Short Story


“A Man Called Horse” as Transgression of the Western Genre

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Dorothy M. Johnson’s short story “A Man Called Horse” transgresses some of the conventions of the classical Western genre. In this sense, Johnson’s text can be read as a “revisionist Western”, in so far as Johnson does not merely adhere to the dominant norms and tropes of the Western genre, but instead tries to subvert them so as to create a new perspective within the genre. Accordingly, the tale begins with what could be understood as a classical Western theme: an aristocrat, who is nevertheless somewhat isolated from society, is captured by an Indian tribe. The process by which the young aristocrat comes to belong to the tribe, accepting their world-view and thus acknowledging the value of the Native American culture, thereby opposes dominant narratives whereby the Native American is either some type of noble savage or an embodiment of primitive evil. By accepting the Native American norms, the protagonist as such recognizes Native American culture as a civilization in its own right, thus providing a new indigenous perspective, although through the eyes of the white man, of the encounter between Europeans and Natives that is so characteristic of the Western genre.

The outset of “A Man Called Horse” represents a classical approach to the Western genre. From the very first lines of the story, Johnson establishes that the narrative will be carried out from a white or European perspective. Johnson does this in two ways which underscore the classical Western archetype: firstly, by making the lead character an aristocrat, she establishes the clear white/European perspective of the story. At the same time, however, she emphasizes the “outsider” status of the protagonist, thus satisfying another convention. Accordingly, Johnson begins the text as follows: “He was a young man of good family, as the phrase went in the New England of a hundred-odd years ago, and the reasons for his bitter content were unclear, even to himself” (1). On the one hand, the protagonist is established as an archetypical “white” American, with solid familial roots, thus highlighting the white perspective Johnson wishes to ground the story. On the other hand, the protagonist is simultaneously somehow “discontent” with his life, with his standing in society. This device immediately establishes the protagonist as a form of “outsider”, despite his solid social status: Johnson arguably here is gradually moving away from the “white” perspective of the story by introducing this discontent into the solid familial background of the protagonist, a device that can be said to foreshadow the protagonist’s eventual “re-birth” in the form of his acceptance of the Native American culture. It is precisely such a movement away from standard tropes of the Western genre that therefore will establish the story, despite its opening, as part of the revisionist Western genre.

These conventional passages in the narrative set the stage for the transition in the story, which will separate it from classical Western motifs and render it entirely revisionist in approach. The aristocrat protagonist is not slaughtered by his Native American captures, but instead begins to accept and take on their world-view. What is occurring here is a metamorphosis within the story: the reader is firstly presented with a wholly white/American/European perspective that gradually changes to a Native American perspective. Johnson accomplishes this by firstly emphasizing the nobility of the Native American life, which recalls the aristocratic origins of the protagonist. Accordingly, “the Indian who had captured him lived like a lord, as he had a right to do….He had only two responsibilities: to kill buffalo and to gain glory. The white man was so far beneath him in status that the Indian did not even think of envy” (6). This passage is the protagonist’s reflection on his Indian captors: they use terms that could easily be associated with a European aristocrat. What is occurring in this passage is thus the realization, from the perspective of the protagonist, that the Native American can also be considered in his own context a type of aristocrat. There are specific hierarchies reflected in the Native American life, reflected in the “responsibilities” of the Native American: from the perspective of the Native American, the white man is “beneath him”, much in the same manner that the white man considers the Native American to be “beneath him” (6). This is a revisionist gesture by Johnson, in so far as she is not relying on some motif of the “noble savage”: savagery is excluded from this portrayal of the Native American, leaving the Native American on the same level as the European aristocrat who is the protagonist of the story: Johnson presents the Native American as a noble.

This transition by Johnson sets the grounds for the rest of the narrative’s revisionist character. She wants to present the Native American culture as bearing value in its own right: she does not want to present it obviously, as a form of evil savagery; at the same time, she does not fall into the clich?s of the “noble” savage. The reader is forced to accept the worth of the Native American culture itself, giving this culture a value that makes it a complete peer to the “civilizations” of European origin. This of course is a gradual process within the story itself, but it is anticipated throughout the narrative until it is finally completed. Arguably, this consummation of the story is finalized in the words of the protagonist at the end of the story, accepting an elder female figure in the following manner: “he gave her the answer. ‘Eegya,” he said. “Mother’”(24). The symbolism of mother is arguably here crucial. The utterance of the term for mother in the Native American language potentially signals themes of re-birth, closely related therefore the archetype of mother and son. By acknowledging the mother as “Eegya”, that is, in her own terms and in her own language, the protagonist understands that he has undergone a metamorphosis and been re-born within the Native American civilization. Feeling “discontent”, as an “outsider”, at the outset of the story, the protagonist here has found meaning in the Native American culture: to the extent that the Native way of life has given him a sense of meaning which his own culture never could, Johnson here establishes the value of the Native American civilization, capable of granting purpose and direction to the protagonist. Accordingly, Johnson establishes the deep meaning and significance of this culture, against its Classical Western convention as an evil savage culture whose disappearance is celebrated.

It is in this sense that Johnson’s work is a revisionist Western. She does maintain theme of the disgruntled white outsider: this is a classical convention. Furthermore, she grants the protagonist an “aristocratic” background, further emphasizing the white European viewpoint that informs conventional Westerns. However, Johnson only uses these initial tropes so as to ultimately overturn them. By breaking the Classical conventions of Native Americans as “noble savages” or “evil savages”, Johnson essentially presents “A Man Called Horse” as a Revisionist Western. To elaborate, the protagonist’s gradual movement away from his European world-view is juxtaposed with a growing understanding of the Native American culture. Yet this understanding does not come from the role of an “outsider”, but rather from the perspective of someone now immanent to this culture, who has accepted its norms. Johnson accordingly composes a revisionist Western by showing the value of the Native American culture: against the conventional Western, the entire narrative of a “Man Called Horse” is an attempt to establish a Native American horizon of looking at the Western. In doing so, Johnson acknowledges the cultural and civilizational value of the indigenous population of America. This is not the population that is to be opposed and displaced, but rather one that must be respected in terms of its own cultural merits, its own social structures, and its own outlook on life.

Johnson’s text thus breaks through conventional Western themes by first employing them, only to thereafter deconstruct them. In this sense, there is a conventional Western within “A Man Called Horse”, namely though the employment of the marginalized hero. Yet Johnson’s innovative approach transforms this conventional aspect into a revisionist Western by challenging the conventions of Native Americans as either noble or evil savages: a revisionism that is achieved through a transposition of viewpoints undergone by the main protagonist. Johnson’s short story is a paradigmatic example of how genre literature can nevertheless transgress its own horizons and clich?s to create a new perspective on a standard thematic.

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Depiction of the Teenage Love in The New Boyfriend, a Short Story in the Book Get in Trouble

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Kelly Link’s “The New Boyfriend” is a short story from her collection, Get in Trouble, which traffics into a teenage territory. The story focuses on a teenage girl, Immy, who is jealous of her good friend, Ainslie. The setting of the story is Ainslie’s birthday party, which is dominated by other teenage girls. The characters have become obsessed with boys and Ainslie’s birthday present, the ghost boyfriend. This story describes the teenagers’ lives and their development in matters love and romance. It accurately depicts conversation between teenagers; longing and jealousy are evident in their conversations. Link uses images of teenage friendship to express themes of romantic love and jealousy in friendship. She also uses literary devices such as imagery and irony to allow her themes to reflect the real world.

First, the friendship between the four girls—Ainslie, Elin, Immy, and Sky—is dramatic. Immy envies Ainslie because Ainslie always gets whatever she desires and has everything that the other girls do not. As such, these girls always compete for Ainslie’s love. At Ainslie’s birthday party, her friends give her presents to show their love for her. Even so, she believes there is no competition between the three girls as to who loves her the most. As a matter of fact, she loves them equally, as evidenced in the text: “It isn’t a competition. Ainslie loves Elin, Immy, and Sky equally, even if Immy and Ainslie have been friends the longest” (Link 134). The love between the four friends is the main theme of this short story. Also, the story plays with vampire conventions and romance, and it is exciting when Link discusses teenage girls making attempts at love for the first time and trying to figure out what to do (Thomas 17). The story is a reflection of a typical group of teenage friends. Ideally, adolescence is the time when girls try certain things for the first time. In this stage, a teenager is likely to be curious. The four girls’ conversations, competition, and actions reflect the typical dynamics of a group of teenaged girls. As such, when the story brings out the theme of love, it comes out as romantic love. For instance, when Immy’s father asks her if she knows what love is, she does not define love as that between her and her parents and friends. She describes it like that between her and a boy: “Sometimes I love my friends … but that’s not the kind of love I mean. I mean love; you know boys … like the love you see in movies and or books” (Link 149). Here, Immy describes romantic love between a girl and a boy. She has not experienced it, but she has seen it in movies and read about it in books. She believes that losing romantic love can make a person want to end his or her life (Williamson 26). She clearly wants to try romantic love for the first time because she has not experienced it, and she believes that romantic love is more than the love she feels for her friends and parents.

Secondly, three of the girls—Elin, Immy, and Sky not only love Ainslie; they are jealous of her because she always gets whatever she wants. For instance, the conversation between the girls shows their outright jealousy of Ainslie. When it is asked why Ainslie always gets what she wants and why she always gets what Immy desires, Sky replies, “They don’t. You can’t get them now. Not unless you are Ainslie, right?” (Link 135). This statement is not only sarcastic. It is filled with jealousy, as well. The girls are jealous of Ainslie because she is the one who always gets the boyfriend that every girl wants and always has what the other girls desire. For example, Link says, “Immy has no idea why she’s in such a horrible mood. Except wait, no. Let’s be honest. She knows. She’s in a horrible mood because she’s a horrible friend who wants everything that belongs to Ainslie. Except maybe Ainslie’s mother. Ainslie can keep her mother” (Link 137). This quote explains how desirable Ainslie’s life is to her friends, specifically, to Immy. The story does not mention specific belongings of Ainslie that her friends want, but if they love her as their friend, they are still jealous of her and desire to have what she has. For instance, Immy wants Ainslie’s ghost boyfriend, but she cannot have him. The jealousy is a manifestation the three girls’ envy for Ainslie. They love her and envy her in equal measure.

