LITERARY CRITICISM Some of our contributors analyse the work of other authors
How William Golding depicts the death of a culture in 'THE INHERITORS' by Mairi-Rose Wiseman
Ostensibly, this novel is about two groups of characters - The Old People and the New People - who become entangled in what could be referred to as a misunderstanding of each other's motives and behaviour. The result is conflict. Both sides suffer casualties and the Old People are wiped out – apart from the youngest member of the group who is abducted. The New People,sail away from the landscape, leaving death behind them.
But of course, the novel is about much more than this simple story. It is about how Golding organises the structure of his narrative. It is about how he creates his characters, individually and in groups. It is about how he manipulates language, and how he uses it literally and metaphorically. About how he uses these techniques to create a theme of fear, threat and survival, all of which permeate the novel.
The story-telling is so structured as to give the reader a clear picture of the two groups in question. The Old People - Neanderthals, are introduced first, each appearing on the pages like characters entering a stage. We meet Lok and his six companions and witness their struggle to survive having returned too early - it would seem - to their summer ground. Golding takes time to introduce them and their sense of community and care for each other. Their attitudes and behaviour encourage the reader to find common cause with these characters.
By contrast, the New People are rather insinuated into the novel. Their presence is first suggested through Lok who samples ,
'the complex of odours that came with the mist'.
We are already aware of his acute senses, so we are alerted to the fact that all is not as it seems. This is followed by the fact that Lok was 'puzzled', and then 'He frowned at the island'. These suggestions of otherness are followed by the appearance of smoke, smoke that Lok discounts as having come from one of his people's fire, that of the old woman. These two events are followed by the inexplicable disappearance of the character Ha, one of his companions. Thereafter, Lok espies a 'creature', and informs another character Fa, that he 'has seen theother'.
This technique of introducing the New People via imagery-unease, helps the author to develop and maintain a sense of fear. The effect is one of their intrusion into a landscape that seems rightly to belong to the Neanderthals, after all, Lok and his group have a sense of ownership as a result of having been there first. As a consequence, by the time the New People enter as visible characters, we understand them to be a threat. And the reality of that threat is manifested in the attitude of Lok, who 'understands' the flight of a twig as being a present, while we understand it as an arrow of destruction. We become aware that these people, the Neanderthals, have such a simplistic outlook on life that survival will be difficult. And so the threat increases.
This manner of introducing the group allows us to have had time to empathise with the Neanderthals. We see their shared love and affection for each other. For example, Golding's illustration of a ritual procedure on the death of Mal, the old man, shows the group's care for the dying and dead. By contrast, the New People's behaviour, in relation to the scene of the stag and the figure that lay across it, is one akin to tribal barbarism. Golding comments that,
'The hair stood out round the head, as though the figure were in the act of some frantic cruelty'.A stake was driven deep, through the figure, pinning it to the stag.
The imagery is one of repulsion. We cannot empathise. The sense of threat is further intensified.
In spite of this feeling, Golding is able to make us appreciate the fears of the New People in relation to the Neanderthals. I'm not saying we sympathise with the New People, but we are made aware of their fear, and therefore the perceived threat posed by the Neanderthals. This can be appreciated further when Golding changes his narrative technique, and refers to Lok as 'The red creature'. The connotation of 'red creature', with no name, is that the creature is animalistic and by definition, savage. On a personal note, we have seen animal images from David Attenborough's documentaries for example, and perhaps this allows us also to appreciate the fear felt by the New People. If we were to be in close proximity to such creatures, how would we behave?
This presentation of Lok as the 'red creature', is furthered by the information that he is now 'trotting' rather than ' running' – as was the case previously. He is now referred to as 'it' rather than 'he'. Such a structural technique enables Golding to distance the two groups one from the other and to allow the reader access to the Neanderthals through the eyes of the New People. By such means, we can sense their fear. The effect is to provide a balanced view of the motivations of both peoples. They lack mutual understanding. They only see threat rather than opportunity. The universality of the novel becomes apparent.
And what about the reader? Are we inclined to take sides with the Neanderthals as we have witnessed their sensitive ownership of the land, their concern for their small community and their general simplicity of nature? Do we find affinity with the New People? Or do we see our own worst excesses in their behaviour?
