Irish people (Ibid).

            Further study of the narrative voice reveals that Swift was also toying with conventional ideas about the nature of the written word and his reader’s trust of it. In his essay Why the Houyhnhnms Don’t Write: Swift, Satire and the fear of the text, Terry J Castle writes of A Modest Proposal that “Swift’s irony devastates precisely because it exploits our conventional, even superstitious assumption about texts—that they are authoritative signs” (Page 66). Of the design behind A Modest Proposal, he writes that it “models for us that dehumanized script which encourages the dehumanization of the reader: its rhetoric is indeed hypnotic” (Ibid). Therefore if Swift was trying to dehumanize through his writing, he was doing so in the first voice, the fictional voice, the voice that demonstrates indifference for human life that Swift doesn’t really feel himself. This is yet another way that even the fictional voice in A Modest Proposal tells us something important about Swift himself and his reasons for writing it.

            A Further example I have found in the text of Swift’s second voice coming through, is when the proposer writes “I desire those politicians who dislike my overture, and may perhaps be so bold as to attempt an answer, that they will at first ask the parents of these mortals whether they would not at this day think it a great happiness to have been sold for food at a year old in the manner I prescribe” (422). This bitter question is proposed by the real Swift, who is saying that unfortunately, in Ireland, a lot of people would be better off dead than miserable and poor. Supporting this interpretation of the voice of the narrator, Nigel Wood writes in the introduction to his book Jonathan Swift, that in A Modest Proposal, “Swift imaged Ireland as a victim from which he quite strenuously strove to distance himself” (Page 12). Also that “The Modest Proposer is as wearied as the historical Swift by suggesting practical schemes to solve Irish poverty” (Ibid 15). So we see that Swift was so fed up with a people that refused to help themselves, that his resorting to the better off dead mentality of A Modest Proposal is a last resort.

            In the same book, in the essay Swift’s Tory Anarchy, Edward Said claims that “A Modest Proposal announces itself as the thought of everyone but Swift, yet it is indubitably by Swift” (Page 38). I agree with this interpretation and feel that it is supported by the following example; in Swift’s Causes of the wretched condition of Ireland he writes of the children that they are “from their infancy so given up to idleness and sloth, that they often choose to beg or steal” (page 423). Compare this with his mention of children in A Modest Proposal “they can very seldom pick up a livelihood by stealing till they arrive at six years old” (418). The two voices here are almost identical, the only difference is that one is speaking in humor and the other is not, but both voices are saying the exact same thing.

            Swift accomplishes confronting the unfamiliar or at least revolting concept of cannibalism by writing as though he were discussing the weather, or the price of grain. This helps shape the way we understand Swift because we already know he has written passionately about the problems in Ireland; Causes of the wretched condition if Ireland and A Short View of the State of Ireland being just two examples. What it helps us to understand is that, as Daniel Eilon writes in his book Factions Fictions “In A Modest Proposal concealed passion [the infamous dispassionate tone] is the product of fierce frustration whose weakness…has been transformed into strength as steely self control” (Page 49). Also, “Although the Modest Proposal may be crazy (goes the familiar argument), it fits the character of the proposer. According to his value system (and, by implication, ours), the scheme is both logical and humane” (Page 143). Here, Eilon has echoed the contention of this paper that there are two narrators and two voices. The crazy narrator is, of course, the first voice, the more obvious one. But Swift is in there too, exhibiting the “Steely self control”.

            But what of this first narrator, the fictional voice, convincing us that cannibalism is the best solution for Ireland’s woes? What else can we learn about Swift from this voice and how does forcing the reader to confront the unfamiliar shape our understanding of him? In his humorous article Have You Eaten Yet? The Reader in A Modest Proposal, Robert Phiddian writes that “the essay is grotesque without being canivalesque, and the feeling it induces in readers is one of unease rather than of pleasure or release” (603). So though parts of the piece are funny, Swift was not trying to make us laugh, but rather hoping to make us uncomfortable with the ease with which the narrator rattles off lists of ways to cook children. Phiddian also notes that “The Modest Proposal is simply too aggressively alienating to be successful as a hoax” (605) underscoring ideas discussed earlier of Swift’s true reasons for writing the piece.