Furthermore, the story uses a number of literary devices to illustrate these themes. First, the use of imagery brings out the theme of romantic love between a boy and girl (Galef 157). The story is fictional. The boyfriends are imaginary and are used to explain ideal situations. For instance, Ainslie’s ghost boyfriend is desired by the other girls. Immy tells Ainslie about these boyfriends and has desired one ever since the ghost boyfriends were available for purchase. However, after Ainslie gets a ghost boyfriend as a birthday present, Immy starts to desire the boyfriend Ainslie has. Even so, the boyfriend is imaginary. They call them real names. Sky suggests to Ainslie, “You could call him Vincent” (Link 136). Also, the description of the ghost boyfriend creates an image of a real boyfriend in the mind of the reader. Ainslie describes her ghost boyfriend as having “Eyelids flutter shut. Eyelashes like black fans. Skin just like skin. Even his fingernails are perfect and so real” (Link 137). This description creates the image of a real person in the mind of the reader, even if the ghost boyfriend is not real. Further, the conversation between Immy and Ainslie sounds real when Ainslie says she wants more absinthe. Immy tells Ainslie, “I’ll go get it. If you send a boyfriend off for a bottle of homemade absinthe, likely as not he’ll come back with a bottle of conditioner” (Link 138). Immy refers to Oliver, an imaginary boyfriend, as a real person. Thus, the use of imagery not only helps convey the message of a typical relationship between teenage friends, but it also creates the image of love between a boy and a girl. Ideally, the relationship between a girl and her boyfriend is described as love. When the story uses imagery in the form of ghost boyfriends, the reader is likely to imagine the bond of love that a girl is likely to have with a boy she calls her boyfriend. The message conveyed is that of a typical conversation between teenage girls about their boyfriends. Their conversations referring to the boyfriends are a reflection of the real conversations teenagers have.

Finally, the irony in this story is quite evident. The girls know the boyfriends are fake, as is made clear when Elin says to Immy, “I don’t get it. This Boyfriend thing. They’re creepy. They’re fake. They’re not real” (Link 140). The reader is aware that the girls know the boyfriends are fake, yet the girls still treat them as real boyfriends. For instance, Immy talks to Ainslie’s imaginary boyfriend, Oliver, as though he were a real boyfriend. When he says to her, “I wish you were happy, my love,” she replies by saying, “How can I be happy if you are not?” (Link 138). This conversation sounds like a conversation between a real boyfriend and his girlfriend. Even though they know the boyfriends are ‘fake’ and ‘creepy,’ they still text each other to talk about the boyfriends, which makes part of the story ironic. Also, the girls love Ainslie as their friend and are, at the same time, jealous of her. Thus, this story reflects the development of teenage girls–the way they desire love, get into romantic relationships, and romanticize the things they see in movies and read in books. The story, therefore, tries to envision the ideal relationship between teenage friends who love their peers and are, at the same, time jealous of the most favored member of their peer group.

In conclusion, this analysis is aimed to explain the development of teenage girls—the way girls desire romantic love, and experience jealousy in the real world. In adolescence, teenage girls and boys always want to try new experiences such as finding romantic love. Currently, with the influence of technology, girls and boys have access to online romance books and can watch romantic movies. As such, they always try to imitate what happens in the movies they see and the books they read. Most of them become stuck in the world of imagination like one of the main characters in the story, Immy. Immy tries to experience romantic love with Ainslie’s ghost boyfriend by mimicking aspects of romantic love.(Example) The relationship Immy has with Ainslie’s ghost boyfriend are reflections of relationships a boy has with a girl in the real world. The influence of movies and books has had an impact on the girls, specifically, Immy. Thus, Immy tries to imitate the love she has seen in movies. The theme of love is therefore, conveyed by the relationship Immy has among her friends and the relationship she has with Ainslie’s ghost boyfriend.

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A Grammatical Analysis of Toni Morrison’s Recitatif

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Societally, most individuals enjoy believing that they are without bias. Whether it be gender, race, disability, or religion, everyone has preconceived notions about select people groups. While this can be difficult to admit, Toni Morrison constructs her short story, Recitatif, in a manner which forces her readers to face their biases and stereotypes. Through the use of devices such as non-standard English, intentional pronouns, unusual sentence structure, modals, unique punctuation, and direct speech, Morrison portrays societal challenges based on race, socioeconomic status, and disability, arguing the importance of understanding and protecting people different from ourselves. The word recitatif relates to speech and is thought of as a medium between song and ordinary spoken word. Morrison emulates this concept of an oral tale through the use of non-standard English in the form of fragment sentences. This colloquial structure creates the illusion that the narrator is talking, recounting her past and pondering the events that happened. In addition, the use of fragments disrupts the paragraphs and calls attention to the information these fragments contain. Because it is not traditional to use fragments in professional writing, these phrases stand out and indicate important material.

The first time that Morrison introduces the character Maggie, Morrison writes, “Maggie fell down their once. The kitchen women with legs like parentheses”(2). The fragment “The kitchen women with legs like parentheses” identifies Maggie. Maggie symbolizes disabilities and her character portrays how individuals with disability can be overlooked and marginalized by society. Another instance in which Morrison uses fragments to portray theme is in the quote, “How to believe what had to be believed”(10). The use of the fragment accentuates the statement and illustrates the key idea that individuals are able to justify actions of cruelty or injustice. Whether it be events that happen, or actions individuals perpetrate, Morrison implies that humans are able to compensate mentally for events by believing whatever they can to adjust personal and societal sins to be acceptable. A final instance where Morrison uses fragments to highlight theme is when Twyla explains that “Maggie was my dancing mother. Deaf, I thought, and dumb”(18). Separating, “Deaf, I thought, and dumb.” emphasizes these words and indicates their importance. Although Twyla’s mother is not literally deaf or dumb, this is the moment Twyla is finally able to admit why she harbors contempt for Maggie. Twyla is never able to tell her own mother the pain her mother’s lack of attention has caused her so she takes it out on a person who portrays her mother’s internal traits, externally. Recitatif is frequently studied because of the racial ambiguity it presents. Morrison introduces two characters, Roberta and Twyla and states that one is black and one is white, but does not specify which girl is which race.

One strategy that Morrison employs to conceal the races of her characters is the use of pronouns. When Twyla first meets Roberta, Twyla states that her mother would tell her that “They never washed their hair and they smelled funny”(1) when talking about people from Roberta’s race. Morrison’s use of the pronoun they allows her to talk about a people group without hinting to her readers what race she is referring to. Additionally, after Roberta and Twyla are reunited after years of separation, Twyla sees the immense wealth Roberta has gained and justifies that “Everything is so easy for them”(9). In this quote Morrison uses the word them to refer to a people group, but is able to restrict further detail about which race she is referencing. Concealing the girl’s races invites readers to guess about which girl belongs to which race. In doing this, Morrison affirms the idea that all people believe some sort of racial stereotypes. Throughout her story, Morrison will begin sentences with conjunctions. This unusual sentence structure indicates that crucial information is contained in this sentence. Generally, sentences do not begin with conjunctions, so the use of conjunctions almost jarrs the reader and leads them to pay attention to the following statement. Towards the beginning of Twyla’s and Roberta’s time together in the orphanage, Twyla explains that, “So for the moment it didn’t matter that we looked like salt and pepper standing there”(1). In the future, the fact that Twyla and Roberta belong to different races will drive them apart, but at this time it is deemed unimportant. The girls share a room and each of them belong to a family incapable of caring for them. This similarity outweighs their difference in race and connects them throughout their lives. Later on, when Twyla is reflecting about the emotional abuse she inflicted on Maggie, Twyla explains that, “And it shames me even now to think there was somebody in there after all who heard us call her names and couldn’t tell on us”(3). Again, Morrison begins a sentence with a conjunction to create an almost disjointed sentence that draws the reader’s focus. It is odd that Twyla must come to the realization that, “there was somebody in there.” This language suggests that, as a child, Twyla viewed Maggie as somehow less than human because of her disabilities and is only now seeing that her actions affected the life of a fellow human being. As Twyla narrates about the events of her life she seems to break away from telling the story about the past to add comments concerning her thoughts in the present.

Morrison’s use of modality illustrates how the events of Twyla’s life unfolded in opposition to how Twyla wished the event of her life had taken place. When Twyla first mentions Maggie, she recounts an event where Maggie falls and the older girls laugh and make fun of Maggie. After explaining the event, Twyla seems to break from the narration and introspectively admits that “We should have helped her up”(2). The use of the modal should distinguishes the events that did happen from the actions Twyla now believes should have taken place. A similar break occurs after Roberta reminds Twyla that Maggie did not fall on her own, but rather was pushed by the older girls in the orphanage. Twyla’s narration is interrupted as Twyla asks herself, “I wouldn’t forget a thing like that. Would I?”(14). Morrison uses a modal verb to indicate that the narrator is reflecting. Would portrays a break in confidence and shows that Twyla is unsure about the reliability of her memory. One of Morrison’s most powerful uses of modal verbs is found at the end of her story when Twyla thinks back on her time in the orphanage. Twyla remembers screaming derogatory names at Maggie and admits “I knew she wouldn’t scream, couldn’t – just like me and I was glad about that”(18). Twyla seems to correct herself adjusting her language from wouldn’t to couldn’t. These two modals hold strongly different connotations. Wouldn’t indicates a choice and suggests that Maggie decided not to scream, but couldn’t conveys the truthful reality that Maggie had no choice. She was unable to scream despite the abusive treatment she was being subjected to.

An additional way Morrison adds introspective thought as Twyla narrates is through the use of dashes. Frequently, the speaker interrupts herself to insert a thought that conveys truth. When Twyla is speaking about her relationship with Roberta she explains that they are “Two little girls who knew what nobody else in the world knew – how not to ask questions”(10). Both the girls come from difficult home situation and belong to mother’s incapable of caring for them. Instead of asking questions, Roberta and Twyla silently understand each other’s situations. This lack of questions is something that strengthens their friendship, but it also unites them as guilty in regards to the treatment of Maggie. Roberta’s and Twyla’s hesitation to ask questions stops them from understanding Maggie and helping her as she faces abuse and marginalization. Instead of interceding on behalf of a disabled women, they ignore and even support the torment Maggie is subjected to. Another instance where Morrison uses dash to interrupt a thought with a truthful reality is in the sentence “It was just that I wanted to do it so bad – wanting to is doing it” (19). Roberta is talking about how the older girls in the orphanage would kick and make fun of Maggie, and while Roberta and Twyla never engaged in this, each of them wanted to. Roberta admits that these feelings of malice, even if not backed by action, are equally as damaging as the physical actions Maggie suffered from. Twyla and Roberta did nothing to help Maggie and even mentally encouraged the actions of the other girls. This lack of action proved to be as equally harmful as the older girl’s physical actions. Morrison’s use of punctuation emphasizes key elements in her story. Morrison uses colons in her writing to denote important concepts. When introducing Maggie’s character, Twyla recalls that, “The kids said she had her tongue cut out, but I think she was just born that way: mute”(2). Morrison incerts a colon to separate the word mute from the rest of the sentence. This separation draws attention to the words and introduces the importance of the idea of being mute going forward in the story. Maggie is physically mute, but Twyla and Roberta both feel emotionally mute. This motivates many of the characters actions.