Another essential structural technique is the way in which Golding changes the language dynamic. In order to convey a simplicity and a lack of intellectual awakening in the nature of the Old People, Golding tells us that 'Lok's feet were clever'. Lok attributes animation to inanimate objects. He states,
'the water was not awake'.
'the log has gone away'
'let the log swim'.
And he does this, not only with the direct speech of the characters, but also with the indirect speech of the narration. In this way, the effect is created that Golding is a contemporary of the characters. That this situation as recounted by him, as if he were a direct witness.
And his language is highly decorative in its metaphors, a fact which helps to create the sense of threat. The fall is 'ponderous', and,
'from under the rock, a semicircle of ruddy light danced on the terrace'.
And in the closing moments of the novel,
'There came a sound from the mountains, a tremendous noise that boomed along them and spread in a tangle of vibrations across the glittering water'.
But not only do the language and the setting create the sense of fear and threat, so too does the way in which the characters are constructed. The inability of the Neanderthals to think critically and to take a defensive position against the New People means that they are doomed. But then the lack of understanding and sense of humanity in the New People seems to suggest that they too are ultimately doomed. Perhaps the fact that they have been attributed with more qualities akin to our own, would suggest that we should examine our behaviour.
Although Golding's visual imagery of light and darkness is used to create a sense of otherworldliness, at the same time, the action of the novel is rooted in an environment which has many familiar aspects of our nature. There are references to 'bog,' 'trees,' 'branches,' 'buzzards,' 'ice,' 'mountains,' and such like. The water is, 'glittering', and 'the sun shone'. In a sense it could be our world.
When Marlan, one of the New People, speaks in the silence as they sail away, he refers to the Old People as living,
'in the darkness under the trees',
and Tuami, one of Marlan's compatriots
'looked at the line of darkness',
'(he) could not see if the line of darkness hadan ending',
Is the darkness a metaphor for what the New People have left behind in this land? Are they the bringers of darkness? Or was the darkness there already, but not visible? We ponder and perhaps try to seek its relevance to the lives that we live today.
An exploration of the themes in Doris Lessing's THE GOOD TERRORIST by Mairi-Rose Wiseman
The setting is London and the characters represent various types. The link which binds them is their grievances against the capitalist system, and this provides them with their apparent common cause to promote revolution.
They occupy an old house, number 43, whose demolition has been given a stay of execution by the council, at the behest of Alice, the thirty-six year old matriarchal figure of the group. She has found support from a Council worker, Mary, who together with her partner Reggie, come to live in the house. By the use of cunning and thievery, there is purchased the means to make the house habitable and by this construction, the novelist is able to create a centre wherein the group can be brought together to discuss revolutionary policy, as well as action.
Alice's parents are referenced and it becomes apparent that, in the past, Alice's mother herself held open-house. However, unlike the house of the squat at number 43, Alice's, mother's open-house was for social gatherings – perhaps with political overtones, but not for the execution of revolutionary politics – well certainly that is not explored. But the writer does make both overt and covert references to the similarities between the two women. They are both presented in the setting of a large house and through Alice's dialogue and Lessing's narrative, the homeliness and the hospitality of Alice's family home are juxtaposed with the house of the squat. Is Alice trying trying to recreate her childhood, for whatever reason? We wonder.
Unlike her parents who have worked to realise their life-style, Alice steals from both parents to fund the renovation of the squat and with her lavish care and attention – supplemented by the work of Philip – this house, the squat - takes on an aura of middle class habitation. I refer to the house of course, not the occupants.
As the story progresses, the house increasingly vibrates with the addition of certain creature comforts. The kitchen becomes the centre of squat life, in a way, similar to a kitchen of a middle-class home but with the difference that in a middle-class home, a family might gather for reasoned family discussion.
Forsythia is placed in a jug, its warm glow enhancing the camaraderie, but, in a subtle way it highlights the fact that this atmosphere is at odds with the reality of the situation. In fact, Lessing states Alice's thoughts with the words, 'It is like a family, it is.' The subject under discussion at the time, was the policies of Margaret Thatcher, and while we may be prepared to accept that the politics of that time were in some cases divisive, the language and ideas of this group were beyond divisive. This could hardly equate with an average family discussion.
