Ohio State Lima 2009
Mimetic Desire and the Violent Primitive in The Return of the Native
Writing Center Award
Writing Center Award
Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native is a book which, upon first reading, does not seem to easily cohere into an organic whole and thus yield itself to interpretation. Within the novel's pages, Hardy constructs a tale of life and death in a strange and often disordered corner of England called Egdon Heath, in which time passes without heed to the rest of the world and the forces of civilization seem to be in constant tension with the forces of raw paganism. In his construction of the narrative, Hardy includes a mélange of references to ancient traditions, deities, and myths, thereby making an analysis of the work's mythological underpinnings pivotal to developing a coherent reading. One of the most puzzling questions for critics of the novel, then, is how to interpret the deaths of Eustacia Vye and Mrs. Yeobright—which are symbolically very similar, despite their different situational contexts—in light of these overtones. After all, other than the symbolic connections between their demises, the two characters share very little in common except their desire for Clym. Why should the fates of these characters, who are so radically unalike on the surface, be so entangled in the implied mythos of the narrative? René Girard, a philosopher and anthropologist, would argue that the answer to this question may, in fact, be inextricable from the two characters' shared desire for Clym—in the deep, universal human phenomenon which he dubs “mimetic desire.” Viewing Hardy's book through the lens of Girard's model, then, may provide the key to understanding the common theme which ties together the myth and reality on Egdon Heath, as well as supply new insights into Hardy's portrayal of the tension between Christian civilization and primitive forces.
Since the respective journeys and demises of Mrs. Yeobright and Eustacia Vye are, arguably, crucial to the understanding of the mythic strains of Hardy's novel, clearly establishing the symbolic connection between the two deaths is important. The two deaths do, in fact, yield surprising similarities upon close inspection and even approach a narrative doubling. First, and most obviously, both women are connected with Clym; a central tension throughout much of the book revolves around their strained relations with each other and the alienation from Clym that it eventually causes for each of them. Moreover, Clym names himself as a link between their two deaths: "[Eustacia] is the second woman I have killed this year. I was a great cause of my mother's death, and I am the chief cause of hers” (361). The Nunsuches are another link between the two deaths; both Johnny and Susan are directly involved in the deaths of both women and are, in fact, present at Mrs. Yeobright's. However, what is perhaps the most telling similarity between the two women is of a more symbolic nature: the emblematic wounds which they receive at the hands of primitive forces. After Susan's attack, for example, Eustacia is left with a “bright red spot” of blood, a “ruby on Parian marble” (182), a physical harm which seems to foreshadow the pinpricks her effigy will later receive at the hands of the same character. Mrs. Yeobright, meanwhile, receives a similar mark at the time of her death, a “scarlet speck” that consists of a “drop of blood” that rises above the “smooth flesh of her ankle in a hemisphere” (284). Despite the seemingly divergent aims and personalities of the two women, the imagery connecting their deaths is clearly and strikingly similar. But why?
There has been no shortage of critical evaluation of the deaths of Mrs. Yeobright and Eustacia Vye, but little to no discussion of the narrative doubling between the two women's individual character arcs. Jennifer Gribble, for example, has pointed out the prominent symbolism inherent in the “Quiet Woman” inn, which threads throughout the novel and draws attention to, as she puts it, “sexual disgrace” and “female unruliness” (235). Although Gribble concedes the fact that the two characters are indeed among Hardy's “least quiet women” (235), she seems most interested in exploring their silences (251). Her interpretation is set primarily in the context of gender politics and the exploration of Hardy's sense of narrative. Therefore, although she does connect the deaths of Eustacia and Mrs. Yeobright, the connection is one that is only “mysteriously felt” (251); although she acknowledges ritual as an element, Gribble gives it no absolute motive, no defining boundaries, and therefore no causal power. Sara A. Malton, meanwhile, discusses the deaths of the women in the context of social transgression. In contrast to Gribble, Malton draws attention to the “tension between modern and primitive punishment” and shows that the pricking of Eustacia by Susan is essentially the symbolic choice of Eustacia as a “subject of judgment and punishment” with religious and primitive overtones (154). However, although Malton recognizes the presence of these themes, she contextualizes them solely in terms of transgression of societal and gender norms. The ritual primitive present in the book is therefore reduced to a method of judgment; the weight of causation is thrown entirely on the actions of Eustacia's character. Because Malton also fails to comment on the narrative doubling and does not establish a relationship between the two deaths, the role and symbolism of ritual and sacrifice inherent to the novel is marginalized. In the end, both Malton and Gribble touch on the influence of primitive and ritualistic forces while failing to give them sufficient weight as core elements of the novel.
To truly understand why these primitive forces are indeed pivotal to the novel's meaning, however, we must first examine Hardy's original intentions for his book, as well as outline the theoretical underpinnings of René Girard's work, by which we will then analyze the narrative. In his essay, “The Return of the Native as Antichristian Document,” John Paterson argues that, while the current editions of the book contain much ritual and pagan symbolism, Hardy's original manuscript of the novel was far more obviously rife with anti-Christian sentiment, which was reduced in later editions via textual changes to “a subversive content no longer visible to the naked eye” (112). The phrase “Mediaeval doctrine,” for example, which stands in current texts of Return, was originally and more explicitly “mediaeval Christianity” (Paterson 111). Paterson goes on to elucidate more changes:
In the final terms of the novel . . . the highly charged dancing . . . was to be defined as a recrudescence of paganism: “For the time Paganism was revived in their hearts, the pride of life was all in all, and they adored none other than themselves.” In the original terms of the manuscript, the dancing was defined not only as a reaffirmation of the pagan but also, and more specifically, as a rejection of the Christian: “Christianity was eclipsed in their hearts, Paganism was revived, the pride of lie was all in all, they adored themselves & [sic] their own natural instincts.” (Paterson 111)According to Paterson, these changes are only a few examples of what appears to be a forced purge of anti-Christian sentiment from the novel. The censorship of 1878 was pervasive and authoritative; Hardy likely had no choice but to comply if he wanted to see his book in print.
Despite the textual changes, however, many vestiges of such sentiment remain in the revised novel; certainly, the permeation of religious, primitive, and pagan imagery throughout even the later editions book gives sufficient reason for investigation into their import. Indeed, Egdon Heath is depicted from the beginning as a place of mystery and without definite geographical context; it is an undefined space in which all manner of spirits and malevolent forces can work. Hardy describes it as “singularly colossal and mysterious,” an “untameable, Ishmaelitish thing,” the “home of strange phantoms,” which exhales darkness and is untouched by time (11). Against this backdrop are repeated references to ancient deities and primal forces, “fettered gods” and “nocturnal mysteries” (21; 66). Hardy places special emphasis on the primitive, ritualistic behavior of the citizens of the heath—their maypole ribaldries and bonfire celebrations—and does not hesitate to draw connections between the behavior of the Egdon Heath villagers and ancient religious rituals: “Indeed, the impulses of all such outlandish hamlets are pagan still—in these spots homage to nature, self-adoration, frantic gaieties, fragments of Teutonic rites to divinities whose names are forgotten, seem in some way or other to have survived mediaeval doctrine” (369). In addition to the pervasive nature of primal instincts and rituals, it is clear that the organized Christian church is far from being the locus of communal social action or psychology. Indeed, most residents of the heath seem to ignore its presence: “going to church, except to be married or buried, was phenomenal at Egdon” (86). Hardy, it seems, has taken great trouble to paint a landscape on which the civilized and societally accepted forms of religion are largely overshadowed by the mysterious and ephemeral nature of primeval beginnings.
Perhaps the most obvious example of this theme, of course, is Eustacia Vye, whom Hardy introduces as she stands on top of an ancient burial mound, seemingly at one with the darkness. Eustacia is Hardy's “Queen of the Night,” a woman with “pagan eyes” and “the raw material of a divinity” (66). Eustacia's connections with dark powers do not stop there; John Paterson points out that “nothing more sharply defines Eustacia's antichristian implications than her persistent identification as a black witch, that immemorial antagonist of the Christian faith” (114). In Paterson's opinion, Eustacia Vye was originally “conceived by Hardy as a witch in virtually the literal sense of the term” (114n), and indeed, this assertion does have some textual support in even the later editions of the novel. The relationship and schemes between Eustacia and Damon, in particular, contain much imagery of the dark arts. For example, Eustacia's playful reference to herself as the “Witch of Endor” takes on increased significance through the lens of Hardy's original intent (65). Damon himself, as Paterson points out, is also implicitly a member of this dark circle. Besides the suggestion implicit in the name—“Damon Wildeve” suggests demonism and wild nights—Damon's association and close relationship with Eustacia indict him in her allegedly dark associations (Paterson 115). Hardy's imagery supports this assertion as well; when found by Diggory, for example, Damon is said to start “like Satan at the touch of Ithuriel's spear” (Hardy 148; Paterson 115). All in all, according to Paterson, Eustacia—and, by association, her dark underling, Damon—seem to suggest a sort of “pagan exile” (116). Their presence, against the backdrop of the inscrutable and often dangerous Egdon Heath, cements the tenor of the novel as a work which is intensely interested in the primal undertones of human society at the expense of civilized and modernized religion—in this case, the Christian faith.
It is in this context of subversive anti-Christian sentiment, then, that the work of René Girard begins to arise as a suitable explanatory mechanism for the themes of ritual and sacrifice which pervade the novel. Girard's work, which encompasses many disciplines, focuses on the concept of mimetic desire, which is, he asserts, the root of human violence and as such is deeply imbedded in myth and in human anthropology. Mimetic desire is, in its simplest form, the desire for what belongs to someone else (Cobb 103). As humans, Girard argues, we learn what to do by copying the actions and desires of others, who become our models. If the desire to be like a model is sufficiently strong, we will want to be what that model is—or have what they have. If there are no checks in place to hold back this desire, then we become a rival of the model or models (Williams xi). Periodic manifestations of human violence can, therefore, be explained through Girard's theory as cycles of mimetic rivalry which escalate until they threaten the social fabric of a community (Cobb 103). This occurs because sustained rivalry within a community will, left unhindered, escalate to the point at which rivalry within society is so fierce that everyone prevents everyone else from succeeding. At this point, those involved must necessarily “let off steam” or the community will self-destruct (Williams xi).
Here, at the point of mimetic crisis and extreme disorder, is where the cycle of violence accelerates: at the height of the “sacrificial crisis” (Fleming 44), the crowd—ostensibly spurred on by an accuser, embodied in the concept of Satan—converges upon and murders a victim, who is traditionally innocent from any wrongdoing and is often called a “scapegoat” (Cobb 104). In this way, the war of “all against all” is morphed into a war of “all against one”: a system which Girard terms the “single victim mechanism” (Cobb 103). In this way, by transferring the collective frustration of thwarted mimetic desire onto the physical body of a representative of the community, the society itself can be preserved. This murder typically, if not overtly, resembles blood sacrifice, and its purpose is to produce a catharsis which unites the community once again. Through this mechanism, the community's uncontrollable violence and rage before the ritual killing turns to a profound peace afterwards. As Girard says:
Once the victim is killed the crisis is over, peace is regained, the plague is healed, all the elements become calm again, chaos withdraws, what is blocked or locked or paralyzed is opened, the incomplete is completed, gaps are filled, and the confusion of differences is restored to a proper differentiation. (65)Girard's overarching context for this theory is his belief that this single victim mechanism arising from a sacrificial crisis is what defines human social behavior. Left to its own devices—that is, without the moderating and restraining influences of religion, law, and culture—human primal instincts will naturally lead to a sacrificial crisis. Indeed, it is only in Christianity, Girard believes, that the cycle of violence is uncovered for what it is, and therefore deconstructs. In other words, according to Girard, the Christian sacrifice and its accompanying philosophy is the antidote for the human cycle of mimetic violence (Girard 189).
Putting aside the purely theoretical, however, Girard's theories of human violence can conceivably shed light on the narrative doubling in the deaths of Eustacia and Mrs. Yeobright. Indeed, the story itself would seem to invite such a comparison, if only because the plot is driven largely by a compendium of mimetic rivalries between characters. Hardy highlights this fact not only with overt depictions of competition, but with more subtle depictions of the inherent disorder and confusion within the community. In the opening sequence of the novel, for example, Hardy takes the reader on a dizzying journey throughout the web of the connections on the Heath, which draws attention to the relational and mimetic entanglements of the characters in a way which is both understated and effective. Plunged into Egdon Heath, blackened by an almost palpable darkness and spotted with bonfires (ancient symbols of desire), we are forced follow Captain Vye to Diggory Venn, Diggory Venn to the image of Eustacia Vye on Blackbarrow, from Eustacia to the gathering of Egdon locals around the fire, from the community to Mrs. Yeobright, and so on. The barrage of different viewpoints is disconcerting and disorienting, and, puts the reader on edge; here, just where the reader expects the establishment of the boundaries of characters and interpersonal relationships, Hardy goes out of his way to paint a world with no moral or psychological center. Indeed, he even initially seems to deny the comfort of a protagonist's viewpoint, by which a reader may orient himself. Instead of a society with a clear hierarchy and perimeter, Hardy presents only an intricate twining of volatile human relationships which seem poised to break at any moment. It is a deeply unsettled society—one which seems to bear strong resemblance to a community on the verge of mimetic crisis.
As the book progresses, concrete evidences of mimetic rivalries emerge, grow in intensity, and spawn other rivalries until it seems there is no relationship on the Heath that is not inherently competitive—a strong symptom of Girard's violent community. From the first hint of Venn's thwarted love for Thomasin, an intricate web of desire grows: Venn and Wildeve and Mrs. Yeobright desire Thomasin, Eustacia and Thomasin desire Wildeve, Wildeve and Clym desire Eustacia, and—in what turns out to be arguably the most important rivalry in the text—Eustacia and Mrs. Yeobright desire Clym. The underlying mimetic nature of these relationships is implied strongly throughout the narrative, and in some cases is overt. Eustacia and Wildeve's passion for each other, for example, never seems so strong as when they must compete with another admirer. In Wildeve's case, the obstacle of Eustacia's husband is as “a ripening sun to his love” (254), and throughout the novel he is predictably uninterested in that which is easily his. Because of his penchant for only desiring what another man possesses, he is easily manipulable, a weakness which Mrs. Yeobright exploits to persuade him to marry Thomasin. Eustacia, too, recognizes that her attraction to Wildeve may be the “result of antagonism” when she discovers that Thomasin no longer wants Wildeve:
Thomasin no longer required him. What a humiliating victory! He loved her best, she thought; and yet—dared she to murmur such treacherous criticism ever so softly?—what was the man worth whom a woman inferior to herself did not value? The sentiment which lurks more or less in all animate nature—that of not desiring the undesired of others—was lively as a passion in the supersubtle, epicurean heart of Eustacia. (99)Clearly, both of these characters are so dependent upon mimesis that when the rivalries are taken away their desires are invalidated. Hardy's statement that such sentiment “lurks more or less in all animate nature” seems to suggest his recognition of the universality of this human dynamic. It is a dynamic which pervades Egdon Heath and is intrinsic to the mechanisms of the plot.
According to Girard's model of violence, in such a climate of mimetic conflict and complicated societal relations, a scapegoat must emerge and a sacrificial crisis must occur. In the very beginning of the novel, however, it is not immediately clear who this scapegoat must be. Johnny Nunsuch, at first, is not an altogether implausible choice. In a way, Johnny is an “other”--the prerequisite for the traditional scapegoat—but he is not exempt from the results of social discord; he is, in fact, bodily harmed on his way home from tending Eustacia's bonfire. Of the three who shed blood during the course of the plot, Johnny is the first, and significantly, he does so upon his involvement with the mysterious Diggory Venn. His meeting with Diggory, who looks as if he has been “dipped in blood” and whose appearance arguably is the harbinger for the mimetic crisis which subsequently engulfs the heath, sets up Johnny's involvement with the rest of the characters, his vulnerability to the consequences of conflict within the community, and his connection with the sacrificial forces on the heath (30). From that moment, Johnny is integral to the plot; he is directly involved in the death of Mrs. Yeobright and only somewhat less directly involved in Susan Nunsuch's indictment and attacks on Eustacia Vye. In the wild transference of guilt that takes place in the days and moments leading up to Eustacia's death, he is a necessary link.
He is, however, not the only contender for the part of the scapegoat; Eustacia Vye, in fact, has perhaps the greater claim. Hardy, in fact, seems to go out of his way to set her up in this role by painting her as a witch; in the context of other primitive elements in the plot, it is hard not to surmise that Hardy did not envision her in the role of the sacrificial victim. At the time the novel is set, after all, the witch trials and hangings of 16th and 17th century England were not so far in the past. An accusation of witchcraft was a common method of popular scapegoating in earlier British communities, and the psychology is obviously present in Hardy's Egdon Heath. For example, the story of Jane Wenham, who was accused of witchcraft in 1712, bears some recognizable similarities to the situation of Eustacia (Guskin 94); both Jane and Eustacia were subject to communal gossip and both were stabbed with a needle or other sharp object in order to draw blood and prove their witchery. Intentional or not, Hardy establishes clearly in the first third of the book that Eustacia is, if not an outcast, certainly a person viewed with suspicion by the community. The villagers refer to her as a witch as they sit around the bonfire, and Eustacia herself refers to herself in seeming playfulness as the “Witch of Endor” (65). Of the people in the community, Mrs. Yeobright is among the most suspicious. “People say she's a witch,” Mrs. Yeobright notes, early in the book. Later, when relations between Eustacia and herself have soured considerably, she warns Clym that “[g]ood girls don't get treated as witches even on Egdon” (65). Eustacia is, therefore, set up from the beginning in the traditional role of the scapegoat, one informed by collective British consciousness and memory.
If Eustacia is in the role of scapegoat, however, it is Susan Nunsuch who sits in the chair of the accuser, an integral part of Girard's cycle of violence (Williams xii). Although Susan professes Christianity, her actions toward Eustacia indicate her true allegiance to the method of pre-Christian catharsis present in Girard's sacrificial model; she is the embodiment of the primitive forces that permeate the Heath. If many in the village suspect Eustacia of witchcraft, it is Susan who is compelled to act upon these suspicions, driving a stocking-needle in Eustacia's arm in the middle of a church service—another of Hardy's subtle digs at the potency, or lack thereof, of Christian culture. Susan, more so than any other character in the novel, has an instinctive recognition of the primal forces working on Egdon Heath. Early in the book, Susan's inclinations are hinted at through her “death's head” dream (34), and her later attempts to end Eustacia's life through image magic cement her position as a practicer of dark arts and a disciple of ancient superstitions. Susan's primitive knowledge allows her to sense—albeit subconsciously—the mimetic crisis that is descending upon the community. Thus, when her own son, Johnny, becomes ill, she immediately perceives it as a symptom of that larger illness, the “plague” of Girard's model (Girard 53). As she recognizes the danger, she has no thought of natural causes; instead, in accordance with Girard's model, she immediately suspects that Johnny is serving as the sacrifice for communal guilt.
Susan, however, clearly believes that the primitive and sacrificial forces on the Heath are as manipulable as they are potent, and she therefore turns to the remedies provided by ancient human knowledge and superstition. For the community to return to a state of equilibrium, someone must die. Therefore, to save Johnny, she must transfer the responsibility for the community onto someone else's shoulders—the one that she believes to be the true “other” in their society: Eustacia Vye. To do this, Susan returns to the primitive methods of marking a witch: drawing blood with a stocking-needle, leaving a small but telling physical blot upon Eustacia's ostensibly flawless skin. The symbolism of blood here is important: in the Girardian model, the shedding of blood is the means by which guilt is imputed to a scapegoat and thus excised from the community (Cobb 104). Also important is the fact that Susan's symbolic role as accuser equates her with the role of Satan—the ultimate accuser—in Girard's model. Susan's marking of Eustacia therefore has far more importance within Girard's theory of mimetic crisis than it does out of such context; she is, within this model, providing a physical manifestation of Eustacia's “otherness”—and, thereby, establishing to the community her eligibility for the role of scapegoat—and imputing guilt in order to mark her for the sacrifice itself. In essence, then, the episode in the church is Susan's endeavor to sacrifice Eustacia for the good of the community and her son. Although Susan likely believes that such a symbolic sacrifice is sufficient to achieve the desired ends—after all, the conscious basis for her schemes is only village superstition—Hardy has painted Egdon Heath as a world in which the superficial practice of an ancient ritual will not be adequate to appease the malevolent forces at work. Susan's son remains ill, and the mimetic rivalries within the community continue to intensify.
Indeed, the primitive forces of the heath pushing towards a sacrifice, rather than diminishing, also seem to increase as the novel progresses towards a climax. It is, outwardly, these forces that unexpectedly claim the life of Mrs. Yeobright as she returns from her foiled attempt to visit her son. Since she has not been singled out as a scapegoat, this death seems curious in light of Girard's theory. Her death is neither required for communal harmony nor executed by communal forces; it is, in terms of mimetic theory, inherently gratuitous. However, as established, Hardy clearly connects the two deaths, necessitating a closer look. Prominently, Mrs. Yeobright's death occurs immediately after a major event in the book's most important set of mimetic rivalries: Eustacia's refusal to allow Mrs. Yeobright into her home. All of the central players in the mimetic rivalry are involved in this event, and it is at this point that relationships are at their most convoluted and dissatisfaction is rampant. Hardy links the escalating mimetic tension with the shifting moods in the landscape: “stinging insects” haunt the air, the trees keep up a “perpetual moan,” and the “maggoty shapes of innumerable obscure creatures” are seen in the “vaporous mud”--the heath itself seems to be rising to take a victim (266; 267). The presence of Johnny Nunsuch, the manifestation of the plague and the personified impetus for Susan's initial attack on Eustacia, also signals that a pivotal point in the single victim model is likely to transpire.
However, the mark of the sacrifice itself—and its source—provides what is perhaps the most important clue to the greater context and symbolism of Mrs. Yeobright's death. The mark, like Eustacia's, is that which is indicative of blood sacrifice, of the imputation and bearing of guilt on behalf of a community. What is perhaps more intriguing is the source of that mark: it is not given to her, as is Eustacia's, by human hands. “She has been stung by an adder!” exclaims a villager, upon observing the wound (284). Later, Christian Cantle muses on the significance of the snake: "Neighbours, how do we know but that something of the old serpent in God's garden, that gied the apple to the young woman with no clothes, lives on in adders and snakes still?” (285). This, combined with the imagery of an angry heath—Mrs. Yeobright walks through “Devils Bellows” on her way to the home of Clym and Eustacia—adds new elements to Hardy's treatment of primitive forces and mimetic crisis. First, of course, it draws direct relationships between the forces on the heath, the death of Mrs. Yeobright (and, by extension, Eustacia), the mimetic crisis in which the characters find themselves, and Satan himself—the ultimate evil of Christian tradition and the accusational force within Girard's model. No longer do the mimetic crisis and its consequences seem instigated and perpetuated by purely human forces; rather, the supernatural—which has been hinted at throughout the novel—seems to be a primary influence in the outcome of human events on Egdon Heath. Placed into this frame of reference, Girard's theory seems to be thrown out of balance; on Egdon Heath, it seems, Satan is so powerful that communal human sin is no longer necessary to incite a mimetic crisis. As shown by the fate of Mrs. Yeobright, the malevolent force which abides on the Heath has the power to choose and sacrifice its own scapegoat in a rapid and grotesque parallel of the single victim mechanism. Here, then, Mrs. Yeobright's death is both a manifestation of the sacrificial model and a disturbing extension of it—an extension in which the mythological Satan is powerful enough to negate the need for human participation in the sacrifice.