The idea of not being understood is a significant concept in Recitatif, and Morrison notes this by allocating the word from the sentence. Morrison uses a colon in a similar way in the sentence, “Oh Twyla, you know how it was in those days: black-white”(13). Race is another important topic in Morrison’s short story and this separation of race from the rest of the sentence indicates its significance. Morrison uses direct speech to highlight important dialogue. In particular, she directly quotes questions the characters ask emphasizing the significance of their speech. Morrison’s use of questions to convey theme is particularly interesting because Twyla states multiple times that she and Roberta do not ask questions and that is why they get along well. When Twyla first becomes aware of Maggie’s situation she asks Roberta “Or what if she wants to cry? Can she cry?” and then questions “She can’t scream?”(3). These questions are important because they not only expand upon Maggie’s condition, but also reflect the emotions Roberta and Twyla feel. They both take secret satisfaction in Maggie’s inability to express her pain because neither of the girls believe they can express their own pain. Both Roberta and Twyla have been abandoned by the mothers and do not belong to a family. At the same time, the orphans do not accept the girls because they are not true orphans since their parents are still living. Twyla and Roberta have been disowned in every aspect but have no outlet to express their pain. They are unable to scream and cry just as Maggie is unable to express her torment. Morrison ends her story with a dramatic question further portraying the importance of questions and emphasizing a societal view in overlooking the disables. At the end of the story, Roberta and Twyla accidently meet around Christmas time. At the end of their conversation, Roberta sobs, “What the hell happened to Maggie?”(20). The ending forces the characters to face the question they have been avoiding and also emphasizes Morrison’s argument that society looks over the people that make them uncomfortable. The use of direct speech communicates the emotion of the moment and increases the pathological argument that society cannot continuing ignoring that which it perceives as different.

Toni Morrison creates an interesting tale in which she addresses the problems of race and disability in society. Throughout the story readers are searching to determine which girl is of which race and in doing this makes judgments based on stereotypes. Additionally, Morrison discuss the marginalization of the disabled in society. She suggests that they are overlooked and can sometimes be viewed as not fully human. Morrison portray the dangers of this thinking and implores readers to ask important questions and defend against prejudice and abuse. Recitatif is constructed in a manner that draws importance to communication and understanding, as well as calls attention to the dismissed of society.

Work Cited

Morrison, Toni. “ Recitatif” Google, Centricity Domain, 1983,

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Edgar Allan Poe’s “Tales of Terror” as Tragic Drama

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

The literary compositions of Edgar Allan Poe, especially his short stories of terror based on supernatural or psychological manifestations, continue to be highly praised by a select group of readers who relish the dark, nightmarish worlds of human existence with their roots firmly established in the ancient past. Edgar Poe’s uncanny ability to transcend reality and inject the reader into the domains of the macabre and the weird is the most compelling reason for his enduring popularity, not only in America but throughout the world. In his “tales of terror,” such as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Black Cat,” “The Premature Burial” and “The Fall of the House of Usher,” a strange, unnerving familiarity with the characters and situations can be sensed which allows the reader to subconsciously relate to the macabre experiences and thoughts of the main protagonists. This ability to pass beyond the veils of reality and suspend the reader’s disbelief is most closely related to Poe’s application of tragic drama in his prose writings.

The Greek philosopher Aristotle defined tragic drama as “a power capable of raising pity and fear, or terror. . . to purge the mind of these passions. . . to temper and reduce them. . . by reading or seeing those passions imitated,” i.e. tragedy gnaws at one’s emotions, thus bringing about a release, or purgation, when the tragic figure is triumphant or victorious over his oppressors or the object of his frustrations. Since Aristotle’s time, literary purists have devised exclusive definitions of what constitutes tragic drama, yet Poe’s interpretation of tragedy stems from his inner self where primordial emotions rise from the deepest recesses of the human soul which he described as “the reproduction of what the senses perceive in nature through a veil. . . the naked senses sometimes sees too little–but then they always see too much” (Foye 51).

If the essence of Poe’s tales of the macabre and the uncanny resided in his inner soul, then a portrait of this essence can be understood via the following scenario: an individual perceives he is trapped in a hostile environment beyond his control which produces great apprehension despite the lack of specific causes for his dread. On occasion, he suffers from real threats in his daily life and confronts these threats with ingenuity and courage, at times even overcoming his fears by retaliating against an innocent victim, either violently or through mental torture. Afterwards, he feels remorse for his actions and is emotionally moved to atone for his guilt through confession or by exposing himself to official punishment or self-inflicted agony. This invariably indicates a form of moral inadequacy in the afflicted individual, for “within the limits of his human nature, he is incapable of dealing with certain tasks and situations” (Lesky 7).

In a number of Poe’s “tales of terror,” the protagonist migrates through one or more segments of the above scenario. In “The Pit and the Pendulum” (1842), the protagonist, while under the clutches of the Spanish Inquisition, is presented as the suffering victim; in “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Black Cat” (1843), the protagonist becomes the aggressor who attacks an innocent victim, feels remorse for his act and then absolves his guilt by confession or exposure to punishment. In “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846), the Montresor both suffers and retaliates against seen or imagined threats. In all of these tales, the fears or hostilities of the protagonists are brought to a diminished or final climax resulting from a tragic flaw which “dooms him. . . to catastrophe because of his own shortcomings” (Grebanier 227).

But in reality, many of us are frequently at the mercy of some unexplained anxiety brought about by certain circumstances which are difficult, if not impossible, to deal with in a logical manner. As seen with a quick reading of any of the tales mentioned, the origin of the protagonist’s terrors are described graphically, as in a maleficent pit, the beating of a dead man’s heart, an ominous yet domesticated creature or even the most dreaded of all, premature burial. These terrors, however, are usually withstood by the protagonists despite the expected downfall or fatal outcome of the situations. The need to wait in helpless abandonment, as is often the case in reality, is thus eliminated.

In “The Pit and the Pendulum,” the unknown protagonist, upon being given “the sentence, the dread sentence of death” by the Inquisition, is imprisoned in a dark, foreboding dungeon with no apparent exit. His initial fear that he has been buried alive soon dissipates upon discovering he is trapped in a prison. After discerning the size of this dungeon, he accidentally falls and finds himself lying at the brink of a bottomless pit. He then falls asleep and awakens sometime later to discover, while strapped to a framework, that a pendulum of glistening steel is suspended above him, hissing back and forth as it descends within inches of his body. For him, death seems inevitable until the pendulum suddenly ceases its movement and withdraws into the darkness. His situation then becomes more ominous as the walls of “burning iron” close in on him, causing the dungeon to squeeze into a lozenge2E As his foothold shrinks to nothing, a hand reaches out and rescues him from the hands of his enemies.

Poe’s most celebrated protagonist, Roderick Usher in “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), not only suffers as a victim of “the grim phantasm, Fear,” but also inflicts his madness, a “morbid acuteness of the senses,” upon his sister Madeline who is slowly dying from the result of some unidentified “family evil.” The unknown narrator in this tale attempts to comfort Usher by suggesting his fears are unfounded, but Usher is convinced that death is imminent, whereby Madeline abruptly dies (“the lady Madeline was no more”). Usher proceeds to inter Madeline in the family crypt and soon imagines he hasaccidentally buried her alive. His fears of premature burial are soon realized, for he begins to hear odd movements in the house. Madeline then appears in Roderick’s chamber, where she falls dead into his arms as “a corpse, and a victim to the terrors anticipated.” The narrator quickly flees from the house as the “deep and dark tarn” swallows up “the fragments of the House of Usher.”

In “The Tell-Tale Heart,” perhaps the most famous of Poe’s “tales of terror,” the protagonist is beset by fears with no discernible foundation; his paranoia is unfounded, yet he suffers under these false delusions. As a result, he proceeds to vent these fears upon an innocent “old man. . . who had never wronged me. . . never given me insult.” He then realizes his fears are directly related to the “Evil Eye” of the old man (“One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture–a pale, blue eye, with a film over it”) which prompts him to “take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.” The victim is then murdered in his sleep and his dismembered body ends up beneath the floor of his bedroom. But the protagonist succumbs to his guilt and confesses his crime to the local police–“I admit the deed!–tear up the planks!–here, here!–it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

A similar plot is played out in “The Black Cat” in which the protagonist is haunted by maddening, hostile feelings with no recognizable cause. His wife is congenial and happy and she shares his love for animals, especially for their pet cat Pluto. The unnamed narrator begins drinking to excess, “for what disease is like Alcohol!,” and his disposition radically deteriorates. He mistreats his wife and their numerous pets, including Pluto, for after arriving home late one night from the local tavern, he seizes Pluto and cuts out one of its eyes with a knife. He then wanders outside and hangs Pluto from the limb of tree. His home quite unexpectedly catches fire and burns to the ground; shortly after, he obtains another cat much like Pluto with the exception of a white patch on its belly. He becomes fond of the new cat but soon begins to despise it due to the white patch taking on “the image of a hideous–of a ghastly thing–of the Gallows!” He subsequently attempts to kill the new cat with an axe, but when his wife interferes, he turns on her and buries the axe in her brain, whereupon she falls “dead upon the spot without a groan.” He then walls up her body in the cellar in an attempt to conceal his ghastly crime. Four days pass and he is happy and at peace and sleeps well “even with the burden of murder upon my soul.” The local police become suspicious of his wife’s disappearance and commence to search the premises. Ending up in the cellar, they suddenly hear the screams of an unknown entity; the protagonist, upon hearing the screams and knowing they are real, admits his guilt as the police tear down the wall–and the black cat, howling its revenge, sits atop the head of the victim (“I had walled the monster up within the tomb!”).