As well as the occupants of this house, Lessing refers to neighbours, and in particular, to the house at number 45 whose people have principles similar to those of the main characters at number 43. We are introduced to Comrade Andrew, and a woman named Muriel. We are given to believe that Comrade Andrew and his acolytes also indulge in revolutionary matters. After a brief period of time, both he and Muriel disappear and are replaced by Caroline and Joselin. Have the disappeared gone for spy-training? The possibility is posed.
Eventually, the residents of number 43, hatch a plot to test-run a bomb in London, and after their success, they decide to create a further bomb, placing it in a car. The aftermath of this is death and destruction, not only to innocent passers-by, but also to one of the group. Until this point, the destruction has been theoretical. Now the destruction is a reality and with the matter-of-fact assembly of the bomb and its final detonation, the reader is reminded that this threat could be a reality in our lives.
The novel concludes with the aftermath of this second bomb explosion: that is, the dispersal of the group, and Alice's looking forward to meeting another person, one Peter Cecil by name. With the group members having dispersed or having died, the novel ends with a mood of uncertainty as to what will happen to Alice next. She has confirmed that she will remain in the house even though the house itself may not survive. And what will happen when she meets with the mysterious Peter Cecil?
Doris Lessing deals with a multiplicity of themes: mother-daughter relationships, same-sex relationships, bullying, appearance versus reality, betrayal and the use of terror to promote political change. What I found most intriguing, was the way in which she explored the naivety of her revolutionaries. I wanted to say the youth of some revolutionaries, but these characters were not youthful. They might have displayed the lack of critical thinking sometimes associated with youth, but they were not youthful.
They were angry. They spent a great deal of time being angry, wanting to change the system, seemingly espousing the theories of Marx and Lenin or decrying what the system gave them, but in their need to change the system, they had to use the system. They (well at least Alice) couldn't survive without water and electricity. She had to cajole the Council to reconnect the supplies to the house. When they needed a car to bomb London, they had to steal one. To fund the house renovations, Alice had to steal from her parents. To fund the trips to Ireland and the USSR, Alice had to steal and they had to use benefits which came courtesy of the system they wished to destroy.
Lessing tells us how Pat and Alice took tea at the Savoy, a bastion of the middle-class. They spent a morning in Harrods. Admittedly they didn't buy anything, but Alice took pleasure in Pat's enjoyment. Later, when Muriel was departing, she wore a, 'well-cut linen suit in blue. From Harrods.'
Both dialogue and narrative illustrate the mutual dependency of people and system. Destroy the system and replace it with what? The implication is replace it with a fairer system, but these characters only discuss destruction, and just exactly what could constitute a fairer system is never made apparent -except that it would be better than the status quo. What these characters are in fact doing, is making a career out of being revolutionaries. Some people opt for a career in teaching, some in nursing, some in banking. These may not be the pinacle of success, but they are productive. These characters seem to equate revolution with productivity.
In this novel, revolution is associated with Ireland and the USSR. But the 21st century has given us new revolutions, perhaps more deadly than those of the novel. This novel illustrates how the seemingly amateur revolutionaries are every bit as deadly as the so-called professional. Just because you are naïve in your revolutionary behaviour, doesn't mean to say that you are any less deadly.
But it's not only Alice who is naïve. Bert and Jasper are naïve in their excursions to Ireland and the USSR. They seem to lack the ruthlessness of Comrade Andrew or perhaps better still, Gordon O'Leary. We are not informed of O'Leary's affiliation – Ireland or the USSR – but he is obviously aligned to terrorism, somewhere. He speaks with authority.' I would like some kind of explanation.' His temperament is controlled. 'His pale, obedient cheeks coloured, and his breathing changed as he dropped his dangerously angry gaze. Regaining control he said...' He displays a threatening presence.. 'He seemed enormous and dark and powerful looming over her, and his eyes were like guns'.
Not Bert, not Jasper, not Philip had these qualities. From our personal experience supported by the media, we can see that Gordon O'Leary has the qualities of a terrorist, at least, the qualities we associate with terrorists While the other two young men from the squat can cause trouble – and as we have seen – kill people, they are not in the same league as O'Leary. But Doris Lessing nevertheless, makes us aware of the threat posed by the amateurs. By the time of the writer's final comment, that it was time for Alice to 'go out and meet the professionals', we have a foreshadowing of a different type of operator. We should never underestimate the naïve, the amateur or the professional. They all have the ability to kill and maim.