The symbol of this malevolent supernatural within the mimetic crisis, however, has broader implications within the framework of Hardy's intention to write an anti-Christian novel. If the central tension in the novel is the influence of Christianity versus the power of the primal and pagan, the symbolism inherent in the adder's successful attack on Mrs. Yeobright is arguably pivotal to a complete understanding of the novel. The success of the snake in wounding and killing Mrs. Yeobright, despite the best efforts of those who try to save her, is arguably a commentary on the true power which lies behind the ancient paths of human knowledge and behavior. In stark contrast to the Christian assertion that the serpent in the Garden of Eden, Satan, has been rendered impotent by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Hardy represents a world in which the ancient forces are undeniably the most powerful forces. On Egdon Heath, the single victim model has not been undermined by Christian doctrine and culture, the dark arts are the strongest, and the snake still has dominion over the woman—his head has not been crushed by the forces of good. Essentially, then, Mrs. Yeobright's death symbolizes the resurgence of that which Christianity claims to have destroyed—or at least to have dominated; clearly, the true power on Egdon Heath stems from forces which are inherently opposed to a Christian divinity. Mrs. Yeobright's death is, therefore, a departure from the Girardian model, but it is an important and revealing departure. By portraying her death as the consequence of a voracious sacrificial appetite on the part of unseen primitive forces rather than a distinct human community, Hardy is able to portray a world which is anti-Christian not only in its practice, but in its very essence—Satan, it seems, is in full force on Egdon Heath—and, by extension, in human affairs.
Eustacia's death, afterwards, continues in this vein; although it is the more communally motivated and executed sacrifice and the one which most closely fits into mimetic theory, it also has distinct elements of the demise of Mrs. Yeobright. The actual causes of Eustacia's death, however, are more complicated than they appear at first glance. Susan's influence is, of course, fundamental; as the personification of primitive forces (or, in light of Mrs. Yeobright's death, of human primitive forces), her machinations function on two levels: as the surface practice of superstition to rid herself of Eustacia and as an attempt to sacrifice the ritual victim in order to free her family and community from the throes of mimetic crisis. Intrinsic to her endeavors, however, is her dependence on the same forces which caused Mrs. Yeobright's end; she does not directly attack Eustacia, but uses image magic in order to unleash natural powers against her, a well-known superstitious practice in rural England. When Eustacia dies, therefore, the success of Susan's sacrifice is as eerie as it is complete; once again, as in the case of Mrs. Yeobright, the heath has risen up with the full force of sacrificial vengeance—but this time seemingly at the bidding of a human. However, the question of Eustacia's responsibility for her own death complicates matters; if her death is a suicide, then Eustacia herself has become inextricably involved in the process of the sacrificial mechanism alongside Susan and her primitive forces. Because Hardy refuses to specify the agent of Eustacia's fall, however, her death and the forces which cause it remain ambiguous; the cause seems an undefined mixture of the agenda of a larger, malevolent force, Susan's superstitious plotting, and, perhaps, the psychological weight of Eustacia's own feelings of guilt.
Despite these permutations, however, Eustacia's death and its aftermath fit the Girardian model very well. It is the sacrifice of her, after all, and not of Mrs. Yeobright which brings the sacrificial crisis to its end, resolving the conflicts between characters and restoring a sense of communal peace. Diggory Venn, who, earlier in the novel, walked blood-red onto the heath as the symbol of the impending crisis, returns after Eustacia's death as a sign of its resolution: “[T]here stood within the room Diggory Venn, no longer a reddleman, but exhibiting the strangely altered hues of an ordinary Christian countenance, white shirt-front, light flowered waistcoat, blue-spotted neckerchief, and bottle-green coat . . . . Red, and all approach to red, was carefully excluded from every article of clothes upon him” (368). The absolute absence of red in this case is striking; considering the pervasive symbolism of blood throughout the novel to this point, Venn's rejection of its symbolic color in the end signposts the community's return to a state of health. The mimetic conflicts which had sickened the entire society are now completely excised from the Heath. Venn's way to Thomasin and her child is now clear; Damon Wildeve is no longer around to desire either Thomasin or Eustacia. And, of course, the two women who bitterly contended over Clym are both dead, claimed in the same sacrificial ritual. What is perhaps most indicative of the state of affairs at the end of the novel, however, is Clym's occupation as “itinerant open-air preacher and lecturer on morally unimpeachable subjects” (389). Although his “want of spiritual doctrine” indicates that his vocation is not necessarily a return to orthodox Christianity, it does seem to represent the reinstatement of Christian civilization and control on Egdon Heath and the surrounding villages. Clym, who was at the center of the mimetic conflict, has now withdrawn from the community and is totally absolved of desire; he stands alone on Blackbarrow. Also telling is the fact Susan Nunsuch and her son do not appear again in the novel after the death of Eustacia; the primal forces with which they are equated seem appeased—for now. The cycle of mimetic conflict and sacrificial violence may be complete, but no guarantee exists that it will not emerge again in a new form later; the Heath, after all, is a place which transcends time, and the forces which rose to kill Mrs. Yeobright and Eustacia are still present—should mimetic rivalries on the Heath escalate once again, they too will reemerge.
It is, in the end, these shifts in balance from one polarity to the other that characterize The Return of the Native; the novel is, first and foremost, a nuanced portrayal of the struggles of a society in limbo between primitive forces and Christianity. Hardy's presentation of this struggle, however, is clearly not impartial, as his comment at the end of the book indicates: “Human beings, in their generous endeavour to construct a hypothesis that shall not degrade a First Cause, have always hesitated to conceive a dominant power of lower moral quality than their own; and, even while they sit down and weep by the waters of Babylon, invent excuses for the oppression which prompts their tears” (366). Here, with surprisingly little subtlety, Hardy implies that the charitable, loving God of Judeo-Christian belief is purely a human construct, built to steel humans against the harshness of their fates. If there is, indeed, a First Cause, Hardy seems to think it likely that it is not a generous divinity. Such a statement, especially in light of the malevolent forces which seem intrinsically involved in the sacrificial deaths of Mrs. Yeobright and Eustacia, seems especially revealing. By emphasizing the possibility of a malevolent supernatural which affects human dealings in both his plot and his commentary, Hardy paints an even more pervasive picture of primitive violence than does Girard. Hardy's primitive violence—embodied in Satan—is powerful enough to both co-opt Girard's single victim mechanism and, as demonstrated in the case of Mrs. Yeobright, even be independent of it and its requirement for human conflict. By showing Egdon Heath's reversion to a sacrificial victim culture, Hardy essentially undercuts the foundation of Christian culture, the alleged antidote for the single victim mechanism. In his world, Christianity may exist on the exterior of human dealings, but the disorder of native and primal forces is always lurking within, threatening to return.
Cobb, Kelton. “Blood Sacrifice and Redemptive Violence.” Conversations in Religion and Theology 2 (2004): 99-107.
Fleming, Chris. René Girard: Violence and Mimesis. Malden, MA: Polity, 2004.
Girard, René. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. Trans. James G. Williams. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2001.
Gribble, Jennifer. “The Quiet Women of Egdon Heath.” Essays in Criticism. 46 (1996): 235-257.
Guskin, Phyllis J. "The Context of Witchcraft: The Case of Jane Wenham (1712)." Witchcraft in England. Ed. Brian P. Levack. Vol. 6. New York: Garland, 1992.
Hardy, Thomas. The Return of the Native. World's Classics-Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005.
Malton, Sara A. "'The Woman Shall Bear Her Iniquity': Death as Social Discipline in Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native." Studies in the Novel 32 (2000): 147-164.
Paterson, John. “The Return of the Native as Antichristian Document.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction. 14 (1959): 111-127.
Williams, James G. Forward. I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. By René Girard. Trans. Williams. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2001. ix-xxiv.M
Between An Angel and a Madwoman
Writing Center Award
Writing Center Award
In the novel, To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf represents the intense feelings of restriction characteristic of patriarchal Victorian society in her female protagonists Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe. Both women are condescendingly marginalized by their male counterparts with respect to their achievements, capabilities, and talents. Within these juxtaposed central characters, Woolf offers dichotomous responses to the entrenched system of gender-based hegemonic tyranny. Given the outrageous demands that characterize her marriage to her philosopher husband, Mrs. Ramsay, the consummate wife and homemaker, is veritably suffocated by her diligent ministrations to her family. Yet, Mrs. Ramsay is a willing accomplice to her own subjugation. Alternatively, Lily Briscoe’s non-conformist identity, both as an artist and an independent “spinster,” is under constant assault by both her male peers and Mrs. Ramsay. Inside the patriarchic Victorian universe, Woolf demonstrates the extreme struggles of both characters to reconcile the tension of individuality and social integration. Within the “moment of being” experienced by Lily in the novel’s denouement, Woolf ultimately privileges a compromise response to gender inequity as opposed to the inflexible reactions of radical societal estrangement or explicit collaboration.
In her essay Three Guineas, Virginia Woolf asserts that patriarchal society, which is tolerantly forgiving of the masculine, “is an ill-fitting form that distorts the truth; deforms the mind, and fetters the will” for the feminine (qtd. In Dick 63). This extreme societal repression of the feminine is reflected in Woolf’s struggling protagonists Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe. Yet these central characters offer starkly contrasting responses to male hegemony. Virginia Woolf consciously crafts Mr. Ramsay as the primary oppressor of Mrs. Ramsay. Significantly, Mr. Ramsay’s profession as philosopher introduces within the text the Western origins of phallocentric hegemony. Like philosophy, gender based discrimination was born in ancient Greece, where the masculine was institutionally privileged over the feminine. Ancient Greeks perceived women as an impediment to the pursuit of knowledge (Bressler 169). According to Aristotle, the woman is “matter, waiting to be formed by the active male principle…Man consequently plays a major part in reproduction; the woman is merely the passive incubator of his seed” (qtd. In Bressler 169). Thus, even the narrow “feminine” role of motherhood is strictly impugned by misogynist philosophical tradition. Phallocentrism, according to Bressler, is: “any form of criticism, philosophy, or theory dominated by men and thus governed by a male way of thinking” (354). Operating under this definition, the phallocentric corruption of philosophic tradition is self-evident. In Greek tradition, women are both passive and valueless. Given the prejudice of Aristotle, who would have been crucial in the formative development of the philosopher, it comes as no surprise that Mrs. Ramsay’s parental role is narcissistically undercut by Mr. Ramsay at the outset of the novel. His introduction to the novel constitutes the heartless destruction of hopeful trust shared between Mrs. Ramsay and her emotionally vulnerable child James. With a simple declaration: “But, it won’t be fine,” Mr. Ramsay undermines the credibility of the devoted mother (Woolf 4). The significance of this breach of filial trust by the intrusive male is established when the weight with which Mrs. Ramsay associates the role of motherhood to self-identity and fulfillment is considered. Mrs. Ramsay “would always have liked to have had a baby; she was happiest carrying one in her arms” (58). Though she dutifully does not shy from this strictly narrow Victorian gender expectation, to birth and foster progeny, this identity is unjustly disparaged by Aristotle’s hegemonic tradition.
The role of philosopher for Mr. Ramsay has additional implications noteworthy in his individual development as an oppressor. Though he is considered to be exceptional in his academic field, and has solved the philosophical riddle of “Q,” he struggles to comprehend the relevance and identity of “R.” In his struggle, “he heard people saying – he was a failure – that R was beyond him; he would never reach R” (34). Allegorically, this philosophical stumbling block represents total lack of self-awareness or comprehension. Because Mr. Ramsay is unable to apprehend even himself, with whom he is conceivably more familiar than anyone, he is ill prepared to understand the enigmatic complexities of another, especially an individual as richly constructed as Mrs. Ramsay. Without this basic understanding, Mr. Ramsay is ill prepared to perceive his own complicity in gender injustice, or to empathize with the larger societal plight of women. In fact, it is Mrs. Ramsay who comprehends her husband, not vice versa. Brooding upon his academic mediocrity and textual “regurgitation,” Mrs. Ramsay intuitively perceives his lamentation that he “would have written better books if he had not married” (69). This narcissistic sentiment, though unspoken, patriarchically assumes that Mr. Ramsay’s intrinsic character was compromised, and that his professional potential was undermined in marriage. Yet this concept of “dilution” in matrimony is deplorably inappropriate when applied to the Victorian male, especially in the privileged case of Mr. Ramsay. Indeed, the discriminatory repression imposed upon Victorian women in England, such as that borne and suffered by selfless Mrs. Ramsay, is so iniquitous that Virginia Woolf declaratively characterizes its repression in Three Guineas: “You shall not learn; you shall not earn; you shall not own” (qtd. In Bazin 171). In strict opposition to Mr. Ramsay’s university matriculation, Mrs. Ramsay, like Virginia Woolf, is not privileged to empowering opportunities such as formal education. Even before the iniquities and expectations of Victorian matrimony, Mrs. Ramsay’s societal human worth had been diluted. Indeed, it is Mrs. Ramsay, saddled with the inordinate responsibility of maintaining a house comprised of eight children, whose potential has truly been undermined: she is no longer the “happier Helen” reflected in the personal inscriptions of admiring authors; ironically, these authored praises are shelved, neglected and forgotten, because her tragic existence prevents her enjoyment of them (27).
Mr. Ramsay, in seeking to comprehend “R,” usurps for himself the independence, needs, and energies of his wife. Lily Briscoe asserts that Mr. Ramsay is neither hypocritical nor untruthful; he is “the most sincere of men, the truest, the best; but…he is absorbed in himself, he is tyrannical, he is unjust (46). If Lily is to be believed, then Mr. Ramsay is endowed with all the admirable “male” qualities and, simultaneously, the least possible amount of mitigating corruptions. Yet even an intrinsically noble man such as Mr. Ramsay could not withstand the immense societal misogynist pressures which molded within him an unconscious oppressor. Therefore, Mr. Ramsay’s ill-tempered foil Tansley, who tyrannically carries innate resentment of women, is a more representative example of deep rooted feminine oppression. Mr. Ramsay, according to Lily, is a “good” despot. His intrinsic “goodness,” however, does not mitigate his gender destructiveness. Mrs. Ramsay’s struggles to maintain her family’s cohesive health, both emotionally and financially, prove all consuming to her character such that “there was scarcely a shell of herself left for her to know herself by” (38). This feminine loss of identity through marriage is directly attributable to the “wifely” responsibility: the consuming toll of perpetually stroking the fragile and child-like vanity of the male. Woolf describes this feminine duty, at the expense of the self, as relieving the “thigh bones, the ribs,” and enabling the male desire to “assert” himself (91). Woolf’s metaphorical correlation of “rib” to male vanity is a conscious allusion to the genesis of “fallen” Eve from the rib of “altruistic” Adam as represented in the Old Testament. With this metaphor, Woolf captures the Victorian devaluation of females framed through iniquitous gender and marital expectations, and described through imagery of the progenitor of the femme fatale, Eve. In this metaphor, Woolf strikingly communicates Victorian society’s depraved perception of women. With these facts in mind, modern feminist critics Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar have identified two constructs to which women traditionally conform within literature: “the angel of the house” and “the madwoman in the attic” (Bressler 178). Virginia Woolf reveals her starkly feminist perception of the “angel of the house” in her essay “Professions for Women” delivered before the Women’s Service League:
She was intensely sympathetic. She was immensely charming. She was utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily…Above all – I need not say it – she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty – her blushes, her great grace. In those days – the last of Queen Victoria – every house had its Angel. (Norton, Vol. F 2153)
The qualifiers denoted in Woolf’s essay are undeniably satisfied in the archetypal “angel” Mrs. Ramsay. Mrs. Ramsay, the veritable “angel of the house,” is subject to gross domestic exploitation by domineering males (Bressler 178). Indeed, as is the case of Mrs. Ramsay, the “angel” has difficulty in perceiving her intrinsic identity, let alone appreciating her individual self-worth, because, like Eve, she is defined in terms of her husband and children (178). Indeed, Mrs. Ramsay is only able to define her true self in terms of an enigmatic “wedge of darkness” (Woolf 63). To exacerbate this alienation of self, the lone approbation given to Mrs. Ramsay, which links her male oppressors Mr. Ramsay, Mr. Bankes, and Tansley, is their appreciation of her physical radiance. Thus, Mrs. Ramsay is veritably reduced to a physical object aesthetically decorating their phallocentric world. Though this misogynist pattern is demonstrated throughout the novel, it is especially apparent when narcissistic Tansley, while walking beside Mrs. Ramsay, felt for the first time “an extraordinary pride” when a male laborer admired her notable beauty (14). Herein, Mrs. Ramsay is reduced to a mere adornment of Tansley, and, as in similar circumstances represented, his swelling pride is won only at her injurious expense.
However, this dehumanizing objectification is not, for Mrs. Ramsay, the most injurious assault. Mr. Ramsay’s most potent weapon, the “scimitar of the male,” constitutes the perpetual and childish demand for sympathy, and proves far more destructive (38). Mr. Ramsay is in “sterile” constant requirement, regardless to Mrs. Ramsay’s own state of internal disquiet, to be reminded of his genius and warmed in the feminine “circle of life” (37). Herein, the impotent Mr. Ramsay wields his “scimitar,” a euphemism for a phallic sword, which he seeks to warm in the very essence of Mrs. Ramsay’s womanhood (38). Though Mr. Ramsay’s efforts to buttress his masculinity while exploiting Mrs. Ramsay’s selflessness may be interpreted at face value, as a simple need for external assurance, it must also serve, at the least, to introduce the reality of the very physical threat omnipresent to women. Forced sexual submission was not uncommon in Victorian marriage. According to Wilson and Wilson, the act of rape offers masculine power through destruction; in this act “the male ego was able to blossom like a hot-house plant – for male sexual fulfillment is an assertion of the ego” (439). Given Mr. Ramsay’s bruised vanity, his frustrated male ego, and his masculine “need to assert himself,” the consideration that Mrs. Ramsay has had to surrender to forcible sexual advances to the “active male principle” is not irreconcilable. Whether her children were conceived consensually or otherwise, unarguably it is the tremendous individual toll of raising eight children which proves so personally suffocating. Mrs. Ramsay acknowledges that, though she finds fulfillment in her children, it is this very obligation which prevents her creation of “a model dairy” or “hospital” on the deficient Isle of Skye (58). Herein, Woolf again reverses the notion of dilution through marriage. It is Mrs. Ramsay who has had to sacrifice both her potential and her ambitious dreams for family. Though Mr. Ramsay most probably does not constitute this cad, and an interpretation which assumed his identity as a spousal rapist would necessarily be a character injustice, a larger injustice of omission perpetrated against the very real Victorian wife-victims would be committed should this possibility dismissed outright. Woolf, too, would have ascribed to this argument, given her strenuous declaratory emphasis on the injurious masculine “scimitar” which relentlessly “smote mercilessly, again and again” (38).
Even within marriage, this sense of opportunity lost in favor of patriarchic familial obligation is witnessed. Faced with the opportunity to promenade the beach at night with her children, Mrs. Ramsay declares her strong desire to join them: “How I wish I could come with you!” (117). Yet something very strong inhibits her. Despite this desire, the angel Mrs. Ramsay selflessly “never thought of asking herself what it was” which shackled her (117). This confusion is carried into next the scene, as she seeks to identify the source of her misgiving. Immediately, confronted by her husband brooding over texts, her memory is stimulated to recall his bruised ego at the dinner table. He had been reminded that his texts were not timeless as Shakespeare’s: he had not solved ‘R’. According to Mrs. Ramsay: “He was always uneasy about himself; that troubled her” (118). Seeking to confront her husband’s nagging self-doubt, and to “relieve the pressure of his thighs,” Mrs. Ramsay significantly begins to read aloud Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98. Yet, even in her selfless sacrifice to him she is tyrannically attacked by his misogynistic bias: he “exaggerated her ignorance, her simplicity, for he liked to think that she was not clever, not book learned at all; he wondered if she understood what she was reading; probably not” (121). Given the distinct advantage of an institutional education over his wife, this disparagement is especially severe. Despite this harsh indictment, Mr. Ramsay, just as Shakespeare’s speaker in the poem, pays tribute to the beauty of his subject: “She was astonishingly beautiful” (121). Yet this assertion objectifies Mrs. Ramsay still further; rather than reconciling the tension of beauty and intelligence within Mrs. Ramsay, her husband’s juxtaposition only serves to intensify further her “ignorance”.
Ultimately, it is the suffocating weight of Mrs. Ramsay’s “wifely” quotidian responsibilities, domestically consisting of both the trivial and the vital, which cause her to seek shelter like a wounded bird. Her “angel in the house” efforts physically “exhausted” her, and there “tinged her physical fatigue some faintly disagreeable sensation with another origin” (39). The nature and sum-total of Mrs. Ramsay’s “obligations” were so physically consuming that she was being choked. The consequence of this spiritually asphyxiating world was that Mrs. Ramsay could only “be herself, by herself” (62). Like a storm battered ship, threatening to capsize, she reaches for the sheltering protection of the phallic lighthouse. In the piercing light thrown by the phallic beacon, Mrs. Ramsay paradoxically seeks to introspectively apprehend her own true nature so long repressed in the enigma of her dark form. This rare promise of self offers her a glimmer of counterbalancing power and strength, however ephemeral. Her stroke, the “long steady” third beam, offered rare privilege: she was unshackled by condescending needy males. The liberation that the lighthouse offered was such that, she “could go anywhere, for no one saw it; they could not stop it…there was freedom, there was peace” (62). It is this derived strength which leads to Mrs. Ramsay’s epiphany: she declares “It is enough, it is enough!” (65).
Yet, in this stark world of societal feminine repression, it is Mrs. Ramsay who is her own warden. Rather than represent an alternative to her own “angelic” subjugation, she is fully invested in its propagation. To the obvious approval of her husband, Mrs. Ramsay is actively transmitting the Brothers Grimm tale “The Fisherman and his Wife” to her youngest son James. Echoing both the classical perception of the female as a “parasite” or “obstruction,” and the Judeo-Christian mythical representation of Eve, the wife of the fisherman is a femme fatale who parasitically causes her selfless husband’s downfall. Though this represents a stark inversion to her own individual marital experience, she does not hesitate to teach her son arcane folklore specifically designed to socialize and apologize for patriarchic societal repression of the feminine. Of even greater significance are Mrs. Ramsay’s proactive matchmaking efforts. In her own marital circumstance, Mrs. Ramsay is privileged to apprehend the simple truth that her husband “made things worse for her” (64). Yet, the privilege of this knowledge is fully undermined by Mrs. Ramsay’s assertion that, in her iniquitous marriage: “she had had experiences which need not happen to everyone” (60). This declaration stands as an apology to marital suffering by the tortured “angel of the house.” This serves to self-justify her perception that Minta must marry Paul Rayley, Lily Briscoe must wed William Bankes, and Prue should soon be a bride. These desires stand diametrically divorced from her self-sacrificing marital reality. By Mrs. Ramsay’s own estimation, she was “making Minta marry Paul Rayley” (60). When the newly engaged couple is led into the dining hall by Mrs. Ramsay, Lily perceives them as “victims” being transported to the sacrificial “altar” (101). Given the nature of her experience, this evaluation by the unmarried “spinster” would seem more natural if derived from spiritually choked Mrs. Ramsay. Yet, she is the primary catalyst for this union. Ignoring her own compromise to misogyny, Mrs. Ramsay avers that “people must marry; people must have children.” These aphorisms reveal the depth of Mrs. Ramsay’s notion of feminine self-sacrifice. Rather than an agent of feminine liberation, she is in fact a willing accomplice to misogynist hegemony.