As previously pointed out, certain literary critics subscribe to the idea that tragic drama must involve a hero, such as in Sophocles’ Oedipus or Antigone, Aeschylus’ Orestes or particular dramatic plays by Shakespeare. In these works, the hero usually creates havoc and misery for all the other characters, a major trait of true tragic drama. The literary purists, for example, argue that a victim cannot be a tragic hero, for the majority of heroes or heroines fall prey to their fatal flaws, whether physically or psychologically manifested. For instance, Oedipus, who kills his father King Laius and marries his mother Jocasta and later blinds himself, and Antigone, Oedipus’ daughter, who commits suicide after being imprisoned by King Creon, are not heroic figures due to their failure to overcome their fatal flaws.

Yet as Albin Lesky maintains , the tragic hero “appears against the somber background of inevitable death, a death which will tear him away from his joys and plunge him into nothingness. . . into a mouldering world of shadows” (2). In light of this, the “old man” in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” the murdered wife in “The Black Cat,” the wine-maddened Fortunato in “The Cask of Amontillado” and the tortured narrator in “The Pit and the Pendulum” are all tragic heroes, due to their untimely deaths at the hands of their deranged opponents. But as readers of these “tales of terror,” we come to appreciate the fact that “tragedy shows us pain and gives us pleasure. . . The greater the suffering depicted, the more terrible the events, the more intense our pleasure” (Hamilton 229).

Sources Cited

Foye, Raymond. The Unknown Poe: An Anthology of Fugitive Writings by Edgar Allan Poe. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1980.

Gargano, James W. “The Cask of Amontillado: A Masquerade of Motive and Identity.” Studies in Short Fiction. Vol. IV (1967): 119-26.

Grebanier, Bernard. The Enjoyment of Literature. NY: Crown Publishers, 1975.

Hamilton, Edith. The Greek Way. NY: Norton & Co., 1942. (Ch. 11 “The Idea of Tragedy”).

Lesky, Albin. Greek Tragedy. Trans. H.A. Frankfort. 3rd. ed. NY: Harper & Row, 1979.

The Complete Poems of John Milton. Vol. 4. NY: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909. (Milton’s Introduction to Samson Agonistes).

The Unabridged Edgar Allan Poe. Philadelphia: Running Press, 1983.

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The Handsomest Drowned Man In The World

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

In a benumbing world, devoid of much refreshment, a felicitous moment in time can unite people in a cohesive bond and rejuvenate the world. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” weaves this idea masterfully. He does not use grandiose foretelling statements that march the reader right to the message, but beautiful poetic subtlety and tone. Marquez entices the reader to accompany him on the simplest of paths and offers the reader an alternately divine, yet real world. When the destination is reached, it is the seeds sewn within Marquez’s restraint that blossom into multi-faceted nuances.

It would be difficult to discuss the story without the use of Marquez’s words because it is his words that evoke the magic that is the story. “Marquez is famous for his ability to . . . bring the dead to life, and to make even the cruelest fates a matter of course – all with utmost fluidity and believability” (Delbanco and Cheuse 538). Marquez portrays death as a visual aspect of the plot, characterized by the drowned body of a stranger that has arrived on the shores of a small coastal village. When “Wednesday[’s] dead body” “wash[es] up on the beach,” the main character is first revealed to the village children (Marquez 540, 538). Once the children remove the body’s mask of “seaweed . . . fish and flotsam,” they become aware that their curiosity is a dead man (Marquez 538). Marquez’s portrayal of the deceased character is mystifying yet innocent; relative to the quizzical and unassuming good nature of young children. Therefore, the children are unafraid and accept the dead man into their fold and spend the afternoon with their innocuous friend, “burying him in the sand and digging him up again” (538). Marquez’s use of irony and symbolism is important for the character’s introduction of the body as death. The washed up dead man should be a horrific sight, but Marquez paints the stranger in such a way that the children feel a natural inclination to be around him and make him a part of their games. This treatment allows the reader to accept death through the body without apprehension.

When a member of the village happens upon the children playing with the deceased, the individual alerts the members of the village. The men who carry the body “to the nearest house” in the village notice the extraordinary weight and liken his mass to “a horse” (Marquez 538). Marquez nurtures the ironic and symbolic overtones with his description of the austere setting of the village: “Only twenty-odd wooden houses that had stone courtyards with no flowers . . . which were spread about on the end of a desertlike cape” (538). One would think that the village would be reminiscent of a lush, tropical coastal area. However, Marquez defies that notion, painting the landscape as desolate and mildly alludes to the conclusion of the story.

Marquez reinforces the magical nature of the body’s presence as it is introduced to men and women of the simple village. To account for the body’s peculiarities, ideas swell in the village’s collective psyche, searching for reasons to explain the cadaver’s iconic proportions to their own. The men leave to search neighboring villages “to see if any of them will claim the dead stranger” (Wilson 80). While the women methodically clean the corpse with great care, allowing them to connect with the stranger on a deeper level (Wilson 80). Symbolically, the women are carefully peeling away layers of debris from the man in relation to their own lives. It is at this point in Marquez alludes the corpse to be a hero and foreshadows the “drowned man” as an impending epiphany (538).

Now, Marquez’s style of magical realism is in full force. “The power of magic realism derives from the way it blends the fantastic and the everyday by depicting incredible events, supporting them with realistic details, and chronicling everything in a matter-of-fact tone” (Korb 87). When the women finish cleaning the body, they “see how awesome a man he is. He is the most supreme example . . .” (Wilson 80). With the women’s reactions, Marquez introduces an idea that intensive cleansing and self examination can initiate miraculous outcomes. He reiterates and heightens the sentiment as the women imagine a world where the renewed man “could call fish out of the sea and make flowers grow on the dry cliffs” (Wilson 81). The grandiose stranger has now taken on god-like, would-be savior qualities and the women name him Esteban. However, “their own men [who are not cleansed and renewed] . . . suddenly seem the weakest, meanest, and most useless people” (Wilson 81).

Esteban’s deification rejuvenates the women, creating a positive change in the way the women think about their world. Before Esteban “there was no room for [such grandeur] in their imagination” (Wilson 81). When the tired village men return at dawn to say there was no one to claim the stranger, the women rejoice, “He’s ours!” (Marquez 539). Having spent the entire night on an odyssey to neighboring villages, the men are weary. They want to heave the heavy stranger up the cliff, anchor him down and toss him into the sea before the day gets too hot. But the women want to prolong the grace of Esteban’s presence to prepare his body with elaborate tokens and ornamentations for the journey into afterlife.

Finally, the men have had enough of the women’s indulgence with Esteban. Marquez artfully introduces the conflict between the now envious men, doting women and their hero, Esteban. The frustrated men “explode . . . since when has there ever been such a fuss over a drifting corpse, a drowned nobody, a piece of cold Wednesday meat” (540). The women are pained to see their divine Esteban portrayed so poorly by their men. The women want and need the men to share in their vision of Esteban. A woman then lifts the handkerchief from Esteban’s “face and the men [are] left breathless” (Marquez 540). Now, the veil has been lifted, intrinsically reuniting the men and women; the entire village to the promise of Esteban’s grace.

Marquez now multiplies the universal effect of Esteban’s perpetuity. The women go forth to neighboring villages to collect flowers and spread the miracle of Esteban’s favor. When the women tell the tale of Esteban to the neighboring villages, it creates a chain reaction attracting more flowers and more followers to the cape “until there were so many flowers and so many people that it was hard to walk about” (540). Marquez has now united the whole of the villagers’ world as they participate in the communion of Esteban’s farewell. Marquez elicits the reader to understand that a metamorphosis is taking place. The whole of the villagers are coalesced in their desire to maintain a deep and abiding connection to Esteban. They choose a family lineage, a blood line for Esteban “among the best people . . . so that through him all the inhabitants of the village [become] kinsmen” (540).

When it is Esteban’s time to return to the sea, he is not shackled with anchors. He is free to return to the villagers at will. With Esteban’s departure, the villagers of the cape understand how devoid of beauty their barren existence has been. Most of all, they realize “the narrowness of their dreams” (Marquez 540). They vow to work excessively hard to re-create their world in the glorious import of Esteban. For years to come, those who would sail by would know that the bountiful, flower filled cape is “Esteban’s village” (Marquez 540).

Marquez’s treatment of the idea of the “drowned man” as death and as savior blends pagan and religious mythologies in an effort to make the tenants of the story relatable to everyone. He parallels the empty and desolate nature of humans with the formerly stark environment of the village. His story speaks loudly that being vigilantly conscious and open to alternative thinking, in an instant, life as it is can change for the better. Marquez’s “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” is a story of redemption and the quest for renewal in the narrowness of society’s imagination. In essence, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s village of Esteban is the real world.

Works Cited

Delbanco, Nicholas, and Alan Cheuse. “Literature: Craft and Voice.” New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 538. Print.

Korb, Rena. “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World: Short Stories for Students.” Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1997. p 87-90. St. Johns River Community College Libraries Web. 21 Sep 2010.

Marquez, Gabriel Garcia. “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” Literature: Craft and Voice. Eds. Delbanco, Nicholas, and Alan Cheuse. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2010. p 538-540. Print.

Moore, Djemlah. “Literary Analysis: The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World.” Helium, Inc., Web. 23 Sep 2010.

Wilson, Kathleen. “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World: Short Stories for Students.” Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1997. p 79-93. St. Johns River Community College Libraries Web. 21 Sep 2010.

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Female Liberation and Power in Boccaccio’s “The Decameron”

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer


Giovanni Boccaccio’s medieval masterpiece “The Decameron” is a collection of stories, chronicled over ten days, which highlights the best and worst of human nature. Boccaccio’s tales deal with themes such as adultery, love, premarital sex, devotion, trickery, and manipulation, among others. Yet this work is historically significant as a result of its brutal and unprecedented courage to show what was occurring behind the closed doors of medieval society. As one scholar notes in Boccaccio’s epilogue, there is a “plea for freedom of expression, for a concept and acceptance of literature free of didactic and moralistic constraints and directed towards the amusement, pleasure, and consolation of the reader.”

Boccaccio’s declared intent in writing “The Decameron” was to entertain the ladies of the era who had lost and suffered so much during the Black Death that swept the entire European continent. However, through his work Boccaccio also illustrated the sexual freedom women experienced during this time; a benefit of the social instability during and after the epidemic. Additionally, Boccaccio showed a side of the female gender, unseen before from the perspective of a man: woman using their intellectual prowess, wit, and sexuality as a means to achieve a desired outcome.