             John M. Bullitt writes in his book Jonathan Swift and the Anatomy of Satire, that the narrator is “acting in ignorance of his condition” Page 61) and that he “is not consciously malevolent” (Ibid). He then goes on to assert that because the narrator absolves himself of personal interest resulting from the proposal, he has “the total absence of any personal involvement in the realities of misery” (Page 62). But the real narrator, Swift, is the exact opposite of all these things, so are we to infer that Swift is consciously malevolent and therefore desired the genocide of the poor Irish?  I don’t think that we should, given the small clues in text mentioned earlier that prove Swift cares about the way the Irish have been treated. But perhaps Swift did feel anger towards the Irish for allowing themselves to live in squalor and allows this anger to flow through his second identity in the form of such disdain for life.

            So far we have learned that the confrontation with an unfamiliar concept, cannibalism, has shaped the way we understand the narrative voices. But what can we glean from the satire regarding the idea of Swift’s identity crisis as mentioned earlier?  In his essay The Character of Swift’s Satire, Claude Rawson states that the proposer “had in the past, he tells us, proposed “other expedients,” sound measures for Ireland’s benefit that we recognize as those Swift himself had fought for in the 1720s, in vain” (Page 78). So we see that Swift has been in both positions, writing with a real hope to affect change and now, with A Modest Proposal satirizing the fact that he can’t bring it about through sensible means. To this end Rawson also writes that “The essential characteristic of the Modest Proposal is indeed despair” (Ibid 160). Then asserting that although Swift is attacking England in the piece, the main target of his satire is “the selfishness and apathy of the people of Ireland themselves; it is the impossibility of arousing them to effective action” (Page 162). At the same time, Rawson also identifies that same seeming lack of identity in Swift’s A Modest Proposal, pointing out that “this pity for their wretched condition is unaccompanied by any sense of community” (Page 163). This seems to echo the argument of Campbell Ross; that Swift suffered from a lifelong identity crisis caused by his difficulty fitting in with either the oppressive English, or the oppressed Irish. 

            To conclude this investigation into the narrator of A Modest Proposal, I would like to re-iterate that I do believe the piece is best examined as having two narrators. If the word play as Rawson calls it is an “ironic game of self-concealment and then aggressive self-disclosure” (Page 188), then that clearly supports my theory of identity crisis. Because the narrator in the piece retains a cool, dispassionate demeanor, but also “appears to make directly ironic remarks” as Everett Zimmerman points out in his book Swift’s Narrative Satires (page 69), we are forced to listen to both voices. And that is what has made A Modest Proposal a work of such timeless interest. It is complex and continually revealing more and more about Swift as scholars become more interested in the question of his transient identity. 

The ease with which the narrator discusses cannibalism is confrontational and challenges us morally. Phiddian aptly captures this tension, describing how we are “stretched between the polar claims to authority made, on the one hand, by the delinquent and lunatic proposer, and, on the other, by an angry and fugitive Swift” (205). This tension underlines how grappling with the unfamiliar helps shape our understanding of the two narrators.

Works Cited

Bullitt, John M. Jonathan Swift and the Anatomy of Satire. 1961. 

            Harvard University Press.

Davis, Herbert. Jonathan Swift: Essays on his satire and other studies. 1964. 

            Oxford University Press.

Eilon, Daniel. Factions Fictions. 1991. Associated University Presses.

Phiddian, Robert. Have You Eaten Yet? The Reader in A Modest Proposal. 

            Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, (36:3), 1996 Summer, 603-21.

Rawson, Claude. The Character of Swift‘s Satire. 1983. 

            Associated University Presses.

Ross, Ian Campbell. A Very Knowing American”: The Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and 

Swift’s Modest Proposal. Modern Language Quarterly; Dec. 2007, Vol. 68 Issue 4, p493-516.

Swift, Jonathan. A Modest Proposal, Causes of the Wretched Condition of 

            Ireland,and A short View of the State of Ireland. In The Broadview Anthology

             of British Literature: The Restoration and the Eighteenth Century. Ed. LePan,

             Don. Broadview Press. 2006. p417-426.

Wood Nigel, ed. Jonathan Swift. 1999. Addison Wesley Longman Ltd. 

Swift’s Tory Anarchy by Edward Said. Why the Houyhnhnms Don’t Write: Swift, Satire and the fear of the text by Terry J. Castle.

Zimmerman, Everett. Swift’s Narrative Satires. 1983. Cornell University Press.