Within the character of Lily Briscoe, Virginia Woolf proffers a dichotomous response to patriarchic domination. Lily, though a generation younger than Mrs. Ramsay, was subject to the very same institutional resistance and discrimination that faced Mrs. Ramsay. Like Mrs. Ramsay, as a middle class woman, avenues of advancement within society were virtually non-existent. Woolf’s declarations haunt as strongly for Lily: “You shall not learn; you shall not earn; you shall not own.” Just like Mrs. Ramsay, Lily recognized that “she liked to be alone, she liked to be herself” (50). Yet, unlike Mrs. Ramsay, Lily Briscoe refused to compromise or “dilute” her spiritual independence within the “degradation” of marriage (102). The product of Lily’s love, which she describes as “beautiful and necessary,” is not consummated in marriage or constituted in children, but is expressed in the purity of her art. However, this artistic independence exists in diametric opposition to Victorian gender expectations. While Mrs. Ramsay represents the archetypal “angel in the house,” Lily Briscoe, the violator of Victorian gender mores is the inscrutable “madwoman in the attic.” According to Gilbert and Gubar, the “mad woman” representation is used to demonize and disparage the independent woman, while usurping any niche in literature and society where she may burgeon (qtd. In Bressler 178). This literary demonization of Lily is apparent even in physical description: unlike Mrs. Ramsay’s resplendent beauty, Lily is marginalized as prohibitively unattractive. Mrs. Ramsay, again the agent of the establishment, physically disparages Lily: “With her little Chinese eyes and her puckered up face, she would never marry (Woolf 17). This condemnation serves to perverse the state of Lily’s marital independence; it assumes that this freedom is not derived from Lily’s own free will, to maintain her spiritual integrity, but rather, as a condition resulting from Lily’s rejection by society as being unworthy of marriage. The damage wrought by this superficial demonization is indeed severe, and is only superseded by the identity of its orator. Mrs. Ramsay constitutes not an ally in Lily’s opposition to misogyny but an antagonist.
Yet impugning or maligning Lily’s physical appearance does not fully undermine her character. Are not many wives perceived as unattractive, especially by their spouses? Indeed, even Minta managed to lose the physical interest of her husband. Only the denigration of Lily’s art, her lone pathway to independence, constitutes a truly effective means of marginalizing Lily as a social deviant. Mrs. Ramsay, as though dismissing an annoying fly, asserts: “One could not take her painting very seriously” (17). Despite this artistic rejection, Mrs. Ramsay claims affection for Lily as “an independent little creature” (17). The disingenuousness of this claim is self-evident when juxtaposed to her former assertion. If Lily is too ugly to marry, then she does not constitute an “independent creature.” Independence is an assertion of individual right, not collective alienation. Lily’s art veritably is her independence; if not the financial means by which she maintains her physical independence within patriarchic society, it is the emotional means through which she derives her strength. Lily’s art provided her a tool with which to existentially grapple In a dark world; Lily’s liberating art provided her “daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark” (161). More powerful than the phallic lighthouse, it is the only tool from which Lily is assured of her emotional, and perhaps physical, independence from patriarchic tyranny. In dismissing Lily’s art, Mrs. Ramsay thrusts a dagger into the heart of the independent woman.
This objection by Mrs. Ramsay to Lily’s independence is mirrored at the dinner table. Not only did Mrs. Ramsay constructively place the chauvinist Tansley directly opposite Lily, where his sanctimonious attacks would be most perceptible, but she additionally cruelly disarmed Lily to his narcissistic assaults. Tansley denigrates women as simultaneously boring and ignorant, yet, like Mr. Ramsay, he actively seeks a female to stroke his vain ego. He impotently maneuvers to hypocritically “assert himself” within the realm of dinner conversation, to prove his intellectual superiority at the expense of the “silly” female (90). Yet, Lily’s smiling experiment, her determination to not provide “relief to his thigh bones,” a form of passive resistance which Thoreau would have deemed admirable, is fully undermined by Mrs. Ramsay. Seeking to exploit the very real affection Lily fosters, which contrasts to her own concern, Mrs. Ramsay silently appeals for Lily to unjustly compromise her independent values in favor of the chauvinist Victorian set. This appeal may seem small for Mrs. Ramsay, as she has already willingly surrendered her own independence, but for Lily, it constitutes no small favor. Yet, for her friend, she performs this service willingly; Lily, mirroring the angel’s own selfless service, is “nice” to her oppressor (92). Additionally, given Lily’s declaration that she has had to “renounce her experiment for the hundred and fiftieth time,” it is clear that this violation of her individuality, though not insignificant, has become routinely performed (92). Yet, even in this situation, Lily’s compromise of her individuality affords her no measure of justice or satisfaction. According to Lily, despite her diplomacy toward Tansley, “She would never know him; he would never know her; human relations were all like that, and the worst were between men and women” (92). Sabotaging progress, the tyrannized Mrs. Ramsay, the “angel of the house,” yet again acts in perfect concert with her male exploiters, whom she herself characterizes as “merciless.”
Because the role of artist for Lily proves so empowering, liberating, and central to her identity, societal resistance to its expression portrayed in the text warrant further scrutiny. Mrs. Ramsay’s objections to Lily’s art are joined in constant refrain of the truly tyrannical Tansley: “Women can’t write, women can’t paint” (86). Even Bankes, whose perception of Lily appears genuinely favorable, joins in this choral condescension; in evaluating Lily’s portrait of Mrs. Ramsay, he criticizes her work as “simple, obvious, commonplace” (52). This devaluation of her art is analogous to the disparagement of the female in general. Lily was not immune to the effects of these aspersions. According to Lily, justifying her creations, in which she attempts to reflect her very individual perception of the world, was as thoroughly disheartening as attempting to “clasp some miserable remnant of her vision to her breast, which a thousand forces did their best to pluck from her” (19). Despite immense collective pressure to abandon her unconventional artistic expression, exponentially enhanced by her own significant misgivings, the veracity of Lily as a true artist cannot be doubted. To do so would be to question the literary craft of Woolf herself. According to Fernald, Lily Briscoe offered Woolf an “anonymous artist” to textually impersonate, granting her the artistic freedom to develop her work (159). Like Virginia, Lily is afflicted by artistic misgivings and struggles to “express her vision” (Briggs 178). Therefore, Lily serves as a literary proxy for Virginia, performing the crucial role of articulating her own individual privileging of the independence of the feminine through art over societal male subjugation, especially characteristic in the iniquitous institution of marriage. As already implied, the charges impugning the character of Lily’s “silly” art do not result from benign artistic criticism. Indeed, the text does not privilege an evaluation by the only other artist in the house whom such criticism would seem natural: Augustus. This denunciation by creatively feckless amateurs constitutes, in fact, a deep seeded ideological knee jerk reaction to Lily’s nonconformist identity. In “Professions for Women,” Woolf asserts that the “angel of the house” veritably strangled independent thought, stifling individual creativity, and that had she not “killed” her, then certainly “she would have killed me” (2153). This is certainly the case for Lily. By delegitimizing her art, agents of the patriarchic establishment seek to undermine that which they perceive as radically unpalatable. Like Virginia, Lily has had “to pay for the independence she has gained” (Bazin 129).
Though unstated, it is the very weight of the compromise of self which results in Mrs. Ramsay’s death. Even before her demise, her exploitation had been such that “there was scarcely a shell of herself left to know herself by” (38). The unjust cause and trajectory of her downfall was assured. Yet, even in death Mrs. Ramsay is cheated. Her bright light is extinguished within “Time Passes” almost as an afterthought or footnote to the chapter. Furthermore, it is only through the “inconvenience” of Mr. Ramsay that her loss is even expressed; without her significant support, helpless Mr. Ramsay nearly falls over within his own home (Woolf 128). As with the worn beach house, Mrs. Ramsay died of exploitation and neglect. This tragic loss serves to clearly reveal Woolf’s perceptions of the consuming nature of unjust marriage. Yet, even independent Lily was not immune to this loss. Lily was veritably connected to her complicit oppressor, regardless of her long absence or physical estrangement. Indeed, it is this fact of human connection which brings her back within the Victorian family fold. Rather than join Mr. Ramsay and his children on their trip to the island and its phallic lighthouse, Lily remains behind to commune closer with the feminine essence of Mrs. Ramsay. Like Woolf, Lily attempts to represent Mrs. Ramsay and her own sense of loss within her art, to reconcile “these emotions of the body” (178). This struggle by Lily reflects her strong attachment, despite its characteristic tyranny, to the Victorian family and the tragic “woman hero” which maintains it. These dual themes of mortality and alienation, so central to the text, which Lily seeks to reconcile and balance, significantly echo the motifs of John Donne’s “Meditation XVII: No Man is an Island.” Donne’s poem acts as a skewed mirror to Woolf’s text. It is the woman, the disparaged “woe of man,” who is institutionally alienated from wider society which Woolf attempts to represent. As Lily struggles on the canvass to come to terms with her loss and her own identity, to mimic this tension on canvas, she literally cries aloud for the return of her martyred friend, “Mrs. Ramsay! Mrs. Ramsay!” (180). This impassioned plea reflects Lily’s stark realization that Donne’s metaphorical funeral bells toll as much for herself as for Mrs. Ramsay. This epiphany in the dénouement resolves the text’s central tension, and for Lily:
the pain of the want, and the bitter anger lessened; and of their anguish left, as antidote, a relief that was balm in itself, and also, but more mysteriously, a sense of someone there, of Mrs. Ramsay, relieved for a moment of the weight that the world had put on her. (181)
Because Lily can be so strongly identified with Woolf herself, or vice versa, it is the nuanced lesson of Donne which Woolf wishes us to apprehend. Sexual independence is very important, necessary even for the true expression of the individual, and it should not be compromised. Despite tremendous gender resistance, one cannot be physically divorced or isolated from fellow humans, regardless of society’s iniquitous chauvinism. Given her sudden desire for human connection, Lily yearns for Mr. Ramsay, whom she had before categorically dismissed. “Where was that boat now? And Mr. Ramsay? She wanted him” (202). It is this newly discovered bond to humanity, which must not be severed, that allows Lily to sense the Ramsay family’s landing upon the island: “He has landed; it is done” (208). This connection empowers Lily to cross the divide which separates her from Mrs. Ramsay. She is able to culminate her artistic vision, painting not at the lonely extremities of either pole, but through a compromise stroke flashed in the middle of her canvas (209). Donne asserts that, “all mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must so be translated” (Norton 1305). Thus, in Woolf’s revisionist Donne, the author offers the promise of gender equality within societal integration as opposed to without. Iniquitous man, through the improvement of “translation” of chapters and editions, will evolve to be a just text worthy of Woolf’s literary canon. Thus, every generation, collectively and consciously connected, will offer progress beyond the misogynist hegemony of the past. Living in the presence of tyranny, one cannot perish each alone.
Bazin, Nancy Topping. Virginia Woolf and the Androgynous Vision. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 1973.
Bressler, Charles E. “Feminism.” Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2007. 167-190.
Briggs, Julia. Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life. Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 2005.
Carroll, Berenice A. “’To Crush Him in Our Own Country’: The Political Thought of Virginia Woolf.” Feminist Studies. 4.1 (Feb., 1978) 99-132.
Dick, Susan. “’What Fools We Were!’: Virginia Woolf’s ‘A Society.’” Twentieth Century Literature. 33.1 (Spring, 1987) : 51-66.
Donne, John. “Meditation XVII: No Man Is An Island.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, et al. Vol. I. 8th ed. New York: Norton, 2006.
Fernald, Anne E. Virginia Woolf: Feminism and the Reader. New York: Palgrave, 2006.
Wilson, Colin, and Damon Wilson. “The Sexual Criminal.” Written in Blood: A History of Forensic Detection. New York: Caroll & Graff, 2003. 433-516.
Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. New York: Harcourt, 1927.
---. “Professions for Women.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Volume F: The Twentieth Century and After. Ed. Jon Stallworthy, et al. 8th ed. New York: Norton, 2006.
Anna Morgan: Rhys's Soucriant on a Voyage in the Dark
Critical analysis of Rhys’s character, Anna Morgan, often classifies her as a tragic hero because she follows the main criteria for Aristotle’s template. She arouses pity from the reader, is often sympathized with as a well-meaning character, and faces a meaningful decision throughout the last half of the novel. Miss Morgan fails the test on being a tragic hero because she isn’t a very moral person at the beginning of the story, and she never learns from her mistakes. An anti-hero at best, Anna Morgan is a parasitic creature, morally twisted by desires left unfulfilled and continually likened by Rhys to a vampire, rather than a hero.
The beginning passage of Rhys’ novel is strikingly similar to the initial stages of transformation in vampire myth. When the turning began for her, “a curtain had fallen,” it was “almost like being born again,” and as humanity slowly left her, she realized “the feeling things gave you right down inside yourself was different” (Rhys 7) which is the same pattern many descriptions of turning into a vampire share. After Lucy is bitten in Dracula, Mina writes in her journal that “the adventure of the night does not seem to have harmed her; on the contrary, it has benefited her, for she looks better this morning than she has done for weeks” (Stoker 98) and describes her continually refreshed, but “in a half-dreamy state, with an odd look on her face” (Stoker 100) that showed her altered state. Elements of that change are evident in her imagination of “sun-heat,” and the memories of life before her change (symbolized by her move to England). The separation anxiety of this limbo state is expressed in the passage where Anna thinks, “Sometimes it was as if I were back there and as if England were a dream. At other times England was the real thing and out there was the dream, but I could never fit them together” (Rhys 8), corresponding to the confused state of undeath-- living, though dead, and not really either.
Anna’s friend Maudie acts as Anna’s mentor, and in Maudie’s introduction there are many similarities drawn to vampiric nature. Lucy had Dracula, Lestat had Marius, and Kadeem Hardison even had Eddie Murphy in the 1995 vampire film Vampire in Brooklyn. While Anna is a fledgling, Maudie is experienced vampiric mentor. Maudie’s appearance-- “Maudie was tall and thin, and her nose made a straight line with her forehead. She had pale yellow hair and a very white, smooth skin. When she smiled a tooth was missing on one side. She was twenty-eight years old and all sorts of things had happened to her” (Rhys 10)-- parallels Dracula’s description in Bram Stoker’s novel nearly a century earlier:
I knew him at once from the description of the others. The waxen face; the high aquiline nose, on which the light fell in a thin, white line; the parted red lips, with the sharp white teeth showing between; and the red eyes that I had seemed to see in the sunset on the windows of St. Mary’s Church at Whitby. I knew, too, the red scar on his forehead where Jonathan had struck him. (qtd. in Stevenson 141)
These two descriptions share the white skin, linear features, emphasis on the mouth and teeth and the effects of trauma hinted at by the overall appearance. She looks the part as she tells Anna what she needs to do to make it in this new world-- this new life. “You’ve only got to learn how to swank a bit, then you’re all right” (Rhys 10).
This stage of turning is referred to as the ghouling process. A human man or woman will drink the blood of a vampire and begin to slowly change over time. This ghouled (or zombie-like) state is also an undertone in these early passages. Anna’s lack of clear perception, “perpetually moving to another place which was perpetually the same,” and the grey haze clouding what she saw was manifested in her environment:
There was always a little grey street leading to the stage-door of the theatre and another little grey street where your lodgings were, and rows of little houses with chimneys like the funnels of dummy steamers and smoke the same colour as the sky; and a grey stone promenade running hard, naked and straight by the side of the grey-brown or grey-green sea; or a Corporation Street or High Street or Lord Street where you walked about and looked at the shops. (Rhys 8)
Leaving her world behind to find her new place as a parasitic creature in England, Anna is beginning her descent into the dark world of the vampire--a child of the night. This is her Voyage in the Dark.
Shortly after Anna meets Jeffries, while Maudie talks about her own man, Anna thinks about things and tunes her mentor out. These private thoughts express the coldness she feels, symbolic of her humanity fading. Her humanity is dying, and the chill of it is constantly affecting her. She thinks of her trip to England--her ghouling-- and ends that journey, that transformation, with the comment, “A curtain fell and then I was here,” which is reminiscent of the beginning of the novel. England represents the culture of vampires, with “hundreds thousands of white people white people rushing along and the dark houses all alike” (Rhys 17) and she is becoming a part of it.
If Maudie was Anna’s mentor, Jeffries is the creature which completes Anna’s transformation. He shares similarities with the Count as Maudie does, sharing the emphasis on redness and whiteness (Stevenson 141) that is predominant in Dracula. In Jeffries’ world of England, the waiter is described as having “a hooked nose and pale, flat face” (Rhys 19) which follows the white, linear facial patterns, but “their noses were exactly alike,” narrates Anna as she notices the similarities between them. The restaurant itself expressed the redness, with “a red-shaded lamp on the table, and heavy pink silk curtains over the windows. There was a hard, straight-backed sofa, and two chairs with curved legs against the wall -- all upholstered in red” completing the vampiric color scheme. Jeffries continues to wine and dine her, and she drinks quickly, thinking it was because “all day I had been feeling as if I had caught a cold. I had a pain in my throat” (Rhys 20), when it was really the effects of vampirism. The initial pain of the bite to the neck, and the thirst for blood which is confused with mortal forms of thirst until it is overpowering is what Anna is experiencing, if only symbolically.
It is in this scene that the distaste for the Church rises to the surface in Anna. She notices a woman praying “just like a rabbit, she was, like a blind rabbit. There was something horrible about that sort of praying. I thought, ‘I believe there’s something horrible about any sort of praying’” (Rhys 21), and with these thoughts she openly states her contempt for Christian belief. This separation from holy doctrine runs parallel to the fact in myth that vampires are repelled by strong belief and physically harmed by the touch of a cross or being within the vicinity of a church (and being unable to enter a church, at that).
This distinction in color propagates a postcolonial reading of the novel parallel with the racial considerations found in Dracula. The recurring scenes where Anna recognizes the differences between white and black set up a strict dichotomy of which she fits into only haphazardly. The whiteness and redness being applied to vampires says much for Anna’s perception of England, because “color, in fact, which is commonly used in attempts at racial classification, is a key element in Stoker’s creation of Dracula’s foreignness” (Stevenson 141) and also positions Anna closer to her native islands of the Caribbean. With her move to England, she is becoming more integrated with English society, but she does remark that she “didn’t like England at first” (Rhys 7) and is on her way to becoming a vampiric parasite like the rest of them.
When Anna visits Jeffries for the second time, the idea of her being a virgin is brought up (as it often is) only to be disputed by her. Arguing with Jeffries, Anna claims over and over again that she is not a virgin, leading up to the ambiguous section: “Of course you’ve always known, always remembered, and then you forget so utterly, except that you’ve always known it. always -- how long is always?” (Rhys 37) It is this section that brings to mind Rhys’s personal experience with abuse. Critics state that “Anna Morgan in Voyage in the Dark appears to survived an un-narrated, largely inaccessible sexual trauma” (Linett 440), which echoes the male figure who sexually abused Rhys as a child. This loss of virginity in such a manner parallels the act of spreading vampirism, which is seen as a “rape” of humanity. For Dracula, “his crime is not the hoarding of incest but a sexual theft, a sin we can term excessive exogamy” (Stevenson 139), which closely relates to what Anna has feasibly gone through, if not exactly so. For Anna, the parallelism between her coming to England and her loss of virginity are tied with the concept of reality. She tells Jeffries that “people have made all that up,” about virginity, and that it doesn’t matter if she is or not (hinting at the idea of vampires being myth and imagination) only to be once again rebuked by him, “Oh yes, it matters. It’s the only thing that matters” (Rhys 36) because in the myth of vampires, it does.
To suck the blood of a long dead body is anathema to vampires, and in earlier works, Dracula included, to suck the blood of another vampire wasn’t appealing either. Count Dracula needed to continually find new mates to feed off of because of this, saying to Mina, “And you, their best beloved one, are now to me, flesh of my flesh; blood of my blood; kin of my kin; my bountiful winepress for a while; and shall be later on my companion and helper” (qtd. in Stevenson 143) which is strikingly similar to Walter’s treatment of Anna; she is used, for a while, and then the passion dies and she is to be replaced. When she fully realizes what she’s done is the completion of her transformation. She looks at herself in the mirror, and thinks, “I hated the looking-glass in his room -- it made me look so thin and pale” (Rhys 40) following the myth that vampires cannot be seen in mirrors. She is fading into English life, and losing her foreign qualities she so sympathizes with.
Being foreign heavily draws on having a connection to humanity. In Dracula, the Count was symbolic of being foreign, for “the novel insistently--indeed, obsessively-- defines the vampire not as a monstrous father but as a foreigner, as someone who threatens and terrifies precisely because he is an outsider” (Stevenson 139) and in the way that the English here are connected to vampirism, what is foreign to England is relatable to humanity and humane qualities. The Sunday after this encounter with Jeffries, accompanied by the irritating church bell “with that tinny, nagging sound they have” (continuing with the theme against religion) Anna remembers once more life back in the colonies during this “heavy, melancholy” day. She remembers the worries imposed on her by her family’s white people, and the comfort she found in the warmth of the blacks. She relates her initial disposition against the Church, finding it discomforting and confining, “everything starched and prickly” (Rhys 41) insinuating that her initial rape may’ve been so early to have happened in the colony.
This trend continues when Anna remembers a conversation she had with her father and aunt, Hester. She remembers Maillotte Boyd, a mulatto house servant’s name and information on a slave-list and connects it to her own possibly mixed heritage. Hester, who is the one who brings Anna to England, says how “the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children” explaining that Anna was cursed for her father’s mistake. Hester is agitated at the foreign state of Anna’s lineage, but her father discounts this idea as a myth. The myth of vampires and their also-foreign bloodlines is seen here as a similar argument against racism. Her father tries to both soothe Anna and warn her against following her aunt, saying “don’t get tangled up in myths” (Rhys 53) showing a dual-meaning implied by the passage: there is cultural criticism and a foreshadowing of what happens when racial conflict defines a society. This dual-meaning echoes Dracula, when “the problem of interracial competition would have probably had an especial resonance” in its day (Stevenson 140). The transparency between what Anna remembers as the novel progresses and what she does continues to show her induction to this “myth.”
When telling Walter about her homeland, he tells her that is sounds like the place “would be altogether too lush for” him, and her response, “You might as well say the sun’s lush” (Rhys 54) recognizes the fact that one from England would be put off by sunlight, even if Anna does not. As she is led up to the bedroom and lies down, memories of the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Hell and Heaven. This thought of death is embodied in her, and she lies so still that Walter has to ask if she’s asleep. The conversation she thinks about between her and Beatrice has Anna claim that she isn’t afraid of death; perhaps she had faced it already with the rape she suffered.
