Who has more power in ‘The Collector’: Clegg or Miranda?

The Collector by John Fowles examines a battle for power and control between the introverted character of Clegg and the audaciously articulate Miranda. Power is defined as the possession of control, authority, or influence over others (Merriam-Webster Dictionary) that Clegg has been cheated of his entire life. Clegg was brought up with a poor education and little money, lacking any sort of affectionate relationships. Clegg, maybe for these reasons has a clear lack of sanity that causes a platonic addiction to the beautiful art student Miranda. Ultimately alluding to the abduction of Miranda once he wins a great sum of money, allowing Clegg to keep her captive in his basement cellar. Clegg’s insanity is the reason he keeps Miranda as a possession of beauty, much like one of the butterflies in his collection, obtaining complete physical power over her. The depiction of Miranda and Clegg’s relationship provokes the theme of power in multiple aspects of physicality, economically, of beauty, and verbally. Undeniably manifesting the question of who posses more power, Miranda or Clegg?

The most prominent and evident aspect of power throughout the novel is physical power, in which Clegg solely posses. Before Clegg kidnapped Miranda, he never maintained power over anyone especially the people he cares about, as his mother abandoned him, and both his father and dear uncle died. Clegg’s former powerlessness seems to have induced him to desire a higher level of power that he obtains by capturing Miranda. He is able to abduct Miranda and posses her physical power due to the fact that he wins an immense sum of money, allowing him to purchase a house, thus the ability to maintain her. Clegg thereby controls every physical aspect of Miranda’s life; when she can shower, eat, go outside, how she lives her life, and even how she dies. This blatant aspect of control that Clegg hordes, entitles him to feel connected with Miranda, furthermore in possession of her. Along with his physical power, he also gains economic power over her. He believes he has a chance to win over her love by buying her whatever she desires ranging from expensive food delicacies to artwork and supplies. He employs his economic power over Miranda as a tool to magically make her fall in love with him, only further demonstrating the lack of sanity. Clegg feeds off of the economic and physical power he holds over Miranda, feeling entitled to a position of power that has been absent from his entire life. Moreover, he begins to feel heroic for being able to suffice Miranda with whatever she desires. Miranda begins to seem subordinate, powerless to Clegg, as she constantly has to ask him when she can have a bath, when she can go outside, and overall becomes dependent on him. The fact that Miranda must turn to Clegg for all the vital necessities of life, ensure Clegg that he has complete control over her. Perhaps, fulfilling a life long sense of thirst to have unabridged control of his environment, and the life it involves. Especially being able to capture and control beauty as he does with his study of lepidoptery, seeing Miranda as a beautiful goddess in the form that all of society desire to posses.

All though Clegg possesses unquestionable economic and physical power over Miranda, she possesses powerful beauty both verbally and physically that has an inordinate impact on Clegg. Miranda’s beauty can be interpreted by the viewer as a sense of power that she holds over Clegg as it lingers over his mindset like a controlling fog. In the sense that even when Miranda speaks to Clegg in a disgusting manner or acts exactly as he despises, he subconsciously excuses her putrid actions as he literally sees her as an enchanting personification of perfection. For example, “even when she did things considered ugly, like yawning or stretching, she made it seem pretty. The truth was she couldn’t do ugly things. She was too beautiful.” (The Collector, Page 48.) This quote may be more enlightening to the reader than what comes to mind at first as it applies to the overall relationship between Clegg and Miranda. The syntax of this salient quote describes ‘the truth’ as her inability to do ugly things, which gives the reader insight into Clegg’s perception of Miranda. Possibly interpreted as Clegg feeling eternally inferior to her as he recognizes her immaculate beauty, but controversially that “…he doesn’t have what it is girls look for” (The Collector, page 11). Yet, his entirely consuming infatuation with Miranda continues to flourish. In addition, Miranda is easily able to express her emotions and thoughts through ardent language, especially her opinions on Clegg’s “killing of beautiful life”. Miranda despises Clegg’s lack of inner-depth of life. Since Miranda has a high level of education and very keenly observes Clegg, she uses her articulate verbal strength to deprecate Clegg, abating his sense of esteem and thereby inner confidence and power. His character is very weak in the sense that he easily conforms to Miranda’s beliefs and manipulation. Clegg lacks the ability to express his emotions or thoughts verbally, particularly without offending his beloved Miranda. It seems as if he instead tends to stay quiet, constituting Miranda’s words and beliefs as his own, even when she belittles him. Thus Clegg’s lack of confidence or verbal power to express himself antithetically conflicts with Miranda’s character that has an eloquent, educated manner of speech that empowers her to take jurisdiction in any of their interactions.