Of course, this is not simply a story of terrorism. It's a story of people's relationship one with the other. The plot is merely a means whereby the writer can explore reactions and interactions in a controlled situation. An interesting experiment! .
The Gothic elements and their effects in Charlotte Bronte's 'Villette' by Mairi-Rose Wiseman
Perhaps I should begin with a little preamble as to what is generally meant by Gothic literature. The term is usually applied to works which contain a number of devices and techniques which strongly influence the sensibilities of the characters – and therefore by implication, those of the readers – in a particular way. The sense might be one of fear, dread, mystery, the significance of dreams, the weather, restrained emotions, the supernatural or indeed a journey to the darker side of life.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley is the classic of this genre.
But of course that particular novel is the epitome of the Gothic. Villette does not fall into that category. Nevertheless, the Bronte novel does dwell on many Gothic aspects. What these are, and why they are so effective in propelling the narrative forward, will now be discussed.
The sense of mystery and its oft accompanied dread, is an important aspect of the Gothic genre. Bronte immediately employs this technique with the introduction of her character Lucy. We are given virtually no background information about Lucy and indeed it could be argued that such is at the behest of the narrator, a deliberate enigmatic construction, perhaps hoping to mask the biographical element of the narrative. The effect created is one of mystery surrounding this person who turns out to be the main protagonist. And that mystery continues as Lucy returns to what she states as, 'the bosom of my kindred' in the chapter entitled, Miss Marchmont. Certainly she seems to have been comfortable with these kindred as she describes herself to be a, 'bark slumbering through halcyon weather, in a harbour still as glass', but of the details we know nothing. It is a mystery.
But of course, mystery of itself is insufficient to determine a Gothic text. At least some of the other elements must be present. And that is where we then address the element of weather and dreams.
As this chapter begins to progress and just when the reader is somewhat lulled into a sense of comfort with words such as, 'basking', 'warmed with constant sunshine', 'indolently soft', and the like, the Bronte character falls, 'overboard', and with references to, 'icy pressure on my lungs', there is created a dreamlike effect, but one that is both uneasy and unpleasant and furthermore, unprompted. No previous references have prepared us for this. I would propose we read this in relation to the final chapter. On reflection, its inclusion in the Miss Marchmont chapter, is presented as a foreboding of the denouement. Typically, Gothic.
Further on in the same chapter, Bronte states, 'After a calm winter, storms were ushering in the spring'. She uses language such as, 'The wind was wailing', 'plaint, piteous and disconsolate to the nerves trilled in every gust'. Her heroine hears a, 'searching cry', 'a hopeless cry' Thereafter follows a series of spine-chilling images. This is consistent with the Gothic genre
Bronte then takes her character to London, and commences chapter 6 with an introspective of Lucy. 'When I looked, my inner self moved, my spirit shook its almost-fettered wings half loose...'. The image is completed with an ominous reference to Jonah. We are thus given the impression that all does not bode well for Lucy and this fact is all the stronger because Lucy is the narrator telling us so. She herself 'feels' a sense of foreboding.
Bronte then removes her character from London and sets her on board a boat for Belgium. The river is describes as being, 'Black … as a torrent of ink'. She states her destination as being, 'Where Fate may lead me', and with the capitalisation of the F, we immediately sense the supernatural. That feeling of the supernatural is continued as the character meets Madame Beck and it is said of the latter that she was, 'no ghost' and had , 'no spectral aspect'. By presenting the words, 'ghost' and 'spectral' albeit in a negative sense, Bronte is enhancing the prospect of the supernatural and thus preparing the reader for what is to follow.
By the time we reach the chapter entitled, The Long Vacation, a sense of unease has grown. Bronte refers to her character's nerves being, 'overstretched', a 'malady' is growing on her mind, an 'avenging dream', is brought to her and she utters the words, 'Thy terrors have I suffered with a troubled mind'. Thereafter, Lucy goes to visit the priest in an atmosphere of gloom and darkness. Slowly and insidiously, fear is surrounding the character. Once more, we have classic Gothic techniques.