Therefore, in his work Bocaccio captured a defining moment for women in The Middle Ages. “The Decameron” is a commentary and illustration of how the women of the time used their intelligence and sexuality as a means to ascertain power and break free from the societal norms and restrictions placed upon them by the Church and the patriarchal societies that had repressed them throughout history.

Historical Context

To understand why the characteristics displayed of women in “The Decameron” were so uncommon and never before seen, one must first understand the societal barriers they dealt with during their day to day lives. Before the era known as The Middle Ages (approximately beginning in 500 AD) there was the period known as Classical Antiquity (spanning from around eighth century BC to 400 AD). While this shift in time marked many changes, one notable difference can be identified in the societal gender structure of the European community. Much of the history recorded during antiquity revolves around the cultural and economic centers of Rome and Athens. The role of women in society, with respect to men, in both these cities often paralleled one another.

In Rome, women were regarded as property of their fathers until they were married off to their husbands. Roman husbands generally did greatly appreciate the institution of marriage and their wives. This appreciation manifested in the influential counsel women provided their husbands. While it was not socially acceptable to advise your husband publicly, men were known to follow advice offered by their wives privately. Women were mostly limited to their homes. A respectable women was not known to wander around on her own; male supervision was required in public and when traveling. Socially their role was to rear the children and take care of the home while their husbands worked. It was not seen as socially acceptable for a woman above the lower class to work. Therefore women did not yield much power; at no point in the Roman Empire was a woman allowed to hold public office. Monetarily, even a wealthy, old widow was not allowed to independently manage her own finances. Therefore, women in Rome were extremely constrained by the roles society imposed upon them. Women were completely subservient to their male counterparts in all realms of life.

Athenian women were equally as submissive. From an early age the social paradigm between girls and boys was heavily entrenched. Boys were separated from the girls and offered private educations which consisted of reading and writing. However, girls were only taught domestic skills such as weaving and child rearing. Girls were married off by their fathers through male-centric weddings based around the father and groom. Unlike Roman husbands, Athenians did not see their wives as respectable counterparts. Instead, they were seen as inconveniences best left and restricted to the home. Wives were not allowed to leave the home unless supervised, and only lower class women were allowed to work. A respectable woman’s work was considered tending to the needs of her husband and family.

With the fall of the Roman Empire in the Fifth century began the period known as The Middle Ages. The societal gender hierarchy still remained intact, however, due to the Black, Plague moral codes which governed women loosened. While marriage was still seen by the Church as a religious institution in which the woman was bound to her husband, the chaos of the spreading sickness resulted in less moral accountability for women in regard to their habits with men. As Boccaccio explains in the introduction of “The Decameron,” “In this extremity of our city’s suffering and tribulation the venerable authority of laws, human and divine, was abased and all but totally dissolved for lack of those who should have administered and enforced them, most of whom, like the rest of the citizens, were either dead or sick or so hard bested for servants that they were unable to execute any office; whereby every man was free to do what was right in his own eyes.” Acknowledgment of female sexuality was now more widely accepted, as opposed to in Classical Antiquity. In fact, during The Middle Ages, public opinion leaned toward the theory that women were actually more sexually lustful than men, with “insatiable appetites”.

Historical Literary Context

Giovanni Boccaccio wrote “The Decameron” following the Black Plague and essentially dedicated the book to women. Within the Fourth day introduction he defends his motives for writing this book. His main argument cites his masculine affinity for women, and declares that he wrote the book to delight the women who bring him happiness. Nevertheless, Boccaccio’s intentions are not as significant as the perspective provided by his gender. “The Decameron” was ground-breaking for The Middle Ages because never in history had a man authored a book, written for woman, which glorified the diversity and freedom of women. Most literature involving women came from the female community of writers.

One could almost say that Boccaccio presents himself as a feminist, praising and delighting in women who are witty, intelligent, manipulative, aggressive, and even sexually liberated. In particular, Boccaccio highlights the sexuality of women during The Middle Ages with unprecedented honesty. As a result of the chaos of the Black Death, laws did loosen and society’s focus was muddled for some time. Therefore, the repressive social norms which had previously governed women were not as applicable or enforced through judgment. Thus Boccaccio, in “The Decameron”, highlighted the sexual liberation women experienced during the time. Other authors of the era also authored literature with these themes in mind; however, never with the honesty had Boccaccio exhibited or to the extent that he pushed social norms of what was socially acceptable to reveal. Most medieval authors cloaked their sexual references with euphemisms and double-entendres.


“The Decameron” is significant in the study of the female gender in The Middle Ages for two primary reasons. First and foremost, within the literary community it broke from the mold and characterized women in a more honest, diverse light. However, more importantly, it chronicles cases of woman breaking from the social constraints placed upon them, and acting independently to form their own identities.

One way the independent woman is identified in “The Decameron” is through the defiant wife. Socially, women were always submissive partners, tending to the home and never asserting themselves as individuals. However, Boccaccio’s compilation features many women breaking through this mold. In the Fourth tale of the Seventh day, Tofano, an extremely jealous husband locks his wife out of the house. His wife, realizing the perception this situation will garner from the neighbors, quickly devices a plan to turn the dynamic and come out in power. She threatens her husband by saying that she will jump down the well and commit suicide; leaving him to be judged as a murderer. She cleverly throws a rock down the well. Her husband, interpreting that his wife just jumped in, runs out to save her. However, in reality she runs into the house and locks out her husband; reversing the situation and gaining control over her jealous husband. With power now in her hands, the wife uses this advantage to gain more freedom from the constraints of her role as a wife. This tale thus perfectly confirms the case of a wife using her wit to gain freedom within her marriage.

Furthermore, there are countless stories of woman asserting themselves by speaking out within their society. The Seventh tale of the Sixth day features Madonna Filippa, a wife who gets caught by her husband with a lover. Upon being brought to court, she cleverly argues against the statute on which she is being charged. Not only does is she acquitted of all charges, but the law she disputes also gets overturned. This tale is unique because it demonstrates the case of a woman asserting herself through her intelligence, not just against her husband, but also against the society and laws which govern her. The Third tale of the Sixth day also showcases a woman using rhetoric to defend herself. Monna Nonna is approached by two men of wealth who are haughty and abusive of women. After seemingly disrespecting her in public with a biting question, she does not subject to their status, but rather bites back. Shocked and ashamed, the two men ride away and do not bother her any further. Monna Nonna, therefore, displays the woman who is not afraid to speak out upon being wronged, and in doing so avoids further embarrassment or abuse.

Most notable is the sexual demeanor of women in the tales. The nuns in the First tale of the Third day encapsulate the sentiment around all of the sexually aggressive women of the collection when they say, “whereas a single cock is quite sufficient for ten hens, ten men are hard put to satisfy ten women.” Women in “The Decameron” are not afraid to publicly and unconventionally avow their sexual identity, often against the structure of their marriage. Since the women of the time were interpreted to have stronger sexual lusts then men, this theme is not as surprising. The character Peronella, in the Second Tale of the Seventh day, out rightly commits adultery with her husband in the same room. When her husband returns home early, his wife is with her lover. Luckily he does not enter, and she’s able to fool him into thinking the other man is just there to buy a barrel the husband has made. While the husband is cleaning the barrel out, Peronella’s lover begins to perform sexual intercourse with her, behind her husband’s back, figuratively and literally. Neither is caught and the cheating wife gets away with the scandalous act. This tale is representative of a wife who has her own sexual identity outside of the confines of marriage, and her loyalty to her husband. She acts like an individual and in doing so undermines the power or control her husband has over her. Peronella, with her quick thinking mentality, is able to control the power in the marriage and ultimately avoid detection.

The Fifth tale of the Seventh day has a similar theme. A jealous husband disguises himself as a priest in order to hear his wife’s confessions and confirm his suspicions of adultery. Figuring out his trick, the wife fools the husband into thinking her lover always comes in through the door. While the husband waits patiently every night by the door awaiting her lover, she sneaks in her lover through the roof and lies with him. While this act of adultery is committed more discretely, the underlying implications are the same. The cheating wife is undermining the power of the husband by using her wit to get achieve her desired outcome. The First tale from the Ninth day features a sexually lustful woman, who does not challenge a husband, but rather two lovers. Madonna Francesca, while having two lovers, but loving neither one, seeks to get rid of both. She devices a plan and tries to get the first to simulate a corpse in a tomb, and then attempts to convince the second to enter the tomb and fetch him out. Since both refuse, Madonna Francesca ends her love affairs. This tale hence serves as an instance of a woman not necessarily challenging the power of her husband, but just men in general. Madonna Francesca uses her intelligence to simply put herself above these two men and in doing so exemplifies the daring, socially defiant woman that Boccaccio tried to loyally to illustrate in “The Decameron.”

The overt sexuality exhibited by certain women in “The Decameron” thus stems from their need to rebel against the social structures which constrained them. Often these restraints came in the form of marriage, their husbands, and the expectations society placed upon them. Boccaccio attributes characteristics within women such as wit, intelligence, and sexuality as means by which they attain power and control within society. Therefore, by doing this, women are able to turn the tide and act much in the same way that men were depicted in literature before “The Decameron.” Women are shown to be illustrious, aggressive, and empowered; their rebellious spirit stemming from the oppressive lives they previously lived or were expected to live.

“The Decameron” ends up being a feminist critique of The Middle Ages, ironically written by a male, Giovanni Boccaccio. Not only do the stories serve as a social commentary on the changing nature of women at the time, but the book also ends up being a cautionary tale for women in a variety of ways. Many of the underlying themes and plot lines provide women with examples for how to carry out their lives and relationships. First and foremost, it promotes women revolting against certain social institutions such as marriage, especially if they are unhappy or are victims of overbearing husbands. Many of the tales cited, such as Tofano’s wife, demonstrate how women only rebelled after living under the control of jealous or controlling husbands. Additionally, the tales of women speaking out to assert their rights within their communities also serves as a model for women. Boccaccio wanted the women of the time to pursue happier lives following the melancholy overtones of the Black Plague. Therefore, he saw this point in history as an opportunity for women to battle against the status quo and publicly declare that the laws which governed them were commonly absurd and unjust. The lesson of Monna Nonna is one way Boccaccio pushes his agenda of cautionary tales. Monna Nonna, upon being disrespected by two men does not just submit to their will, she stands up for her rights as a human being. Her success in averting the abuse provides women with the confidence to emulate her strong will and stand up for their rights as well.