In spite of the fact that Miranda has a manipulative verbal power over Clegg, she struggles immensely near the end of the book to maintain this power, which she relied upon as a latent technique of escape. Clegg’s lack of reality and sanity is continuously depicted through out the novel becoming a plausible asset to Miranda’s escape ideas. The reader understands that Clegg does not have a grip on reality as he is built upon euphemisms, claiming Miranda is ‘his guest’ instead of realistically his prisoner. He thereby abates the severity of the situation he has put Miranda in. Clegg’s oblivious perspective on the truth of his and Miranda’s relationship is a weakness on his part that entitles Miranda to a certain power. She is able to seduce him to believe he stands a chance to win her love, due to his illogical perspective. This seduction hopefully perchance leading to an action of good morality from his side of “the many” as John Fowles would say, by liberating her. When Miranda fails to be set free by her utilization of Clegg’s irrationality to become his ideal ‘butterfly’, she approaches a vastly different method of manipulation. She mistakenly tries to sexually seduce Clegg right before she becomes dangerously ill. This act on Miranda’s behalf caused a momentous change in the battle for power within the novel. Clegg now sees her as “no better than a common street woman” as he comes to the realization that she is just like any other foolish, ordinary woman. Who fits perfectly in his narrowly perceived category of desperate women utilizing their bodies much like a whore to achieve what they want. As The Verbal Struggle for Power stated; “The way Clegg talks to her and treats her from that moment changes. …She can feel that she has no longer the power she had before. Now Clegg is more self-confident, he can say ‘no’ to Miranda, which he almost could not do earlier.” As soon as Miranda offers herself to Clegg sexually, she loses all the power she inflicted on him before as he feels she is subordinate to him. This decisive act on Clegg’s part to show supremacy over her, allows him to accumulate exactly the key power he is missing earlier in their relationship. Triggering his harsh tone of language that shows Miranda who is the boss, fulfilling his need to feel overwhelmed by power and control, which he so desperately hunted for his entire life.

All in all, the novel portrays how Miranda’s verbal power over Clegg and her beauty vanishes the minute she mentally gives up and uses what seems to her as the only way out, ‘sex’. From that moment on Clegg procures the confidence and control that he needed all along to feel empowered. Clegg always proclaimed his fascination with Miranda as love, however it appears that his consequential disgust and denigration of Miranda is not love. That he is happier now that he posses exhaustive control over Miranda, drunk from physical, economic, and verbal power. Clegg’s pathological infatuation with the power he has over Miranda results in his abuse of power, obtaining Miranda as an object of his control that invariably leads to her death.

Clegg and Miranda: Love or Control?

Love is a complex concept, one that even ingenious writers have struggled to understand. While scientists confine their understanding of love to ‘chemical reactions’ involving dopamine and serotonin, one cannot deny the qualitative nature that love has. Clegg expresses signs of love throughout the The Collector by John Fowles; however, there is more evidence that this a copycat reaction to expected human life rather than true feeling. There is much speculation that Fowles generates regarding Clegg’s mental state, and one cannot deny the sociopathic tendencies that Clegg displays: ‘She didn’t look once at me, but I watched the back of her head and her hair in a long pigtail. It was very pale, silk, like burnet cocoons.’ At first glance, this remark about Miranda’s appearance may appear romantic, even quixotic. However, when one acknowledges the context of the comment, a sense of alarm might arise. Fowles creates an atmosphere of clarity tinged with ironic ambiguity; Clegg’s obsession with Miranda is immediately disclosed even though there is a suspenseful elusiveness about his impending actions. The reader is instantly informed of the peculiarity of Clegg’s personality, as emphasized by his focus on entomology. The simile exaggerates Clegg’s compulsive disposition because he has focused exclusively on comparing Miranda’s characteristics to natural traits. Clegg refrains from describing Miranda’s face, which suggests that he is in love mainly with the idea of being romantically involved with her. This allows him to have control and power, as Miranda has been transformed into an object rather than a person. As Clegg states, describing photographs of Miranda, ‘The best ones were with her fact cut off. She didn’t look much anyhow with the gag, of course.’