As well as being fearful, Bronte portrays Lucy as an outsider. Even when living with the other characters in the school she stands alone, and of course, her single narration has the effect of distancing her even further. However, in this particular chapter with the stress on the long vacation, she is even more isolated and lonely. And the fact that she is a Protestant in a Catholic community – several references are made to this - isolates her further, so when the priest dismisses her not to 'come to this church' but meet him elsewhere for comfort, we feel her further estrangement. Bronte is perhaps illustrating the lack of Christian inclusivity, but more importantly, she is isolating her character and enhancing her sense of being an outsider.
Lucy's personal introspection becomes more apparent as she refers to the evening of the visit to the priest as being, 'more firmly fastened in my soul'. Fate is further referenced with Hope being said to be a 'false idol.' It is as if she is doomed in some way and by forces over which she has no control.
Still in 'The Long Vacation',the classic darkness of the Gothic genre now descends and although Bronte tells us that the storm which had beset Lucy during her church visit has now abated, she refers to the wind which continues to howl ominously. The inversion of the adjectives, 'Strong' and 'horizontal' force a destructive image into the mind and this, together with the spire being detailed as 'giant' and 'turning black', prepares us for the penultimate sentence where she seems to 'pitch headlong down an abyss'.
Having established the darkness and distress of the heroine in book 1, Bronte changes the mood with a sense of brightness and goodness in the person of Mrs. Bretton, Lucy's good Samaritan. The introduction of such a bright character enables Bronte to begin the salvation of her character. Yes, Lucy is still isolated, this time isolated in a little room, but she states she 'passed into a dreamy mood, not unpleasant' And even when she has further dreams related to the sea, the tide and the largest waves, we are assured of her comfort and safety as the servant brings her a light and both Mrs. Bretton and her son are close at hand.
In the chapter, 'Vashti', Lucy states, 'A new creed became mine – a belief in happiness'. She seems secure. Or is she? Here we now have a classic technique of lulling the reader into a false sense of security. A fire engulfs the theatre, not a purging fire, but a fire that pre-empts the end of a possible relationship between Lucy and John Graham: it is as a result of this eventful fire, that Graham meets Paulina (again) and Lucy is once more isolated.
Despite this and other setbacks, she survives. She even survives the drinking of a sedative (probably opium) and in the chapter entitled Cloud, she leaves the school complex to go to the grand entertainment and all this while in a drug-enhanced state. Bronte creates a purposeful mien to the character's behaviour. Lucy states, 'I took a revel in the scene' and, 'I drank the elastic night air', and most interestingly, 'I scorned Despair'. The over-riding sense of this event is one of the macabre, an atmosphere made possible by the very fact that the character was under the influence of a drug. Yet another aspect of the Gothic genre.
When eventually Bronte brings us to a conclusion, she bestows a financial settlement on her character with the possibility of future romance. Yet the Gothic elements are ever-present in the final sub-division where a reference is made to a storm that 'roared frenzied for seven days', a 'banshee' and 'a destroying angel of tempest'. Although Lucy has survived, the impression is created that M. Paul has not.
So in conclusion, what kind of novel do we have. Gothic? Not totally. Romantic? Certainly romantic elements, but not a romantic novel. Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is not what Bronte was trying to do in the novel, but rather what effect did she create.
Much has been written (I believe) about the biographical element of her story, and maybe indeed there are elements of such, but for me the outstanding effect is one of character against adversity. And not just any character, but that of a woman. We know of at least one feminist text written by Mary Wollstonecraft, 'A Vindication of the Rights of Women' which was completed in 1792, and Bronte, a women of letters, had probably read this. Elizabeth Barret Browning and Mrs. Gaskell both had works published in the mid-19th century, but most importantly, the Brontes were already published, but under pseudonyms. How difficult it must have been to be taken seriously as a writer, we can only imagine.
Bronte presents Lucy as a character who also faces difficulties but one who triumphs in spite of the difficulties. She 'sends' Lucy to mainland Europe by herself, has her survive the teaching post in a school where circumstances are challenging, allows her to find emotional comfort with Graham only to be disappointed when he meets Paulina. The increasing strength of this character enables her to survive the elements of the supernatural and she even appears to survive the probable loss of M. Paul.
So for me, the overall effect of this novel is one of survival. Bronte puts her character into the most devastating of circumstances,but manages to show her ability to survive. At the end of the chapter entitled, Cloud, they, Walverens, Beck and Silas, 'outnumbered me', 'but as yet, I was not dead', she states.