There is another, more literal, reading of Maillotte Boyd’s entry that is equally viable. There is a profound need for vampires to seek the company of others. They are known as a dark family and the lust for fresh blood and ensuring their race’s survival-- reproducing by turning more humans-- and more modern writings carry with them a romantic view of this which goes as far as to call it love. The beginning of Queen of the Damned by Anne Rice is a marked example of this fetish-like need some vampires retain of human companionship:
I’m the Vampire Lestat. Remember me? The vampire who became a super rock star, the one who wrote the autobiography? The one with the blonde hair and the gray eyes, and the insatiable desire for visibility and fame? You remember. (1)
Unfortunately for them, vampires never age past a point. Their public life of fame is limited because their face is known, and will never change. After Lestat’s public emergence, he knows that “It will never again be what it was” (Rice 4). While Queen of the Damned was written after Rhys’s Voyage in the Dark, its precursor, Interview With the Vampire, was published in1976, six years prior to Voyage’s publication. Anna’s wishes to be a showgirl and her affinity to seek the attention others is quite similar to Lestat’s own retelling of his past experiences with the same want:
Yet, you know, the sheer joy of being out there, making music, making theatre, making magic!--that’s what it was all about in the end. I wanted to be alive, finally. I wanted to be simply human. The mortal actor who’d gone to Paris two hundred years ago and met death on the boulevard, would have his moment at last. (Rice 5)
When she thinks of Maillotte Boyd, aged 18, Anna also thinks, “But I like it like this. I don’t want it any other way but thus” (Rhys 65). Anna’s 18...
If the idea that Anna Morgan is a literal vampire is true, then many parts of the novel come into question. Why does drinking affect Anna, and how does she become pregnant? Is that just an unexplainable anomaly occurring, and is that why she’s afraid of it becoming a monster of sorts? With these questions do come answers, though. As knowledgeable as 18-year-old Anna is, one questions why she is put into such deplorable situations time and time again. Her seemingly intimate knowledge with the workings of society-- her playing with Walter by pretending not to notice him slip her money, and the descriptions of how the many people sneer or smile as though sneering-- would be explained by being older than she appears. The times of depressed internal monologue, common in the stories of older vampires who have lost touch with their human selves, is also common in Anna:
That was when it was sad, when you lay awake at night and remembered things. That was when it was sad, when you stood by the bed and undressed... Is that me? I am bad, not good any longer, bad. That has no meaning, absolutely none. Just words. But something about the darkness of the streets has a meaning. (Rhys 57)
When she sees the poster for Boune’s Cocoa, she dwells on “thirty-five years.... Fancy being thirty-five years old” (Rhys 59), which could be thought as her wondering if she’d live that long, or could also be seen as a kind of internal humor; she is amused with the thought of being only thirty-five again. This ties in with the much-earlier expression made by Mr. Jones that “You girls only have two ages” (Rhys 13) to imply that he, like the bulk of England’s people, was a vampire as well and understood.
When applying the literal translation of Anna being a vampire, Hester becomes a representative of the “old ways” expressed in the Vampire Chronicles. Using the construct of racial bias, so familiar to the postcolonial critics, Rhys has Hester practically disown Anna, saying, “I always did my best for you and I never got any thanks for it. I tried to teach you to talk like a lady and behave like a lady and not like a nigger and of course I couldn’t do it. Impossible to get you away from the servants” (Rhys 65) which is the same thing the elder vampires did to Lestat (though in a more violent manner) when he refused to leave the company of humans and began to share with them the secrets of his kind. Like Lestat as well, and all vampires in general, however, Anna would suffer from the bloodlust which is innate in all vampires. This craving skews her perspective, and even as she remembers her friend Francine, what she “liked was watching her eat mangoes. Her teeth would bite into the mango and her lips fasten on either side of it, and while she sucked you saw that she was perfectly happy” (Rhys 68) which is so unlike the unsatisfying yet similar feeding for a vampire because “the intimacy of the moment--drinking, killing--the great heart-t-heart dance that takes place as the victim weakens and I [Lestat] feel myself expanding, swallowing the death which, for a split second, blazes as large as life” is only an illusion, for “no death can be as large as a life” (Rice 2) and like Lestat, that life is what Anna craves.
When the French woman Germaine dines with Anna, Walter and Vincent, she tells of what a Frenchman said about England, “There were pretty girls in England, but very few pretty women. In fact, hardly any. I don’t believe there are any. Why? What happens to them? A few pretty girls and then finish, a blank, a desert. What happens to them?” (Rhys 81-2) which would follow the guidelines that to be English is to be a vampire, set up by the running themes throughout the novel. Germaine’s scene leads up to Vincent making an ambiguous comment, “Oh, she thinks I ought to have told her before,” as if she hadn’t known what Vincent was, and implying her eventual turn as well with, “It’ll end in a flood of tears. As usual” (Rhys 82).
Before Vincent sends Anna the letter saying that Walter will no longer be keeping her, she thinks again about her Uncle Bo. She had told stories of Uncle Bo to Walter, and she was very fond of him it seems. This memory is of his false teeth, though when she saw them she was afraid, since they appeared as “yellow tusks like fangs” and stuck out of his mouth to his chin (Rhys 92) and terrified her. This character is a connection between Rhys, Anna, and the past. Rhys herself was sexually abused by a male friend of her mother’s, and many critics claim that this trauma is the main function the bulk of Rhys’s work serves; to express this trauma in an explainable way is what Rhys is trying to do. Other critics claim that she is using her experience to better develop her characters, using her unique knowledge to give a realistic edge to them. Here, it is a combination of both. Uncle Bo is only mentioned in three scenes, but his inclusion as a significant male figure in Anna’s childhood links Rhys’s own childhood trauma with Anna’s rape of humanity and gives a personal touch to Anna’s turning. The first mention of Uncle Bo is when Anna is drunk and boasts about him to Walter:
‘It’s in my blood,’ I said. ‘All my family drink too much. You should see my Uncle Ramsay -- Uncle Bo. He can drink if you like... ...like a sip Father said whoa he said that’ll do we don’t want to have you starting to early . . . (Rhys 51)
and talks about the blood relation, and how he weaned her onto drinking (much as was done with drinking blood in similar instances with Lestat in Interview With the Vampire).
The final appearance of Uncle Bo wraps the story up during Anna’s abortion procedure. She remembers Uncle Bo telling her that “you can’t expect niggers to behave like white people all the time... it’s asking too much of human nature” (Rhys 185) which backs the connections drawn between blacks and humanity, whites and vampires, and the societal ideas critics acknowledge. Using the metaphor of vampirism promotes a reading of Anna’s character that is less sympathetic, and more critical of her actions. Without acknowledging this running theme, feminist readings which sympathize with Anna, and take the novel as a criticism of male-dominated societies, gain an undue importance.
Rhys, Jean. Voyage in the Dark. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1982. Print.
Rice, Anne. The Queen of the Damned. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988. Print.
Stevenson, John A. “A Vampire in the Mirror: The Sexuality of Dracula.” PMLA 103.2 (1988): 139-149. JSTOR. Web. 5 March 2009.
Linett, Maren. “New words, New Everything: Fragmentation and Trauma in Jean Rhys.” Twentieth Century Literature 51.4 (2005): 437-466. JSTOR. Web. 26 Feb. 2009.
Harry Potter and the Unbeatable Wand
Throughout the Harry Potter series, the reader is treated to a visit in a magical society. For all their supreme powers, however, their culture is much the same as any other in today’s world. In their society, wizards are supreme, and it is their wands that enable them to perform their magic. Upon closer look, however, it can be argued that the wand is actually a metaphor for the phallus, and it is the source of male power. The ultimate wizard is named so because of his command of the supreme wand. While this wand is often won through conquests, it ultimately is won through love.
In the wizarding world, it is the wand that allows the wizards to perform their magic. As such, wizards refuse to share wand lore with other magical creatures, coveting the power for themselves. In their view, house elves and goblins do not warrant wands of their own. While these creatures have their own forms of magic, the fact that they do not possess wands helps to delineate their inferior status.
As a symbol of power, wizards began to compare their wands to each others’ and began to recognize differences between wands. Inevitably, arguments ensued regarding which wand is better and what about each wand makes it superior. However, witches seem to believe that “wands are only as powerful as the wizards who use them. Some wizards just like to boast that theirs are bigger and better than other people’s” (415). It becomes clear that while the wand is an important tool, the skill with which one wields his wand is imperative.
As a way to maintain the power of the wizards, tighter controls are established to protect the power of the wand. Throughout Voldemort‘s rise to power, his followers begin to take wands from wizards born to Muggles. This once again reinforces the fact that the wand is a coveted item. Furthermore, as they claim that these wizards stole their wands, it also points to the inherent weakness of the phallus. First, the magic, and the power of the phallus, can be stolen, meaning they are not infallible. Second, the phallus is worth coveting if people would actually go so far as to steal it, and this tends to bring about negative behaviors by the wizards. Finally, they can be dangerous, as people would commit treacherous acts to attain one.
The idea is also conveyed that a wizard is worth nothing if he doesn’t have a wand. In their attempted escape from the Ministry of Magic, Harry tells all the Muggle-borns, “all of you who haven’t got wands need to attach yourself to somebody who has” (265). This statement reinforces the fact that without their wands, wizards aren’t really worth much more than normal people. Furthermore, the fact that Harry uses the word “attach” reinforces the idea that the wand is, indeed, a sexual symbol. Also, once Lucius Malfoy is emasculated after his wand is confiscated, his sister-in-law tells him, “you lost your authority when you lost your wand” (460). He has been replaced as both head of his family and head of his household. Finally, after Peter Pettigrew gives up his wand, he strangles himself. Apparently, the thought of living without a wand was so distasteful to him, death was preferable.
There is a whole philosophy and laws surrounding ownership and mastery of wands. Each is made of wood, with different woods representing different traits. Harry’s wand is eleven inches long and made of holly, which is an evergreen, and symbolizes rebirth and regeneration. Voldemort’s is thirteen-and-a-half inches long, and made of yew, which is poisonous. It is also said by the wandmaker, Ollivander, that the wand chooses the wizard. However, a “conquered wand will usually bend its will to its new master” (494). This indicates a level of choice on the part of the wand, but that it is able to recognize a more forceful master when presented with one. Nevertheless, when it comes to using a wand, “the best results, however, must always come where there is the strongest affinity between wizard and wand. These connections are complex. An initial attraction, and then a mutual quest for experience, the wand learning from the wizard, the wizard from the wand” (494). This description is extremely sexual, describing almost a romantic relationship between a wizard and his wand. It obviously takes some experimentation for a wizard to master his wand. Because of this quest to master wands, there are lots of instances of wizards stealing wands. Ron disarms Bellatrix, Harry overpowers Draco Malfoy, and even Dobby takes his old mistress, Narcissa’s. These acts can be viewed as a sort of rape, or even castration.
The connections between Harry and Voldemort are many. They are both half-bloods, and both have been orphaned. Because of this, they both have an intense love for the only place either ever considered home, Hogwarts. It is through this place that both wizards are introduced to the ultimate father figure, Albus Dumbledore. While Harry is instantly attracted to Dumbledore, it is seen from the start that Tom Riddle seeks to conquer him. These attitudes define the eventual relationship in both cases.
It is later revealed that there is a connection between their two wands, as the phoenix which belonged to Dumbledore gave two of its tail feathers for the making of both their wands. Because of these twin cores, Voldemort cannot use his own wand to hurt Harry. He tries to overcome this by using another’s wand, but Harry’s wand still recognizes its counterpart in Voldemort, and breaks the borrowed wand. Apparently, Harry’s wand remains supreme. Harry feels there is more significance to this, but he is reassured that “the connection exists only between your two wands” (84). No matter how different they may be in other manners, their phalluses are searching for the same end, a sexual relationship with Dumbledore.
Another significant connection between the two is the Oedipal complex evident in both. Tom Riddle killed his Muggle father and was denied the chance to romance his mother because of her death. Since she did not care to stay alive for her son, he was left feeling inferior, and this caused him to embark on his quest for supreme power, and thus for the supreme wand. Because of his hatred for his Muggle father, he seeks to emasculate other men, for instance castrating Lucius Malfoy, who is also a father, by stripping him of his wand. In his journey to superiority, he discovers a prophecy that states that Harry would be marked as his equal and could eventually thwart his ultimate designs. In response to this, he sets out to kill Harry and his family, and thus begins Harry’s Oedipal complex. Voldemort kills both of Harry’s parents, and like himself, Harry is unable to try to mate with his mother. His response to this dictates what would become Harry’s signature move: Expelliarmus. He goes through life essentially castrating any man that stands against him. Eventually, he succeeds in marrying his mother in the form of the look-alike Ginny Weasley.
As these similarities between Harry and Voldemort are revealed, and the twin cores become more and more central, Voldemort must seek a way to overcome this obstacle. There is an old wizarding legend about three brothers who overcame Death. One of them, the eldest brother, who was a combative man, demanded a “wand more powerful than any in existence” (407). This wand promises to make any wizard in possession of it invincible, thus removing all apprehensions about performance. This brother, though, suffered from that common human sin, pride. As he bragged about the power of his wand, someone snuck into his room one night, murdered him, and stole his wand. According to lore, the “possessor of the wand must capture it from its previous owner, if he is to be truly master of it” (412). For this reason, elder wands are rumored to be unlucky. They obviously cause their masters to become targets for avarice and greed. Nevertheless, the wand has been traced through wizarding history, as it has left quite a bloody path. It is recognized as “immensely powerful, dangerous in the wrong hands, and an object of incredible fascination to all of us who study the power of wands” (497). An argument could be made that because of the way it targets its owners, it is not worth having, but that would be true “only if you were prat enough to go dancing around, waving it over your head, and singing, ‘I’ve got an unbeatable wand, come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’” (415).
Voldemort’s rise to power in many ways can be traced to his insecurities and fears. He has marked Harry as a rival, and thus becomes increasingly fearful of this boy. Underneath it all, while he wields the largest wand, he still recognizes its limitations and seeks to obtain the unbeatable wand. As his own wand has failed to get rid of his rival more than once, the elder wand becomes more and more desirable. “Instead of asking himself what quality it was in you that had made your wand so strong . . .naturally set out to find the one wand that, they said, would beat any other. For him, the Elder Wand has become an obsession to rival his obsession with you. He believes that the Elder Wand removes his last weakness and makes him truly invincible” (721). Typically, Voldemort attributes his lack of prowess to be a fault of his wand instead of taking personal responsibility. (This perhaps explains why his biggest supporter was Bellatrix Lestrange. She carries a twelve-and-three-quarter-inch wand herself, and she definitely knows how to use it.)
In order to correct this problem of prowess, he decides to take the elder wand. However, he does this not by a fair wand duel, but he takes the cowardly way of stealing it from a dead man’s grave. This is the last thing for which he uses his own wand with the twin core: “how fitting that this would be its last great act” (501). However, even after attaining this all-powerful wand, his magic was no better than it had previously been. What he failed to grasp was that he had not won the wand’s allegiance, and that “holding it, using it, doesn’t make it really yours” (742).
There is a time where Harry, too, must recognize the qualities of his own wand. During the chase scene with Voldemort, Harry’s wand spins around on its own and breaks his opponent’s wand. Somehow, it recognizes its opponent and performed on its own to ensure survival. At this point, Harry begins to recognize his wand’s superiority, “as he had never heard of a wand performing magic on its own before” (83). This feat underscores the fundamental battle happening in the text: who has the better phallus, and who deserves the allegiance of the elder wand? In the end, though, it is undeniable that Harry’s wand “overpowered” Voldemort’s (711). However, because of the twin cores, “only toward him was that wand abnormally powerful. Otherwise, it was a wand like any other” (711). With each conquest, however, it seems that Harry’s prowess grew, until eventually his “wand now contained the power of [his] enormous courage and of Voldemort’s own deadly skill: What chance did that poor stick of Lucius Malfoy’s stand?” (711). Harry’s wand was now beginning to rival all others in terms of skill, and this increased Voldemort‘s desire for the elder wand.
Fittingly, the last possessor of this wand was Dumbledore. He had won it from the powerful Grindelwald in a wizard’s duel, proving his exceptional skill. He also had to be worthy, however: “I was fit to own the Elder Wand, and not to boast of it, and not to kill with it. I was permitted to tame and to use it, because I took it, not for gain, but to save others from it” (720). It is apparent, then, that while the unbeatable wand holds great power, with it comes great responsibility. Dumbledore mastered the wand not only because of his prodigious skill, but also because of his inherent goodness and ability to love. In the end, Harry wins the allegiance of the elder wand by overpowering its new chosen master, Draco Malfoy. By taking the wand by force, he asserts his dominance in the wizarding world. The reader learns, however, that this was all according to plan. Dumbledore had arranged things so that Voldemort would never become true master of the elder wand, and did this by relying on the one thing Voldemort could never comprehend. Hermione said, “Dumbledore loved Harry” (568). It was this love between the two of them that Voldemort could not understand but nonetheless coveted that ultimately positioned Harry to master the wand.
In the end, however, Harry recognizes the awesome power of the elder wand. Instead of continuing the wand battles indefinitely into the future, he uses it instead to repair his own wand. When this is done, he grasps it and feels “as though wand and hand were rejoicing at their reunion” (749). It could be said, then, that one’s own wand is best, as long as a person takes the time to master it.
In many ways, the Elder Wand served as a brutal master. In the quest for this ultimate phallus, many lives were lost and many hearts were broken. However, the battle was eventually brought to a close not through brute force, but tender love. It seems the power of the phallus is one best used in love.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic, 2007.
Severus Snape: Slimy or Superb?
Utter the name “Severus Snape” in mixed company, and chances are most of the people in the room will know who you are referring to and have an opinion concerning this controversial Harry Potter character. Snape, arguably one of the most intriguing figures to appear in popular literature in years, evokes emotions ranging from admiration, to revulsion, to a mixed conglomeration of both. Throughout most of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling weaves a persona filled with venom and abhorrence towards the heroic Harry Potter and his fellow Gryffindors. However, in an ironic twist at the end of The Deathly Hallows, she reveals evidence of a man who sacrificed all for the love of a woman he could never have. Does Snape do enough good works to exonerate himself from the label of “villain”? With the use of text from The Order of the Phoenix, The Half-Blood Prince, and The Deathly Hallows, I will demonstrate that even though Severus Snape may display some evidence of good intentions, his true personality is one of self-serving malice.
People, for the most part, like to think there is good in everyone, and cheer loudly when an apparently “bad guy” changes colors and turns into a hero. Perhaps this notion helps to explain why so many readers (and even some of the characters in the Harry Potter series) think of Severus Snape as a good guy at heart who is trapped in terrible circumstances. If this is the case, then why does Snape feel it necessary to be so totally despicable to Harry and those people associated with him? One explanation could possibly be because he must put on a good pretense of hatred in order to keep up his guise of devotion to The Dark Lord. However, there are clues that point to an inner wickedness that have nothing to do with Voldemort and his attempts to rule the world. Snape, after all, is a former Death Eater obsessed with the dark arts. A zebra with this type of background would find it very difficult to change its stripes.
Looking back into Snape’s childhood, we can see evidence of malice at an early age and a loathing for Muggles. In his first meeting with Lily Potter and her sister Petunia, he chides at Petunia, “Wouldn’t spy on you, anyway,’ he added spitefully. ‘You’re a Muggle’” (Deathly Hallows 665). In a later incident, Severus becomes angry with Petunia and tries to do her bodily harm when she interrupts a conversation between him and Lily: “There was a crack: A branch over Petunia’s head had fallen. Lily screamed: The branch caught Petunia on the shoulder. . .” (665). Even though Snape denies any wrongdoing, Lily is not convinced. She cries, “’You did!’ She was backing away from him. ‘You did! You hurt her!’” (668). After Snape startes school at Hogwarts, the streak of darkness continues. Severus and Lily start drifting apart as he pursues friends of a more menacing nature: “I don’t like some of the people you are hanging round with! I’m sorry, but I detest Avery and Mulciber! Mulciber! What do you see in him, Sev, he’s creepy! D’you know what he tried to do to Mary Macdonald the other day?” (673). Snape tries to convince Lily it was all in good fun, but she is not swayed: “It was Dark Magic, and if you think that’s funny--” (673). Even as a child and an adolescent, Severus undoubtedly leans towards the sinister side. He is an excellent example of the old saying, “You are only as good as the company you keep.”
In the fifth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Rowling touches on the subject of how Severus Snape was mistreated by his fellow students at Hogwarts. In one particular incident, Harry is able to see one of Snape’s memories. From Severus’s perspective, he is tormented and abused, particularly by Harry’s father and Sirius Black. The one person who comes to his defense is Lily, but in his rage he shouts, “I don’t need any help from filthy little Mudbloods like her!” (Phoenix 648). His revulsion for anyone not pure blood cannot be hidden, even from the girl he is in love with. His physical appearance also has leanings towards something most people would find repelling: “Round-shouldered yet angular, he walked in a twitchy manner that recalled a spider, his oily hair swinging about his face” (643). From the evidence we see in the series, Severus Snape does nothing to help his social situation, and manages to alienate the one friend he has, Lily.
Snape’s hatred for James, Sirius, and their friends does not stop when they become adults. In The Order of the Phoenix, Snape seems to take great pleasure in insulting Sirius Black. Even when they are supposed to be on the same side in the fight against Lord Voldemort, it is apparent there is much hatred still harbored by Severus. Sirius sarcastically says, “Listening to Snape’s reports, having to take all his snide hints he’s out there risking his life while I’m on my backside here having a nice comfortable time. . . asking me how the cleaning’s going – “ (Phoenix 83). This goading by Snape could be viewed as a key factor in Sirius’ undoing. Harry concludes that “Snape’s snide remarks to Sirius about remaining safely hidden while the rest of the Order of the Phoenix were off fighting Voldemort had probably been a powerful factor in Sirius rushing off to the ministry that night he had died” (Half-Blood 160). Severus shows no compassion for Black, even though Sirius is unjustly labeled a mad murderer, spends time enduring the horrors of Azkaban, and eventually dies fighting for Harry’s life.
Snape’s loathing of James Potter goes even further than the hatred of James himself, and extends directly to Harry. When Voldemort plans to slaughter the Potter family, Snape has no qualms about James and Harry being killed as long as Lily is allowed to live. After Snape reveals his feelings to Dumbledore, Dumbledore’s abhorrence towards Snape is evident: “You disgust me,’ said Dumbledore,’ and Harry had never heard so much contempt in his voice. Snape seemed to shrink a little. ‘You do not care, then, about the deaths of her husband and child? They can die as long as you have what you want?’” (Deathly Hallows 677). As time goes on and Harry proves he is a person of worth, Snape chooses to ignore this and continues to retaliate due to his extreme dislike of Harry’s murdered father. Harry, Ron, and the other Gryffindors are a constant target for Severus. When Harry gets locked out of the school after being jinxed by Draco Malfoy, Snape’s response is, “Fifty points from Gryffindor for lateness, I think” (Half-Blood 161). He goes on to say, “And let me see, another twenty for your Muggle attire. You know, I don’t believe any house has ever been in negative figures this early in the term: We haven’t even started pudding. You might have set a record, Potter” (161). This harassment has nothing to do with putting on a façade for Voldemort and his Death Eaters. There is no one else present, and Rowling reveals Harry’s feelings concerning the moment: “He knew Snape had come to fetch him for this, for the few minutes when he could needle and torment Harry without anyone else listening” (161). Severus’ loathing of James Potter undoubtedly overshadows his supposed love of Lily. He seems to relish the thought of torturing an innocent student in his treatment of Harry. If Severus really loved Lily, he would try to curb his hatred of James and treat her son in a more civilized manner, at least when they are away from prying eyes.