Reflections of Guilt and Power: The Deadly Curiosity of Caleb Williams

by Jeremy R. Strong

The character Caleb Williams comes increasingly to mirror the character Ferdinando Falkland in more obvious ways throughout William Godwin’s novel Caleb Williams (1794) until finally becoming so like him that Caleb’s efforts to destroy Falkland also destroy himself. I believe that this fatal mirroring takes place due to, as Andrew J. Scheiber calls it in his article “Falkland’s Story: Caleb Williams’ Other Voice”, “the fateful wedge of Calebs “curiosity”” (259). I will discuss the different ways in which Caleb slowly becomes a reflection of Falkland and finally, how his becoming so like Falkland is the reason that the novel ends in despair for both men.

Caleb Williams seeks to master information in the same way that Mr. Falkland seeks to master social interactions and reputation. Caleb is obsessed with discovering Falkland’s secrets, as Scheiber puts it “Caleb attempts strategically to insinuate himself into his master’s confidence” (261). It is this curiosity and persistence that ends up causing Caleb to suspect Falkland of murder and influences him to let nothing take more precedence than discovering the truth of the matter, as in Chapter 6, when Caleb uses the opportunity of the house fire to attempt to discover the secret Falkland is keeping in the trunk. Caleb narrates that he arrived in Mr. Falkland’s private rooms “by some mysterious fatality” (Godwin 210) and several lines later that he knew “not what infatuation instantaneously seized me” (Ibid). Here Caleb is thwarted in his attempt to have confirmed with physical evidence his suspicions about the guilt of Falkland when he is interrupted by the man himself, who puts a pistol to Caleb’s head and threatens him. However, this interaction is the spark that sets in motion the dangerous game of cat and mouse that makes up the remainder of the novel and also sets Caleb on the self destructive mission of striving to know Falklands mind, a mission that forces him to become more like the object of his obsession than he realizes and as Sue Chaplin suggests threatens to destroy them both:

Falkland’s ancestral home catches fire and Caleb firstly resolves, like a dutiful servant, to rescue Falkland’s valuables. Caleb’s insatiable curiosity, however, turns him instead to a locked chest in a private closet which he believes contains Falkland’s confession to the murder of Tyrrel. Caleb chooses to preserve not the symbols of Falkland’s authority, but the deadly secret that threatens to destroy Falkland and Caleb (122-123).

Simple curiosity (which is one of the most powerful forces in human nature) aside, the psychological reasons that Caleb becomes obsessed with Falkland and Falkland’s power are key to understanding the mirroring that takes place in the novel. Gary Handwerk discusses the importance of understanding the novel in psychological terms in his article “Of Caleb’s Guilt and Godwin’s Truth: Ideology and Ethics in Caleb Williams”;

“Caleb William’s narrative structure is obviously allegorical; it translates the larger terms and conditions of political justice into the personal relationship of power between Caleb and his master and mentor, Falkland. Recognizing this, however, does not provide a precise answer for just how the allegory works, especially for how Godwin’s choice to foreground psychology and to put issues in moral terms affects the political message (if any) of the text” (944).

            Handwerk here is discussing the relevance of the moral themes in the novel to the overall political message Godwin is attempting to convey in the narrative, but his comment that the narrative structure of the novel is an allegory for the power struggle between Caleb and Falkland is helpful to the purpose of this paper, which sets out to prove that by so attempting to equalize with Falkland “his Master and Mentor” (Ibid), Caleb is trying to use the political system in the same way that Falkland does; Williams in effect becomes Falkland, or at least, a reflection of Falkland.

Before Caleb does become Falkland’s doppelganger though, he goes through a progression of steps in the novel that bring him closer and closer to completing his horrible metamorphosis. And, before attaining an equal footing with Falkland, as Handwerk points out, Caleb “struggles as a righteous individual against the system whose representative or agent is Falkland, but he finds no opportunity for justice within politicized institutions” (945). Therefore, according to Handwerk, Caleb does at least in the beginning of the novel have the qualities of a righteous individual. It is because of the lack of justice in the system that Caleb has to rely increasingly on mimicking the behaviour of his former master. There are numerous examples of key points in the novel when Caleb takes action that I argue may have been inspired by Falkland’s previous behaviour. One of the best comparisons of such points in the novel is to juxtapose the treatment of the Hawkins’s by Falkland as compared to the treatment of Mrs. Marney by Caleb. Mr. Falkland knowingly lets the Hawkins’s be sent to jail and finally to be executed for the crime of murdering Tyrell, a crime we know that Falkland himself is guilty of. This act is cruel and unusual in that Falkland could have saved the men by admitting his guilt; Falkland keeps silent to selfishly preserve himself from the law. In the case of Mrs. Marney, Caleb hears that she is imprisoned due to her unknowingly having provided assistance to a criminal, himself the dreaded Caleb Williams. This becomes remarkably similar to Falkland’s behaviour, as we learn that Caleb does not turn himself in (his doing so would undoubtedly affect her release) but rather chooses his own self preservation (Godwin 369).

