Monday, 27 May 2013

A2 English Literature: Frankenstein Example Essay (Monstrosity)

Another one mainly for the people on TSR - this is an essay I did back before Christmas on Frankenstein. It received a middle band 6 mark (I wasn't told what mark exactly, just that it was mid-band 6) and wasn't done in timed conditions:

To what extent do you agree with the view that the humans in Frankenstein are more monstrous than the ‘monster’?

Mary Shelley’s ‘monster’, presented through the eyes of Victor Frankenstein as a “miserable wretch”, is arguably not as monstrous as the presentation of humans in the novel. The word ‘monster’ itself has Latin roots, referring to the verb to ‘demonstrate’ or ‘warn’. In this respect, the creature may stand as a warning outside of humanity following Victor’s monstrous act of assembling the creature from human corpses. The journey the creature embarks sees influences through art, culture and literature, and while the creature may initially appear monstrous, it is fair to deduce that the cruelty and barbarity of humans within the novel present them as more monstrous than the ‘monster’ first appears to be.
From his conception, the creature comes across many humans who act barbarously towards him, but none more so than Victor, his creator. Victor’s initial idea for such an experiment can be viewed as monstrous in itself; the act of taking body parts from the dead in order to assemble a brand new creature is from the outset a horrific and very Gothic image, as well as an example of a Gothic protagonist going to extreme lengths to achieve a certain goal or aim. However, it is Victor’s rejection of his own creation that presents him as such a monstrous character. Upon seeing the creature, animated for the first time, Victor notes that “a breathless horror and disgust filled my heart”. It is interesting to note that Victor’s disgust comes purely from the physical appearance of the creature. Shelley juxtaposes a sense of ugliness and beauty in the form of the creature; while it possesses a “shrivelled complexion”, Victor still notes “lustrous black” hair and “teeth of a pearly whiteness”. Victor’s conflicted use of language may suggest that the creature is physically repellent as a liminal stage not only between life and death, but between beauty and monstrosity. It is possible to view Victor’s rejection of his creature as being a comment made upon society by Mary Shelley; the creature is beaten, fled from and rejected simply for what it looks like. In life, this is often the case for those who are presented as physical outsiders, something which Shelley may be criticising.
Developing the potential critique on society, it is interesting to view the ‘humanity’ of the creature in the novel. Despite being initially violent and clumsy, the creature picks up certain aspects of culture and the arts in order to fashion himself into a character who is far more human than first suspected. As the creature recounts his tale in the embedded narrative, the story of his discovery of fire is told. He ponders the contrasts of the warmth and pain that the fire offers: “how strange, I thought, that the same cause should produce such opposite effects!” This may be interpreted as a ‘rediscovery’ of fire and it is arguable that the creature is similarly presented as a new version of humanity, presenting him as more uniquely human as opposed to the barbarity of humans in the novel. The fire may also represent the myth of Prometheus, especially considering the novel was originally referred to as ‘The Modern Prometheus’. The myth tells the story of Prometheus, a Titan who steals fire from the Gods in order to create life. Despite this sounding as if humanity is presented as God-like, the character of Prometheus has been famed for his cunning intelligence and is punished cruelly by the Gods, just as the creature is punished and preyed upon by humanity throughout the novel. It is also interesting to note that in Western classical tradition, Prometheus is often viewed as representative of a desperate quest for knowledge. Although this could also be applied to the efforts of Victor Frankenstein to further his scientific knowledge beyond the realms of apparent possibility, the character of Prometheus may also be relevant to the creature, considering the thirst for knowledge he has throughout his journeys in the novel.
The knowledge the creatures strives and acquires throughout the novel may also suggest that he is more virtuous and humane than any of the humans in the story. Upon observing the lives of the De Lacey family, the creature begins to acquire a thirst for literature, which leads to his interest in texts such as Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, to which he notes “I often referred the situations (…) to my own…” This adds further weight to the interpretation that the creature is viewed as a new and innocent being who is subject to the evils and torment of the world around him. Similarly, after reading Volney’s ‘Ruins of Empires’, the creature ponders how humanity is “at once so powerful, so virtuous and magnificent, yet so vicious and base?” The creature’s interest in literature suggests there is a cultured element to his character, and the questions that arise from what he reads presents the humans around him as “vicious”, which reinforces the notion that the humans in the novel are more monstrous than the creature appears to be. The matter of the creature being ‘virtuous’ ties in with the philosophical ideas that William Godwin spoke of. As Shelley’s father, it is possible that Godwin’s work had some influence on her own; Godwin referred to “universal benevolence”, and suggested that humanity was inherently benevolent, yet corrupted by government and its effects upon society. This suggests that the creature is presented as a virtuous and innocent creature, new into the corrupted world in which the monstrous humans are living in. Before the initial creation, Victor even refers to his creation as pouring “a torrent of light into this dark world”. The Gothic oppositions of light and dark often refer to rationality and irrationality respectively, which may suggest that the creature is representative of rationality and knowledge in an otherwise corrupt and clouded world. Furthermore, the creature says of knowledge “of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind, when it has once seized on it, like a lichen on the rock”. Shelley’s use of simile here shows the strength of which knowledge imprints itself on the creature’s character; his inspired reaction to literature suggests he is more cultured than any of the humans in the novel.
However, it is fair to argue conversely that Victor is also greatly affected by texts, and refers to Agrippa, Magnus and Paracelsus as “the lords of my imagination”. Victor’s passion for the issues surrounding the works he reads is what leads to his creation of the ‘monster’. It is arguable to deduce that Victor’s treatment of his own creation is what leads to the creature being branded as a ‘monster’ to some extent; the creature is born alone and confused into an alien world, and shunned by his own creator. To an extent, the reader may be able to forgive some of the creature’s monstrous acts (such as killing William) due to the fact that the creature has both little understanding of the world and a desire to be treated fairly by the man who created him. The fact that both Victor and the creature show such devotion to texts and literature may suggest an element of Gothic doubling between the two, as if they are two sides of one ‘being’. When looking for the creature, Victor states that he sees his creation as “nearly in the light of my own vampire, my own spirit let loose from the grave”. The Gothic language alone suggests that there is an irrational element to Victor, and it is arguable that the creature represents the more rational and perhaps even more human side to Frankenstein’s persona, whereas Victor is portrayed as the monstrous character; the nature of the quote could also suggest that Victor is referring to himself when he speaks of a “depraved wretch”, which furthers the interpretation that he and the creature are more alike than first thought. The language used by both Victor and the creature also suggests a sense of duality between them; in chapter ten, Victor’s language appears extreme and melodramatic, whereas the creature’s language seems composed and collected. Victor states “the tortures of hell are too mild a vengeance for thy crimes. Wretched devil!” and threatens the creature with “the fierce vengeance of my arm wreaked on your miserable head”. Victor’s extreme and inflammatory language, speaking of ‘hell’ and ‘vengeance’, may present him as something of a vengeful God, who appears enraged at his own creation. This links to the notion of the creature being an ‘updated’ version of humanity akin to Adam and Eve’s story in ‘Paradise Lost’, victim to an angry God who has brought the creation into a corrupt and monstrous world. The creature’s language, in contrast, is eloquently phrased and constructed: “Everywhere I see bliss from which I alone am irrevocably excluded”. Shelley’s use of contrasting language between the creature and Victor strongly suggests that Victor is far more vengeful and ‘monstrous’ than the creature.
In conclusion, the humans in Frankenstein definitely appear more monstrous than the creature. Despite the creature’s initial monstrous acts, and his connections to animalism and the wilderness due to his association with sublime settings, it must be noted that he is a brand new creature in the world, and shunned by the only man who can answer his questions. As the creature grows from an incoherent beast into a cultured being who respects literature and the arts, he appears to rise above the humans in the novel. Victor’s language and the act of his creation present him as a monstrous being in the novel, and as one interpretation suggests as a vengeful God who has unfairly bestowed the innocent creature upon a world populated by unforgiving and in many cases barbaric creatures, who monstrously exclude the creature from society for what he looks like, as opposed to who he is.

A2 English Literature: The Company of Wolves

The Company of Wolves opens with the story of a hunter who tries to kill a wolf that has been terrorising his local town, and then the story of a man who is presumed killed by a wolf and later returns to his family, turning back into the wolf when he sees that his wife has remarried.

The main body of the story, however, starts with a "strong-minded child" who aims to take "delicious gifts to a reclusive grandmother"; the parallels with Little Red Riding Hood are obvious and yet another example of how Carter aims to extract the "latent content" from typical fairy tales.