Upon closer examination of Severus’ conduct toward Harry in public or in private, Snape’s facial expressions speak louder than his words. An example can be seen when he is explaining the advantages of using unspoken spells: “Not all wizards can do this, of course; it is a question of concentration and mind power which some’ his gaze lingered maliciously upon Harry once more--‘lack’” (Half-Blood 179). In another instance, Harry is in detention helping Snape sort through old files. Obviously loving the fact that Harry is missing the last Quidditch match of the season, the professor tells him, “I thought you could start,’ said Snape, a malicious smile on his lips, ‘with boxes one thousand and twelve to one thousand and fifty six’” (532). Severus’ obvious delight with tormenting and belittling Harry is evident in his cruel smile and evil expressions, and goes far beyond any façade he is creating to fool Voldemort and the Death Eaters.
Throughout the series, Dumbledore emphasizes to all doubters the complete faith he has in Severus Snape. In The Half-Blood Prince, when further evidence to the contrary surfaces, Harry again questions where Snape’s loyalties lie. Rowling tells us, “Dumbledore did not speak for a moment; he looked as though he was trying to make up his mind about something. At last he said, ‘I am sure. I trust Severus Snape completely’” (549). This hesitation could quite possibly be construed as a hint to Dumbledore’s true feelings concerning where Snape’s loyalties lie. Severus himself doubts Dumbledore’s trust in him. When Snape questions why he is not being made privy to the same information as Harry, Dumbledore replies, “I prefer not to put all of my secrets in one basket, particularly not a basket that spends so much time dangling on the arm of Lord Voldemort” (684). Dumbledore has good reason to think Snape may be loose cannon. Agitated when he is not given all the information he seeks, Snape’s reaction is one of fury: “You refuse to tell me everything, yet you expect this small service of me!’ snarled Snape, and real anger flared in the thin face now, ‘You take me for granted, Dumbledore! Perhaps I have now changed my mind!” Even though Snape has been helping Dumbledore fight the Dark Lord, there is still an underlying question of where his true alliance resides.
In a show of his admiration for Dumbledore and for the supposed good works of Severus Snape, Harry names one of his children “Albus Severus.” Harry’s appreciation for Severus is evident when he comments to his son, “You were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew” (Deathly Hallows 758). Even though Harry is convinced Snape is indeed one of the “good guys,” and he has displayed some visible inclination towards good intentions, his true personality is one of self-serving malice. Severus Snape does not risk his life to unselfishly fight for the welfare of others, but to pursue his unhealthy obsession of Lily Potter.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic Books, 2007.
---. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic Books, 2005.
---. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic Books, 2003.
The Worst of War
A soldier once told the New York Times, “I thought dying for your country was the worst thing that could happen to you. I think killing for your country can be a lot worse. Because it's the memory that haunts.” Why would the memory of killing during war haunt a soldier? Only one conclusion comes to mind, and that is at some point, the soldier perceives the humanity of those killed. I’m sure killing anyone in war is difficult, but how much more difficult it must be for a soldier when those dying are innocents? Those killed during this “War on Terror” are not all Jihad soldiers and Taliban; many of them are women, children, and other non-combatants trying to survive in a war-torn country. By living with the people of that country, by being a soldier in that environment, the soldier may, despite his training, end up putting a human face to the “enemy.”
Paul A. Steiglitz’s “Get Some” and Sangjoon Han’s “Aftermath” are both fictional works written by soldiers who were deployed in Iraq and are drawing upon their war experiences as they write. Through these stories the writers endeavor to enlighten the reader as to how a soldier perceives the face of war. By having the natives in the story be relatable to the reader, the author makes the characters become very life like, thus by the end of the stories neither the war nor the enemy remains anonymous.
Although the real cost of combat is shown by the end of the two stories, this cost is hidden as they start out. I suppose their beginning reflects the beginning of active duty and shows soldiers keeping the enemy at a distance as their training demands. They are desensitized on purpose so they can kill without hesitation. In the beginning of both “Get Some” and “Aftermath” the soldiers are very cold and aloof from the enemy. In “Get Some” the Sergeant tells us after his first kill “my heart is racing and I feel a light headed euphoria. Giddy”(46) as if he had just finished having sex for the first time or “getting some.” The sergeant narrator then recounts shooting the enemy, saying, “I get two more kills in the same way, bringing my total to four for the night” (47). Reading this you would think he was talking about shooting deer or elk, not other human beings. The start of “Aftermath” is very similar in that respect. When fighting does break out in a crowded marketplace, Sergeant McClintock shouts at his men to “Fire some rounds, get these idiots out of our way”(46). He is not viewing the people in the street as people but more as a nuisance, an annoying distraction. In this way the enemy stays faceless, and the soldiers can remain uncaring about the other’s fate.
We start to see the perspective change in Steiglitz’s story when his narrator encounters a mortally wounded Iraqi child. The Sergeant, whose only concern to this point has been “getting some” kills, now begins to wonder about the innocent people this war severely impacts. His thinking goes from “only the present matters, I have more people to shoot” (47) to “How many vehicles have passed and not stopped for this boy?”(48) We see him start to shift from an uncaring, emotionally- removed killing machine to a compassionate human being. It is here with the introduction of “the boy about seven or eight years old” (48) that the Sergeant starts to internalize the war. This boy with “his head split open” (48) truly affects the Sergeant mentally and physically as shown by the detail that his mouth is “watering, watering with that bitter alkaline taste” (49). When the Sergeant says, “his eyes move to me and we meet. His big, black Arab eyes” (48), it is as though he is meeting the “enemy” for the first time; making eye contact with the Iraqi boy suddenly makes the boy real and human. We see the main character enter into an internal struggle within himself because he “wants to pick him [the boy] up and hug him and make everything better” (49), but knows that duty precludes him from doing so. “I can’t, we can’t. This boy is dead. Fuck!!!! I scream inside” (49). Through this last statement we see his sudden realization about the true consequence of war. He says, “I feel a powerful wave of rage flowing inside” (49) from the unfairness of the boy’s situation. He is angry that this little boy --“scared, all alone, pain, just wanting his mother, confused, and not knowing what he did” (49) -- has to suffer for the injustice of others. This causes the narrator, as well as the reader along with him, to question the morality of war. And with that questioning, we see the war is no longer an abstract idea but a concrete reality that has very much hit home.
If we look at American soldiers from each story, the Sergeant in “Get Some” and Specialist Price in “Aftermath,” they appear to be very different at first. The shooter in “Aftermath,” Price, isn’t euphoric about having to kill someone; instead “he desperately wanted the man to stop running before he squeezed the trigger”(117). Price becomes angry at the man for making him shoot. Han writes, “he [Price] wanted the man to die for the sin of forcing Price to kill him”(117). After he discharges his weapon killing the man, Price divulges to another soldier “just wondering if I did the right thing. I mean I don’t even know if he’s guilty or not”(122). In contrast, the sergeant from “Get Some” is “just praying for action”(47). The sergeant says “we should be up in the fight” (43), showing that he is anxious to be in the position to kill. And later he doesn’t seem to have any moral qualms about the men he had shot. So Han makes his American soldier more sensitive from the start of the fiction.
In Han’s “Aftermath” the enemy becomes more human than even Steiglitz’s boy when the point of view becomes that of the Iraqi man shot. Han’s is the more empathetic of the two stories because it allows us to see into the mind of the wounded Iraqi and know what he is thinking and feeling. We see the start of the skirmish from Quasim’s perspective, “when he caught his first glimpse of the approaching vehicles” (115) to the end when he is dying and tells himself, “it will all be over” (123). The writer’s use of sensory words allows us to literally put ourselves in the farmer’s shoes. One can hear the deafening noise, feel “the ground shake” (115), and feel what it is like to be shot: “a painful sensation start building deep inside his ears” (115). It is also easy to visualize “the world tunneled down to a shaky horizon” (117), and the phrase “his legs burned and his lungs were ready to burst” (118) –things we have all felt before. By using such graphic descriptions the writer makes it effortless for us to feel for this man.
However, the relatability does not stop there. The author writes of Qasim, “far away he heard someone shouting a word. It was a foreign word, an American word. A word he did not understand” (118). By expanding on things we have experienced, such as not understanding a foreign language, we get a real grasp of what things are like for this “enemy.” How is he going to comply if he cannot understand what is being said? By adopting the Iraqi’s perspective, the reader is definitely beginning to empathize with the Other. The writer’s continual use of descriptive and affective words like “hot pain shot through his stomach” (119), “dirt that he’d clawed out of the ground” (119) and “searing pain” (119) allow the reader to see and feel the horrible thing that is happening to this man in a way that Han’s soldier Price is not.
Another twist in this farmer’s story is the dramatic irony the reader is faced with. We know Qasim is innocent. We know he did not detonate the bomb or shoot at the American soldiers. We know he was not running because he was guilty but because he was terrified. We feel more empathy for Qasim rather than Price because we possess this knowledge of Quasim’s innocence. Since we are privy to this knowledge it causes us again to question the morality of war. Is it right to shoot someone if you do not know for certain if they are guilty? Even though the soldiers are trained to believe “if they’re running, they’re guilty” (117), some of the American soldiers in this story wrestle with questions of morality. Again by creating empathy for the Iraqi and placing doubt in the minds of his soldiers, the author brings the reader to question: Is there really such a thing as a just war?
In “Get Some” and “Aftermath” the common perspective about the war only affecting the enemy is called into question. As a reader one sees what this war is like through the eyes of our soldiers and ultimately the eyes of the Iraqi people--not the mainstream news media. The humanity of the enemy ultimately brings us to question the propaganda that always accompanies the war. These fictions cause us to ask questions such as “Why do we only keep a body count for our soldiers? Why not for the Iraqi civilians who die as a result of this conflict? How can you fight a theological Holy War with physical military force?” These stories have shown the casualty of war is not always some combatant but sometimes an innocent child or man. We also see that soldiers at war are not always hardhearted and unfeeling but often compassionate and bewildered at what is happening around them. We see that people remain people regardless of their race or nationality, even during the worst of wars.
Carroll, Andrew, ed. Operation Homecoming. Updated Edition. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2008.
Han, Sangjoon. “Aftermath.” In Carrolll, 114-23.
Steiglitz, Paul A. “Get Some.” In Carroll, 38-50.
Affects of Cerebrovascular Accident on Speech Production and Reception
Cerebrovascular accident (CVA), more commonly known as stroke, can have profound effects on one’s ability to both produce speech and to understand the speech of others. This decreased ability is known as aphasia. Stedman’s Concise Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions defines aphasia as “impaired or absent comprehension or production of, or communication by, speech, writing, or signs” (66). Aphasia can occur due to a direct CVA in Broca’s or Wernicke’s language areas in the brain, or it can occur due to a CVA in the motor cortex of the brain, which will cause paresis (decreased sensation and movement) or paralysis in the muscles involved with speech (O’Sullivan 331). No matter what the cause of the aphasia, it will have significant effect on a patient’s quality of life because it will alter his or her ability to communicate with and understand the communication of others.
In order to fully understand the affects of aphasia on a patient, one must have a grasp of the anatomy involved. The productive organs for speech are quite varied and include the pharynx, larynx, oral cavity, tongue, lips, nasal cavity, and lungs (Woodson 318). The lungs are important simply because if one cannot breathe, one cannot speak. It would be a mistake for any Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) or physician to assume Broca’s or Wernicke’s involvement in an aphasic CVA patient without first considering the simple matter of motor involvement. If the motor cortex is affected, the patient will present will the unilateral (one-sided) upper and lower extremity weakness most people relate to CVA. It must be understood, however, that these motor deficits will affect fine motor control before they will affect gross motor control, that symptoms typically present in a proximal to distal (top to bottom) pattern, and that the CVA does not pick and choose which muscles it affects; all muscles on the affected side of the body will be involved, and the smaller muscles closest to the brain will be affected first. It is quite possible, then, for a CVA patient to be able to walk normally and have use of his or her arm but still show a speech deficit (O’Sullivan and Schmitz 639-640).
Motor deficits of the speech mechanism may present in a variety of ways. They may be as severe as the inability to speak and swallow or as mild (and misleading) as hoarseness or breathiness while speaking. There may be range of motion issues involving the tongue. To assess this, one would have the patient stick his or her tongue out; if the tip deviates to the side of the lesion (in this case, the side of the CVA), one can assume neurologic origin (directly caused by the stroke). The patient may also present with tardive dyskinesia (involuntary movement of the tongue in a strangely rhythmic pattern) or muscle fasciculation (looks like there are worms squirming around under the tongue’s surface). All three of these issues will have a profound effect on the patient’s ability to enunciate due simply to the number of sounds not only initiated or completed by the tip of the tongue but also the number of sounds changed by the shape of the tongue. Hoarseness is tricky, because people often want to attribute it to a cold or sore throat; however, if it is present post-CVA, and especially if it is present along with dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), it must be treated as a deficit from the stroke itself. Hoarseness is typically caused by weakness of the laryngeal muscles, which not only play a role in sound production (the vocal cords are housed there) but are also actively involved with controlling air flow during breathing. The patient will not only have to be trained in deep-breathing techniques, they will have to be coached to speak in a louder voice--basically, they have to learn to yell. Even when yelling, these patients may not be able to produce a particularly loud voice. Lip function can be assessed by having the patient rapidly repeat the “pah” syllable, while “tah” further assesses the tip of the tongue and “ga” assesses the posterior tongue. In severe cases, an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist may become involved. Under flexible laryngoscopy (a flexible tube with a camera on the end is run into the windpipe and the larynx is watched via the camera), soft palate can be assessed during sustained “ee” sound and with fricative consonant sounds such as “kih.” The base of the tongue and the pharynx can also be assessed during laryngoscopy by having the patient alternate between the “ee” and “ah” syllables and watching for shape change in both structures. The CVA patient may present with diminished strength of action, rate of repetition, rhythm, coordination, or a combination of any or all symptoms. The SLP is crucial in helping to alleviate these problems as much as extent possible. One should keep in mind that, along with the speech deficits, the patient will also have some degree of swallowing problems and will therefore be in danger of choking or aspirating (breathing liquid or food into the lungs). Silent aspiration, in which the patient aspirates but shows no signs or symptoms of having done so (no difficulty breathing, no coughing, no gag reflex), is especially dangerous (Woodson 317-319).
While the speech organs can be affected indirectly by CVA, the cerebral vasculature is directly affected and, indeed, responsible for the CVA. CVA is classified as either hemorrhagic (bleeding into the brain) or embolytic/ischemic (lack of oxygen to the brain due to a blockage, typically a blood clot but sometimes a foreign object or arterial plaque, causing tissue death) (O’Sullivan and Schmitz 329). Most often involved are the arteries of the Circle of Willis--the anterior cerebral, middle cerebral, posterior cerebral, and vertebrobasilar arteries (Anderson et al. 333).
Anterior artery strokes cause little effect to a patient’s speech or comprehension despite the severity of the CVA as it has a much greater effect on the extremities; it does not supply the areas of the brain involved with language. Superficial middle cerebral artery occlusion can cause sensory deficit in the face, arm, and leg, and so may have a mild to significant effect on the patient’s ability to enunciate. Deep middle cerebral artery occlusion causes pure motor hemiplegia (one-sided paralysis or paresis) and, if it is secondary to a proximal middle cerebral artery occlusion, may lead to brain herniation, coma, or death; the motor hemiplegia most certainly will affect the speech output as it will affect all musculature (voluntary and involuntary) on the affected side. Parietooccipital cortex lesions may also occur from middle cerebral artery occlusion; these produce aphasia if they occur in the left hemisphere of the brain (which, since they typically occur on the dominant side and most people are right-handed, they usually do). Internal carotid artery occlusion, if complete, leads to extensive cerebral edema, coma, and death, almost without exception; partial occlusions lead to a mix of middle cerebral and anterior cerebral artery symptoms. Posterior artery occlusions may occur in either the thalamic branch, the occipital area, the temporal lobe, the cerebral peduncle, or the subthalamic branch. Subthalamic branch occlusions can lead to a great variety of symptoms, but most of them are visual and gross-motor and so do not typically affect speech. However, occlusions of the cerebral peduncle lead to contralateral (opposite side) hemiplegia, and may therefore greatly affect speech production due to brain laterality (O’Sullivan and Schmitz 330-331).
Of significant importance in speech production and reception are Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas. Each is made up of certain Brodmann’s areas, with Broca’s area being roughly equivalent to Brodmann’s areas 44 and 45 (Kurowski et al. 264) and Wernicke’s being roughly equivalent to Brodmann’s areas 22, 39, and 40 (Dirckx 1066). The actual anatomical borders of both regions have been heavily debated, but it is generally accepted that Broca’s area is located in the left posterior inferior frontal cortex (Cameron et al. 50), and Wernicke’s to be located in the superior temporal and middle temporal gyri (Eiling, Blumstein and Sedivy 593). It has long been assumed that Broca’s area is a motor cortex for speech (often called Broca’s motor speech), while Wernicke’s area is directly linked to comprehension (O’Sullivan and Schmitz 639). Thus, Broca’s aphasia is synonymous with the terms expressive aphasia, motor aphasia, and verbal aphasia and Wernicke’s aphasia with sensory aphasia or receptive aphasia (O’Sullivan and Schmitz 639). However, recent studies have shown the two areas are much more intricately overlapped in function, and therefore symptoms are much more difficult to attribute to Broca’s or Wernicke’s etiology (origin). For example, studies by both Eiling, Blumstein, and Sedivy and Kurowski et al. included diagnosed Broca’s aphasics with no actual lesion of Broca’s area. In addition, both studies show a lack of significant differences from the subjects’ counterparts who do have Broca’s damage (Eiling, Blumstein, and Sedivy 613; Kurowski et al. 263).
There have been several studies of Broca’s aphasics that report intact understanding of simple active sentences but impaired comprehension of semantically reversible passive sentences (Davis et al. 50). In addition, functional MRI (fMRI) studies have implicated Broca’s area in the execution of retrieval, selection, and recovery of word meaning (Bonakdarpour, Parrish, and Thompson 327). The Eiling, Blumstein, and Sedivy study further implicates Broca’s area in lexical-semantic processing deficits (593). In this study, both Broca’s and Wernicke’s aphasics were given auditory words. Their eye movements were then tracked to see what pictures they associated with what word. For example, when they heard the word “hammer,” did their eyes track to the appropriate picture of the nail (intact lexical-semantic process) or to the picture of the similar-sounding hammock? If given a single word, Broca’s aphasics showed no difference from tests of normal subjects in their ability to choose the correct picture, although their activation time for this task was slower (594). However, if the acoustic or phonological structure was changed—if the speaker placed a pause between the initial consonant sound and the rest of the word, or if the initial consonant sound was changed (“cat” became “wat”)—the Broca’s aphasia patients had significant difficulty locating the correct semantic picture for the given word (594). Also, if a competing lexical word was presented at the same time, they lacked semantic priming (e.g.—if “pear” was presented at the same time as “bear,” they were unable to make the association between “pear” and “fruit,” even though there was no semantic match presented for “bear”) (594). These results lend credence to the Bonakdarpour, Parrish, and Thompson findings and suggest Broca’s area is involved in both the selection of semantics and also in the selection of the lexical (vocabulary) alternatives (Bonakdarpour, Parrish, and Thompson 327).
Davis et al. furthered their study of Broca’s lesions to include a case study of a gentleman whose Broca’s lesion was not induced by a CVA but by hypoperfusion (decreased blood flow or supply) to Broca’s area. Because hypoperfusion can be reversible whereas CVA is not, this provided an excellent opportunity to study Broca’s aphasia because they could effectively gain “during and after” results. The patient, identified as MJE, developed sudden onset of muteness following a surgical procedure. Within an hour after onset, the muteness was gone but the gentleman was unable to put together a coherent sentence (52). MRI showed the previously-mentioned hypoperfusion to Broca’s area and the area immediately around it (52). The man was tested for receptive and constructive language skills both before and after reperfusion (restoration of normal blood flow, often via surgical means). The results of the study showed Broca’s area to be highly involved in oral reading, repetition, oral naming, and oral spelling abilities, that it plays a role in one’s ability to understand auditory and write active and passive sentences (“Joe kicked the ball” and “The ball was kicked,” respectively), and that it plays a profound role in one’s ability to answer complex yes/no questions (55). After reperfusion, MJE’s test scores in all of these areas returned to normal or above normal as compared to test subjects (56).
Functional MRI studies can shed a good deal of light on the inner workings of brain structures. However, they can also be wildly divergent depending on the stringency used in determining an activation threshold (how strong the response has to be to become labeled as an activation) (Foki et al. 1620). Results have consistently shown, however, that there is greater bilateral (both sides) activation of Broca’s area than of Wernicke’s in right-handed people (Foki et al. 1620). Unfortunately, no fMRI studies could be found that evaluated laterality of language function in left-handed people. There are supporters of the idea that left-handers actually have a right-hemisphere language center (Heny 587). Several studies, including Foki et al. and Kurowski et al., showed brain activation in the right hemisphere in speech-language tasks that seems to support this hypothesis; however, the activation was not measured in either study, so they do not prove the suspicions (Kurowski et al. 274; Foki et al. 1620).
The neuroanatomical borders of Wernicke’s area are typically placed in the left posterior superior temporal gyrus (O’Sullivan and Schmitz 639) and the middle temporal gyrus (Eiling, Blumstein, and Sedivy 593). Wernicke’s area was traditionally thought to be the “processing center” of language, while Broca’s area took care of the actual mechanism of speaking. Current studies suggest that, like Broca’s, Wernicke’s area functions in a much more diverse way. Wernicke’s aphasics typically show increased duration in both the fricative consonants (“k” sounds) and in vowel sounds (Kurowski et al. 264); thus, the Wernicke’s aphasic patient will often sound almost as though he or she has a stutter. They also present with an impaired ability to regulate their vocal amplitude, often shouting or whispering unnecessarily (Kurowski et al. 270). Unlike the Broca’s aphasia patients, Wernicke’s aphasia patients display intact lexical-semantic processing even with lexical competition or phonetic change, but they do present with lexical processing impairments (i.e. they often can’t find the word they’re looking for); these impairments, however, have not been fully qualified (Eiling, Blumstein, and Sedivy 594-595). Eiling, Blumstein, and Sedivy hypothesize that there is an increased activation of lexical processing in Wernicke’s aphasics, and clinical findings support this hypothesis based on the tendencies of Wernicke’s aphasics to use an excess of neologisms (made-up words) or to misuse words in context (Eiling, Blumstein, and Thompson 596; O’Sullivan and Schmitz 639). Functional MRI studies by Foki et al showed insignificant lateral activation in the right hemisphere in an area roughly equivalent to Wernicke’s in the left right posterosuperior temporal gyrus (1620), giving credence to the long-held belief that speech loss is more likely to occur from CVA in the left hemisphere than in the right (O’Sullivan and Schmitz 640). The Foki et al. studies also show that Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas activate together, not separately, virtually 100% of the time, suggesting a cooperative effort between the two areas (1620).