Another very interesting example of how Caleb takes his cues from Falkland’s behaviour is exampled by a comparison of the restraint shown by both men. Falkland, despite the threat that Williams imposes, throughout the novel keeps him alive. This is one of the more interesting aspects of the book, as Godwin early on establishes for Caleb and for the reader that Falkland is willing to kill to preserve his reputation. Why then, would Falkland suffer Williams to live, when Caleb is undoubtedly a liability to Falkland for almost the entire length of the novel? I argue that Caleb, tested certainly to the limits of human endurance and with much less to lose than Falkland, (as he, Caleb is already presumed the worst kind of human being) exercises the same kind of restraint in refusing to harm Falkland physically. This is behaviour he has observed of Falkland, that of using violence upon ones enemies only as an absolutely last resort.

If for the purposes of this argument we can see mirroring as temporarily or permanently “becoming like” or “becoming” another person, then the ending of the novel contains this becoming for both Falkland and Williams. Handwerk presents this key moment in terms of the revised ending and its psychological complexity:

In revising the ending of Caleb Williams, Godwin created one of his most brilliant and memorable narrative passages, its psychological complexity intensified by the way that it startlingly reverses the previous momentum of the novel not just once, but twice – first by Caleb’s triumph in court, then again by his sense of the emptiness of that victory (945).

This triumph by Caleb is his finally becoming Falkland by using the same tools as Falkland, the Law and his spoken eloquence, to achieve victory. Likewise, Falkland becomes Caleb as the victim of such powers, his physical weakness perhaps substituting itself for the political weakness that earlier in the novel kept Caleb imprisoned or a fugitive. Then, as Handwerk has pointed out, Caleb is immediately reduced again to a victim, this time mirroring the way in which Falkland’s triumph over Tyrell was really his own downfall.

The final court scene is also important in demonstrating how Caleb has come to mirror Falkland in his mastery of words and argument, both of which are crucially important to the outcomes of the courtroom scenes. Of this, Handwerk writes that:

Caleb’s moving speech manages to chart a third course, one that allows him to maintain his benevolence and impartiality towards Falkland. Even as he accuses Falkland, he vindicates his master’s character and intentions, rebuking his own “folly and cruelty” in choosing to confront Falkland in court and publicize his guilt. (Ibid)

This can be compared with the scene in which Falkland is the star witness at his own trial, and the applause that greets his acquittal is the expression of “rapturous delight” (Godwin 173). Caleb has in effect become Falkland here, by becoming the suspected villain who moves an entire courtroom to high emotion and by doing so achieves victory. Handwerk sees evidence that Caleb’s mirroring of Falkland in this way stems from obsession:

Caleb remains locked in an obsessive identification with Falkland because he can find no place for himself within the historical narrative he has constructed to vindicate Falkland. Rather than becoming an impartial spectator or a reliable narrator, Caleb simply exchanges roles with Falkland in an ongoing ideological spectacle (950).

And further reason to identify the courtroom drama with the two main characters becoming mirror images of each other, is the fact that “Caleb accepts the role of villain in this revised tragedy, re-enacting Falkland’s melancholy mourning for the other as victim and for himself as the unwilling agent of political injustice” (Handwerk 955). And not only do Caleb and Falkland come to mirror each other physically and in their actions, but also they even feel the same way:

“I now see that mistake in all its enormity. I am sure that, if I had opened my heart to Mr. Falkland, if I had told to him privately the tale that I have now been telling, he could not have resisted my reasonable demand” (323). This fault is Falkland’s as well; Caleb’s one remaining accusation is that Falkland likewise failed to trust him: “You began in confidence; why did you not continue in confidence” (Handwerk 948).