Carter pays special attention to the fact that the girl is a virgin. She refers to her virginity as an "invisible pentacle"; this mystical imagery suggests an element of inexplicable power surrounding her virginity - her virginity is both liminal and cannot be explained, two prominent features of gothic literature. This also continues Carter's recurring motif of virginity. The narrator in The Bloody Chamber is a virgin, as are the characters in The Courtship of Mr Lyon, The Tiger's Bride and The Erl-King to name a few. Furthermore, in The Lady of the House of Love, the young bicyclist's virginity is also referred to as a "pentacle" - so perhaps it is not female virginity that Carter is highlighting, but virginity itself.

The girl's virginity in this story appears to keep her strong as she walks through the wolf-ridden forest: "she is a closed system; she does not know how to shiver. She has her knife and she is afraid of nothing." There's no doubt at this point that the girl is presented as a strong character. The same cannot be said for the girl in The Bloody Chamber, however. Furthermore, it is said that the girl "knew she was nobody's meat." This directly contrasts with the treatment of the girl in The Bloody Chamber, who is inspected as "cuts on a slab."

I'm not going to go through the story moment by moment and focus on AO2 with The Company of Wolves, because I think it is more important to tackle the AO3 aspects of this story. The story ends with the girl meeting with the wolf who has devoured her grandmother. She removes her clothes and willingly loses her virginity to the wolf - and this appears to be what empowers her. By submitting sexually to the wolf, her life is spared.

This can be argued either way - some will argue that by doing this the ending is feminist and liberating. Others will argue that this belittles the girl's strength and reduces her to nothing more than an object. Perhaps Carter is likening the naked male form to terrifying beasts that prey on the innocent. Are men to be feared and submitted to?

Alternatively, it is possible to argue that Carter is saying that sexuality shouldn't be feared, but embraced. The other characters who become victims of the wolf also seem to be 'victims' of some kind of oppression:

  • The woman in the first tale is attacked by the wolf whilst straining macaroni - perhaps she is attacked because she is oppressed by her role as a passive, domesticated woman (an archetype that fits with the gothic and fairy tale genres)
  • The hermit who is killed by the wolf appears to be oppressed by his servility to God - is the wolf a symbol of freedom or self-realisation, attacking those who are not able to free themselves?
  • The woman who remarries an abusive man is beaten by her husband after he kills a wolf (symbolic of the oppressive man killing the woman's hope at freedom, perhaps). She is servile to her husband
  • The girl's grandmother is servile to God and to domesticity - when the girl enters her grandmother's house, it is interesting to note how Carter pays attention to the fact that "the Bible lay closed on the table"
Yet the girl is not tied down by domesticity, femininity or religion; she is her own person and she makes her own decisions. She even laughs in the face of the wolf as she undresses herself. She is the only character in the story who adapts to the situation in order to survive; she becomes a woman at the hands of the wolf and this arguably reverses the predator/prey dynamic that is so often prevalent in fairy tales. Carter reinvents the fairy tale genre by giving the young child the power to overcome the beast.

One interpretation is that the wolf is a symbol of something that we are all greeted with in life; the chance to realise our own freedom and break free of any restricting forces. Some take the opportunity while others do not. Alternatively, the wolf may be a symbol of humanity's carnal desires (this certainly links to The Tiger's Bride where the titular character becomes a beast by embracing her desires). Therefore the argument that the girl is a strong character seems to have more weight than the argument suggesting that she objectifies herself by using her virginity to survive. 

Sunday, 26 May 2013

A2 English Literature: The Bloody Chamber Example Essay

Below is an essay on happy-ever-after endings in The Bloody Chamber (a question made up by my teacher and not taken from any past papers). I know some of the guys on TSR in particular were interested in examples of band 6 essays; whether you can take anything from this or not I'm not sure, but I thought I'd put it here in case it helps anyone! This essay received full marks:

Carter's stories have happy ever after endings, although these endings are somewhat unconventional. To what extent are the endings feminist in their message?

As a feminist, it is almost to be expected that many of Angela Carter’s happy ever after endings will strike the reader with a bold feminist message. However, in The Bloody Chamber, this is not necessarily the case. Although there are several feminist messages in the stories’ resolutions, these messages are not always presented in the way one would expect, and not every female protagonist is presented as a feminist character. By taking the roles of typically Gothic women and toying with the presentation of female characters, many of Carter’s feminist messages are not as one would expect.
        The eponymous story The Bloody Chamber ends with a sense of resolution, love and happiness. The antagonist of the story is no more, and the narrator is able to live a happy and fulfilling life with Jean-Yves. Whether the ending is truly feminist, however, is open to discussion. In one respect, the actual resolution to the story is all down to the narrator’s mother, who is presented at the story’s climax as an incredibly powerful female figure. Carter uses masculine and bestial imagery to describe the mother, in a way that is not dissimilar to earlier imagery to describe the Marquis. The narrator refers to her mother’s hair as “her white mane”; just as earlier she had referenced the Marquis’s “dark mane”. The juxtaposition between light and dark here is a typical example of Gothic extremes; while the Marquis seems to represent darkness – the supernatural and evil – the mother is associated with the colour white, which often symbolises purity, innocence and rationality. She also refers to her mother as a “wild thing”. Carter also uses the setting to complement the powerful image of the narrator’s mother riding to her rescue. The backdrop of the sea is referred to as “savage”, like “the witnesses of a furious justice”. In Gothic literature it is common for great expanses of nature such as oceans or moors to be referred to in the sublime sense; in this instance, the great power of the sea is merely witnessing the justice that the mother is delivering. It is as though her power is greater than nature itself. Furthermore, the sea is used earlier in the story when the narrator describes the Marquis’s voice as “like the soft consolations of the sea”. It appears as though the male and female dynamics have been shifted with these two direct links to the sea; the Marquis is the one associated with softness and docility whereas the mother seems to be the one commanding the sea and bringing about its true power. In this respect, she is certainly a strong female figure who arguably brings about a feminist happy ever after to the story.
However, the strength of the mother is not the be-all and end-all of the story. Firstly, it is interesting to note that particular attention is paid to the fact that the mother holds the narrator’s “father’s service revolver”. The male figure is therefore not necessarily as absent as one might think; the actual tool that is intended to kill the Marquis is explicitly referred to as the item of a man. Furthermore, it is important to note that the narrator does very little to secure her own safety, and the main resolution of the story is placed in the mother’s hands. The narrator is presented as a very passive character in the denouement of the tale; she is simply saved by her mother and is then able to live out her life in happiness. In this respect it is arguable to suggest that she is not a strong female character or, at least, she is not as strong as the reader may have hoped. Carter also highlights the contrasts between the narrator and her mother. The narrator notes that “on her eighteenth birthday, my mother had disposed of a man-eating tiger”, and juxtaposes this with “here I was, scarcely a penny richer, widowed at seventeen in the most dubious circumstances”. In this respect, the ending is not particularly feminist at all; although the narrator has been saved and is given a happy ending, her role in the climax of the story appears to be similar to that of a typically passive Gothic female character. She is also physically tarnished by the events of her past, noting that “no paint or powder (…) can mask that red mark on my forehead”. Despite the resolution and the fiercely powerful actions of the mother, the narrator is still objectified even after the Marquis’s death; she is branded with his mark, as though she was never really a woman in her own right.
The ending of The Company of Wolves, however, is arguably the story with the strongest feminist message. The girl survives her ordeal with the wolf by embracing the power of her own sexuality, which in turn saves her life and reverses the predator/prey dynamic of herself and the wolf. Even when allowed into the forest where countless others have been killed, the girl “has her knife and she is afraid of nothing”. When the girl arrives at the house of the wolf at the end of the story, she reacts in a way that none of the other victims have acted. She is defiant in her actions and even mocks the wolf; “the girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat”. The fact that the girl does not fear the monstrous and supernatural beast before her is just one reason why the ending of the story is overtly feminist.
       Unlike those before her, the girl is free and liberated thanks to her own sexual awareness. Carter pays special attention to her virginity, and uses mystical imagery such as referring to it as a “pentacle” and a “magic space” to attach a sense of power to it. Unlike the wolf’s previous victims, the girl embraces freedom and liberation. The typically Gothic servile woman who is killed by the wolf is arguably killed because of her position as a stereotypical female; this interpretation is enforced by the fact that she is killed whilst straining macaroni in a typically domestic setting. The hermit is arguably killed because of his servile nature to God, and the grandmother is also servile to both religion and the domestic setting that she appears bound to. The girl, however, is servile to nothing and nobody. Her virginity is not a weakness in the end, but a weapon. When she embraces it, she seems to take on a role that is stronger than the wolf. Carter notes how just the sight of her makes the wolf “slaver”, and she also actively undresses the wolf as well as herself. It is arguable to suggest that the way in which the girl liberates herself is demeaning, however she does not obey the wolf’s orders out of fear or duty; it is as though Carter is saying that sexuality should not be feared, but embraced. The very last line of the story calls the wolf “tender”, and shows the girl sleeping in the bed with the wolf. She is the only one to have survived the wolf, and has done this through allowing him to liberate her – something that the previous victims were unable to do. In this respect, the happy ever after ending to this story presents a strong feminist message.