However, it is the odd placement of the last tale of the Tenth day that potentially offers one of the most blatant commentaries by Giovanni Boccaccio. Boccaccio might have included this story in a non-corresponding day to highlight its message, and bring more attention to it. Griselda, a lower class woman, is essentially abused continuously throughout her life by her husband. During the marriage she is unaware of that his intention is to test her patience and devotion to the marriage. Therefore, he continues on committing terrible acts against her; leaving her, sending her children away, among other cruel deeds. However, through it all Griselda remains loyal to her husband. Ultimately her husband explains to her why he did what he did and tries to make up for it by bringing her children back. Now sure of her devotion, he treats her kindly. However, Boccaccio’s tone throughout the tale is one of sarcasm. Potentially this story serves to show Boccaccio’s women that a steady will and devotion can be applied to the wrong things. Once again, the story of Griselda is a cautionary tale to women. Bocaccio’s intent might have been to instruct women to not accept unfair treatment from their male counterparts, and further his feminist agenda.

Hence there exists the possibility that Boccaccio had a unique sympathy for women, and wanted to write a lengthy collection of stories that would incite in the female community a desire to fight to obtain greater respect within the patriarchal society of The Middle Ages.


Giovanni Boccaccio asserts in the Introduction of “The Decameron” and later on throughout the work that his intent is to entertain and enlighten women; for whom he has an incredible amount of respect and admiration. Following the Black Death, Boccaccio wanted to break through the sadness of the era and speak directly to the female population and inspire them to embrace their intelligence and freedom in order to achieve greater happiness. Consequently, his work ends up demonstrating the increased freedom women were exhibiting at the time, and serves as a model for how women should assert their rights.

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The Symbolism of the Bloody Chamber

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

Liminality pervades Angela Carter’s short story collection, entitled The Bloody Chamber, in her characters, physical settings and even her narrative voice. The bloody chamber, as a physical ‘chamber’ can refer to a room where violence and enlightenment occur simultaneously. It is a space of transformation for the heroine that changes her irrevocably. Bloody chambers are often connected with not only the blood of violence, but also with the bloodshed when a woman loses her virginity and when she menstruates. The concept “bloody chamber” can also refer to the vagina or womb, and Carter uses this fact to underscore the connection between women’s sexuality and the violence they experience. Carter creates an atmosphere that possesses elements of the ‘bloody chamber’, both power and torment simultaneously, particularly in ‘The Erl King’, a story in which all aspects exist liminally. The narrator in the Erl-King describes the sensation of liminality as “vertigo.” When the Erl-King, a liminal creature who is half-human, half-woods, draws her into his “gravity” of in-betweenness, she is unpleasantly disoriented. This disorient translates to the ambiguity of the King’s identity and the narrator’s intentions.

In literature, liminal spaces traditionally give the occupant both power and torment. By existing in two states or being two things simultaneously, the occupant has qualities of both. At the same time, he or she is condemned to never live in either state. The two halves of the liminal being’s experience do not seem to make a satisfying whole. Her more radical statement, however, is that all women are forced to live life as a liminal experience. Carter’s liminal experience in the text works to deconstruct and reposition female sexuality in a male-dominated space. The narrator, a female, lives subconsciously on the threshold of the ‘virgin’ and the ‘sexual being’, unable to identity fully with either; Carter is suggesting that women who use their sexuality as empowerment are isolated from society and those who neglect it are oppressed by patriarchal figures, particularly, the Erl King.

Carter begins the text in a relatively conventional way; her narrative voice is easily accessible. However, at first mention of the forest and the King, who are eventually revealed to be the same being, Carter manipulates the reality planes in the story, indicating the effects that the forest has physically and mentally; “The woods enclose and then enclose again, like a system of Chinese boxes opening one into another…it is easy to lose yourself in these woods.”(Carter 85) The narrator is aware of the demystifying effects of her surroundings, but seeks out the dangers anyway, representing the naivety in young women. She discloses in her winding sentences that the woods and the object of her desire, the Erl King, are the same being; he exists in the state of forest and man simultaneously; “When he combs his hair that is the color of dead leaves, dead leaves fall out of it; they rustle and drift to the ground as though he were a tree and he can stand as still as a tree…”(Carter 87) She makes mention of his physical body as well; “…because his flesh is of the same substance as those leaves that are slowly turning into earth.”(Carter 88) The Erl King is neither man nor woods, and his seducing tendencies prove successful upon the ‘virginal/highly sexual’ female narrator. The narrator must not be portrayed as a victim; instead, Carter is propping her up as an independent, sexual being. She confesses that it is only the ‘imprisoning’ effect that the King possesses that inspires fear in her: “I am not afraid of him; only, afraid of vertigo, of the vertigo with which he seizes me. Afraid of falling down.”(Carter 87) Vertigo is a type of dizziness, where there is a feeling of motion when one is stationary. The narrator is experiencing the King ‘liminally’ in a physical sense, and in a mental state, as well as in a sexually liberating way and entrapping way.

The relationship between the King and the narrator is highly romanticized by the latter. The erotic language and artful images of nature are characteristic of the Romantic Era, one that Carter is utilizing in a contemporary way. However, while the Romantics looked to nature as a source of spiritual enlightenment and life, in The Erl-King, it is a source of confinement and death. The narrator’s initial description of the woods already foreshadows her entrapment; she depicts the light filtering through the trees as “these vertical bars of a brass-coloured distillation of light coming down from sulphur-yellow interstices in a sky hunkered with grey clouds.”(Carter 86) Since the narrator is complicit in her imprisoning, she knows that she is “caged” or trapped from the moment she enters the woods. She is subject to their power; because everything in the woods “is exactly as it seems,”(Carter 86) any person who steps into them imprints her own desires on them. On one level, the narrator desires to be caught, and the cage-like patterns of light are reflections of this desire. She admits her knowledge by stating, “this light admits of no ambiguities.”(Carter 87) The narrator even details her impending punishment before she comes into contact with the King, “The two notes of the song of a bird rose on the still air, as if my girlish and delicious loneliness had made me into a sound.”(Carter 85) Carter characterizes the song of birds as “girlish and delicious”, commenting on the vulnerability of women in sexual situations. However, the narrator matures quickly in response to the ‘marriage-like’ proposal that the King has in store for her.

The narrator herself begins to convey liminal elements, as she falls subject to her virginal side as well as her sexually independent nature. This is characterized when he explains the King’s effect on her; “ Your touch both consoles and devastates me.”(Carter 89) She encourages the Erl-King’s domination because she is caught in the “vertigo” between her erotic desire for the Erl-King and her desire to be independent. Summarizing her dilemma in two words, she calls him a “tender butcher”; she knows that he is both her lover and destroyer. Carter cleverly manipulates setting as character, as the narrator becomes an active figure within the thematic ‘bloody chamber’. The King is her source of pleasure and punishment, as he strips her of her virginity and of her sexual appetite; her identity is highly ambiguous. She believes that the Erl-King can enlighten her by consuming her; she wishes, “I should like to grow enormously small, so that you could swallow me … Then I could lodge inside your body and you would bear me.”(Carter 89)

In the end, the narrator’s extreme solution is to kill the Erl-King and supplant male domination with female domination. While other heroines in Carter’s stories find happiness in relationships with men, the narrator of The Erl-King rejects them entirely. She must kill the male figure in order to substitute him as creator. The narrator admits she was conscious of the dangers of ‘subjugation’ all along, and confesses, “…I loved him with all my heart and yet I had no wish to join the whistling congregation he kept in his cages although he looked after them very affectionately…”(Carter 90) Carter is ultimately commenting on the ‘imprisoning’ effects of marriage. The narrator equates a marital bond with that of a ‘caged’ bird and it’s owner, she rejects surrender by liberating herself through sexual violence.

The narrator and Erl King both exhibit liminal tendencies; the King exist in a physical realm of the liminal experience, living in a state of man and forest simultaneously, meanwhile, the narrator exists mentally on the threshold between vulnerable virgin and independent sexual body. There is a connection to the liminal space in Carter’s thematic symbol of the ‘bloody chamber’, in which the narrator is stripped of her virginity but commits violence as well, in order to expel herself from the forest’s abusing grasp. Carter romanticizes the concepts of sado-masochism and erotic violence in order to artfully convey the oppression women experience in heir surrender to marriage. The narrator, a female, lives subconsciously on the threshold of the ‘virgin’ and the ‘sexual being’, unable to identity fully with either; Carter is suggesting that women who use their sexuality as empowerment are isolated from society and those who neglect it are oppressed by patriarchal figures, particularly the Erl King.

Works Cited

Charter, Angela. The Bloody Chamber: And Other Stories. Harmondsworth [u.a.:

Penguin, 1986. Print.]

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The Description of “The Mundane” in Joyce’s and Woolf’s works

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

‘How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it…’

Virginia Woolf’s The Mark on the Wall suggests a number of ways of considering the mundane in literature. The line both isolates ‘thought’ from ‘object’ and shows them to be fundamentally connected. It communicates interplay between physical and mental reality, yet, at the same time, Woolf makes it clear that their relationship is abstract and subject to the ‘swarm’ of the thousand different ‘thoughts’ that surround them. Emily Dalgarno writes of ‘a kind of power’ in Woolf’s writing ‘to see beyond the horizon of ordinary perception.’ The Mark on the Wall is concerned with this perception, as it explores the distinction between the world of individual thoughts and the mundane reality from which they stem. This symbiosis between objects and sign is central to Joyce’s Dubliners. Here, Joyce constructs conflict as his characters are unable to perceive one thing, in the same way, imbuing the mundane with significance as banal reality gives way to individual interpretation.

In order to examine the role of the mundane, it is necessary to define and clarify the term. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the ‘mundane’ denotes ‘belonging to the earthly world, as contrasted with heaven’ a meaning that had later come to describe the ‘ordinary’ or ‘commonplace.’ The mundane then is to do with physical experience. If taking Kant’s understanding of the sublime as ‘a feeling of the superiority of our own power of reason, as a supersensible faculty, over nature’ mundane experience appears to rest in direct opposition to this. Unlike the expansion of thought connected to the sublime, the mundane is concerned with tangible experience indicating involvement with the ‘earthly world’ over a metaphysical exercising of reason.