There are other ways in which the two characters come to mirror each other, or as Andrew J. Scheiber calls them, other “parallelisms” (256) that “bind Caleb and Falkland together” (Ibid). Some of these “parallelisms” (Ibid) draw the two characters so closely in tune with one another that it is as though Godwin has created a single person, split into two bodies. As Scheiber notes in his article:

In Chapter 1 Caleb spends a paragraph describing the circumstances of his birth and early years, and briefly notes his general interests and inclinations as a child; in Chapter 2 the same is done for Falkland. Caleb then describes, in the respective chapters, his own physical stature and then that of his master (they are both small and by appearance unathletic) (page 2). 

 Some examples of my own of how eerily the two seem to measure up one against the other; in the courtroom scene at the end Caleb begins to rely on his intellectual abilities (Godwin 431-432) the same way that he recalls, in second hand stories of Falkland, that Falkland had done the same in situations such as the early disagreements with Mr. Tyrell (87-90); Caleb mirrors Falkland in his inability or his refusal to find a female partner; Caleb mirrors Falkland by escaping from prison (294), the same way that Falkland had narrowly escaped going to prison (172); Caleb mirrors Falkland by using his powers of conversation when faced with violence, such as in the woods when he is affronted by Gines (301-302) and the other robbers just as Falkland does on social occasions with Mr. Tyrell (80-81); Caleb will do anything in his power to save his reputation, resorting to disguise, other means of employment, trying to leave the country, etc. just as Falkland was willing to kill and let others die, all to save his reputation; Caleb becomes like Falkland in the end when his entire will is bent on crushing Falkland, just as Falklands entire will was bent on crushing Caleb; Falkland becomes like Caleb when he is old and infirm and his body becomes crippled and useless (429-430), just as Caleb was reduced to an inform state both in prison and when beaten by the men in the woods (302); Falkland uses Caleb’s allies against him by spreading word to Laura through pamphlets about his true identity (402). This is very similar to how Caleb tried to use Forrester to his advantage, planning to leave the employ of Falkland (242); Caleb becomes obsessed with repairing his identity, for he does not want to go down in history as a villain, just as Falkland is concerned with his reputation as a great man to a fault; Falkland keeps secrets, hidden in the trunk. Caleb keeps secrets hidden in an anti chamber behind his room; Caleb begins the novel spying on Falkland, and as the novel progresses, the tables have turned and Falkland is the one keeping tabs on Caleb. In all of these ways the two characters become almost as one in the mind and perhaps this is why at the end of the novel, it seems as though neither of the two is truly victorious, as their dependence on each other seems almost that of father and son.

 Having established that the two characters do in fact mirror each other, I would like to discuss reasons why this may be so. Why does Caleb strive in a way to “become” Falkland? What does Godwin accomplish by having this moral twinning occur? Was his intention to show us that reliance on the political engine and the law do not always translate to truth and justice? Handwerk writes that:

Paradoxically, this reading suggests that Caleb’s error is his failure to step outside those circumstances and outside the legal system in order to seek a personal reconciliation with Falkland: “The direct and private confrontation of truth with error, testing the power of truth, is what Caleb should have attempted, but did not (943).

So if Caleb did indeed fail to deal with the situation of Falkland properly by resolving the conflict between the two of them personally and privately, what could his reasons be for doing so? We know that Caleb spends most of the novel in refusal to publicly accuse Falkland of the murder. Indeed, even when imprisoned, Caleb insists only on his own innocence and not on the guilt of his former master. I contend that it is Caleb’s fatal curiosity that drives him onward even in the face of annihilation. Andrew J. Scheiber’s article supports this theory as in it, when discussing Caleb and Falkland and their symmetry he writes of Caleb that “in the third paragraph of Chapter 1 he names the “spring of action which…characterized the whole train of my life”: his “curiosity.”” (256).  He, Caleb, is determined to figure out, through trial and tribulation if necessary, the truth of Falklands past, whether by discovering evidence or by forcing Falkland to a confession through his unbreakable spirit. It is this deadly curiosity that pulls the two characters so closely together. Caleb’s inquisitiveness and his awe of Falkland draw the two together until they are forced to collide in such a way that destroys Falkland and forces Caleb to acknowledge the reflection of Falkland in himself and therefore his similar moral failings. Handwerk’s theory agrees with this summation:

Failing to recognize the allegorical resonance of his own life, Caleb allowed his impartiality to be corrupted by his sense of self and by his emotional reactions to Falkland. Despite his belief in his own purity of purpose, he fell short of an adequate faith in the efficacy of his own appeal to reverse the predominance of power over ethics (948).