        In conclusion, Carter’s stories often have an element of a feminist message to them, whether this is the mother being presented as the heroine in The Bloody Chamber, the girl embracing her sexuality and the power alongside it in The Company of Wolves, or other similar instances of females either being able to bring out the humanity of beasts through compassion, such as in The Courtship of Mr Lyon, or embracing their own primal nature, such as in The Tiger’s Bride. However, that is not to say that all of Carter’s stories have a feminist ending. The main character of The Bloody Chamber seems passive in the story’s ending and the mark that stays upon her forehead does not allow for a true sense of catharsis at the end of the story. Carter’s stories are never black and white; there are feminist qualities to many of the happy ever after endings, but not necessarily in the way one would expect.

A2 English Literature: Gothic Protagonists - Victor Frankenstein

Is Victor a Gothic protagonist? Well, yes. And out of Wuthering Heights, Macbeth, The Bloody Chamber and Frankenstein, I'd argue he's the most obvious Gothic protagonist.

These features are often discussed when one talks about a Gothic protagonist:

  • an absolute goal or aim
  • a fascination with the past
  • extremes of behaviour
  • a tragic flaw
  • linked to the supernatural
  • harbouring a huge inner conflict
  • a high social ranking
Victor undoubtedly had an absolute goal or aim - to answer questions of natural philosophy, further modern science and, more specifically, to assemble a living being from dead body parts. This goal appears incredibly important to Victor, and he tackles this ambition of his with "ardour". No boundaries appear to hinder him in completing his task; he refers to it as "the subject in which my interest was so terribly profound." The utter devotion Victor has in doing what he does is typical of a Gothic protagonist; nothing will stop him. 

This links to the tragic flaw which Victor possesses; his over-reaching ambition. Victor is so obsessed with carrying out his goal, it gets the better of him. In his ambition to create the creature he seems to ignore any possible consequences that may greet him. And, as we know, his ambition doesn't account for the deaths of his friends and family at the hands of his own creation. Victor is perhaps too ambitious in wanting to create life. This links to the notion that Victor has a God complex and also breaks many boundaries of moral and social norms, as discussed in the blog post on transgression. Victor's ambition also links to Walton, who frames the entire novel. It is possible to interpret Walton as an earlier version of Victor, a version who isn't yet consumed with the ambition that leads to his demise.

Victor also has a fascination with the past. Natural philosophy, the area in which he is so interested, is dismissed by his father and university professor because it is so outdated. He fuses ideas from the past with contemporary scientific branches of though such as Galvanism. Agrippa and Paracelsus are the "lords of his imagination", and Victor's obsession with these past thinkers leads to his absolute goal and his fatal flaw.

Extremes of behaviour aren't exactly rare in Victor's case. He doesn't really seem to do anything in moderation; everything is obsessive and/or extreme. He talks of Elizabeth obsessively ("my more than sister, since till death she was to be mine only"), he is "trembling with passion" as he assembles his creature, he uses melodramatic language ALL THE TIME ("a blight had come over my existence", "filled my soul with anguish" and "these thoughts possessed me" to name a few) and a lot of his language is contradictory (compare "inexpressible pleasure" with "my sorrowful and dejected mind", for example). 

Victor is also linked to the supernatural through the creature. In fact, the strong evidence which suggests that Victor and the creature are doubles of one another strengthens the association that Victor has with the supernatural. He is also from a high social rank, with many Marxist critics comparing him to the bourgeoisie to the creature's proletariat. 

Then, of course, there is the mass inner conflict that often provides the main hook in Gothic literature. Victor faces many inner conflicts, the greatest of which may be the issue of whether he should create a female companion for his creature, which may lead to "a race of devils", or face more death and sorrow at the hands of the creature. The fact that this conflict, as with many others, is inescapable gives way for a true Gothic protagonist.

A2 English Literature: Frankenstein - Philosophical Context

Before I write all this, I should make it clear that knowing a philosophical context of the novel is not required. It just turns out to tie in AO3 and AO4 nicely if you can apply it to the novel.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that "man is born free but everywhere he is in chains" (The Social Contract). By this, he meant that every human lives their life in a prison of sorts - society is what chains us down. Like many ideas in the novel, Rousseau's beliefs were revolutionary at the time. He believed that the key to freedom lay in individual realisation and emotion. Rousseau also argued that people are at their happiest when they are in their natural state. He said that man should live as a "noble savage".

Is the creature a 'noble savage'? It could be argued that the creature is happiest when he is in his natural state (bounding over mountainous terrain and the like). It could also be argued that Victor is often happiest in his natural state; he frequently isolates himself from others and takes pleasure in placing his solitude within natural or sublime landscapes: "solitary grandeur", "sublime and magnificent scenes", "sublime ecstasy", "terrifically desolate", "perfect solitude", "perfectly solitary" etc.

However, you could conversely argue that although Victor may seem happiest in his natural state, this is not so. Sometimes nature fills Victor with insuperable dread: "I looked upon the sea, it was to be my grave." You could also suggest that Victor is in fact at his 'happiest' in his "workshop of filthy creation"; the place where he trembles with passion and is full of "ardour" - a place far from nature.

Rousseau thought that people should be brought up learning how to live with others and contribute towards a common good, and Shelley may be doing something similar with her presentation of the creature. It is as though the creature is a modern version of the 'first man'; as though society-oppressed humanity is given a chance to start again. The fact that the creature memorably discovers fire at one point in the novel alludes to the early days of mankind. Perhaps the creature is given the chance to start again, but is chained down by the neglectful nature of his creator and the torment of society who persecute him because of his appearance alone. This may link to Rousseau referring to himself as a "frightful creature" when people reacted to his philosophy aggressively, deeming it to be politically threatening.

John Locke, a philosopher frequently associated with the Enlightenment, argued that everyone's life starts as a 'blank slate'. According to Locke, experiences are 'written' upon this slate and eventually form our personalities. Locke stated that people learn through sensation and reflection - "all ideas come from sensation or reflection."

Locke's ideas seem to fit very well with the nature of the creature in Frankenstein. As a bit of AO4 to enforce the Locke view, you can mention the fact that in the winter of 1816-17, Shelley did in fact read Locke's work.

It is coherent to argue that the creature is born as a 'blank slate'; he has no real personality or experiences to draw upon. Then, when we think of his earliest experiences, it makes sense to argue that these experiences (being neglected by his creator and shunned by local villagers) help shape his tormented personality, and perhaps lead to his murderous streak.

The creature's 'blank slate' is overloaded with desires and sensory information - the creature is arguably not monstrous at all, but in fact very human in his development. He 'discovers' fire, as mentioned above, and even looks at his own reflection in water (as Eve does in Paradise Lost) - this links to a very literal reading of 'sensation or reflection'.

However, although we can argue that the creature is a product of experiences, this doesn't necessarily explain his act of kindness in collecting wood for Felix and Agatha de Lacey without showing himself. The creature has had no positive experiences to fall back on, so why did he show such an act of kindness? Perhaps the creature is inherently benevolent, which links to the William Godwin view.

Locke's philosophy doesn't just apply to the creature, however; it can also apply to Victor. It can be argued that Victor's desire to assemble his own creature comes from past experiences. Specifically, the experiences of doubt expressed by his father and M. Krempe alongside his experiences of "Cornelius Agrippa, Albertus Magnus, and Paracelsus ... the lords of my imagination."

William Godwin arguably has his philosophy referenced in the novel, since he was in fact Shelley's father. Godwin, like Rousseau, believed that the government was corrupt; this certainly ties in with the unjust execution of Justine and Victor's criticism of "laws and governments" when he's locked up himself. Godwin also believed that mankind harboured "universal benevolence" and inherently shows love and pity. This clears up the issue of the creature's benevolence in Locke's philosophy; Godwin would argue that we are all born as peaceful, loving creatures. Perhaps Victor is the creature's corrupting force?

Saturday, 25 May 2013

A2 Religious Studies: Miracles

What is a miracle?

Augustine called a miracle:

"The operation of a higher law overriding the natural law."

