Opposition and Contrasts in Gothic Fiction

February 6, 2019 by Essay Writer

Two concepts often appear to be in conflict or contrast at the heart of Gothic fiction; the dualities of good and bad are often critical to the formation of the literature. Within ‘Dr. Faustus’ the battle between good and bad is particularly poignant due to the inclusion of characters from morality plays and the angels who advise Faustus. Gothic writers also delve deeper into the intricacies of these conflicts in order to expose a specific message to the reader, or to enlighten the reader on an obscured truth. Shelley, for example, simply highlights the contrasts in human life and allows the reader to attempt to rationalise the contrasts. Shelley does this through lines such as “I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel,” which contrasts the role of Adam with the Devil in ‘Paradise Lost,’ who represent holiness and sin. Carter is also concerned with oppositions with her collection of short stories ‘The Bloody Chamber’, however, Carter often warps the oppositions; particularly between strength and weakness. Regardless of the writer, Gothic fiction always contains an opposition or contrast that is conceptual, rather than physical, and which is used a technique by the writer.

Marlowe in ‘Dr. Faustus’ uses the rare device of personifying the concepts that are in contrast. In the 1600’s there was an obsession for finding an absolute definition for what is moral, hence the use of religion to legitimise actions and its use for a moral code. Marlowe conforms to the laws of his contemporary audience and associates God with the supposedly ‘good’ side and the Devil with the innately ‘bad’ side. Even the angel who offers advice based on God’s ideals is almost satirically named the ‘Good Angel’. The concepts of good and bad physically battle on stage in some productions and Mephistopheles uses threat to scare Faustus away from redemption using phrases such as ‘Thou traitor Faustus!’. Initially, ‘Dr. Faustus’ appears to be a warning from Marlowe about how good and bad can effect humans through their never ending contrast, and that humans must remain with good or they will be ‘damned’ as Faustus is. However, Marlowe’s play blurs the lines between good and bad in such a way that it becomes ambiguous for an audience member to state with certainty that they can judge what is truly good. One of the main techniques Marlowe uses to achieve this ambiguity is that Mephistopheles isn’t unfair which the audience would expect to be an aspect of evil; instead Mephistopheles actually treats Faustus fairly and warns him of his fate through lines such as ‘Hell hath no limits’ and ‘till experience change thou mind’. In the final climactic scene Faustus gets exactly what he was promised, there was no deception from the beginning of the deal. To emphasise this element of justice, Marlowe makes it difficult for the audience to have an empathetic link with the character of Faustus; he is displayed as arrogant and rude from the first scene so the audience look at the morals the ‘bad’ side employ unbiased manner. By the end of the play it would be difficult for a contemporary audience member to condemn the Devil to be ‘bad’ but simply different. Marlowe’s true warning to the audience is that humanity has an extraordinary amount of choice, and ultimately we are masters of our own fate. Faustus chooses to summon Mephistopheles and chooses to sign the deed and chooses to insult the Pope, the inclusion of the Devil and God is so Marlowe can distort these absolutist figures and allow the audience to truly realise the only power they should fear is their own.

Just as Marlowe wrote his literature for his specific contemporary audience, Shelley’s themes and plot are hand-crafted for a Victorian readership. Also similarly to Marlowe, Shelley uses contrasts and oppositions as techniques to reveal a truth to the reader. The plot of ‘Frankenstein’ is essentially a series of moral decisions undertaken by Victor, which eventually lead him to pain. Where the Victorian person would turn to an absolutist doctrine for answers Victor has no option, a life has never been created through scientific exploration and, crucially, there are no rules to follow. Shelley realised that as science continued to flourish, soon humans would enter an unknown chaotic world where they become rulers. To highlight the failing absolutist rules adopted by Victorian society Shelley sets up several key contrasts in the novel which expose how flawed her societies assumptions were, this was also very personal to her experience because she had to flee England due to conservative Victorian views. The main contrast in the novel is shown by the line ‘I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel.’ which is spoken by the creature. This line has a number of purposes; firstly, it references ‘Paradise Lost’ which has an ambiguous moral guideline so the reader understands that Shelley is attempting to oppose social convention, just as ‘Paradise Lost’ does. Also, the creature who is a personification of monstrosity in a physical sense utters it. The creature throughout the novel is a walking juxtaposition; he is described as ‘abhorred’ but utters pieces of eloquent poetry such as ‘did I not extinguish the spark of existence which you had so wantonly bestowed?’. Shelley has done this to show that monstrosity and beauty are not contrasting but can work in harmony; thus displaying to the reader that there isn’t concrete rules in judgement. She is also drawing parallels between the creature and the Devil because both are products of their environment and both are punished for it. The creature enters the world impressionistic and joyful but because of humans’ association of monstrosity with evil they chastise him and ‘throw stones’ and ‘beat’ him therefore creating monstrosity. Shelley is also using contrast to illustrate the hypocrisy that can arrive from absolutist laws. ‘Frankenstein’ is a novel that projects Victorian society back on itself, using oppositions, exposing the flaws that are created whilst employing absolutism.

Carter, like Shelley and Marlowe, also includes clear contrasts and oppositions within her short stories because she is using the already established Gothic genre to explore feminism in the 70’s. However, the techniques Carter uses are significantly different from that of Shelley and Marlowe who attempt to expose the irrationalism of oppositions, instead Carter embraces them. In ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ Carter displays to the reader the difference between and empowered female, and one merciless to the will of men. The short story begins with the line ‘My Father lost me to the Beast at cards.’ which Carter develops carefully so the protagonist is likened to a possession, the main masculine figure in her life has cast her away like an object to fuel his own greed. To illustrate further how women can become passive ion society Carter introduces a clockwork mannequin which although resembles a human is far from it, representing a female oppressed; Carter highlights this metaphor further by naming the clockwork doll ‘the twin’. At the end of the story the protagonist embraces her power as a female and turns into a Tiger also which has connotations to do with power and strength, as well as beauty. Carter is presenting the reader with two ends of a spectrum; at one end females can be passive and weak in society or become a strong and wonderful animal. Another stark contrast Carter explores is between animalistic love and human love, as shown in the story ‘Puss in Boots’. Puss is chauvinistic and an alpha-male; he describes seduction as ‘tribute of a few firm thrusts’ and has little respect for the tabby cat. However, we as a reader forgive his clear bigotries because he is an animal. On the other hand, the Master allows the women to find her own strength and it is she who ultimately escapes her husband’s house, not the man, so eradicating the view that she is a damsel in distress as the ‘tower’ would suggest. Carter then highlights to the reader that Puss and the Master are both metaphors for different types of relationships; Puss’ resembles Senor Pantaloon’s and ‘tribute of a few firm thrusts’ is very similar to the ‘fingering’ he conducts. Carter, using this stark contrast has offered the reader a choice of what relationship to choose; the animalistic one or the human one.

In conclusion, Gothic fiction’s contrasts and oppositions are an excellent device to use when creating meaning. However, my view is that they are not particularly more abundant in Gothic fiction than they are in other literary genres; it just so happens that their extreme nature often makes them more poignant.

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