And so finally the curiosity and worship that has driven Caleb to the moment of crisis with Falkland has helped Caleb only to realize the same monstrous nature of Falkland as something that also exists within him. Of the novels ending Handwerk writes that:

Its emotional tone makes Caleb’s sympathy for Falkland extremely suspect, for it derives less from a detached, historical understanding of their relation than from a problematic identification with Falkland and even with his power to oppress. As the postscript continues, Caleb virtually becomes Falkland; he inherits his role as ruthless oppressor, passing on to him the role of innocent victim. Caleb sees himself as all that he has accused Falkland of being, a murderer (323) and an execrable criminal (325), even claiming that he should more mercifully have “planted a dagger in his heart”(as Falkland did to Tyrrel) than humiliated Falkland (150).

Also echoing these sentiments and best summing up the purpose of this paper in arguing that Caleb and Falkland end up mirroring each other to the mutual downfall of each other is Sue Chaplin’s conclusion in her article “A Supplement: Godwin’s Case for Justice” about the results of Caleb’s efforts:

Caleb’s eloquent juridical rhetoric does convince the court of Falkland’s guilt, but at the very moment that justice appears to have been done according to the law, Caleb suddenly sees in the defeated, decrepit, dying Falkland the other he has constantly misrecognized. This isn’t to say that Caleb wishes to re-assert Falkland’s legal authority over him, or that Caleb doesn’t deserve his victory over legal tyranny. Rather, it suggests that there is still some remainder here, something beyond the court room, some sense in which justice remains to be done. Caleb finishes in mourning for Falkland (123).

Godwin has created in Caleb Williams characters that reflect the utmost concerns of humanity; truth, justice and the inner turmoil within every person over mortality and legacy. Artfully, he crafted Caleb Williams and Ferdinando Falkland both in turn as hero and villain and skilfully wove their interconnectedness into a compelling narrative. This investigation into the mirroring between the two men has unearthed a correlation between Caleb’s fatal curiosity and the struggle for power that runs as an undercurrent throughout the novel and has proven the negative psychological effect of the associated guilt and its ruinous effect on both men. 

Works Cited and Consulted

Handwerk, Gary. Of Caleb’s Guilt and Godwin’s Truth: Ideology and Ethics in Caleb 

            Williams. ELH, Vol. 60, No. 4, Winter, 1993, pp. 939-960. Johns Hopkins 

            University Press.

Scheiber, Andrew J. Falkland’s Story: Caleb Williams’ Other Voice. Studies in the Novel,

 (17:3), Fall 1985, 255-266.

Chaplin, Sue. A supplement: Godwin’s case for justice. European Romantic Review

            Vol. 19, No. 2, April 2008, pages 119–124. 

Barker, Gerard A. The Narrative Mode of “Caleb Williams”: Problems and Resolutions. 

            Studies in the Novel, 25:1, Spring 1993, p.1-15.

Godwin, William. Caleb Williams. Eds. Gary Handwerk and A. A. Markley. Broadview

 Press Ltd. 2000.

Doorways to Disassociation: Seeing Spectrally in Erna Brodber’s Myal

by Jeremy R. Strong

In his article “Forging post-colonial identities through acts of translation?” David Winks contends that Ella’s process of reciting the poetry that motivates the plot of Myal also amounts to the “appropriation of the subject’s body” and also results in a “schism of the subject” (70). Winks points out that this schism is the same type of “manichean dichotomy” that is positioned by Frantz Fanon as capable of causing alienation and splitting or dividing of feelings of loyalty and basic personality (70). I argue here that the division of space between the internal and external of the subject and between domestic and natural environments can be further explored through the prevalence of doorways in the text and that such a reading supports Winks’ argument that Ella is a fragmented personality unable to reconcile the division of her “mind and body” (70). The main difference between my reading and that given by Winks is that while his reading closely relates the experience and practice of language to the project of colonization and to the resistance of it (such as his discussion of when Mrs. Holness decides to speak in Patois or more formal English), my reading focuses on the act of seeing as the access point to resisting dominant narratives but also as a technology of dominance and control. In this sense, I read spectral viewing through doorways as a sort of dissociative act that displaces the subject outward, and set this against the re-orientation or pushing inward of the subject by dominant colonial, patriarchal or similar hegemonic representative forces. My return to an examination of the gaze is conducted here in the spirit of Heather Smyth’s resistance to a pattern for scholarship that relies too heavily on the “liberatory dynamic of creolization” as the dominant mode of examining Caribbean diversity in her article ““Roots Beyond Roots”: Heteroglossia and Feminist Creolization in Myal and Crossing the Mangrove” (2). As Smyth points out, creolization can mask “gender and sexual ideologies” that have operated against women in what amounts to a project of heterosexual dominance (2). Smyth, like Winks, focuses in closely on the narrative and structure of the text; the main difference being that while Winks mostly diagnoses Ella and several of the other characters in Myal, Smyth gestures to a feminist politics of social change. In not ignoring the potential disruptions to personality or the ideologies of sex and gender in Myal, I hope to use literary representations of sight to uncover what remains unseen in the narratives of Ella and Anita’s experience.