Aquinas referred to them as:

"A violation of natural law."

C. S. Lewis defined them as:

"An interference with nature by supernatural power."

David Hume, however, completely rejected the idea of miracles. He stated that:

"Nothing is esteemed a miracle if it ever happens in the common course of nature."

In his argument against miracles, Hume proposed five main points:

Firstly, he said that miracles are impossible to prove. One miracle, he argued, is not enough to logically disprove the laws of nature - there is always another explanation
  • Brian Davies criticises this point. He says that when man walked on the moon, that too was one instance of what was previously impossible - but that doesn't necessarily make it untrue
Hume also argued that a miracle has never been witnessed by a sufficient number.
  • Peter Vardy questions this point, asking what number Hume considers to be sufficient. He also criticises Hume for dealing with reports of miracles, unfairly judging them since he had never experienced a miracle himself
Thirdly, Hume argued that religious people have a psychological need to believe in miracles; they are biased, and suspend reason in favour of belief:

"A religionist may imagine he sees what has no reality."
  • Richard Swinburne attacks this point, saying that belief doesn't affect sight - if you genuinely see something, it doesn't reflect your faith
    • Freud would criticise this point and agree with Hume, arguing against miracles from human psychology
Furthermore, Hume argued that miracles happen amongst:

"Ignorant and barbarous nations."
  • Swinburne also criticises this point, calling Hume arrogant
Finally, Hume proposes his conflicting claims argument; if two miracle stories conflict, they cancel one another out.
  • But two conflicting claims may still leave one 'correct' claim?

Theologian Richard Swinburne argues that there are three types of historical evidence to support miracles:
  1. Memories
  2. Stories of others
  3. Physical traces
Peter Vardy supports Swinburne's argument, criticising Hume by arguing that people don't just believe in a faith because of a miracle.
  • But surely the whole Christian faith is based on miracles such as Jesus's birth and resurrection?
John Polkinghorne also supports Swinburne, arguing for an interventionist God. This is rejected by Peacocke and Wiles.

R. F. Holland argues that:

"A coincidence can be taken religiously."

Maurice Wiles is another important name in this topic; although he was religious, he rejected the idea of miracles. This is because he disputed the idea of an interventionist God (a God who intervenes in the laws of nature). Instead, Wiles called creation:

"One single act of God."

Wiles argued that God is transcendent, and that an interventionist God conflicts with the notion of free will

If God intervenes, Wiles argued, why does he only intervene in rare, bizarre cases? Why didn't he intervene in Auschwitz or Hiroshima? He simply calls an interventionist God:

"Implausible and full of difficulty."
  • However, Wiles's beliefs are inconsistent with certain Biblical stories such as Joshua 10
  • Peter Vardy says it is arrogant for us to judge God on what we don't understand
  • Wiles may have missed the point of miracles - they may just be signs of God's existence
  • Swinburne uses the analogy of God being a parent who sometimes bends the rules (in this case the rules of nature) to benefit his children

John Hick stated that we cannot have miracles by definition. He argued that if we change the laws of nature to suit a miracle, the miracle no longer 'breaks' the laws of nature, so it is no longer a miracle.

He responded to the apparent miracles in the Old Testament by referring to them as natural occurrences interpreted religiously. He called the resurrection story, however, a complete myth.

Biblically, Joshua 10 is important to consider when discussing miracles. In the story, miracles occurred as Joshua fought the Gibeonites. It is simply stated that:

"The Lord listened to a man."

The story includes such miracles as giant hailstones falling from the sky and the sun standing still. But are these necessarily miracles?
  • Hailstones - a natural occurrence interpreted religiously?
  • Sun standing still - a basic astronomical mistake?
Luther, however, a fundamentalist, argued that:

"Sacred scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still."

Whereas Bultmann holds a more liberal view, interpreting the events of Joshua 10 as symbolic/metaphorical. 

Arguments for miracles
  1. Some things appear to have no natural explanation, supported by reasonable evidence
  2. If we believe God to be the God of Classical Theism, it is reasonable to accept miracles
  3. The Apparent Coincidence argument states that coincidences may explain one-off events, but not repeated reports of miracles
  4. The Falsification Principle states that we should accept miracles to be true until they can be definitively disproven
Arguments against miracles
  1. Lack of empirical evidence
  2. Assumption that God exists
  3. They defy the laws of nature
  4. Interferes with free will (Wiles)
  5. May be a human way of dealing with the unexplained
  6. Placebo argument
  7. A. N. Wilson refers to miracles as natural events interpreted religiously
  8. Gareth Moore, an anti-realist, simply states that "God is nothing."
  9. Bultmann referred to miracles as myths
  10. Miracles lead to the problem of evil - is God random or biased? How can he allow innocent people to suffer if he is an interventionist?

The following bits are just quotes I researched for a project - they're not necessary, but one or two might be useful to throw in to back up a point...

Lemony Snicket said that:

"Miracles are like meatballs, because nobody can exactly agree on what they are made of, where they come from, or how often they should appear."

Writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky argued that:

"It's not miracles that generate faith, it's faith that generates miracles."

Paul Coelho:

"Miracles only happen if you believe in miracles."

Hypatia of Alexandria once said that:

"Miracles are poetic fantasies."

Thursday, 23 May 2013

A2 Religious Studies: Religious Experiences

Richard Swinburne believes that religious experiences help prove the existence of God. He believes that it is important to categorise the two types of experience:

  1. Public experiences
    1. Ordinary, interpreted experiences such as the beauty of the sky
    2. Extraordinary experiences, such as Jesus walking on water
  2. Private experiences
    1. Experiences that are describable in normal language
    2. Experiences that are ineffable (cannot be explained in language)
More importantly, Swinburne puts forward two principles to support the argument for religious experience:

The Principle of Credulity - if someone appears to be present, it makes logical sense to say that they are so, unless the observer is under particular circumstances (intoxicated, has a mental illness etc.)
  • However, some argue that religion itself is a particular circumstance, and that you are more likely to see things which aren't there if you belong to a religious group
The Principle of Testimony - it makes sense to believe what people tell you, since the majority of people tell the truth.
  • However, this can be criticised as a view that is far too optimistic and idealistic for mankind
Swinburne also argues for the priory probability argument, whereby he states that the probability of the existence of a cosmological God is higher than that of, say, the existence of UFOs, so the likelihood should be taken seriously
  • Antony Flew criticises Swinburne's prior probability argument, accusing him of simply adding up theories to create a 'cumulative case'. Using the analogy of ten leaky buckets, Flew stated that arguments for God make a 'bucket', but the flaws of all these arguments put holes in the buckets; it is pointless trying to fill up a bucket with holes in it!
Another big advocate (and one who should always be mentioned) was William James, who wrote Varieties of Religious Experience. He broadly defined religious experiences as:

"The feelings, acts and experiences of individual men."

James, like William Alston, argued that something is real if it has real effects. We can't really deny that religious experiences have effects on people, so James goes one step further and uses the effects as evidence for the existence of God.

James summed up religious experiences by giving four distinct descriptions (PINT):

P: passivity - you are not in control of the experience
I: ineffable - the experience cannot be described in human language
N: noetic - the experience leads to a greater understanding
T: transient - the experience is temporary

This is similar to the Martin Buber belief; Buber spoke of "I-thou" experiences, calling all experiences personal one-to-one conversations with God
  • Nicholas Lash rejects James's view that experiences are directly personal, arguing that experiences are about experiencing God through pattern setters
    • Peter Vardy rejects this view, calling him an anti-realist
William Alston argued that experiences are non-sensory; God is spiritual, and cannot affect people physically. Similarly, R. Otto argued for numinous experiences, saying that God is transcendent and so he can only affect us by filling us with a sense of awe. He called this:

"Mysterium tremendum"
  • Kant criticised this view, stating that we cannot use our senses to experience God, since he is in the noumenal world whereas we're stuck in the phenomenal world
A major criticism on the argument from religious experience is the argument from psychology, advocated largely by Sigmund Freud. Freud called religious experiences wish fulfilment, referring to religion as:

"A universal, obsessional neurosis."

He argued that religious experiences stem from the primal horde theory. This theory states that every society consists of a 'primal horde' of people who gather around a single dominant male. Freud argued that the male will inevitably be killed out of jealousy, leading to feelings of guilt. These guilty feelings pass down through history into people's unconscious minds

According to Freud, males focus their guilt onto a totem animal. They pray to this totem and sacrifice animals to appease it in order to gain a sense of atonement for what they have done. Freud likened his totem idea to the act of communion, and said that God is the ultimate totem.