In the opening paragraph of The Boarding House, Joyce establishes a sense of the mundane that pervades the short story. His language is corporeal, describing physical attributes and action as opposed to contemplation. Joyce objectively introduces his protagonist, Mrs Mooney, informing his reader of her relations with the estranged husband from the removed perspective of third-person narrative; ‘One night he went for his wife with the cleaver and she had to sleep in a neighbour’s house.’ The line is imbued with references to the physical; the setting of a butcher’s shop, the bodily need for sleep, and the inferred image of hacking through flesh all root the passage in ‘the earthly world.’ However, what makes this sentence so curious is the tone of banality created by Joyce’s syntax. Here, the verbs ‘went for’ and ‘sleep’ are pre-modified by similar pronouns. This constructs a strange situation in which sleeping and attempted murder hold the same syntactic status; a balance concretised by the equal syllables on either side of Joyce’s conjunction. Thus, the sentence fulfils both definitions of the mundane as a descriptive sentence that combines the physical world with the common place.

However, Joyce makes it clear that reality, as understood by his characters, is not confined to physical experience. His language is descriptive yet it is equally astute; moving into the minds of his characters through the use of free indirect discourse. Thus, a reader can access the internal perceptions that disclosed from the other characters. Mrs Mooney’s conception of herself as a ‘woman who was quite able to keep things to herself’ (p71) runs parallel to the doubts that pervade the mind of her lodger, Mr Doran, giving a complexity to the narrative as it indicates the contrasting ways in which the physical events are experienced. This emphasis on perception is intriguing as it provokes a shift from the mundane to the subjective. In his Essay on the Sublime, John Baillie constructs an extensive investigation of the sublime. His language is eulogistic, praising the sublime as the mind’s ‘consciousness of its own vastness.’ Baillie is referencing the sense of ‘elevation’ attached to rational thought yet the ‘vastness’ of consciousness is intriguing on a number of levels. Whilst The Boarding House is rooted in palpable life, it is essentially to do with the shifting and wholly immaterial perceptions of its characters. Consciousness then dominates the work. However, rather than depend on lofty contemplations, it is drawn from the mundane. Thus, a strange situation is created in which ‘consciousness’ is as present in the mundane as it is in the sublime.

This symbiosis between what is seen and what is thought draws us back to Woolf’s The Mark on the Wall. Woolf’s language is expansive, following the stream-of-conscious of her narrator’s meditation on the nature of human identity. Woolf asks us to ‘Suppose the looking glass smashes’ and leaves only ‘the shell of a person which is seen by other people.’ (p79) ‘Shell’ is important here; it emphasises the significance of internal reality and connects the language to the ‘snail’ that the ‘mark’ is discovered to be. The very anatomy of a snail denotes internal significance as its hidden and vital being is contained within such a ‘shell.’ Here, we may recall Woolf’s famous assertion in Modern Fiction that ‘if the writer were a free man and not a slave…he could base his writing upon his own feeling and not upon convention.’ ‘Feeling’ and personal contemplation are at the heart of The Mark on the Wall as the story is driven by consciousness over narrative. Fletcher and Bradbury remark that Woolf is ‘…Paterian enough to believe that consciousness is itself aesthetic,’ likening her use of stream of consciousness to a ‘kind of poeticized subjective vision…’ This notion is intriguing as it more readily connects Woolf’s writing to Baillie’s understanding of the sublime than to her subject of the mundane ‘mark’; denoting a preoccupation with thought that is remote from physical experience.

Yet, Woolf does not sever consciousness from the material world but shows them to be fundamentally connected. In The Mark on the Wall, she sustains the narrator’s reflection with the ‘small round mark…above the mantelpiece’ (p77) Here, Woolf’s narrator imbues the mundane with its own significance. Her narrator’s belief that ‘it can’t have been for a picture, it must have been for a miniature’ (p77) draws the reader’s attention to the ‘powdered curls, powder-dusted cheeks’ of the portrait of a ‘lady’(p77) for whom the mark may have been made. Thus, a single mark acquires its own history and its own personal narrative. In elevating the narrative status of the ‘mark,’ Woolf challenges the classical understanding of the sublime as superior to the mundane. In his Course in General Linguistics, Saussure argues that in binary pairs, one side tends to hold authority over the other. To set out a strong generalisation, it can be suggested that the sublime has been frequently favoured over the mundane within the canon of pre-twentieth-century literature. Baillie’s Essay on the Sublime compounds this preference as it suggests that literature that aspires to ‘lofty’ ‘genius’ is the holder of ‘the truly excellent and great manner.’ The imagination of Woolf’s character is motivated by the mundane yet it forms a platform for human reason. This creates a strange symbiosis in which characteristics typical of the ‘sublime’ are dependent on the banality of physical existence.

This is equally explored in The Boarding House. Here, the mental activity of Joyce’s characters is not polemical to the mundanity of their situations but is drawn from the world in which they operate. Joyce compounds this dynamic in the final part of the story in which Mooney’s daughter Polly contemplates her relationship with Mr Doran. In this passage, the mundane takes on its own significance as her ‘secret amiable memories’ (p79) are drawn directly from the sight of her ‘pillows.’ This relationship between object and thought is intriguing in that it transforms individual perception into a form of semiotics. Polly’s reverie is sustained by the ‘cool iron bed-rail,’ its pressure and shape taking on phallic symbolism for both Polly and the reader alike. Thus, Joyce demonstrates interdependence between the mundane and the world of thought as the banal is imbued with individual significance; with its own ‘secret’ language.

The Boarding House describes symbiosis between mundanity and thought. However, Joyce makes it clear that the same perceptions cannot be derived from the same object. In The Dead, Joyce distinguishes the characters of Gabriel and his wife Gretta by their contrasting reactions to the same piece of music. The music itself is unsuccessful; its singer is ‘as hoarse as a crow’ (p229) and it finishes abruptly. Yet, for both Gabriel and Gretta, the melody is imbued with connotation and reflection. However, sense of conflict is created as the event provokes contrary emotions in the two characters. Whilst for Gabriel, the music evokes tender memories of his wife and provokes his desire for her, for Gretta it forms a direct link with her past lover, a ‘boy’ whom she believes to have ‘died for [her]’ (p238) and whose loss she bitterly laments.

Gabriel responds internally to this confession with bitterness; ‘While he had been full of memories of their secret life together, full of tenderness and joy and desire, she had been comparing him in her mind with another.’(p238) Strikingly, the ‘tenderness’ ‘joy’ and ‘desire’ that colour Gabriel’s perception are immaterial experiences that belong more to the language of the sublime than to banal existence. This correlates with his fantasy of ‘run[nning] away together with wild and radiant hearts’ (p233) expressed earlier in the narrative, with Joyce’s free indirect discourse indicating that the metaphor is constructed by the character’s mind rather than by the author alone. The reflection then deals with a fear of the mundane and with the desire to escape prosaic ‘duties’ (p233) Gabriel is filled with exalted passion and the possibility that he may be interferer is relation to another, suggests a banality of character that is too much to bear.

Joyce constructs an intriguing binary between a craving for the sublime and the mundane nature of existence. Gabriel’s desire for the immaterial is dependent on physical interaction; he longs to ‘…cry to her from his soul, to crush her body against his, to overmaster her.’ (p235) Joyce’s sentence is characterised by binary opposites; the physical and the metaphysical, power and submission, the masculine and the feminine. However, these characteristics are not distinct but depend on one another for clarification. Thus, the desire for a connection of the soul is expressed through sexual desire just as the wish to ‘overmaster’ Gretta is indicative of Gabriel’s inability to assume control. The paradox of Gabriel’s desire thus lies in the analogous relation between the mundane and the desire for transcendence as the very contemplation of ‘soul’ relies on the binary of physical existence.

This symbiosis between physical and metaphysical perception is echoed in Virginia Woolf’s Kew Gardens. The story is concerned with memory yet it depends on the material; employing objects to communicate the emotions of its characters. Just as Gabriel’s spiritual and physical desires depend on one another, the unnamed ‘man’ (p84) in Woolf’s story contains his memory of an unsuccessful marriage proposal within objects. Whilst the restless movements of the ‘square silver buckle’ on the shoe of his companion communicates ‘what she was going to say’ the ‘love,’ and ‘desire’ of the man ‘were in the dragonfly.’(p85) Here, Woolf creates a strange situation in which the passions of her character are so contained within the physical world that ‘if the dragonfly settled on the leaf she would say “Yes.”’ (p85)

This absorption of emotion into mundane objects brings us back to Joyce’s The Dead. Strikingly, Joyce’s free indirect discourse is limited to Gabriel’s inner conflict, making the thoughts of his wife accessible only through their dialogue. Here, a key point is raised about the elusive nature of language in expressing the metaphysical. Gabriel seeks to share his ‘soul,’ yet is unable to express himself. Here, the mundane suggests a form of oppression as the boundaries of language confines Joyce’s character to the physical world. The impossibility of moving beyond the prosaic can equally be seen in Woolf’s The Mark on the Wall as her narrator’s attempts to explore the complexities of human existence are ultimately and inevitably confined to the mundane.

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Mental Eroticism in “A Painful Case”

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

The characters whom inhabit Joyce’s world in “Dubliners,” often have, as Harvard Literature Professor Fischer stated in lecture, a “limited way” of thinking about and understanding themselves and the world around them. Such “determinism,” however, operates not on a broad cultural scale, but works in smaller, more local, more interior and more idiosyncratic ways. That is, the forces which govern Joyce’s characters are not necessarily cultural or socioeconomic in nature, but rather, as Prof. Fischer stated, are “tiny,” and work on a more intimate level. In any case, as a result of such “forces”, these stories often tend to be about something, as Prof. Fischer said, that doesn’t happen, about the “romance of yearning and self-disappointment.” Joyce’s story “A Painful Case” is a perfect example of a story about something that doesn’t happen, and more specifically, about “the romance of yearning.” It is through such yearning, however, and the various “erotic” forms that such yearning takes, that Joyce’s characters are able to transcend the “forces” which govern their lives. In “A Painful Case” the erotic takes on three separate forms: mental, physical, and what I call, “auditory.” Although all three play a role in the story, it is only through “auditory” eroticism that Joyce’s protagonist, Mr. Duffy, comes to experience a moment of “self-transcendence.”