To some extent, Clegg could harbor true romantic feelings towards Miranda. What may appear as an obsession or dangerous fascination might be mistaken for love. However, one must take into account Clegg’s fragile and complex mental state. Fowles creates evidence that provokes the reader to question Clegg’s psychological makeup. Therefore, when inquiring as to whether Clegg ‘loves’ Miranda, one should acknowledge the type of love that is psychologically accessible to Clegg: ‘We would be buried together. Like Romeo and Juliet.’ Initially, Clegg pursues the romantic option and dismisses any previous reservations he had involving Miranda. This could suggest that Clegg’s love for Miranda is strong, as he has overlooked their differences and is determined to join her in the afterlife. This idea is further exaggerated by Fowles’ use of short sentences, which enhance Clegg’s motivation and finalize his determination. Moreover, while Marian attracts Clegg’s attention after the death of Miranda, the two girls’ similarities could suggest that Clegg subconsciously desires the return of Miranda: ‘For a moment it gave me a turn, I thought I was seeing a ghost, she had the same hair except it was not so long.’ On the surface, it may appear that Clegg has insensitively embraced a new romantic interest; however, this shift could alternatively be regarded as an opportunity for his subliminal grief to be cultivated. Describing Marian, he states that ‘She isn’t as pretty as Miranda, of course, in fact she’s only an ordinary common shop-girl.’ Clegg places Miranda on a higher pedestal and criticizes Marian’s appearance, and the repetition of commas embellishes this and could demonstrate that Miranda is now uncontaminated in Clegg’s mind. Therefore, despite Clegg and Miranda’s earlier conflicts, Clegg’s feelings towards Miranda have morphed back into love because she has returned to the pure and innocent state that Clegg formerly worshiped. On the other hand, the question arises as to whether this is truly love, as Miranda must fit Clegg’s expectations. Consequently, when she deviates, Clegg dismisses his affection because she has tarnished his fantasy of flawlessness and virtuousness. Therefore, Clegg has adopted a form of love that is conditional and is superficial because it lacks the parity and selflessness of genuine love.

Clegg does not truly love Miranda, and he is dominated by his desire to psychologically control her. Fowles establishes early on that Clegg is attracted to power, and an epistemological struggle consequently follows: ‘It gave me a feeling of power, I don’t know why. All those people searching and me knowing the answer.’ Clegg’s confusion and lack of understanding suggest a degree of haziness that could foreshadow his subsequent psychological demise. This warped state of mind can be further demonstrated when Clegg refuses to save Mirada from death because he is fearful of the authorities discovering the truth. If Clegg’s love were genuine, Miranda’s health would have overridden his egoistic desire for autonomy. However, the sequences of events are complex and ethically challenging. Clegg’s panic, resulting from Miranda’s affliction, is a normal response that many individuals could face in a similar situation. As studies have shown, the brain’s response to these circumstances results in the sympathetic nerves signalling the adrenal glands to release chemicals such as epinephrine and cortisol, which ‘cloud’ your thinking. Thus, Clegg’s disastrous decision making may not represent his love for Miranda, but instead indicate a natural effect upon an individual under pressure.

On the other hand, Clegg uses aggression and emotional manipulation that suggest that he values power over an authentic relationship with Miranda: ‘I don’t know what it was, it got me excited, it gave me ideas, seeing her lying there right out. It was like I’d showed who was really the master.’ Clegg’s revelation of his dark fantasies suggests a complete disregard for Miranda as a person; instead, she becomes an object that Clegg can use for his pleasure. A feminist perspective would maintain that this is a contemporary problem that dominates today’s culture, since film and other media frequently glorify the female body in a way that is ultimately cynical and objectifying. Clegg adopts a similar approach by taking photos of Miranda in her vulnerable state. Moreover, he tries to justify his actions, implying that he subconsciously understands the immorality of them: ‘About what I did, undressing her…not many would have kept control of themselves, just taken photos, it was almost a point in my favor.’ He uses a comparison to other men as evidence that his actions were morally vindicated; however, the purpose of this generalization is to ease his thoughts. Furthermore, he briefly mentions a system of ‘points’ that supposedly contributes evidence to his argument of moral supremacy. Nonetheless, the word ‘almost’ shows that his subconscious is struggling with his decision, as he cannot fully exonerate himself.

Clegg thus expresses brief moments of love for Miranda, but these moments are created on his own terms and do not resemble ‘true’ love. Indeed, Clegg does not truly appreciate Miranda’s rights as an individual; he keeps her against her will in hope that she will love him. This is therefore an inner battle that Clegg is struggling with. He is seeking someone to love him so that he can feel acceptance, as his position in the social system rendered him isolated and lonesome.