Freud also outlined the structure of the psyche: the id (primitive desires), ego (rationality and reflection) and superego (moral compass). 

He drew a comparison between religion and his famous Oedipus complex, in that God acts as a replacement father figure. He also suggested that people turn to religion out of a fear of death, an argument supported by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins.
  • Michael Palmer criticises Freud, asking how the Oedipus complex applies to religions where people believe in multiple gods. He says that in Freud's argument:
"All evidence is discredited."
  • Paul Vitz takes Freud's logic and argues that atheists are simply rejecting their father figure by not believing in God
  • Anne Marie Rizzuto argues that Freud has not removed the illusion with religion, but has replaced religion with an illusion
Carl Jung, another psychologist, also argued that religious experiences were not evidence of God's existence. However, Jung differed from Freud and argued that, as an agnostic, religion is actually positive. He referred to God as a universal archetype, and said that a belief in God is part of the collective unconscious which all humans share. He called religious experiences natural processes, and argued that faith can help combat psychological problems.

Antony Flew proposed the vicious circle argument in opposition to the argument from religious experience. He argued that everything which we are is based on something else; x leads to y, which in itself enforces x. A religious belief, Flew said, enforces a religious experience, and vice versa. 
  • However, this doesn't account for a) people of one religion having religious experiences relating to different religions or b) people converting to religion without having a religious experience
David Hume put forward the conflicting claims argument to oppose the argument from religious experience. He simply argued that two opposing religious experiences cancel one another out and discredit them. He called this:

"A triumph for the sceptic."

  • But two conflicting religious experiences still leaves the possibility of one being correct
  • J. Smart argues that all experiences come from the same God, but are merely interpreted differently
Criticising the argument from religious experience, Karl Marx put forward the sociological argument, stating that religion is merely a way to oppress and alienate lower classes.

Marx gave four particular images to enforce his argument:
  1. Humans are in flower-covered chains - religion oppresses us, even if it seems to comfort us
  2. Religion is a false sun - it appears to give light and clarity, but does not
  3. Religion is "the opium of the people."
  4. Religion is "the sigh of the oppressed."
Similarly, Edwin Starbuck argued that religious experiences are often down to social pressures.
  • However, Marx's argument was proposed in a time where many religious organisations were corrupt, which arguably doesn't apply to modern world religion
Corporate and Individual Experiences

In the exam, a question may ask about how valid corporate or individual religious experiences are. Corporate experiences are experiences that happen in public places to several people. One of the best examples of this is the Toronto Blessing of 1994, whereby many people who visited a Pentecostal church went through strange religious experiences, from speaking in tongues (glossolalia), to laughing hysterically, to barking like dogs.

  1. Corporate experiences are more numerically valid
  2. They often show shared feelings and responses, which are more valid than individual experiences
  3. Suggests that experiences come from God, not individual imaginations
  • Taking the Toronto Blessing as an example - why would God show himself by making people laugh hysterically and bark like dogs?!
  • Hank Hanegraaff argues that such phenomena are the result of mass hypnosis
  • William Sergeant argued that mass religious conversions are down to conditioning
  • Christian psychiatrist John White refers to corporate experiences as:
"learned patterns of behaviour"

Individual Experiences

Individual experiences are self-explanatory... they relate to the Swinburne and James view.

  1. Corporate experiences can be described as being down to 'mass hypnosis'
  2. They can be authenticated personally
  3. They are less likely to be conditioned
  • Don't appear as valid as corporate experiences
  • There are often no witnesses to these experiences
  • Lack of empirical evidence
Speaking in Tongues/Glossolalia

Glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, is a particularly well-known form of religious experience, whereby people slip into an indistinguishable language (adhering to the view that such experiences are ineffable) and appear possessed by God's grace.

Biblically, speaking in tongues wasn't uncommon. It happened to the Gentiles and the Disciples
  • Emil Kraepelin referred to people who speak in tongues as schizophrenic, calling it unhealthy
    • This is refuted by John Kildahl, who said that glossolalia is actually good for stress relief
  • Goodman, who studied glossolalia, argued that when people speak in tongues, they are simply in a trance
    • This is refuted by Samarin, who criticised Goodman for only looking at one group in his study
In 2006, the Newburg's Study was founded to investigate the phenomenon of glossolalia. But don't get too excited, because the study eventually deduced that the experience is real to the person (so James would argue it is therefore real) but not necessarily real in itself. Newburg himself said:

"The question is still left open."

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A2 English Literature: Liminality in Gothic Literature

Liminality is a significant element of Gothic literature, and comes from the Latin word 'limen', meaning 'threshold'. And, as the translation suggests, it refers to someone or something being on a boundary between two things - often two extremes. It's like a transitory, 'in-between' state between two things. Manuel Aguirre (Liminal Terror: The Poetics of Gothic Space), a literary critic, cites liminality as a defining feature of Gothic literature.

Liminality in Wuthering Heights

Heathcliff is an incredibly liminal character. Even the latter half of his name, 'cliff', is a liminal setting: a place between land and sea. Furthermore, the name Heathcliff is not his own, but the name of a deceased child in the Earnshaw family. The fact that this unknown stranger is given the name of somebody who is dead immediately presents Heathcliff as a character who is between life and death. Also, Heathcliff is often seen as an antihero, as are many Gothic protagonists. This very title is liminal; is he a hero or is he a villain?

Furthermore, Heathcliff is referred to as a "gypsy". Gypsies are typically outsiders, and Heathcliff appears to be an outsider as well as an 'insider'; he literally spends much of his time indoors in the latter stages of the novel, and aims to usurp Wuthering Heights.

When Lockwood first encounters Cathy, who he seems to be mildly obsessed with, it can be argued that he describes her in liminal terms, since she is "scarcely past girlhood". Furthermore, he notes how her eyes "hovered between scorn and a kind of desperation." Cathy, like her mother, never appears to fit into one category or another.

The moors, which are mostly associated with Heathcliff and Catherine, are a liminal setting, since they lie between Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange; a neutral place for the characters.

The use of Nelly as a narrator and character is liminal, since she both observes and participates in a lot of the novel's action.

Throughout the novel, windows are presented as liminal boundaries. Not only are windows liminal in that they are between the inside and outside, they are also symbolically liminal in the novel. Lockwood encounters Catherine's spectre as "a child's face looking through the window". This arguably presents the window as a liminal symbol between life and death, or the natural and supernatural. Later, Heathcliff tells Nelly of how he and Catherine observed the opulent interior of Thrushcross Grange by peering through a window; here the window may be symbolic of the liminal stage in-between civility (Thrushcross Grange) and incivility (Heathcliff and Catherine). Later, Heathcliff expresses how he had "intended shattering their great glass panes"; an example of how, as a Gothic protagonist, Heathcliff wishes to break boundaries and cross thresholds.

Isabella asks Nelly, "Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?" This puts Heathcliff on the liminal stage between man and monster. Which is he? This particular sense of liminality is also covered heavily in Carter's The Bloody Chamber.

Catherine dies and Cathy is born in spring. Spring could be argued to be a liminal season that celebrates the transition between death and new life, which can be linked to the two characters.

When Cathy calls Hareton a "dunce", she describes his facial expression in a liminal way that mirrors the liminal description Lockwood employs when talking about her in the opening chapters: "The fool stared, with a grin hovering about his lips, and a scowl gathering over his eyes ... whether it were not pleasant familiarity, or what it really was, contempt."

Lockwood simply states that, "I should hardly know who was dead, and who was living." This sums up liminality within the novel; the boundaries between life and death are blurred, and many characters sit on the fence between the two, it seems.

When Catherine is on the brink of death after starving herself, she cries out, "'the clock is striking twelve! It's true, then; that's dreadful!'" By 'that's true', she's referring to an earlier assertion that the room is haunted. As a time, midnight is as liminal as it gets; not quite one day, not quite the other.

Liminality in Frankenstein

Frankenstein's creature is certainly liminal in nature; he is between life and death as well as the natural and supernatural. In fact, when Victor first starts creating the creature, he is subject to very liminal thoughts. He states that "life and death appeared to me ideal bounds", and notes how "sometimes, on the brink of certainty, I failed." The creation is neither a success nor a failure; it didn't go how Victor had planned, but it didn't fail catastrophically since he was able to create life from assembled body parts.

Another character who is on the boundary between life and death at one point is Justine: "The poor victim, who on the morrow was to pass the awful boundary between life and death..."

Victor is often closely linked to the Gothic convention of the sublime; as Edmund Burke notes in On the Sublime and Beautiful, sublime landscapes can often fill a protagonist with feelings of awe and dread. When Victor refers to "the awful and majestic in nature", this adheres to the sublime as well as liminality; Victor's perception of the world around him seems influenced by his own inner turmoil.