It should be noted that the Wernicke’s aphasia patients in Kurowski et al. study all had a clinical diagnosis of Wernicke’s aphasia but did not all have an actual lesion in Wernicke’s area (267). However, the Wernicke’s aphasics in the Eiling, Bromstein, and Sedivy study did all have a lesion in Wernicke’s area, although to varying degrees (592).
In order to effectively treat an aphasic patient, a therapist must be aware of the potential problems these patients will face and their implications on the patient’s everyday life. Treatment traditionally involves increasing strength and range of motion of the tongue and lips through repetitive exercise, enhancing the prosody (“the varying rhythm, stress, and frequency of speech that aids in meaning transmission,” Dirckx 817) of speech, improving intelligibility of speech, and providing the patient with alternative methods of communication when necessary (Wenke, Theodoros, and Cornwell 339; O’Sullivan and Schmitz 640). A communication board, which has an alphabet on one side and pictures of words representing commonly voiced needs and wants (such as a cup or a toilet) on the other side, can be a very effective, if somewhat primitive, means of communicating for the non-speaking stroke patient. Treatment may also mean delving into new forms of therapy available for the aphasic patient.
One such therapy is Lee Silverman Voice Treatment (LSVT). LSVT was not originally intended to address the CVA patient. It was, rather, designed for Parkinson’s patients who had progressive hypokinetic dysarthria (quiet, slow, difficult speech production). LSVT is administered one hour a day, four days per week over the course of four weeks and specifically focuses on increased loudness. LSVT seems to be successful with aphasia patients because of the fairly low demand it has on the memory centers of the brain; aphasic patients typically present with limited short term memory and attention to task. Instead of having to remember things like syntax, which can be quite complicated, the patient has only one task to focus on: being loud. This helps the patient learn and maintain a treatment strategy, and it helps them to monitor their own progress simply because they don’t have a complicated series of cognitive tasks to deal with (Wenke, Theodoros, and Cornwell 339-340). While this particular treatment method may not be warranted for a Wernicke’s aphasic with a tendency to shout, it could have long-term benefits for most aphasia patients and especially those with laryngeal muscle weakness.
Other promising treatment strategies still in the testing stages are transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). TMS uses weak electrical currents to change the electromagnetic field and therefore excite brain activity (Sparing et al. 261). It can be used in an intermittent pattern (repetitive) or continually over a short period of time. Transcranial direct current stimulation uses a stronger direct electrical current to do the same thing; however, tDCS seems to have a longer-lasting benefit. TMS has been shown to improve semantic processing, word associations, and especially picture naming. tDCS has been shown to improve picture naming, as well, when placed over Wernicke’s areas (Sparing et al. 262, 264). However, both of these studies were performed on healthy test subjects to determine the efficacy of the treatment (to warrant further studies on aphasic patients). Both studies also used external electrodes covered with wetted sponges and placed on the skin over the desired areas (Sparing et al. 262).
Another form of electrical stimulation currently being studied is unipolar continuous cortical stimulation (UCCS). A study by Kim et al. followed a 39-year-old female patient with aphasia after a middle cerebral artery stroke. Electrodes were placed in the patient’s cranium via craniotomy (surgical opening in the skull) and placed directly on the brain over Broca’s area. DCS was given directly to the area. After four months of treatment, the patient was reassessed and showed improved articulation (from 45% to 59%) and improved picture word response times (from 13.70 to 2.97 seconds) (Kim et al. 78). The drawback to this study is that many factors, including balance and gait function, were assessed, and the articles do not indicate intensive testing done specifically on the language and speech abilities of this patient.
While these studies show promise, further testing must be done for both. In the matter of the Sparing et al. studies, testing must be repeated using aphasic patients; if continued good results are presented, this treatment may be available to aphasic patients in a relatively short amount of time. However, because of the invasive nature of the intracranial UCCS used in the Kim et al. study, many more studies will have to be conducted to not only prove efficacy but also to rule out harmful side effects, such as infection and intracranial pressure changes. It will most likely take several years before this particular type of electrotherapy begins to see widespread use.
In light of all the current information coming to light thanks to medical and scientific advances, it is time to reevaluate the traditional roles of Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas. It is no longer accurate to refer to Broca’s simply as “motor speech,” as study after is study is showing Broca’s plays a much more integral role in receptive language. Additionally, one can no longer assume Wernicke’s area to be the sole processor of language meaning. Indeed, studies seem to be showing Broca’s area to have a much more diverse role. In either case, it is quite certain that the two areas act in tandem (Kurowski et al. 273).
There can be no question that aphasia has a profound effect on the quality of life of the person who has it. While an understanding of the anatomy of aphasia is important, it is arguably more important to understand the magnitude of change it can cause in the patient’s life. Imagine suddenly being unable to make your needs known, to verbally express affection for your loved ones, or even give voice to anger. Imagine, too, the frustration you would feel if every word was difficult to locate, then difficult to get out, only to come out in the wrong way.
Paul West, a prolific professional writer, suffered a stroke in June of 2003 and decided to write of his experience. He wanted to try to give people some insight into the world of an aphasic patient. Immediately after the stroke, West could only murmur, “Mem, mem, mem.” This syllable became noun, verb, and virtually all parts of speech available to him. After three weeks of therapy, he uttered his first full sentence: “I can talk good coffee” (West 66). During the course of his therapy, West found that he would forget words or sentences almost as soon as he said them: “…contemplating it actually made it go away, and I could not remember it until someone recovered it for me” (West 74). In addition, he could no longer read. After many months of hard work, Paul West published The Shadow Factory, his aphasic memoir. He never fully recovered, however; West himself states he only has about three “good” hours per day and still has to concentrate exclusively when he reads (West 68).
Cerebrovascular accident is a very misunderstood disease. It is truly a traumatic brain injury. Many CVA victims show the easily recognized stilted gait, curled arm, and slack cheek. It is important to realize, however, that sometimes there are difficulties one cannot see, and that, even if there is only slight physical deficit, there may be worlds of change in the mind of the patient. Although it may be difficult, it is important to allow the patient time to locate words, and it is equally important to allow the patient to struggle a little (until the point of frustration); these two acts are key in relaying brain pathways to language.
Anderson, Douglas, Jefferson Keith, Patricia Novak, and Michelle Elliott. Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary. 28th ed. New York: W.B. Saunders Co., 1994.
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Davis, Cameron, Jonathan T. Kleinman, Melissa Newhart, Leila Gingis, Mikolaj Pawlak, and Argye E. Hillis. “Speech and language functions that require a functioning Broca’s area.” Brain and Language, 105 (2008): 50-58.
Dirckx, John, MD. Stedman’s Concise Medical Dictionary for the Health Professions. 4th ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2001.
Eiling, Yee, Sheila E. Blumstein, and Julie C. Sedivy. “Lexical-Semantic Activation in Broca’s and Wernicke’s Aphasia: Evidence from Eye Movements.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20 (2008): 592-612.
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Heny, Jeannine. “Brain and Language.” Language: Introductory Readings. 7th ed. Ed. Virginia Clark, Paul Eschholz, Alfred Rosa, and Beth Lee Simon. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008. 567-589.
Kim, Hyoung-Ihl, MD, Yong-Il Shin, MD, Seong-Keun Moon, MD, Gyung-Ho Chung, MD, Min-Cheol Lee, MD, and Hyun-Gi Kim, PhD. “Unipolar and continuous cortical stimulation to enhance motor and language deficit in patients with chronic stroke: report of two cases.” Surgical Neurology, 69 (2008): 77-80.
Kurowski, Kathleen M., Sheila E. Blumstein, Carole L. Palumto, Robin S. Waldstein, and Martha W. Burton. “Nasal consonant production in Broca’s and Wernicke’s aphasics: Speech deficits and neuroanatomical correlates.” Brain and Language, 100 (2007): 262-75.
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How Much Is Too Much?
It is a widely-known marketing ploy that sex sells. Whether it comes to selling music, lingerie, or products that are as far away relatable to sex as cars, Americans can’t seem to resist the sexual pull that some advertising campaigns use. People of all ages are exposed to these campaigns every day; but when do these marketing tactics go too far? How about when the target age of the business is fourteen through twenty-one and the clothing company shows ads of next-to-naked men and women? The particular company I have in mind features ads that are easy to find by simply going to the company’s website or browsing through your local mall. If you go to the website of this business, there is a man pictured you can see only from the neck down. He is shirtless, possessing nearly perfectly sculpted abs and biceps, and is pulling his jeans down far enough to know what you would see if he pulled them down just a half inch more. This company, raking in millions of dollars a year, could afford to change their marketing tactics, and should do so as a social responsibility to our country.
The clothing company that I am talking about is Abercrombie and Fitch. If you asked any teen or young person about this company, it would be a familiar one to them. This extremely popular clothing brand is marketed to teens in a moderately high-end name brand fashion. This brand has been in hot water several times due to their campaigns, and although there has been a lot of ruckus due to outrage from the public, not much has been changed. The company rivals brands like American Eagle Outfitters and Aeropostale, but this is the only company with these kinds of ads. According to fundinguniverse.com, the brand has been around since 1892, but back then it was a store that featured merchandise more targeted to the rugged outdoorsmen. It sold items such as guns, camping equipment, and clothing. The store was popular among past day celebrity clientele, and it was even believed to have been the store from which Ernest Hemmingway purchased the gun with which he ended his life. Fast-forwarding to present day, the company has evolved into a “lifestyle brand” which markets their clothing to young adults through provocative ad campaigns. Although the Abercrombie and Fitch Company doesn’t advertise on the television or magazines, every time you walk past this store in the mall, there is a huge provocative picture of either a hardly-clothed man or woman in the doorway, the entrance of the store, visible to all when walking by.
Their partner company “Hollister Co.” which is targeted to high school age kids, has been featured in similar, yet not as tacky campaigns. Their other partner “abercrombie kids” is targeted to the age group right under them, seven to fourteen. Many people have filed lawsuits against Abercrombie and Fitch and its affiliates. Several of these lawsuits have been against the magazine published through the company which can be purchased at the Abercrombie and Fitch store, called the A&F Quarterly. The magazine/catalogue has been notorious for displaying scantily-clad men and women in provocative poses, and also for the content in which the magazine features in its articles such as drinking and sex. With the company targeting people under the age of twenty-one, it seems that this company is promoting underage consumption of alcohol. This catalogue didn’t seem to be about the clothes at all. According to the website www.salon.com, Brandy Hawk, a nineteen year old African American college student who applied for a job at the company was never contacted again after being interviewed and later found out that she wasn’t hired because she “wouldn’t represent the company well.” Hawk spoke up about the A&F Quarterly when saying, “I wondered what they were trying to advertise . . . it was like soft-core porn. I didn't see the point.”This catalogue caught so much strife that it is no longer being produced.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel online, the A&F quarterly magazine was bashed in 2001 by enraged parents for showing college-age or younger men and women nude and groping each other in sexual ways. For example, there were pictures of seven men and four women reclining naked in a river, chests and breasts exposed, just acting like this was something they passed their time doing. There were also pictures of a man and woman lying completely naked kissing, the women’s breast fully exposed. Remember, this magazine was available for purchase to people in the Abercrombie and Fitch store who were eighteen and over. The website also displays the statement made from the Abercrombie and Fitch Company saying the content is “a celebration of a youthful and spirited yet responsible lifestyle.” According to The New York Daily News online, Michael Jefferies, Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO told slate.com that the company was “all about sex.” I know that this may be okay to some people, but if I were a parent, and my children were looking at this magazine with these pictures, I would be infuriated by not only the company’s decision to promote this lifestyle through the photos, but I would be even more enraged by the company’s dismissal of the controversy by such a responsibility-lacking comment made by the person from the company. The way that this corporation is acting like they are not at fault is a way of pointing fingers at parents by underlying suggestions that maybe the parents are to blame for the young adults looking at the magazines in the first place.
The company also has a catalogue and website through which orders of their merchandise can be taken. Through the website and stores, people found the partner company abercrombie and kids to have suggestively sexual clothing items for younger children. According to the same Milwaukee Journey Sentinel online, in 2002, the company was under scrutiny for having thong underwear for girls in the stores and through the website www.abercrombiekids.com. As a reminder, this store is targeting the seven to fourteen year-old audience. Not only was the thong underwear a problem, but the content on the underwear was also controversial. Some of the underwear featured the phrases “eye candy” and “wink wink” written on the front. The website discloses that the underwear would fit ten to sixteen year olds, and the smallest size of medium would fit someone even younger than this. This marketing is a problem to many Americans. For instance, if some of these people took their young children shopping in this store it could be a question that arises from the kids asking why this underwear is available for them to buy in the store where they buy their clothes. Although they are very young, most young kids know the difference between something that is meant for them and something that is meant for adults. These kids know that thong underwear is considered racy, and they could become confused and maybe think this is what they were supposed to wear. Then again, these kids are probably not purchasing their own clothes, and the only parents who would consider purchasing thong underwear for their elementary age children really should think it through. This advertising ploy to make kids feel like they should be wearing more sexual clothing is not only wrong, it’s disgusting. The store Abercrombie and Fitch has also been involved in controversy according to www.shirtsnob.com due to their tee shirts saying “Gentlemen Prefer Tig Old Bitties,” and “With These Who Needs Brains?” written right across the chest. Teenage girls protested these shirts and they were pulled from stores and catalogues.
I remember when I was in fourth grade in 2000 when Abercrombie and Fitch and abercrombie kids became popular. Most of my friends wore this clothing, but we mostly wore the older-targeted clothing company Abercrombie and Fitch as a step up from that abercrombie kids’ “baby stuff.” When I would go shopping, I would be scared to even go into the store because of the bad stuff I had heard about it. One friend of mine actually told me that I should just order clothes off the internet rather than taking my parents into the store to see all the photos of the “naked boys.” The first time I had enough courage to take my parents into this store to shop with me, the shocked look on their faces was one-of-a-kind. They were outraged to see the offensive pictures plastered all over the walls of women’s chests exposed; only covered up by their own hands. Not only that, but the music inside the store was loud enough to probably make someone become deaf. Disappointed that I wasn’t allowed to stay in the store to purchase any clothes, I just left upset and confused. I wasn’t going to act like this. Why didn’t my parents let me shop here? My mom told me that she wasn’t going to let me purchase these clothes because of the content of their advertising. But into middle school, girls my age would wear shirts with these risqué phrases like “no shirt, no shoes, no problem,” “sun your buns,” “Abercrombie beach patrol. Naughty behavior strictly enforced,” and a man and a woman embracing one another with the woman saying, “I don’t care if I’m late to class. He’s wearing Abercrombie!” It was insane that these parents would buy their kids these clothes, and it was even crazier that our school would let them wear these clothes! Although these phrases are funny to older audiences, it’s not funny that kids are wearing this stuff being marketed to them and suggesting these things about themselves that they may not even fully understand. These young kids’ confidence and self-image could suffer when seeing these campaigns and could become a reason that they could devalue themselves. According to The Daily Collegian, psychologists say that some of these clothing articles can be “mentally detrimental” to teen girls, and can be so especially if they “already struggle with self-image issues.” What if a young girl actually thinks that the only way to appear “cool” to a boy she likes is through doing the sexual acts that these clothes depict? It could not only lead to life lead down the wrong path, but perhaps into psychological damage.
Although it is hard to believe that this marketing campaign is allowed to reach these young children so vividly, it is unfortunately ultimately up to the parents to keep the kids away from these ploys if they feel like their kids shouldn’t be exposed to them. It seems like sex is selling to even younger generations and becoming more popular by the minute, and Abercrombie & Fitch isn’t helping the problem by keeping their racy ads and controversial tees on the shelves. It’s tough to let children walk around at school and have their peers wearing these provocative clothes and expect that they won’t become influenced by them. Let’s just continue to hope that something unfortunate doesn’t become of this age group and they keep their morals and sexuality in check. I think that it is Abercrombie and Fitch’s social obligation to change the way that they depict human beings. Although it’s an extremely controversial issue and problem, it’s one that can be easily changed. I’m not saying they should totally revamp their whole marketing strategy, but please, just throw some clothes on the models and tone down the innuendo a few notches. If the company decides to not change their marketing and keep putting out promiscuous images to society, people should show their displeasure and outrage by shopping in another store.
Love at Its Worst
J.K. Rowling intentionally emphasizes the clichéd notion that love presents the ultimate resolution to evil, but some blatant inconsistencies exist that challenge her overwhelming, optimistic theme of love. The Potter series strongly reeks with the concept of love being almighty and powerful to the extent that the reader, at some point, hastens to plug her nose (figuratively, of course). Love remains a complex emotion packed with meanings, intentions, and repercussions. The reader must realize that even though Rowling overtly stresses the positive aspects of love, the series contains covert, yet unmistakable negative connotations concerning unintended consequences of relationships.
Severus Snape exemplifies the detrimental effects stemming from his young unrequited love for Lily Evans through his personal choices and monumental sacrifices. Growing up, Snape adoringly watches Lily as she first begins to discover her magical ability. As Severus and Lily build their friendship, the “best friends” (Deathly Hallows 673) remain unaware that Snape would one day facilitate his red-headed, green-eyed confidante’s untimely demise. When Snape realizes that the prophecy he has relayed to Voldemort will most certainly result in Lily’s death, he pathetically resorts to pleading for her life even though she has already started a family with her devoted husband, James. Following Lily’s death, Snape expresses grim, almost pointless remorse for a woman who had voided him from her mind years ago: “I wish . . . I wish I were dead . . . .” (678). Snape reluctantly agrees to help Dumbledore protect Harry Potter, whom Snape abhors because he represents the love Lily holds for another, less formidable man: “Very well. Very well. But never – never tell, Dumbledore! This must be between us! Swear it! I cannot bear . . . especially Potter’s son. . . I want your word!” (679). Snape’s ceaseless love for Lily forces him into a difficult lifestyle consisting of lies and secrecy, which leaves Snape dangerously staggering between the boundaries of good and evil; he constantly struggles between his agreement with Dumbledore and his alliance with Lord Voldemort. Dumbledore praises Snape, “Do not think that I underestimate the constant danger in which you place yourself, Severus. To give Voldemort what appears to be valuable information while withholding the essentials is a job I would entrust to nobody but you” (684). This poor man has unnecessarily allowed love to consume him, causing him to make decisions and to make sacrifices uncharacteristic of his actual attitudes. Although Snape makes choices and sacrifices to satisfy his promise, he remains unable to truly control his genuine mentality and emotions.
With cleverness and Occulumency, Snape successfully misleads Voldemort from his promised intentions, but he is not capable of hiding his emotions towards Harry and his deceased mother. On the very first day of Potions, Snape addresses Harry with an obvious tone of dislike: “Harry Potter. Our new – celebrity” (Sorcerer’s Stone 136). Little does Harry know that his unmistakable scar and green eyes hold more significance to Snape than just his celebrity status. Snape views Harry as a constant reminder of his lost love. He continues to express his bitter resentment towards the famous Harry Potter whenever possible. His adoration for Lily has led him to live a sad existence of excessive spite. Snape’s severe, enduring passion for Lily is further confirmed through his Patronus: “From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe . . . Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.” Dumbledore asks, “After all this time?” and Snape replies, “Always” (Deathly Hallows 687). Although moving, the fact that Snape’s Patronus still takes the shape of Lily’s Patronus is really quite pitiful. Lily’s Patronus represents her love for James, whose Patronus is, logically, the doe’s male counterpart: a stag. Snape bases his being on a romantic love that has never been mutual. He pathetically clings to his loving memory of Lily even sixteen years after her death. Sixteen years! Snape’s ridiculous mentality suggests that he holds no will to change his depressing situation, an obvious sign of weakness, all in the name of love. Snape’s situation is unfortunate; it presents an otherwise strong, intelligent man as feeble because of his reluctance to accept his circumstances. In this situation, love has led Snape to a life full of regret and spite which deteriorates him, but he is not the only dominant male figure in the series to be harmed as a result of love.
Since Rowling has publically revealed Albus Dumbledore’s homosexuality, it is reasonable to assume that the highly revered Albus Dumbledore foolishly fell in love with his teenage friend, Gellert Grindelwald; this misguided relationship resulted in a shameful disgrace cast upon Albus’s past. While Albus was supposedly taking care of his younger sister, Ariana, Gellert distracted Albus’s attention with plans “FOR THE GREATER GOOD” (Deathly Hallows 357). As Aberforth bitterly recalls, Albus and Gellert “were hatching all their plans for a new Wizarding order, and looking for Hallows . . . Grand plans for the benefit of all Wizard kind, and if one young girl got neglected, what did that matter, when Albus was working for the greater good?” (566). Though his love for Gellert and his ideas of “Wizard dominance” (357) died along with Ariana, a lasting remorse inhabits Albus, which is obvious while he forces down the potion that supposedly protects Voldemort’s horcrux: “It’s all my fault, all my fault. Please make it stop, I know I did wrong, oh please make it stop and I’ll never, never again . . .” (Prince 572). Harry concludes that the pain Albus involuntarily reveals can be attributed to the unintentional death of his sister: “He was never free [of the burden of his sister]. The night that he died, he drank a potion that drove him out of his mind. He started screaming with someone who wasn’t there” (Deathly Hallows 567). The reader may also conclude that Dumbledore’s reflection in the Mirror of Erised would include his family as they existed before Grindelwald arrived and love tore them apart (Sorcerer’s Stone 214). In consequence of a feeble love interest during his teenage years, love forces Albus into a relentless state of guilt.
Although Wizards applaud Dumbledore for defeating Grindelwald, they probably do not realize how courageous Dumbledore must have been in order to defeat his past sweetheart. Dumbledore created a strong connection with Grindelwald. Aberforth explains, “And at last, my brother had an equal to talk to, someone just as bright and talented as he was” (Deathly Hallows 566). However, it seems odd that although Dumbledore stresses the importance of love throughout the entire Potter series, he must resort to dueling and killing his beloved Grindelwald. Even though Dumbledore continually insists on the profuse power of love, the only love interest Rowling references over his long life is his relationship with Grindelwald. This paradox concerning Dumbledore’s love life supports the notion that love can leave lasting pain that one may never overcome.
In addition to the unfortunate circumstances of these two respected men, Rowling, whether intentionally or unintentionally, insinuates the imprudent disposition of love with the portrayal of the Xenophilius Lovegood and his daughter “Loony” Luna. Examining each name presents a revelation in itself: Xenophilius literally means “strange affection” while Luna, obviously enough, comes from “lunar” which undoubtedly refers to the “lunar effect” (Hall) that assumes people act differently under a full moon. Then, of course, their surname “Lovegood” insinuates, well, apparently, that love is good. When Rowling first introduces Luna, she “gave off an aura of distinct dottiness. Perhaps it was the fact that she had her wand stuck behind her left ear for safekeeping, or that she had chosen to wear a necklace of butterbeer caps, or that she was reading a magazine upside down” (Order of the Phoenix 185). Similarly, Xenophilius is introduced as “a most eccentric-looking wizard. Slightly cross-eyed, with shoulder-length white hair . . . and robes of an eye-watering shade of egg-yolk yellow” (Deathly Hallows 139). Rowling’s depiction of these two oddball characters lays a hidden insinuation that love, in essence, is crazy, odd, and unpredictable.