Myal is a text that cries out for a multitude of different interpretations, through its occasionally ambiguous use of narrative style and even temporally disruptive alterations to perspective. One consistent aspect of the text however, is its focus on seeing and on being seen. In particular, I believe that the novel focuses on conventional forms of framing viewpoint, such as windows and doors—in a rather unconventional way—as a technological extension or perhaps form of mediation, that displaces human subjectivity, particularly Ella’s. As Tom Gunning points out in his essay “To Scan A Ghost: The Ontology of Mediated Vision” in The Spectralities Reader, “A ghost puts the nature of the human senses, vision especially, in crisis” (216). Ella’s collected sensory experiences, as extensions of her embodiment, are depicted throughout the novel as existing upon the edge of such a crisis. Near the beginning of the novel, Brodber gives the reader immediate reason to equate the doorways and windows not only with Ella’s ability to see and be seen, but also with physical limits seemingly imposed, or at least reinforced upon her. For example, the doorway separating the classroom from the play area outside becomes “Ella’s recess spot. She would go no further than the door when teacher let the class out” (10). Her “standing on the concrete during recess, year in year out” certainly seems representative of the liminal nature of Ella’s mixed heritage, much like that of Antoinette in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, but is also directly correlated with the practices both of seeing and of being seen: the other students and the teachers “stopped seeing her and she stopped seeing them” (10-11). So before Ella has her own encounter with spectral representations later in the text, she literally embodies the specter herself as a liminal schoolyard haunt. Perhaps it is the copious amounts of time spent moulding her body to the contours of the doorway that give Ella unique capacities for seeing and displacing perspective through these types of frames.

Windows also figure prominently in the novel as technologies of observation, behind which the observer can exercise power over perspective that implies direct correlations to gender and sexual freedom. Examples of this come both through Ella’s ability to perceive osmosis happening to leaves through the classroom window, and her frequent and repetitive focus on Peter Pan. The focus of the narrative on Ella’s ability to understand the concept of osmosis as, “the process by which a thin substance pulls a thick substance through a thin cell wall”, seems to imply Ella herself is subject to similar assimilative forces of the racial politics of identity, without directly addressing them (11).

The frequent allusions in the text to Peter Pan are also directly connotative of the window as a technology disassociating Ella from real people. It seems then that the correlation of the window to sexual freedom for Ella is that it implies a limited inward gaze, represented by her ability to see inside the leaf and also into the realm of her fantasy. Her relationship to Selwyn then, should be read in terms of what its fantasy appearance conceals. When Ella first travels to Baltimore, the men available to her are only “adult Peter Pans”, of which Selwyn is a distinct representative (46). Selwyn’s jovial nature proves to be but a thin cover for his colonialist embodiment of whiteness and his project of cultural possession (his play) that finally seem to drive Ella to characterize herself in the third person as a sexual object, a “mulatto mule” (84). The limits to sexual freedom imposed by Ella’s indeterminate racial status can be contrasted with the freedom enjoyed by “lily white, English and high” Maydene Brassington, who moves through the story, penetrating Grove Town without spatial restraints (13), or with Reverend Simpson’s ability to measure and judge the worth and projects of the members of the community, including Maydene, often through his windows. The reverend also has access to cultural memory of “six hundred years ago”, which gives him confidence and phallic power within the community (38). Both Maydene and Simpson notably use windows to gaze upon real people, thereby making the window a technology of association while Ella makes it a technology of disassociation through fantasy. In this case, the gaze implies a sexual power when directed outward and a sexual insecurity when directed inward.