And Victor's inner turmoil is very liminal in itself. Throughout the novel, Victor never really falls into one extreme; he usually hops between two extremes like a typical Gothic protagonist. Is Victor good or evil? He certainly thinks he's aiding the world when he makes he creature, yet at the same time he neglects the sentient being that he creates. If Victor was inherently good or evil, the novel wouldn't be as interesting. It certainly wouldn't be as Gothic. The fact that he falls between the two mirrors his inner conflict; the conflict that is typical of Gothic protagonists.

Similarly, the creature is never either good nor evil. We often sympathise with him, since he is alone, neglected and tormented for his appearance. But at the same time he isn't totally innocent; he still murders young William, Henry and Elizabeth. And when he murders Elizabeth, he appears take genuine joy in doing so - this is confirmed when he basically tells Walton what a laugh it was killing Victor's bride. The creature refers to himself as "thy Adam", but also notes that "I considered Satan the fitter emblem of my condition". So which is he?

Furthermore, like in Wuthering Heights, Shelley uses the motif of windows to symbolise liminality. The creature is seen grinning through a window on two notable occasions: when Victor is assembling the female creature and just after the creature has killed Elizabeth. The grin itself is a motif of the creature's, but the windows seem to represent the liminal barrier between Victor and the creature. Do the windows act as a mirror, highlight the notion that the two are doubles of one another? It is also interesting to note that in the latter case, the window is open, just as the window is left open when Heathcliff falls to his death at the end of Wuthering Heights. What does this mean? Is the barrier broken between Victor and the creature? Are they now as 'one'?

The setting whereby Victor assembles the female creature is also liminal, since it is between the land and sea. Referring to the sea as an "insuperable barrier", Victor later dumps the body parts of the creature's companion in the ocean. He also spends a lot of time out at sea, referring to the scene as "perfectly solitary". This is linked more closely to the sublime, but it's still an interesting setting that mirrors Victor's liminal state.

Finally, as the creature bids Walton farewell, Walton notes a "sad and solemn enthusiasm" in his voice. The creature is both miserably alone and triumphant - he stands between the two.

Liminality in Macbeth

Macbeth opens with three very liminal characters - the witches. Although the witches are inherently supernatural, they seem to rest on the liminal line between worldly and otherworldly/male and female. In 1,3, Banquo notes that the witches "look not like th'inhabitants o'th'earth, / And yet are on't". He also points out that "You should be women, / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so." The witches seem to lie between all the extremes. They're between what is human and inhuman; if one argues that the witches are merely a product of Macbeth's innermost desires, we could draw links between their liminal nature and the liminal nature of Macbeth's character.

Macbeth himself, like Victor and Heathcliff, is a liminal character because he is never quite inherently good or evil. He may seem evil at times, but we still have excuses to fall back on - Lady Macbeth's influence, perhaps, or the fact that Macbeth's most unforgivable crimes coincide with his descent into madness. He is hugely conflicted, and nothing is black and white: "This supernatural soliciting / Cannot be ill; cannot be good."

Lady Macbeth is also a very in-between character. She rests between the natural and supernatural, especially when she pleads with the spirits to "unsex me here". She's not as blatantly supernatural as the witches, for example, but she's not your average rooted-in-the-natural-world Lady Macduff, either.

The walls of Macbeth's castles can also be considered liminal. The outside world is one of order and justice; battles are fought fairly, nature is in its place and everything's peachy. Within the castle, however, we've got schemes, duplicity, deception, the supernatural, ghosts, apparitions, murder and all sorts. The actions of what happens within the castle (such as Duncan's murder) influence what happens in the natural world (such as the violation of nature).

Liminality in The Bloody Chamber

A lot of the liminality presented in The Bloody Chamber links directly to the Gothic convention of metamorphosis. The metamorphoses typically presented show the transformation between man/beast or character/setting in the collection. Often, characters appear to be stuck within the liminal stage between the two extremes.

In The Bloody Chamber, the Marquis certainly appears to be in the liminal stage between man and beast. His "leonine" head and "dark mane" make him sound as though he is part lion, and yet his eloquence and personable qualities seem to show a more human side to him. It is as though Carter is exploring the 'beast' within mankind; perhaps the leonine aspects of the Marquis are representative of his carnal desires. This is certainly true of The Tiger's Bride, whereby the transformation the female protagonist goes through into a tiger herself seems to be representative of her embracing her true beast-like nature.

In The Erl-King, the titular character seems to be part-character, part-setting, since he is both a physical being and the forest in which he lives. Carter uses personification such as "the stark elders have an anorexic look" to draw comparisons between his character and the setting, highlighting how he is neither one nor the other.

The Lady of the House of Love tells the story of the Countess, the "beautiful queen of the vampires", who seems to be both a predator and a victim. At night she hungers for men, but by day can be heard "sobbing in a derelict bedroom". She is a victim to her own condition. This is very liminal; we have sympathy for her character because she cannot help who she is or what she does. She is beautiful yet horrific at the same time: "she is so beautiful she is unnatural; her beauty is an abnormality". Furthermore, Carter describes her as "both death and the maiden"; the Countess covers two extremes, resting between the two to provide us insight into a tormented life. 

A2 English Literature: Transgression in Gothic Literature

A key feature of the Gothic genre, and one that applies to all four texts I'm covering (Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, The Bloody Chamber and Macbeth) is transgression. Transgression, put simply, is the violation of a particular societal, moral or natural law. Put simply, it is breaking boundaries - or breaking rules of society. Gothic fiction frequently deals with transgressive protagonists, and many Gothic themes stem from transgression. Miller (critic) refers to transgression as "the dissolving of normative boundaries".

Wikipedia (don't knock it) defines transgression as:

"a genre of literature that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual and/or illicit ways. Because they are rebelling against the basic norms of society, protagonists of transgressional fiction may seem mentally ill, anti-social, or nihilistic."

Transgression in Wuthering Heights

In Wuthering Heights, there's a lot of boundary-breaking. Certain characters exceed what is usually expected of them in society.

It can be argued that Catherine is a transgressive character, since she breaks the boundary that was expected of women in her time. Catherine is presented as a violent character considering that she is a lady of the early Victorian era; when she is a child she asks her father for a whip as a gift, and when she is older she 'boxes' her soon-to-be husband Edgar and bites Nelly's hand. This behaviour is both extreme (an aspect of the Gothic) and transgressive, since it shows her as breaking the boundary of what is expected of women at the time. Yet it is also interesting to consider how obsessed Catherine appears to be with her status in society, marrying Edgar because he is wealthier than Heathcliff. On the one hand, she adheres to society's norms. On the other, she rebels against what society expects of her.

It can also be argued that Cathy, her daughter, is a transgressive character, which may also link to the theory that Cathy is another 'version' of Catherine, as though one lives on through the other. Stating, "'I gave him a cut with my whip'", the symbol of a whip is seen to apply to both characters and highlights Cathy's violent nature. Furthermore, just as Catherine attacks Edgar, Cathy pushes Linton. This behaviour is not expected of either character, and shows how they are breaking free from societal norms.

Heathcliff is probably the most important character to focus on when discussing transgression. Heathcliff breaks several boundaries throughout the novel. His very nature is transgressive; he is by no means gentlemanly, even after his mysterious three-year absence. Heathcliff is wild and untempered, as well as incredibly violent. When he hangs Isabella's dog, for example, he is breaking the boundaries of what is expected not just from a gentleman of the time, but from any moral and rational human being.

Furthermore, Heathcliff and Catherine both break a significant boundary: the boundary of death. Their love (which breaks boundaries in itself, since Heathcliff is named after Catherine's dead sibling and is raised as her brother) is so powerful it transcends death (as we learn when stories are told about people seeing the two as ghosts wandering the moors) - a typical example of how powerful transgression is in the novel. This transgressive love also leads to more transgressive behaviour from Heathcliff. Heathcliff breaks many societal and moral boundaries when he "disturb[s] the dead", as Nelly states. Opening Catherine's coffin and claiming her face is "hers yet", Heathcliff immediately breaks boundaries of what is expected at the time. And digging up your dead girlfriend certainly wasn't expected at the time, for some reason.

And the end of the novel, though, as with many Gothic novels, the transgression appears to be resolved, and natural order is restored. People are at peace, Cathy and Hareton are happy, and Heathcliff and Catherine also seem to have found peace in death.