In respect of Bronte's use of the Gothic elements, I would argue these were in keeping with the literary convention of the time and helped to illustrate the all-pervading power of the supernatural. In Lucy's case, that meant the weather, her dreams, the darkness ... Finally, although this is not specifically a Gothic novel, it still created a sense of strong moral closure with the triumph of the righteous, and Lucy was one of the righteous. Perhaps the love interest was dead, but the heroine survived.
How one thing leads to another..... by Mairi-Rose Wiseman
Searching through a list of poets of the Great War, I happened across the name of one Wilfred Wilson Gibson and I was slowly transported back to a poem of my childhood: Flannan Isle.
Long before I had been initiated into the terms of poetic analysis, I can still remember being terrified by the atmosphere embedded in the narrative of this poem; I knew nothing of the techniques employed by the writer to create the mystery of the disappearance of the three lighthouse keepers; I was uninformed of style, metre and imagery as poetic concepts; I was simply captivated by the sense of the supernatural, the paranormal or the magical, as the child within me might have called it.
So what fascinated this child? Well to begin with, three men who had worked the lighthouse had disappeared and the lighthouse was not functioning. That's a serious matter. A lighthouse must send out a signal to inform sailors of the proximity of dangerous rocks. Even this child knew that. This lack of signal was a strong indication that something was amiss.
Having suggested this problem, Gibson, the poet, goes on to describe the journey of three other men who had travelled to Flannan Isle to seek out an explanation. And this is where the poem becomes really spooky. Gibson creates an image of the men being dwarfed by the lighthouse. It was 'towering white'. This figurative language sets up a contrast with the, 'three queer, black, ugly birds' which seem to be 'too big'. This child experiences an eerie tingling. She is well versed in fairy stories of the sea. She isn't able to access the internet – that's a distant techology – but she's heard stories about kelpies; she's steeped in ideas of devils and the supernatural and she know the power of magic. Fantasy can be easily explained; it's her reality. These three birds could actually represent the souls of the dead lighthouse keepers if they had lived an evil life, she reasons. If you were bad, you went to Hell; she knew that. Perhaps Hell meant being changed into a big, black ugly bird. The child 'knows' this is possible. There is no redemption for those who are evil. They might try plunging into the sea but that won't cleanse their evilness. That which previously had been spooky, now becomes spine-chilling.
And then the men land on the Isle itself. The entrance door is 'black'. It is distorted 'sun-blistered' and crucially, 'It gaped for us ajar', as if their arrival had been expected. The imagery is dark and inexplicable but this child is encouraged to read further because the door being, 'ajar', has been like an invitation. And also I may add, the frequent use of 'We' embraces this child. She is one with the men who seek. Perhaps she too can smell 'some strange scent of death'. She may not understand the implications of the 'black foreboding eye', but the ponderous effect of the diction is unsettling. So too is the fact that there's an 'untouched' meal on the table and there's a chair 'tumbled' on the floor. Why would three men take the time to prepare dinner and then leave it on the table. And the chair? Had there been a fight?
Gibson continues, 'We hunted high, we hunted low;' and he repeats this to deepen the mystery: everywhere has been searched; twice. As well as this, the men's disappearance is called their 'fate' as if to suggest the event has been predetermined A child may not understand the connotations of the word 'fate', but in this context, and aligned to the fact that apparently men in the past had also disappeared, makes this child wonder if the three who have gone to search, could be the next victims. And just to emphasis that possibility, the repetition serves to chill, especially the heart of THIS child. She has now been totally absorbed into the poem.
Finally, the last 4-line stanza reminds us of the ballad form established right at the very outset. The expression, 'ballad form', would probably not have been familiar to an 8 year old nor perhaps would the term, rhythm, but what would have been appreciated would have been the effect of the rhythming structure and the focus on the final word: 'dead'. And on top of all that, to discover that the story was based on fact would have added to the chill. I must also add, thrill, because this child read and re-read the poem and when she discovered, 'The Rime of the AncientMariner', she remembered 'Flannan Isle' and fell in love with poetry.
It begs the question,:do you really need a knowledge of the language of poetic analysis to appreciate a good narrative? Just sit down and read and let your imaginative muse stir your intellectual curiosity.