While windows demonstrate the variety of sexual limitations placed upon the characters, the doors in the text are interesting in that there seems to be a gendered limit to the access implied by the separation between inner and outer spaces. An example of the gendering of access is demonstrated through Anita and Euphemia’s horrifying experience of Ole African coming to threaten them with his scarecrow presence in the doorway:

“She saw that the greenish early dawn, the colour of young boiled breadfruit, was coming through the door which was now wide open and that a scarecrow was hanging from top to bottom in the doorway, its arms stretched out so that it seemed as if he were a rugged cross” (40).

The scarecrow in the form of a cross could imply that women are to be kept indoors and that religion is a system of enforcing this particular form of embodied slavery. Immediately after Euphemia sees Ole African, Reverend Simpson tells her “the house [i]s now safe” (41). This focus on marking out domestic spaces as safe, returns attention to the doorway as an inherently unsafe place that leads to the definitively dangerous natural world, at least dangerous in that sense to women. Unlike the window, the space of the doorway can be more readily transgressed; but working in tandem with the windows in the novel, the doorways are a form of technology that can have a disassociating affect on identity. This takes physical form in the text when Anita’s face “changes to that of an old woman and she beg[ins] in her stupor to moan and groan like Miss Gatha” (73). This physical change follows immediately on a description in the novel of the “doors and windows” of Grove Town being closed during the day, something that starves Anita of oxygen (72). Here, Anita is shut out from the safe spaces of the homes of others and so the doorways alter her physically. Anita’s experience seems in direct opposition to the way in which doors solidify male identity; Mass Levi seems able to use doorways to his advantage, shutting his family out of the privy, where through access to text he is able to increase his power (74). Levi is similarly able to pierce the windows of the human eye in ways that simply don’t seem available to Ella or Anita. In Chapter 5, he turns this power on Miss Madeline by staring “silently at her until she lifted her eyes to him”, at which point he is able to completely dominate her and from which point on she averts “her eyes from him” (32). So just as windows and doors prove their capacity for disassociation in the novel, they are perhaps as remarkable for the way in which they allow gender and sexual authority to be reinforced.

In this early investigation, I hope to have shown that the windows and doors in Myal clearly invite the reader to question the construction of identity, not only in terms of the politics of visibility, but also from the perspective of gender and sexuality. This allows for further investigation of the obeah ceremony around which Myal is constructed, as a practice both moved by and through embodiments of sexual and gender politics and requiring for its successful completion both solid and fractured identities.

Works Cited and Consulted

Adams, Michelene. “‘the Half has Never been Told’: Revisioning West Indian History in Myal.” Journal of West Indian Literature 18.2 (2010): 160-80. Web. Accessed February 6th, 2015.

Blanco, Maria Del Pilar and Peeren, Esther, Eds. The Spectralities Reader Ghosts and Haunting in Contemporary Cultural Theory. London: Bloomsbury, 2013. Print.

Forbes, Curdella. “Redeeming the Word: Religious Experience as Liberation in Erna Brodber’s Fiction.” Postcolonial Text 3.1 (2007)Web. Accessed February 7th, 2015.

Hutchings, Kevin D. “Fighting the Spirit Thieves: Dismantling Cultural Binarisms in Erna Brodber’s Myal.” World Literature Written in English 35.2 (1996): 103-22. Web. Accessed 8th February, 2015.

Khair, Tabish. “‘Correct(Ing) Images from the Inside’: Reading the Limits of Erna Brodber’s Myal.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 37.1 (2002): 121-31. Web. Accessed 6th February, 2015.

Maximin, Collette. “”Distinction and Dialogism in Jamaica: Myal by Erna Brodber.” Caribbean Quarterly 46.1 (2000): 46-60. Web. Accessed 7th February, 2015.

Rahming, Melvin B. “Towards a Critical Theory of Spirit: The Insistent Demands of Erna Brodber’s Myal.” Revista/Review Interamericana 31.1-4 (2001). Web. Accessed 7th February, 2015.

Smyth, Heather. “‘Roots Beyond Roots’: Heteroglossia and Feminist Creolization in Myal

and Crossing the Mangrove.” Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 12 (2002): 1-24. Web. Accessed 7th February, 2015.

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