Transgression in Frankenstein

One of the greatest types of transgression that applies to this novel is Victor's moral transgression, by rebelling against God. By creating his creature and using science to create life, Victor is actively going against what people at the time believed to be God's work. This relates to Shelley's use of intertextuality with Milton's Paradise Lost, whereby the creature refers to himself as Adam - "I ought to be thy Adam..." and likens Victor to a vengeful God.

Furthermore, the means in which Victor assembles the creature (grave robbing, more or less) links to the societal transgression seen when Heathcliff disturbs Catherine's grave in Wuthering Heights. Victor's actions also demonstrate a sense of scientific transgression - the fact that he uses science as the means to an immoral end. His transgressive personality also links to his excessive and extreme behaviour, which are other typical elements of a Gothic protagonist.

Also, throughout the novel Victor appears to neglect his family and his creature, which could arguably be another example of breaking the normal family ties that are to be expected of such a man. He even neglects his soon-to-be-wife, treating her as a correspondent rather than a companion, as Veeder argues.

The creature also breaks many boundaries - by murdering William, Henry and Elizabeth he breaks a hell of a lot of moral boundaries, for starters. More implicitly, though, the creature breaks boundaries by default of his nature. He is on the liminal boundaries between life and death and the natural and supernatural.

The novel also appears to be something of a warning against transgression. Think of where Victor's transgressive nature takes him; he dies alone and bitter after his family and friends have been killed at the hands of his own creation. Nothing good comes from his transgression whatsoever, and it is the core of what makes the novel so Gothic in nature.

It's important to remember that the novel has the subtitle of The Modern Prometheus; Prometheus was famously punished for exceeding boundaries, namely by being tied up and having his liver pecked out by an eagle every day, only for it to grow back. Victor also warns against transgression when he sees something of himself in Walton and tells him the dangers of over-reaching ambition, which once again links to the intertextual references made to Samuel Taylor Colderidge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Victor is cursed, and warns others against what he did.

Transgression in The Bloody Chamber

There is a lot of transgression in Angela Carter's collection, mostly thanks to the violently sexual nature of many of the stories. Several characters break moral and societal boundaries thanks to their obsession with death, sex or both.

In The Bloody Chamber, the Marquis breaks moral and societal boundaries by fusing erotic love with death (a literary device called Liebestod). His bloody chamber, a "room designed for desecration", hides the corpses of his previous lovers. By murdering people, he breaks a significant boundary. By combining a sexual element with death, he expands his transgressive nature and tackles several taboos head-on. The way in which he breaks free from society is disturbing and unnatural to say the least. Yet, as with many Gothic stories, his evil is punished when he is murdered by the protagonist's mother, and a sense of resolution is present at the end of the story.

In The Snow Child, the Count breaks more boundaries, and in a more disturbing way, than perhaps any other Gothic character across the four texts. Once the child of his desire is dead, he has sex with her corpse. This fuses rape, incest, necrophilia and paedophilia in just a matter of sentences. The Count's carnal desires lead to this shocking and horrifying sense of transgression. This is also an example of how Carter takes transgression and modernises it, as she does with the Gothic genre itself; we are, as readers, more liberal than we were hundreds of years ago, so digging up bodies and seeing women being violent isn't as shocking to us nowadays. By tackling modern taboos, however, taboos that earlier texts daren't cover, Carter is sure to reinvent the Gothic to make it all the more horrifying for us. Interestingly, the Count isn't punished in this short tale; the only punishment he seems to get is the fact that the omniscient narrator snidely remarks "he was soon finished" (don't mention that in the exam, it's just a funny little 'owch!' moment. Carter is once again modernising the Gothic, and in a way just being realistic; the villainous, transgressive characters aren't always punished.

In The Lady of the House of Love, however, the transgressive titular character despises her own nature. She breaks moral boundaries by murdering young men, and is by nature resting on the boundary between what is natural and what is supernatural: "she is so beautiful she is unnatural." The Countess is 'punished', but only by her own conscience. Death seems to be a release for her when she is kissed by the young bicyclist.

Transgression in Macbeth

Macbeth himself breaks obvious moral boundaries when he orders the killing of many innocent people, such as Lady Macduff and her son. Yet before his reign of terror begins, Macbeth violates a much greater boundary at the time of writing: the divine rights of kings. By killing Duncan, Macbeth is indirectly rebelling against God, which links to the moral transgression explored in Frankenstein. Macbeth appears to break any and every boundary in order to achieve his own aim: to have power.

Lady Macbeth is also a transgressive character. She actively defies what is expected of her as a woman of her time by being involved with supernatural forces, patronising and condescending her husband, manipulating her husband, being blatantly duplicitous and getting involved with Macbeth's scheming. Yet it is arguable to suggest that Lady Macbeth is somewhat redeemed in the reader's eye before her death; her transgressive nature is immoral to some, yet she does seem to show genuine remorse and guilt when she descends into madness. Macbeth, on the other hand, is punished when he is killed, yet his sense of redemption is arguable. As a Gothic protagonist (in a pre-Gothic text), we should feel a slight bit of sympathy for him even at the end of the play, and to an extent, we do. Both characters are punished, and the play ends with a sense of the natural world being restored as Malcolm is given his rightful seat on the throne.

Yet it is important to remember that transgression isn't necessarily a sign of an inherently evil character. Heathcliff, Catherine, Victor, the creature, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and the Countess all still have aspects of their characters that we can sympathise with, even once they've broken their various boundaries.

A2 English Literature: Women in Macbeth

In this post, as with pretty much all posts about Macbeth, I will of course be relating certain things back to typical Gothic conventions. However, whenever you talk about Macbeth you have to make sure that you tell the examiner that you are aware that Macbeth is a pre-Gothic text. This post primarily focusses on Lady Macbeth and also briefly considers Lady Macduff's role in the play.

Lady Macbeth

In typical Shakespearean tragedies, female main characters aren't always treated brilliantly. In Hamlet, Ophelia goes down the "I shall obey, my lord" route. In Othello, Desdemona goes down the "To you I am bound" route. Yet in Macbeth, this isn't quite the case. The most important female figure is Lady Macbeth, a cunning and manipulative woman who is associated with the supernatural. Instantly it can be argued that Lady Macbeth fits in with the later idea of certain Gothic women being 'sinister predators', or 'femme fatales'.

Dame Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth
Lady Macbeth has been the subject of much debate for hundreds of years. Her role in the play is incredibly important and she is the subject of various interpretations.

Her first appearance in the play is in act one, scene five. She opens by reading Macbeth's letter; instantly this seems to present her as a typical Shakespearean woman (when I say typical, I mean typical in terms of main female characters in tragedies being passive), since her first words are that of her husband's, as though she is bound to him. Then she stops reading the letter, and we start to realise that she isn't at all typical.

She instantly states that Macbeth will be "what thou art promised", which shows a determination and strength of will that we may not have been expecting. She goes on to criticise her husband's nature, since he is "too full o'th'milk of human kindness". A wife criticising her husband's nature, whether she is alone or not, wouldn't be hugely popular in Shakespeare's time, let alone in medieval Scotland where the play is set.

The phrase "I may pour my spirits in thine ear" seems very witch-like, and there are many critics who argue that Lady Macbeth is something of a 'fourth witch'. This interpretation is enforced by what is possibly her most well-known speech, whereby she pleads "you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here". This links Lady Macbeth to the witches, who, as Banquo notes, "should be women, / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so." I cover the role of the witches in more detail here.

The witches seem to blur the boundary between male and female, just as Lady Macbeth is blurring boundaries by asking spirits to remove her gender so that she can persuade Macbeth to kill Duncan and seek greatness. As soon as she does this, typical female imagery is violated: "Come to my woman's breasts, / And take my milk for gall..." - this also juxtaposes the "milk of human kindness" that is used to describe Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth's association with the supernatural violates her expected role as a domesticated and passive woman; she is immediately going against all socially expected norms, adhering to the later Gothic convention of transgression. But the fact that Lady Macbeth seems to have to call upon spirits to remove her gender suggests that the role of women at the time is restrictive - no 'ordinary' woman could do what Lady Macbeth tends to do, so she must call upon supernatural forces for help.

Her language in this speech is interesting, and characterises her as strong-willed and determined, contrasting Macbeth's "rapt" nature and his various asides in the preceding scenes. Shakespeare includes various imperatives in Lady Macbeth's language, such as "come", "stop" and "take", suggesting that she has control over her situation. Some of her language is typically gory and Gothic in nature: "make thick my blood", "pall thee in the dunnest smoke of Hell".

Then, Macbeth enters, and Lady Macbeth echoes the words of the witches; this gives weight to the interpretation that she is a 'fourth witch'. In 1,3, the witches say:

"All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis! /
All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Than of Cawdor! /
All hail, Macbeth! That shalt be King hereafter!"