While “auditory” eroticism may serve, in the end, as the conduit for Duffy’s self-transformation, initially it is “mental” eroticism that brings together Mr. Duffy and Mrs. Sinico. Joyce writes, “Little by little he (Duffy) entangled his thoughts with hers. He lent her books, provided her with ideas, shared his intellectual life with her. She listened to all” (110). Joyce uses the word “entangled” to frame the “mental” eroticism that he describes. “Entangled” instantly connotes an erotic physical entwining of bodies, but Joyce instead applies it to “thoughts.” Thoughts, rather than bodies, are “entangled,” and their mutual exchange of “ideas” is described as “intercourse.” We are told that “in return” for “theories”, “facts” are “given out” (111). Joyce, by using phrases like “intercourse”, “in return” and “given out,” builds an “erotic” framework” into which he inserts “ideas” and “facts” and theories,” thus reinforcing the notion that the transmission of such “facts” and “theories” must necessarily take on a distinctly erotic dimension.

Only two paragraphs later, once Duffy and Mrs. Since become more closely acquainted, does Joyce, nearly verbatim, repeat this sentence, writing: “Little by little, as their thoughts entangled, they spoke of subjects less remote” (111). Notice that whereas before it was Duffy who “entangled his thoughts” with Mrs. Sinico’s, in the second instance a shift occurs in the subject, so now it is “their thoughts” which entangle. In the first instance Duffy plays the typical male role of aggressor; it is he who initiates the “entangling.” In the second, however, the “entangling” is mutual, as suggested by the passive verb tense.

Such a shift only takes on significance when we consider the “physical” forms eroticism takes on in “A Painful Case.” The first, and only, instance of actual physical contact comes when Mrs. Sinico loses control of her emotions and “caught up his hand passionately and pressed it to her cheek” (112). In this case it is Mrs. Sinico who acts as the aggressor; it is she who initiates physical intimacy with Duffy. The roles have been reversed; where Duffy played the aggressor in “entangling” his mind with hers, it is she who plays the aggressor in entangling her hand with his.

But although Duffy and Mrs. Sinico share “facts” and “ideas” with one another in a “mentally” erotic fashion, they never, through such sharing, are “united.” And when “physical” eroticism is attempted, the two actually separate. Thus it neither through physical, nor mental “eroticism,” but as we shall see, “auditory” eroticism that the two eventually are brought together. The first instance of this occurs when Joyce writes, “The dark discreet room, their isolation, the music that still vibrated in their ears united them” (111). As with the description of “mental eroticism,” (i.e. “thoughts entangling”), Joyce couches “auditory eroticisim” in physically erotic terms as well. It is through sound, in this case “music,” music which we are told “vibrates,” that the two are brought together, “united.” The setting, “a dark discreet room”, the way in which the music is described, “vibrating” and the use of the phrase “united,” all suggest a kind of romantic, physically erotic union. Similarly, Joyce later describes how Duffy “seemed to feel her voice touch his ear…” (118). By describing a voice as “touching” an “ear,” Joyce again suggests a physical act of eroticism. Unlike, however, the “touching of their hands,” which Joyce says Duffy imagines as well, the idea of a “voice touching an ear” suggests not only external “touching”, but because a voice enters one’s body and soul, also connotes images of penetration. A voice, unlike hands, penetrates; committing the most erotic act of all.

It is not, however, until the end of the story that we are able to understand not only how “sound” and “voice” functions in a “auditory erotic” fashion, but how such eroticism is responsible for Duffy’s, albeit impermanent, self-transcendence. In a passage which Professor Fischer would label a Joycean “moment” or “unit,” he writes, “He turned his eyes to the grey gleaming river, winding along towards Dublin. Beyond the river he saw a goods train winding out of Kingsbridge Station, like a worm with a fiery head winding through the darkness, obstinately and laboriously. It passed slowly out of sight; but still he heard in his ears the laborious drone of the engine reiterating the syllables of her name.

He turned back the way he had come, the rhythm of the engine pounding in his ears. He began to doubt the reality of what memory had told him. He halted under a tree and allowed the rhythm to die away. He could not feel her near him in the darkness nor her voice touch his ear. He waited for some minutes listening. He could hear nothing: the night was perfectly silent. He listened again: perfectly silent. He felt that he was alone” (118). We must first of all treat Joyce’s sexually explicit metaphor of a train as a “worm with a fiery head winding through the darkness.” There are obvious overtly phallic connotations here, and it is this explicitness which is so surprising; Joyce’s tone in this instance differs severely from other erotic moments in the story. While “entangling thoughts” or voices “touching ears” may hold vague erotic undertones, Joyce’s metaphor here is so graphic, so explicit and so overt that it can be read as “clich?.” The idea of a train symbolizing a penis is not, in any way, new. Joyce, then, in another abrupt change of tone, breaks out of his “realism” and tell us that the “drone of the engine” reiterates “the syllables of her name” (118). This is a surreal, magical moment; clearly the drone of the engine wouldn’t, in “real life,” sound her name, but Duffy hears it this way. It is in this moment, when he hears the train and then “hears” her name that “auditory eroticism” is fully realized. That is, Joyce frames the surreal moment in a fully erotic, although cliched, manner: a “worm with a fiery head. This frame suggests that in “hearing” (magically) her name, he thus consummates, sexually, his relationship with her. In this instance “physical hearing” and “magical hearing” become one; he hears her name, and thus he consummates, in his mind, their relationship.

Duffy experiences a moment of self-transcendence. He goes outside of, if only for a moment, his own “categories” or ways of thinking and feeling. But what exactly constitute such “categories?” Duffy is a man who would catch “himself listening to the sound of his own voice…He heard the strange impersonal voice which he recognized as his own, insisting on the soul’s incurable loneliness. We cannot give ourselves, it said: we are our own” (112). It is this inexplicable “it,” this “strange impersonal voice,” which he knows is his own yet has no power over, that prevents him from loving, from consummating his love and from giving himself fully to his lover. This is his how he “is,” how his body and brain and soul work. “It” limits what he can feel and do. Thus after having just witnessed “venal and furtive loves” and having felt himself “outcast from life’s feast,” Duffy experiences a transcendent, surreal moment where he, in an erotic and cliched sexual manner, symbolically consummates his relationship with Mrs. Sinico. It is as almost as if her name drowns out his “it.” For an instance he is no longer alone, being joined to his lover in spirit and symbol. Notice, however, that this sentiment almost instantly vanishes. He begins to doubt the “reality” of what just happened, and he allows the rhythm of the engine, “to die away” just as he let her die in real life. Reality and “realism” reassert themselves. In the end, his “it” regains control. The “strange, impersonal voice” which had told him that the soul is always alone, again wins out, and then finally, “He felt that he was alone” (118).

But is, in truth, this moment of “self-transcendence,” if it happens at all, not all that glorious or for that matter, enlightening? Joyce’s description of the train is not one framed in glorious terms, but rather with a cliched sexual metaphor. And the sound of the train is described as a “laborious drone,”- not exactly poetic. The ultimate irony here is that while there is a surreal moment of “self-transcendence,” Joyce refuses to poetically beautify such a moment; the train’s sound isn’t “lovely” or “pretty” or “pleasant”, it’s a “laborious drone.” In fact he goes in the opposite direction, intentionally cheapening the moment by employing an explicit, cliched sexual metaphor as a symbol of the consummation of their relationship. Note that the sound which prompts the “self-transcendence” is not her voice “touching” his ear, which is a beautiful and original image, but rather the laborious drone of a symbolically cliched “phallic” train. Thus Joyce refuses to allow this moment of “self-transcendence” to take on poetic dimensions; Duffy may go “outside” of himself here, but, Joyce through the use of a cliched sexual metaphor and drab description of the train’s “drone”, maintains his, as Professor Fischer would say, “scrupulous meanness.” The moment is thus dampened; Duffy’s self-transcendence is not allowed to shine in full poetic fervor and “reality,” although Joyce attempts to escape it, seeps back in through his words and metaphors.

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Short Story: “The Abandoned House”

November 8, 2021 by Essay Writer

When she pushed the big gates open, the touch of the iron bars were as cold as ice. She could feel the bumpiness of the old cobbled path beneath her, they were smooth unlike the crunching of the odd dead leaf that she stepped on. Carrying on the path the dead, dried up grass carried on forever. One individual Oak tree stood by the house blowing in the wind, she could hear the faint whistle as the wind blew by. The incandescent moon was the only source of light that could be seen for miles. Owls occasionally heard by overhead, their shadows passing over the grass. The air was cold and with every breath she took a foggy exhale followed.

As the house drew closer everything around her became quieter, more distant and spookier. The trees whispers couldn’t be heard anymore and the cold iron gates were far in the distance. She could not hear the owls anymore and there were no leaves on the ground, just some old concrete steps, and a doorway that she stood in front of.

From the outside, the house was tall and thin, made from large dark grey stones. Plants grew up the house, wrapping around the pipes waiting for any sunlight to reached this abandoned place. The windows shook from the whistling wind, as though they were going to fall out of the frames which were being eaten away by wood worms. A few potted plants stood next to the door, once there for appearance now brown, almost certainly dead. The door had been left unshut probably for many years, or maybe someone was already in there.

Once she was inside she saw paintings of what looked like to be important rich people, with their eyes following her every move. To her left was an old wooden stairway leading upwards, each step looked so frail and worn that if you were to walk up them you would fall right through them. Straight ahead led to two more rooms, which looked to be a kitchen, from all the kitchenware left out and a dining room, to the right of her was the lounge area. It had large bookcases on each wall stacked with thick books covered in dust everything in the house was coated in dust. There was no TV just a couch, two chairs and a fireplace; the thick smell of charcoal from the fireplace had spread around the room blocking her breathing. The chairs and couch were made from maroon material once soft and comfy now thin and worn away. Under the chairs lay a black and dusty grey carpet, dirty from the charcoal and destroyed at the sides from mice under the couch.

As she entered the kitchen she could see the moonlight through the windows casting a reflection on the wall opposite. Mugs and plates lay on the surface cold, stained by tea and dust. The taps wearied down and layered in dirt and dust, still leaking into the sink and every time a drop of water fell the sound travelled around the house.

By the time she was done looking in the dining room and upstairs the owls had died down as well as the wind, the moonlight started to brighten to a warm light yellow colour, indicating to her that she had been out all night and into morning. She liked being out at night, it gave her time to soak up the silence so she could be left alone with her thoughts but since the morning sun began to arrive she had to head back home.

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