Furthermore, Harry holds back his veiled feelings concerning erratic love in a conversation with Dumbledore: “’I know!’ said Harry impatiently. ‘I can love!’ It was only with difficulty that he stopped himself adding, ‘Big deal!’” (Prince 509). He further expresses his disappointment when he asks Dumbledore, “’So, when the prophecy says that I’ll have “power the Dark Lord knows not,” it just means – love?’ asked Harry, feeling a little let down” (509). The idea that love exists as his secret power makes Harry uncomfortable even though he is the very one protected by love. This further proves the undependable spirit of love, insinuating that it can be inconsistent and faulty.
Some might argue that Snape’s promise in memory of his fruitless love enhances the inherently decent traits of a misguided man. But at what cost does this occur? How much pain must a man endure to no avail? Others might disagree that Dumbledore’s short lived romance greatly affects the rest of his life. Then what else would he have seen in the Mirror of Erised? Certainly not himself “holding a pair of thick, woolen socks” (Sorcerer’s Stone 214) as Dumbledore claims. It is absurd to entertain the idea that a man’s greatest desire involves keeping his feet warm. Dumbledore has much more significant ideals than socks consuming his forlorn intellect.
Dumbledore explains Voldemort’s greatest “weakness” to Harry: “If there is one thing Voldemort can’t understand, it is love. It was agony [for him] to touch a person marked by something so good” (Sorcerer’s Stone 299). But is love really so “good”? Does Voldemort really express a weakness by lacking the capability to love? Not necessarily. In response to Dumbledore’s claim of almighty love, Voldemort responds, “The old argument. But nothing I have seen in the world has supported your famous pronouncements that love is more powerful than my kind of magic, Dumbledore” (Prince 444). Although the reader may hate to admit it, Voldemort presents a valid argument. The only love that has overcome his “kind of magic” is Lily’s protection instilled in Harry, which is unintentional and breakable. In fact, the ultimate demise of Voldemort, ironically enough, is himself, not love. His battered soul lives in Harry and his soul only dies because of his own attempts to kill “the boy who lived.” Voldemort’s ignorance concerning the Elder Wand and Harry’s knowledge lead to his ruin; love plays no part in Voldemort’s final end, which strongly suggests that love is not the all-powerful means of defeating evil.
It is unfair to claim that every representation of love will result in negative repercussions, but it is not unreasonable to argue that love is not as powerful and as good as Rowling depicts it throughout the Potter series. Aside from the positive consequences love may or may not inflict upon human nature, it is crucial to understand the often unforeseen and unintended harmful situations resulting from love. It is imperative that Harry Potter readers appreciate both the splendor and the cruelty of love in order to fully grasp the concept of life and all of its tribulations. Rowling could have presented her series not only to emphasize the importance of love, but also to underline the magnitude of the consequences love can create. By showing the complex dimensions of love instead of emphasizing its “good,” Rowling makes the reader less likely to view Snape as a weak man and Dumbledore as an old, heartbroken soul. The reader would undoubtedly receive a more complete outlook of love and its many qualities.
Hall, Paula. “Xenophilius Lovegood.” 23 July 2007. Harry Potter Lexicon. Waite Bunker, Lisa. Date Accessed: March 12, 2009.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1999.
--. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1999.
--. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1999.
--. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1999.
The “Odd”yssey: Mythology and House M.D.
In ancient times mythology provided explanations for nature and natural events; it provided explanations for the origin of mankind. Most importantly, mythology provided a common thread that all members of a society could hold on to and use as a guide in becoming a part of that society. In today’s world, myth has been replaced by science as the thread that explains nature and the origin of man. The stories that used to explain these events have been pushed to the side, but they have not disappeared entirely. They have survived in the books that we read, the movies we watch, and the television shows streamed into our living room every day.
The effect of mythology on popular culture cannot be disputed. Many scholars have, at some point or another, analyzed its presence in and its effect on television, movies, books, and popular culture in general. Donald E. Palumbo, for example, has applied Joseph Campbell’s “Monomyth” to Star Trek (Palumbo 115). Star Wars, Firefly, Stargate, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Battlestar Galactica have all likewise been analyzed with respect to their mythological origins (Perlich 9, Marek 99, Simpson 73, Cochran 145, Strain 51). But all of those examples have something in common besides their debts to mythology: they are all works of science fiction or fantasy. Myth in science fiction and fantasy is quite often easy to pick out; the twelve members of the Jedi Council have an obvious correlation to Jesus’ twelve apostles, and the Harry Potter books are packed with more mythical creatures, references, themes, and story lines than you can count (maybe even more than J.K. Rowling herself knows about).Plenty of work has been done with mythological themes in science fiction, as is evidenced by the works cited above, but it is not the only genre in which myth themes exist. While unexpected, and even a little bit odd, myth themes abound in modern realistic fiction as well. The myth themes in realistic media are necessarily understated and more subtle than those of science fiction and fantasy in order to maintain the realism. They are nonetheless important to find (even more so than those in science fiction) since the audience is able to relate to the situations and characters in realistic fiction more easily than with science fiction. A perfect example of realistic fiction that integrates realism and mythology is House M.D.
House M.D. is the story of Dr. Gregory House (Hugh Laurie). He is a tenured doctor at Princeton-Plainsboro teaching hospital, the head of the Department of Diagnostic Medicine, and one of the foremost authorities in the field of communicable disease. He is also a deeply troubled individual with a scathing wit that infuses every episode with a degree of humor, honesty, and drama that make the show interesting to watch and even more interesting to think about. House M.D. is just one of the examples of modern story telling that draw on, and integrate mythological themes into their storylines. But what are the themes that have survived to rule today’s popular television shows, movies, and books? More importantly why do they still resonate so strongly with readers and viewers in today’s culture, despite being so far removed from early man, where the myths originated? The reason these themes still resonate so strongly with us is that they continue to shape our lives, just like the myths of old, though in more subtle ways.
Joseph Campbell and “The Hero’s Journey”
In The Hero with a Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell, an author best known for his work in the field of comparative mythology, traced the paths of heroes from all over the globe, from Hercules to Buddha, from Thor to Jesus Christ, and identified what he called “The Hero’s Journey,” which is basically an outline for every myth and tale ever told. “The Hero’s Journey” has three major parts. The first part of the journey is known as “The Departure.” “The Departure” always includes three aspects: the call to adventure, a herald, who delivers the call, and the hero’s acceptance or refusal of the call. In antiquity the herald was “often dark, loathly, or terrifying, judged evil by the world” (Campbell 44). This description does not always have reference to the herald’s physical appearance, but the Herald will always carry with him an air of that evil or darkness. In the tale of the frog prince, where the frog himself acts as the herald for adventure, the frog is loathly and undesirable. In the story of Beowulf, the herald is just a herald, but he brings with him the evil and terrifying news of the beast Grendel. In House, M.D. the concept of the herald works in exactly the same way as it did in these ancient stories. At the beginning of almost every episode of House, either someone exhibits signs of sickness or a case is presented to House by Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), House’s best friend and head of the Oncology Department; Cuddy (Lisa Edelstein), the Dean of Medicine and House’s boss; or someone from House’s team. In an episode in season 4, aptly named “Ugly,” we encounter the stereotypical loathly and terrifying herald. A young man named Kenny comes to Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital, with a “Fronto Nasal Insephaloseal,” which is essentially a growth about the size of a grapefruit protruding from the skull. This is an extreme example of the herald, similar to the frog prince. Most of the heralds in House have more in common with the herald from Beowulf. They are not ugly or loathsome, but they carry with them something that is judged evil by the world: disease, if it is the patient who acts as the herald, or news of disease, if it is someone else who presents the case to House.
This may seem elementary, but once the hero has received the call to adventure he has the option of whether or not to accept it. In Beowulf, the request for help, delivered by the herald, is answered immediately and without hesitation by Beowulf. On the other hand, in the story of Achilles, he refuses the call by going into hiding on the Island of Scyros so that he might avoid his death while fighting in the Trojan War. In the end though, it is irrelevant to the story whether or not the hero accepts the call, since he will in some way be brought into the adventure (if he were not it would make for a boring story). Achilles is tricked into revealing himself and convinced to go to Troy by wise Odysseus, the king of Ithaca. What the refusal of the call does accomplish is to tell us something of the mindset of the Hero. If Beowulf had refused the call and later been talked into going on the adventure he would not have seemed like the courageous protector of his people as he does in the actual story, but rather like a scared and reluctant lord. If Achilles had simply accepted his fate and gone to Troy, his story and his character, like Beowulf’s, would have changed.
Dr. Gregory House is unique in this company of heroes. Achilles receives one call to adventure, Beowulf receives three. House receives a call to adventure at the beginning of every episode: we get to witness the call to adventure and House’s response to it literally over one hundred times. In an ancient myth, a movie, or a book, it is rare that we get to see the same hero respond to multiple calls to adventure. Further enriching the experience for the viewer of House, M.D. is the fact that House does not respond the same way to each call. Beowulf is a relatively brief story, but within those pages we see him receive three calls to adventure (once for Grendel, once for Grendel’s mother, and once for the Dragon), and he responds the same way all three times: immediately, decisively, and without fear. This establishes his character and makes him a solid and readable archetype for a hero and a good example for the reader to follow.
House’s character is more complex and harder to pin down than Beowulf’s because his response to a call to adventure varies so greatly from episode to episode. In an episode titled “One Day, One Room,” the herald is a rape victim named Eve, who inexplicably forms a bond of trust with House and refuses to speak to the staff psychologist, Cuddy, or anyone else about her rape. Half way through the episode, House is still refusing to take the case, but is thrown into it anyway by Cuddy and by Eve’s persistence. This kind of refusal is not uncommon for House, but neither is his acceptance of cases. In contrast to this refusal to take cases, episode 17 of season 2 shows House leaving a Casino night at the hospital and actively pursuing a case in spite of Cuddy’s telling him to leave it alone (“All In”). So if Beowulf’s unwavering acceptance of a the call tells us that he is strong and courageous, and Achilles’ refusal of the call tells us that he is scared of death, what does House’s seemingly arbitrary selection of cases tell us about his character? He does not accept the call to adventure because of nobility like Beowulf, and he does not refuse the call out of fear like Achilles. House’s only motivation behind accepting or refusing a case is finding an interesting case, that he can obsess over… or to get out of clinic duty.
From the acceptance or refusal of the call, we cross the barrier into the second stage of “The Hero’s Journey,” “The Initiation.” There are many subcategories under “The Initiation”; we will deal with two of them: “The Road of Trials” and “The Ultimate Boon” (or “The Elixir”). In every story there is a series of tests and trials that the protagonist must go through. Hercules is given twelve trials to atone for the murder of his wife and three sons. Buddha has to endure temptation and intimidation on his journey toward enlightenment. House has to go through this same road of trials in each and every episode. Returning to the episode “Ugly,” after Kenny arrives at Princeton-Plainsboro, he begins to present with other symptoms. House’s road of trials consists of going through all of the symptoms and many possible diagnoses, trying to find the disease that fits. This is a theme that appears in every episode of House in one way or another, even “One Day, One Room” where the patient’s problem is psychological rather than physical.
Once the hero has passed through his road of trials, he will arrive at a penultimate moment and will receive some piece of knowledge, some weapon, or an elixir that will allow for the accomplishment of his quest. This is known as the “Elixir” or the “Boon.” The Elixir or Boon is an item or idea that will make the hero better, some other individual better, or the world in general better. Prometheus, after arriving at the summit of Mount Olympus, steals fire from the gods and gives it to man; this gives warmth and light to all of mankind. The princess, after developing a fondness for the frog, gives him a kiss; the frog becomes a prince and marries the princess. Jason and his Argonauts, after a long and perilous journey, charm the guardian of the Golden Fleece and take the fleece as their prize; returning home with this prize allows Jason to defeat his uncle Pelius and ascend to the throne of Iolcus. House, after spending days testing and looking for an answer, discovers Kenny is infected with Lyme disease. This realization is the Boon that allows House (the hero) to make Kenny (the individual that benefits) better. House’s team administers the vaccine to Kenny and not only is he cured of Lyme disease, but as a result can receive facial reconstructive surgery, and be free of both the “evils” that oppress him (“Ugly”).
This formula can be applied, in some way, to every episode of House M.D. At the end of his road of trials House always finds the answer to what is ailing the patient (with a very few exceptions), and more often than not finds a cure for that particular disease. In this case the medicine can be seen as an elixir for the patient. But the idea of the “Elixir” or “Boon” is not always so simple as: the patient is sick, House tests the patient, House identifies the disease, House cures the patient. In one episode, the person who receives the boon is not the patient at all, but Foreman (Omar Epps), a member of House’s diagnostic team (“House Training”). The same pattern is followed, but in the end Foreman treats the patient with chemo and the patient ends up dying from a simple staph infection, because the chemo destroyed her immune system. In this case the boon is not given to the patient, but rather to Foreman, who learns a valuable lesson about confirming a diagnoses before you act, all because “he didn’t look both ways before he nuked” (“Family”).
After the evil uncle is deposed, or the frog turns into a prince, or the disease is cured, the third and last stage in “The Hero’s Journey” is “The Return.” Just like the other stages of “The Hero’s Journey,” “The Return” is broken down into sub-stages and just as with the other stages, House M.D. fits most or all of the subcategories perfectly, but we will only look at one, “The Crossing of the Return Threshold.” At the end of every Hero’s Journey there is a return from the world of the unknown, to the world of the known. Odysseus returns home to Ithaca after ten years of war at Troy and ten years on the seas at the mercy of the gods. After ejecting the unwelcome suitors from his home, he returns to a state of normalcy, more grateful for his home because of the experience. Little Red Riding Hood, after escaping the wolf in the forest, returns home to a state of normalcy, wiser for the experience. Beowulf, after defeating the dragon, goes down to his death bed, at peace, without regret for the experience. The crossing of the return threshold requires the reconciliation of the values the hero held before his adventure began, and the Boon or Elixir that the hero received during his quest.
In House M.D. it is easy enough to say that every patient that is cured fits this requirement. Just because it is easy to say, doesn’t make it untrue; Kenny is a better person and has a better appreciation for life after his ordeal in the hospital. The rape victim, Eve, is a better person for having confronted the psychological issues involved with her rape. But what is most interesting to watch in House M.D. is not the changes that the patients go through as a result of House’s efforts, but rather the very subtle changes that Dr. House himself experiences. Often the patients in House represent personality traits, ideas, or moral principles that, through the episode, rub off on House and become a Boon to him personally, even though he may try to mask the effect.
The most striking and poignant example of integrating the lesson of the episode into House’s character is in an episode titled “Fetal Position” in season three. In this episode a pregnant woman named Emma has a stroke. House diagnoses the problem as Maternal Mirror Syndrome, which means that a problem that is killing the child is also killing the mother. House’s advice is to abort the fetus, but the mother refuses to let him do it. Emma and House go back and forth trying to decide what they are going to do, and finally House suggests a radical and dangerous surgery that requires operating on the baby while still in the mother’s womb. During the surgery House touches the baby’s hand and forms a connection with the unborn child, whom he has insisted on calling “the fetus” the entire episode. After a successful surgery House and Emma’s final conversation is:
Emma: So my kidney, liver and lungs are all fine, just like that?This signifies a massive change in House’s opinion towards the baby and towards life in general. The entire episode he has been arguing that the fetus is only a fetus, not a child, and now (whether consciously or not) his opinion has changed. This is beneficial for the viewer seeing that a massive change is possible, even though House, being who he is, represses this change, covers it up with callousness, and deflects any acknowledgement of it with sarcasm and wit. In fact, he starts to deflect immediately. The very next thing that happens is that he stares at Emma for a second, gathering himself from this realization and then asks:
House: Just like that.
Emma: That’s amazing.
House: What’s amazing is how blond your baby’s hair is.
Emma: (Emma laughs) My baby?
House: You know. The thing in your belly that tried to kill you.
Emma: You’ve never called him a baby before.
House: Any pain? [Deflection]“The Hero’s Journey” is more than just a pattern that can be followed and identified in literature, television, and film. It is the way the human mind has been conditioned to learn, even though we usually don’t recognize that we are learning. When the viewers witness House accept or deny a case, or go through his many diagnoses and failures, or return to society after the case, it is easier to relate with because each of those events are part of a pattern they are already familiar with.
Emma: Nothing I can’t deal with.
House: You can only get out of bed to pee, poo or shower. And absolutely no sex. So stop flirting with me. [Deflection]
Emma: Sorry. So this really worked. He’ll be… normal?
House: If you call being born twice, normal.
Emma: Hey, thank you.
House: Don’t thank me. I would have killed the kid. [Repression] (“Fetal Position”)
Jung and the “Process of Individuation”
The change that the hero experiences over the course of his journey brings us nicely to the next question we will deal with. The first question was what are some of the themes that have continued into popular culture? The question we will deal with now is why do these themes still resonate so strongly with us today? Dr. Carl Gustav Jung’s ideas as to how and why mythology affects us center on the meaning of dreams and their similarities to myth. It was Jung’s theory that “the people and objects in your dreams do not represent the people they seem to be. Rather, they are symbolic figures that represent the struggle each of us undergoes throughout our lives to become a mature and complete person” (qtd. in Thury 507). This “struggle” to “become a mature and complete person” is what Jung calls the “Process of Individuation.” Of it Jung says:
…it is the process by which individual beings are formed and differentiated; in particular, it is the development of the psychological individual as a being distinct from the general, collective psychology. Individuation, therefore, is a process of differentiation, having for its goal the development of the individual personality. (Qtd. in Frankle 115)Individuation in dreams and in myth is moved along largely by the characters encountered by the individual or hero. The characters’ interaction with the hero is what causes the changes in the hero’s character. This change is what makes myth accessible to a modern audience. Jung broke down the individuals and objects that we encounter in our dreams and in myth into three primary “Archetypes,” or basic character types. These character types can be applied to different characters in House M.D. (or whatever the subject of analysis is). The three archetypes are “The Shadow,” “The Anima,” and “The Self.” Each one of these archetypes must be considered from the perspective of the hero, since each one is assigned its role based on the character traits of the hero.
The shadow is the first archetype we will look at. It is the “same sex as the person [hero], but has the opposite personality and self-image”(Thury 509). The shadow can often appear threatening at first and may manifest itself as an enemy, a terrifying animal, or maybe a neutral but not understood character. A classic example of the hero and his shadow is wise Odysseus and Eurylochus. Odysseus is the courageous, strong, bold, and clever king of Ithaca. Eurylocus is his first mate on the voyage home, and is everything that Odysseus is not; he is not daring, bold, or clever. In fact, by the end of their journey together he attempts to organize a mutiny to usurp Odysseus’s role if he will not stop at the island of Apollo. Once again House M.D. fits this mythological theme perfectly, though with a slight twist. In antiquity, heroes were most often virtuous and kind, hence their shadows were deceitful and mean. House is not virtuous (at least not in the traditional sense) and he is not kind. House is jaded, cynical, mean spirited, and childish. Because House is of a questionably virtuous nature, his shadow (counterintuitively) is a good person, his best friend Wilson, who is everything that House is not. Wilson is understanding, honest, good hearted, and (arguably) mature. The shadow is a means for the hero to learn about himself. It “represents the unknown or little known attributes and qualities of the ego” (Thury 509). When the hero comes into contact with his shadow, he begins to recognize the qualities that the shadow has, that he does not.
The fact that House has learned from Wilson is apparent in different episodes throughout the series, but none is quite as apparent as episode sixteen of season five, titled “The Softer Side.” In this episode House begins taking Methadone for the pain in his leg instead of Vicodin. On Methadone, the pain in House’s leg is gone entirely, relieving him of the need to be short with people in order to cover the pain. As a result of being pain free, he tries to incorporate himself into polite society. He chooses Wilson as his model. As this pseudo-Wilson he concedes to the patient’s wishes. He is kind to the idiots in the clinic. He does his job without giving Cuddy problems. He even asks Wilson for permission before he steals his food (“The Softer Side”). Seeing the hero incorporate character traits of his “shadow” allows the viewers to look at themselves and consider what traits they may be missing. The result is introspective, though probably not on a conscious level.
The next archetype is the “Anima,” “the personification of all feminine psychological tendencies in man’s psyche, such as vague feelings and moods, prophetic hunches, receptiveness to the irrational, capacity for personal love, feeling for nature, and-- last but not least-- his relation to the unconscious” (Von Franz 186). Once again The Odyssey serves as a perfect model for the Anima in mythology because of the many females who fit, in some way or another, the Anima archetype. The two most obvious Anima figures in The Odyssey are Circe and Calypso, who are goddesses and sisters who share not only the gifts of beauty, and a deep love of nature, but also the gifts of prophesy and a deep personal love for Odysseus.
In House M.D. the obvious Anima figure is Cameron (Jennifer Morrison), a member of House’s original team. Since House M.D. is a realistic television show, the gift of prophecy is played down, but still exists is Cameron’s ability (like House’s) to diagnose unknown illnesses. She is also an Anima figure due to her ability to demonstrate deep personal love for her deceased husband, random patients, her colleagues, and even House. This love is shown in a very obvious way in the episode mentioned before titled “One Day, One Room.” A sub-plot in the episode shows a homeless man coming into the clinic asking for a place to stay for the night, but in reality looking for a place to die. He refuses drugs or any kind of treatment. When Cameron insists on giving him drugs, he says, “I need you to remember me. I need somebody to remember me” (“One Day, One Room”). Cameron ends up staying the entire night with this man and watches him die just to fulfill his last request. The benefit of the “Anima” to the viewer is that the personification of feminine characteristics is able to help show the male hero the benefits and virtues of those same characteristics.
The third archetype is the “Self.” The “Self” is the same sex as the hero, and often appears as a wise old man or woman who acts as a guide to bring the hero to the next level of the quest. The Self represents a transcendent or elevated version of the hero (Thury 510). In The Odyssey one of the “Self” characters is Alcinous, king of the Phaeachians. It is he who gives Odysseus final news of his home and sets him on the final leg of his journey back to Ithaca. The “Self” figure in House is a bit more difficult to identify than in other media. Because of the expansiveness of a television series it is not practical to have the Self as a member of the regular cast since there is only so much the character can learn from one person. This necessity for multiple “Self” figures throughout the series also makes necessary the suspension of the same-sex rule. In House M.D. the “Self” is most often a patient, who could be male or female (and oddly enough in more then one episode is both male and female), and the patient has some character trait that makes him a degree higher than House in some way. Kenny’s superior trait is patience in tribulation. Eve’s superior trait is trust in a higher power. Emma’s superior trait is respect for human life. In the end of each of those episodes House has taken something away from the experience.
All of these archetypes come to bear in an aspect of myth called the “The Process of Individuation.” Jung saw myth and dreams as a way for an individual to come to know what character traits he lacks and what he can become, and to know his inner self through interaction with the archetypes. As he deals with the “Shadow,” the “Anima,” and the “Self,” he learns different things about himself from each. From the “Shadow” the hero learns what traits he lacks. From the “Anima” he learns what feminine traits he can integrate to his inner self. From the “Self” he learns what he can become. In episode fourteen of season five, titled “The Greater Good,” it seems as if House is specifically trying out some of the lessons that he was supposed to have learned over the course of the show. In this episode, the expected roles of Cuddy and House are reversed. Cuddy is mad that, as a result of House’s antics, she has to come back early from her maternity leave. As payback, Cuddy starts playing practical jokes on House to make him miserable: she steals his cane and she strings a trip wire across the base of his door. Instead of getting even, House acts like a mature and responsible adult: he shows restraint and moderation. He even shows kindness to the patient (“The Greater Good”). It is possible that not responding to Cuddy’s pranks is just a power play by House rather than a genuine display of these traits, but either way it shows that House has learned from his experience with his “Shadow,” his “Animus,” and his “Self.” The benefit for the viewer is the same as it is for the hero. By seeing how different personalities and different character traits interact and collide, the viewer can choose (consciously or subconsciously) to take on the character traits displayed by the hero, House, or any one of the archetypes that reflect him. The “Process of Individuation” teaches the hero, and the viewer, how to become a better person.