In 1,5, Lady Macbeth says:

"Great Glamis! Worthy Cawdor! / Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter!"

Furthermore, these words are the first words that Macbeth hears from the witches and his wife in the play. They speak immediately to his desires - there's really no holding back.
Kate Fleetwood as Lady Macbeth

When Macbeth starts talking to his wife, Shakespeare's use of indents when Lady Macbeth speaks suggests that she is interjecting him - something that would be frowned upon at the time. It is as though she has power over not just their conversations, but their relationship. This presents her as even more powerful, considering Macbeth is the "brave" and "noble" warrior who can do all sorts of nasty stuff on the battlefield. 

Lady Macbeth tells her husband to "look like th'innocent flower, / But be the serpent under't." This immediately brings in the theme of appearance versus reality, and highlights Lady Macbeth's duplicitous nature. Furthermore, this quotation has contextual significance; after the quashing of Guy Fawkes's Gunpowder Plot, King James I was awarded with a medal that presents a serpent hiding beneath a flower. By comparing Lady Macbeth to such a contemporary atrocity, Shakespeare is sure to present her as villainous. 

Furthermore, the word 'serpent' has Biblical connotations, and relates to the serpent in Genesis - the serpent that tempts Eve to eat the forbidden fruit, and as a result leads to the downfall of mankind. Is Lady Macbeth the serpent? If so, is Macbeth Eve? A subtle reversal of gender roles could be argued for here, a violation of both fixed boundaries and social norms.

But why? Why does Lady Macbeth seem so interested in persuading Macbeth to kill Duncan? Is it for her own benefit or for his? This whole aspect of her character is great for AO3:
  • Perhaps Lady Macbeth is a selfish, power-driven villain who manipulates Macbeth so that she can attain greatness and become the queen
  • Perhaps she wants the best for her husband, and manipulates him into murdering Duncan so that he can become the king, which he deserves
  • Perhaps she notices that Macbeth secretly desires to be king, and persuades him to seek out his desires and fulfil his ambition? (this is the interpretation that I usually go for)
Victoria Hill as Lady Macbeth
In 1,7, Macbeth expresses doubts about murdering Duncan (fair play, divine rights of kings and all), and Lady Macbeth comes along and pretty much tells him how ridiculous he's being. She opens with a rhetorical question that is condescending in nature: "Was the hope drunk / Wherein you dressed yourself?" This demeaning attitude is really not what was expected of women at the time - and if that's not bad enough, she openly challenges his manhood:

"When you durst do it, then you were a man; / And, to be more than what you were, you would / Be so much more the man."

Then, she mentions that "I have given suck", letting the audience know that Lady Macbeth has at one point been a mother. Shakespeare's use of violent and shocking imagery distances us even further from Lady Macbeth:

"I would, while it was smiling in my face, / Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums, / And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you / Have done to this."

By presenting Lady Macbeth as a maternal figure, and then violating this role so horrifically, Shakespeare is warping the expected roles of women. This also suggests that her "unsex me here" speech has been successful; what true mother could say such a thing about her child? Surely the spirits must have succeeded in removing her gender?

AislĂ­n McGuckin as Lady Macbeth
2,2 is an interesting scene in developing Lady Macbeth's character. She continues to be the leading force in her relationship with Macbeth; Macbeth's first four lines in the scene are questions - it is his wife who gives the answers. She continues to demean him, saying "A foolish thought, to say 'a sorry sight'" in response to Macbeth, and she condescends him by saying "I shame / To wear a heart so white.

As the play goes on, Lady Macbeth seems less and less in control of the situation herself and her husband are in. In 3,2 there is an absence of her rhetorical language and evocative imagery. She seems to be consoling her husband, telling him "what's done, is done" and speaks to him as though she is more of a typical wife of the time than a cruel villainess: "Gentle my lord, sleek o'er your rugged looks, / Be bright and jovial among your guests tonight.

It could also be interpreted that this is the moment in the play where Macbeth actually takes over the power in his relationship. He is now the one dismissing his wife condescendingly, calling her "dearest chuck" and telling her to "be innocent of the knowledge". This presents the two as more of a typical couple of the time. Lady Macbeth also speaks less in this scene, which contrasts the amount of speech assigned to both characters in previous scenes.

In 3,4, Lady Macbeth appears to be demeaning her husband again, challenging his manhood by asking, "Are you a man?" However this time, Macbeth's answer is more assertive: "Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that / Which might appal the Devil." This scene is pivotal because we are made aware of the extent of Macbeth's guilt and inner conflict through the presentation of Banquo's ghost. Is this the point of no return for Macbeth? Perhaps his wife's influence on him is now redundant. 

Francesca Annis as Lady Macbeth
The first scene of act five feature a Doctor and an Attendant. The two characters are discussing the fact that Lady Macbeth has been sleepwalking, something the Doctor puts down to "a great perturbation in nature" - this links to Macbeth violating the divine rights of the king. In literature, sleep is often associated with innocence, which is unlike what we've seen of Lady Macbeth so far. The Attendant tells the Doctor that she will not tell him what Lady Macbeth says when she sleepwalks, which suggests that she may be confessing her guilt regarding her role in Macbeth's usurpation. Sleepwalking is inherently very Gothic: it has connotations of madness, surpasses the boundary of sleep and is liminal in nature - not quite awake, not quite asleep.

Lady Macbeth enters, in her sleepwalking state, "holding a taper" (a taper being a long, thin candle). Perhaps this is symbolic of Lady Macbeth bringing light to the situation. By bringing light into darkness (two Gothic extremes), is Shakespeare suggesting that Lady Macbeth is expressing guilt? The Attendant notes that "she has light by her continually"; perhaps there is an element of innocence behind the apparently villainous character. 

Then we hear Lady Macbeth uttering the infamous line, "Out, damned spot; out, I say!" as she tries to scrub invisible blood off her hands. To highlight the fact that she has now descended into madness, Shakespeare puts Lady Macbeth's speech in prose - which is often associated with lower class or mad characters. Everything she does here juxtaposes her earlier presentation; she is not in control. 

She openly seems to express guilt for the death of innocent people: "The Thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now? / What, will these hands ne'er be clean?" The blood of Macbeth's victims is on her hands. Even if some argue that Lady Macbeth 'bullies' her husband into murdering Duncan, is it fair for her to carry the guilt for his other murders? 

Her attitude here directly links to line said by Macbeth in 2,2. Macbeth says:

"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand?"

Judi Dench as Lady Macbeth
Both characters experience their guilt at different times. Macbeth, however, carries on, assuming that a reign of tyranny will rid him of his guilt and help establish his power. Yet for Lady Macbeth, the guilt consumes her; it makes her ill, mad and, if one reads her ambiguous death in a certain way, suicidal.

When Macbeth learns of his wife's death, he says "Out, out brief candle!" This contrasts Lady Macbeth's desire to have light by her side in the scene before her death. Perhaps this is what separates the two: Lady Macbeth ended up trying to bring light (clarity, rationality) to the world, whereas Macbeth is merely interested in extinguishing light (obscurity, irrationality, taking people's lives). 

In Malcom's final speech, Lady Macbeth is referred to as a "fiend-like Queen". A couple of exams back, the Macbeth question focussed on this phrase. Is Lady Macbeth truly a fiend-like Queen?

  • Yes - her selfish desire for power inadvertently causes the deaths of many
  • No - she merely persuaded Macbeth to seize his desires, and was unfairly caught up in the repercussions of his actions
  • Somewhat - she initially desired power, but later openly regretted her actions and motives (something that arguably cannot be said for her husband)
Lady Macduff

The other main female character in the story is Lady Macduff, who appears to be the Gothic archetype of a 'trembling victim'; a passive woman who seems to be the opposite of Lady Macbeth. Seen only in one scene, Lady Macduff refers to herself as "the poor wren / (The most diminutive of birds)". This bird imagery roots Lady Macduff in the natural world and also presents her as a weak, passive character. She also calls her son "Poor bird!" The mother/son relationship here is obvious, visual and loving. Yet Lady Macduff's role as a mother comes in one grotesque line, where she tells Macbeth she would dash her newborn son's brains out for his love.
Peggy Webber as Lady Macduff

Lady Macduff is killed as soon as her scene is over, albeit off-stage. Is the Macduff family relationship only included by Shakespeare to contrast with the dysfunctional Macbeths? (Dysfunctional is putting it lightly.)

As I mentioned above, the witches also come into the 'women' category in the play (just), and my post on them can be found here.