It has been argued that the process of individuation is inconsistent with a series television show like House M.D. Eva M. Thury and Margaret K. Devinney, for example, argue that “It may well be that the artistic norms of a particular period or genre are in conflict with the sincere search for personal meaning and value assumed by the Jungian model” (Thury 514). The “Process of Individuation” is, by its very nature, the progression of a flawed character to an unflawed character. The artistic norms of a television series, like House M.D., are in conflict with the “sincere search for personal meaning and value” because of the necessity to draw the show out over weeks, months, and years. If the hero evolves and becomes flawless, as he should to follow the process of individuation, the story is over. This argument is overcome in a number of ways in House M.D.:
First is Dr. House’s resistance to change. In spite of the many valuable lessons that he learns in his quest for personal meaning, it is not uncommon for him to ignore them completely. At the end of several episodes he has an opportunity to implement the lesson he just learned. In an episode titled “The Social Contract,” a patient comes to the hospital without the ability to filter his thoughts. As a result he cannot stop himself from insulting his daughter and demeaning his wife; he nearly loses his family over it. House learns the benefit of restraint as a result of this man’s near loss and even goes out of his way to arrange an unnecessary surgery to help him get his family back. But in spite of this, House is still insultingly honest with Wilson at the end of the episode. The fact that House does learn from patients and other characters fulfills the requirement of the process of individuation. The fact that he does not implement what he learns helps to retain the flawed aspect of the hero that a television series needs to continue.
Second, the writers of House allow other regular characters in the show to experience the process of individuation. Wilson loses his girlfriend Amber at the end of season four, and for the first half of season five he mourns her and cannot let her go. In the episode titled “The Greater Good,” Wilson has a very personal conversation with a colleague about moving past this experience of loss. The episode ends with Wilson finally washing a dirty glass with Amber’s lipstick on it that had been sitting on his counter since she died. This method allows the process of individuation to occur in the episode without having to focus so much attention on House himself.
Third, all of House’s patients provide their own individual stories, and their own personal progression. This is merely an extension of the second example, but one more step removed from House. In one episode a man who is happy and kind all the time ends up at Princeton-Plainsboro. It turns out that his excessive happiness is just a symptom of a disease, and at the end of the episode he is cured and becomes a complete person, the definition of the “Process of Individuation” (“No More Mr. Nice Guy”). Like the example before this, the patient experiencing his own change allows for the diversion of some of the focus from House. In this way, the medium of a television series can complete the requirements of “The Process of Individuation,” while maintaining the freshness that it needs in order to continue over many seasons of broadcasting.
Aristotle and “Tragic Catharsis”
Besides the fact that human beings appear to be wired to accept and even seek out the themes and story patterns used in myth and the character archetypes they use, there is yet one more reason why mythology affects the human mind so deeply. For the observer, witnessing “The Hero’s Journey” and hardship the hero endures, and witnessing the changes that the hero and the other characters go through by the “Process of Individuation” is cathartic. Of course, the idea of “tragic catharsis” predates both Jung and Campbell by over 1200 years. Aristotle said that “the proper function [of tragedy]... is to arouse the emotions of pity and fear in the audience; and to arouse this pity and fear in such a way as to effect that special purging off and relief (catharsis) of these two emotions which is the characteristic of Tragedy” (17).
Aristotle’s definition is that tragedy should imitate something that is real, and that that imitation is meant to evoke emotion not for the purpose of enraging or frightening the audience, but rather for the purpose of drawing those emotions to the surface in order to purge them. Seeing others experience hardship, seeing others experience change, seeing others experience tragedy, helps the audience cope with their own hardships, changes, and tragedy. Seeing the play Oedipus the King and witnessing the hardships that Oedipus endures, brings forth the emotions of pity and fear in the audience; pity for Oedipus and fear of his situation. But these same emotions help the audience learn how to avoid or cope with their own tragedies.
In the traditional sense House M.D. does not always classify as a tragedy since, more often than not, the episodes end happily: House cures the disease, the patient goes home, and everybody is happy… everybody is happy except House. There are other differences; House is not a king, House is not perfect. He does fit the description of the tragic Hero in other ways though: he suffers from the tragic flaw of pride, he does whatever is necessary to save the people he is responsible for (even if it is in his own convoluted way), and in the end, he loses. One reason House M.D. and shows like it are popular is that they allow the viewing audience to see how representations of real world problems play out in a representation of the real world filled with representations of real world characters. Viewers of House get weekly lessons on a variety of life issues. They learn how to deal with a difficult person by watching Wilson try to finesse House. They learn how not to deal with anyone by watching House deal with… anyone. More importantly, and more to the point, pitying the patients and fearing their diseases helps the audience learn to deal with their own fears of disease and ultimately death. While watching House we see others with sickness and become accustomed, or even desensitized to their suffering. The experience is cathartic: It allows us to relieve some fear of our deaths and the pain associated with it.
House M.D. is also cathartic in a very different way that Aristotle may never have considered. House’s immature actions, his awful temperament, and horrible treatment of other people are a voice for what happens in, but never leaves, the minds of people all over the world when someone does something stupid. I term this type of catharsis, “Housian Catharsis.” How often has someone made some asinine statement with no basis or merit, and you just wanted to say, “You’re a moron”? How often has your boss asked you to do something you didn’t want to, and you just wanted to say, “No. I have nothing better to do, but no”? How often has this happened and you could either not think of the words or were simply too chicken to do it? Chances are you have had those thoughts, but simply do not act on them.
House acts on them. House does not suffer those fears and he is not inhibited in the same way as the viewer. He says what he thinks, he does what he wants. Seeing House berate an idiot in the clinic who did not use a condom and cannot figure out how he caught an STD is cathartic. Seeing House overrule Cuddy’s decisions by proving her wrong or just ignoring her is cathartic. Seeing House break a rule to do what he knows is right, is cathartic. This is not catharsis in the sense of pity for a character or fear of a situation, as Aristotle theorized. This is catharsis of frustration and restraint. For the viewers, House is a cathartic medium for their frustration and restraint, just as Oedipus is for pity and fear. Seeing House do and say these things, even though we know that they are fictional, gets the impulse to do them ourselves off our chests. Aristotelian catharsis purifies society by relieving fear through a tragic medium. Housian catharsis perpetuates society by allowing social niceties to continue through an uninhibited medium.
Robert B. Ray and the American Hero
This idea of House as a rule and mold breaker actually speaks more to the current state of affairs of myth in popular culture than is at first apparent. In an essay titled “The Thematic Paradigm,” Robert B. Ray comments on the modern American hero in the movies, but the idea applies to television as well. He says, “The dominant tradition of American cinema consistently found ways to overcome dichotomies. Often the movies’ reconciliatory pattern concentrated on a single character magically embodying diametrically opposite traits.” According to Ray, “The movies traded on one opposition in particular, American culture’s traditional dichotomy of individual and community that had generated the most significant pair of competing myths: the outlaw hero and the official hero.” To the American public the outlaw hero represents the spirit of individualism; the official hero represents the spirit of community and collective action. In American myth and today’s popular myth there has been a homogenization of these two hero types: an official with outlaw or individualistic tendencies. Davy Crockett, who tamed the west and ran the country as the President of the United States is a perfect example of the American hero type. This American mythological theme continues in many modern television shows. Jack Bauer, the main character in 24, is a rule breaking anti-terrorist agent for the U.S. Government. Cal Lightman, from the Fox TV show Lie to Me, is an expert in the field of lie detection, but he only participates in cases on his own terms.
House, like the other heroes mentioned, has aspects of both the outlaw hero and the official hero. As the outlaw hero, House often ignores his responsibilities at the hospital: he acts like a child, he is addicted to drugs, he is mean to patients, and he rejects all female relationships, even when he has worked to establish them. In season two House’s ex-girlfriend, Stacey Warner, comes to work at Princeton-Plainsboro as a lawyer. She has married since she left House, and while she shows him no animosity, she does make it abundantly clear that she has no interest in him at all. House spends the entire season pursuing Stacey, and at the end of episode eleven, she decides to leave her husband and be with House. She tells him,
Stacy: I'm going to talk to Mark tonight. And I'm going to stay here with you.Connection to a single woman represents a connection to society, which the Outlaw hero shuns. House’s pursuit and then rejection of Stacy shows the mixture of the Outlaw and the Official heroes. He wants to be happy, but not at the expense of his freedom.
House (After a short pause): Don't do it.
Stacy: This isn't funny Greg.
House: I know.
Stacy: You (she pauses) spent all these months chasing me. Now I'm here and you start running? What the hell changed?
House: How do you think this is gonna end? We'll be happy for what? A few weeks, few months. And then I'll say something insensitive, or I'll start ignoring you. And at first it'll be okay. It's just House being House. And then at some point, you will need something more. You'll need someone who can give you something I can't. You know I'm right. I've been there before.
Stacy: Oh. Oh. It doesn't have to be.
House: It does. It does. I don’t want to go there again. I'm sorry, Stacy. (“Need to Know”)
House also displays aspects of the official hero: even though he shirks his responsibilities, he is never completely irresponsible with his patients, and even though he rejects relationships he keeps women in his life. During season five, Cuddy adopts an infant and takes time off of work in order to spend time with her (“Big Baby”). House responds in all his Oedipal glory. Cuddy leaves Cameron in charge of her day-to-day responsibilities, and House responds by making Cameron’s life a living hell. He asks to do the most extreme procedures he can think of to test his limits. When she approves the procedures he berates her for agreeing with him, saying she doesn’t have a backbone. When she refuses the procedures he berates her, saying that she is not doing what is in the best interest of the patient. These attacks are designed to poke at her deepest sensibilities, lack of control and caring for human life. House’s objective is to get Cuddy back by driving Cameron out. This effort to get Cuddy back, while juvenile and in that way partly representative of the outlaw hero, is also representative of the official hero since the effort is to get Cuddy, a woman, back in his life.
Erik H. Erikson says that “The functioning American, as heir of a history of extreme contrasts and abrupt changes, bases his final ego identity on some tentative combination of dynamic polarities such as migratory and sedentary, individualistic and standardized, competitive and co-operative, pious and free-thinking, responsible and cynical, etc.” (qtd. in Ray 242). When applied to Ray’s essay, this means that the combination of the outlaw hero and the official hero (a “dynamic polarity” like the ones described by Erikson) is a hero tailor-made to affect the American ego. That is yet another reason why heroes like House affect us in such a profound way.
Mythology guides our lives in more ways than we know. Just because we no longer need myth to explain earthquakes or why a crow is black does not mean it has no meaning at all. Just because we no longer need myth to explain the origins of mankind does not mean it is irrelevant. The popularity of House M.D. and the many other shows, movies, books, and plays that employ mythological themes shows that it is not merely good writing that draws in the audience. Mythology has always been used as a way to help us cope with and understand our world. Because myth exists in popular culture, entertainment can be more than entertainment; if we search for myth in television and work to understand it, Monday nights with House M.D. can become a spiritual and life defining experience that affects us to our core and changes us for the better. But, myth studies in realistic fiction is a field that is, unfortunately, largely unexplored. Realistic fiction is just as rich and ready for analysis as any science fiction movie or television show out there. In order to analyze realistic fiction, however, you must step out of the comfort zone of standard myth criticism. In realistic fiction we will we sometimes find symbols as simple as water symbolizing baptism or rebirth; or deserts symbolizing “spiritual aridity; death; nihilism, [and] hopelessness”(Guerin 189), but we can no longer rely on these standard symbols that have served us so well for so long. Instead we must rely heavily on the archetypal images found in the fiction and compare them to the characters in ancient myth. Through this we can provide a link between realism and myth that has yet to be truly explored. If we are willing to put aside some of the conventions of myth criticism we will find that there is a whole different level of meaning to be found, and a whole new genre to be explored in our studies of myth in popular culture.
24. Perf. Kiefer Southerland. Fox.
“All In.” House M.D. Dir. Fred Gerber. Perf. Hugh Laurie. Fox. 11 Apr. 2006.
Aristotle. On the Art of Poetry. Trans. Lane Cooper. Boston: Ginn and Co. 1913.
“Big Baby.” House M.D. Dir. Deran Sarafian. Perf. Hugh Laurie. Fox. 26 Jan. 2009.
Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. 3rd ed. Novato, California: New World Library, 2008.
Cochran, Tanya R., and Jason A. Edwards. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Quest Story: Revising the Hero, Reshaping the Myth.” Whitt and Perlich. 145-169.
“Family.” House M.D. Dir. David Straiton. Perf. Hugh Laurie. Fox. 1 May 2007.
“Fetal Position.” House M.D. Dir. Matt Shakman. Perf. Hugh Laurie. Fox. 3 Apr. 2007.
Frankle, Richard. “The Individuation Tasks of Adolescence”. The Adolescent Psyche: Jungian and Winnicottian Perspectives. London: Routledge, 1998. 109-128.
“The Greater Good.” House M.D. Dir. Leslie Linka Glatter. Perf. Hugh Laurie. Fox. 2 Feb. 2009
Guerin, Wilfred L., et al. “Mythological and Archetypal Approaches.”A Handbook of Critical Approaches to Literature 5th ed. New York: Oxford, 2005. 182-221.
“House Training.” House M.D. Dir. Paul McCrane. Perf. Hugh Laurie. Fox. 24 Apr. 2007.
Lie to Me. Perf. Tim Roth. Fox.
Marek, Michael. “Firefly: So Pretty It Could Not Die.” Whitt and Perlich. 99-120.
“Need to Know.” House M.D. Dir. David Semel. Perf. Hugh Laurie. Fox. 7 Feb. 2006.
“No More Mr. Nice Guy” House M.D. Dir. Deran Sarafian. Perf. Hugh Laurie. Fox. 28 Apr. 2008.
“One Day, One Room.” House M.D. Dir. Juan Jose Campanella. Perf. Hugh Laurie. Fox. 30 Jan. 2007.
Palumbo, Donald E. “The Monomyth in Star Trek Films.” The Influence of Star Trek on Television, Film, and Culture. Ed. Lincoln Geraghty. Jefferson, North Carolina: Macfarland and Co, 2008. 115-135.
Perlich, John. “‘I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This…’.” Whitt and Perlich. 9-29.
Ray, Robert B. “The Thematic Paradigm.” Signs of Life in the U.S.A. ed. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. 1st ed. Boston: Bedford Books, 1994. 241-249.
Simpson, Scott and Jessica Sheffield. “Neocolonialism, Technology, and Myth in the Stargate Universe.” Whitt and Perlich. 73-98.
“The Social Contract.” Dir. Andrew Bernstein. Perf. Hugh Laurie. House M.D. Fox. 9 Mar. 2009.
Strain Jr., Robert L. “Galactica’s Gaze: Naturalistic Science Fiction and the 21st Century Frontier Myth.”Whitt and Perlich. 51-72.
“The Softer Side.” Dir. Deran Sarafian. Perf. Hugh Laurie. House M.D. Fox. 23 Feb. 2009.
Thury, Eva M. and Margaret K. Devinney. “How to Perform a Jungian Analysis of a Myth or Fairy Tale.” Introduction to Mythology: Contemporary Approaches to Classical and World Myths. New York: Oxford UP. 2004. 509-513.
“Ugly.” House M.D. Dir. David Straiton. Perf. Hugh Laurie. Fox. 13 Nov. 2007.
Von Franz, M.L. “The Process of Individuation.” Man and His Symbols. Ed. Jung, Carl G. 18th ed. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1964.
Whitt, David and John Perlich, ed. Sith, Slayers, Stargates, +Cyborgs: Modern Mythology and the New Millenium. New York: Peter Lang, 2008.
Hope, Love, and Mem’ry
Lord Byron’s poem, known by its first line “They say that Hope is happiness,” is one that explores the relationship of hope, love, and memory, and how those things affect one’s contentment. This poem is accompanied by a Latin phrase translated in a footnote as “Happy is he who has been able to learn the causes of things.” This statement holds true in describing the entire poem, even when the speaker disclaims in the third and final stanza all of the wonderful things that he reported in the first two sentences.
The beginning word of the poem, “They” (line 1), refers to people in general, who “say that Hope is happiness” (line 1). This first line suggests that it is commonly known and accepted that contentment is found when one has “Hope.” The capitalization of the word embodies it as an entitymost likely one of the three heavenly Gracesin addition to its meaning of desired expectation, or a feeling of trust or confidence. It implies that one must be in touch with God and instill his or her Faith (a second divine Grace) with him in order to be happy. The use of the phrase “They say” also sets the tone for the poem and indicates that the speaker may not fully agree with the information he is presenting.
Set off by a dash are the words “But genuine Love must prize the past” (line 2), arguing that love is a certainty that is ascertained from past events, unlike hope which is an indefinite expectation of the future. The use of the word “genuine”meaning true, real, or naturalpreceding a capitalized “Love” characterizes the third heavenly Grace. “Love must ‘prize’ the past” means that Love must value the past. During the Romantic Period, it was popular belief that God, as well as his great and everlasting Love, could be found in nature–something that encompasses us all and symbolizes how much religion was valued--and one’s “genuine Love” for God can only be attained by trusting in the Bible’s stories of ancient times.
The third line of the poem follows a semicolon, indicating a connection of two independent clauses. “And Mem’ry wakes the thoughts that bless” (3) continues the idea that contentment comes from previous experiences. Personification is used again with the capitalization of “Mem’ry,” perhaps suggesting that it is an entity that should be as highly regarded as the Graces of Hope and Love. Memory is, after all, what “wakes” our happiest, most sacred recollections; “to wake” means to force someone or something to remain awake, and the accompaniment of the word “bless” signifies a religious meaning. However, in earlier times, “bless” also meant to wound or hurt, which would indicate that Memory not only keeps our favorite memories astir, but also those that we would rather forget.
The first sentence ends with “They rose the first--they set the last” (4). In this line, “They” refers to “the thoughts that bless” (3). Through a positive perspective, the words “rose” and “first” denote that we are born unconditionally joyous with a hope of living and learning; the words “set” and “last” convey that we die contentedly having loved and been taught much throughout life. This line could also suggest that new thoughts (good or bad) are created each day, as with the sunrise, and are also set to rest at the end of the day; the opportunity for happiness is reawakened with each new dawn. Additionally, the sight of the verb “rose” brings to mind the noun “rose”--a highly-recognizable flower of beauty, fragrance, and vivid color. Roses carry numerous examples of symbolism, such as “every rose has its thorn,” symbolizing that along with all of the wonderful things our memories recall, less favorable thoughts must also be aroused and acknowledged.
The second stanza begins a new sentence with “And all that mem’ry loves the most / Was once our only hope to be” (5-6), meaning that our most cherished and our most dreaded recollections that cross our minds most often were the only things that reminded us to be hopeful of the future. The use of the words “once” and “only” implies that we used to depend on our memories to guide us through, but we have now found other reasons to expect great things. These two lines differ from the first stanza in that “mem’ry” and “hope” are no longer capitalized; they are now used in their original context as common nouns instead of proper nouns. This conveys the speaker’s opinion that memory and hope are not as divine as they may seem; as with everything else in life, there are both good and bad aspects to the two ideas. Although no longer capitalized, “mem’ry” is still personified by taking on a human characteristic with the word “loves,” which is an emotion only felt by people, not abstractions.
The second part of the sentence continues with “And all that hope adored and lost / Hath melted into memory” (7-8). Personification takes place again, with hope having adoration and loss. “Adoration” can mean affection or worship, again denoting religious significance; “lost” can mean to no longer have in possession or to have been ruined morally or spiritually. All of the splendorous ideas that hope brought but never became reality are now only memories. If “adored” meant “loved” and “lost” meant “to no longer have in possession,” then the sentence could be speaking of a person that one once loved and has now lost to death or other circumstances; if “adored” meant “worshipped” and “lost” meant “ruined spiritually,” then it could mean that any prayers that did not come true gave a person doubt of their religious beliefs. The words “melted into memory” can mean to dissolve or disintegrate or they can mean to blend or merge--two entirely opposite definitions. The continuous use of ambiguous words further reveals the speaker’s wavering thoughts
The entire second stanza can be summarized as: memories of the past give us hope for the future, and hope, in return, gives us memories. It is a continuous cycle--a positive attitude to maintain. Referring back to “Happy is he who has been able to learn the causes of things,” one should not be disappointed when things do not turn out the way he had hoped, because he was still able to learn from the happening. Life is one big lesson that should be cherished and not taken for granted. It also says that one cannot be content until he has learned the “causes of things,” suggesting that man may never be happy, for he will never really be able to explain life’s biggest unanswered questions, such as how the world came about and if there actually is a god that created us all.
The speaker now expresses his opinion and says that what “They say” (1) is all a lie; you should not believe it. After analyzing his thoughts, the speaker now discovers “Alas! It is delusion all--/ The future cheats us from afar” (9-10). It is all a deception. An abstract thing that is so distant from us is able to mock us and rob us of our expectations. We believe that good is to come from the future, but when it arrives it laughs in our faces. The future plays tricks on our mind. “Nor can we be what we recall, / Nor dare we think on what we are” (11-12) means that we cannot go back into the past and change who we are now, nor should we try to analyze who we are now. If we “dare” to think about it, the future will only prove us wrong again. It is what it is. We are who we are. There is no reasoning. Alternatively, the speaker is upset with the ignorant people, but happy with himself that he has “learned the causes” of some things and been able to come to a realization of his own (Greenblatt 613).
The rhyme scheme in this poem is a steady, ABAB CDCD EFEF, indicating a new idea beginning in each stanza, but a smooth flow of understanding throughout the poem. The meter is what is known as iambic tetrameter. The entire poem follows a pattern of 4 pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables in each line, except for line two where the word “genuine” is read quickly to fit the verse. Byron even altered the word “memory” and used an apostrophe in the form “Mem’ry” to omit an unnecessary syllable and make the line fit the iambic tetrameter and maintain steady conformity. This is ironic, since the idea of the poem is not to conform to popular belief.
While it is easy to comprehend that the speaker does not believe in hope, it is unclear as to whether or not he believes in God at all. It is then interesting to see how the speaker relates to Byron. Byron was known to have “cultivated a skepticism about established systems of belief that, in its restlessness and defiance, expressed the intellectual and social ferment of his era” (Greenblatt 607), which shows true in this poem. The vivid and descriptive words that he uses show the intensity of the speaker’s emotions, especially in his disbelief of how ignorant most people are, thinking that they should have hope. Byron’s writing shows a dramatic internal argument that the speaker is having with himself, discovering his own individualistic thoughts (Greenblatt 608).
Lord Byron. “They say that Hope is happiness” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt, et al. Vol D. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006. 613.
Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol. D: The Romantic Period. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. NY, 2006.