Let’s explore how Herman Melville shows the differences between good and evil in his masterpiece Moby Dick
In Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby Dick the author is eager to tell us a tale of good and evil. These two opposing forces are represented everywhere throughout his story, the vying battle between the two is the back bone of the entire novel. Good versus evil, love against hate, forgiveness or revenge, they are all explored throughout its many pages. This is one of the reasons for its enduring popularity amongst readers.
Some readers consider the great Moby Dick to be the character best placed to represent the evil force. Yet this whale, no matter how huge and scary is still simply that, a whale. He is an animal with no conscious ability to be rational, he is simply an animal living within his natural habitat.
So for me the obvious representation of evil is Captain Ahab. Ahab’s entire world is seeking out the whale that dismember him many years ago. He is a man consumed by one single goal, a goal to bring about death to a creature that has no understanding of what is happening. Captain Ahab is a man possessed by the idea of killing the great white whale, and he doesn’t care what happens as long as that end goal is achieved.
Yet Ahab is also not a one dimensional man, he is a tortured man. He is certainly not a cardboard figure of evil. “Once the captain throws his pipe overboard, he takes a turn for the worse,” here Melville is showing us that the Captain has become so overwhelmed with his need for revenge on Moby Dick that he no longer enjoys little acts, such as his pipe, as he once did.
Yet we must also remember that Captain Ahab leads his entire crew – baring Ishmael – to their death, for nothing more than petty vengeance. The true evil in this novel is the very human traits of stubbornness and obsession. A sentient and conscious man is willing to throw away everything to wreak his vengeance upon a creature who acted simply out of instinct and not malice.
The presence of good is shown in the novel most clearly in the character of Queequeg, who was once a barbaric cannibal but who now embodies the ideals of ‘Christianly’ behaviour more than any of the other men aboard the Pequod.
While Ishamel and Queequeg’s relationship starts off with a brawl and attempted murder at the Spouter-Inn, it quickly turns into a beautiful friendship.
The reader gets to see the true heart of Queequeg for the first time when the two men fall asleep beside one another. When the two awaken the ‘savages’ arm lies draped across Ishmael in an affection manor, or as Melville describes it, as if Ishamel were “his wife”.
Queequeg also shows incredible modesty when dressing in the morning ing, even attempting to hide himself as he pulls on his boots. This moment shows the two sides of Queequeg, the savage and the civilised man: “if he were a savage he wouldn’t consider boots necessary, but if he were completely civilised he would realise there was no need to be modest when pulling on his boots”.
While this theme of friendship becomes less prominent once the Pequod unfurls its sails Queequeg does still save Ishmael’s life, albeit indirectly. Yet he also saves two other men from drowning while acting as harpooner aboard the vessel.
Queequeg’s presence within the novel slips as it draws towards the great climax as Melville begins to darken the tone and focus upon the aggression and hatred of the captain. However, his greatest action occurs at the novel’s finale.
While suffering from a fever Queequeg believes he is at deaths door and asks the ship’s carpenter to construct him a coffin in the form of a canoe to remind him of home. The coffin is not needed however as Queequeg makes a full recovery, it therefore becomes the ships new life-boat, which in turn is the only thing that allows Ishmael to survive Moby Dick’s attack and the Pequod’s demise.
Melville also shows us how good and evil can manifest itself through the journey of ones life. For instance Queequeg lived a life of bliss on the island of Kokovoko where he was the son of a King, yet he hated the life of idleness and insisted instead on becoming a whaler and exploring the world, the pampered life was not for him. Ishmael similarly wanted to see the rest of the world, not to escape idleness but instead to combat the early stages of a creeping depression. All of this is in stark contrast to Captain Ahab who’s sole reason for the journey was revenge, cruel and selfish revenge. Ahab is swept up in his manic desire to kill Moby Dick and the end result is a grizzly and unnecessary demise for his whole crew.
Overall Melville does well to give us good and evil characters with layers and depth. Captain Ahab has all the characteristics of a tragic hero, he has a great heart but tragic flaws. Yet it is his final actions and manic obsession with revenge that destroys his heart and leaves him simply as a flawed and hate filled villain. Queequeg on the other hand may appear to be a savage but his heart stays pure and he has a truly noble spirit.
Melville shows us that we cannot simply judge a person by their appearance, that titles and riches do not matter, it is only the heart that can be judged to show ones true self.
The epic tradition represents a record of heroic actions that were once celebrated through song and folktale. Examples of epic stories that started out as folklore and were then written down are the epics of Gilgamesh and Beowulf.
The epic tradition includes key elements such as the epic hero and the form of an epic poem, which thus provides the rhythm which made it easily able to be sung. The epic tradition has influenced fiction over time, and certain elements can still be found in modern fiction today although altered as times have changed.
A key aspect of the Epic tradition as shown in both Gilgamesh and Beowulf is that of an Epic hero. An epic hero is ‘a brave and noble character in an epic poem, admired for great achievements or affected by grand events: Beowulf, an epic hero with extraordinary strength’ (dictionary.com).
The Epic hero has to be someone of high status, preferable a royal and they must have aspects of greatness and superhuman qualities, such as great strength and courage, and in the case of Gilgamesh, the epic hero has connections to the Gods, showing the hero to be above all others.
The epic hero also has to in some way achieve greatness within the story, Gilgamesh for example changes drastically from being a mean and uncaring king, to becoming great and compassionate by realizing the importance of love and loss and Beowulf begins as a highly regarded prince and by the end he has become legendary by his brilliant courage in defeating the evil of the world.
The epic hero features prominently in mythology, such as in the two Greek poems The Lliad and The Odyssey with the epic heroes, Achilles and Odysseus, both central figures in the Trojan War. These two are key examples of epic poetry in ancient literature.
Further aspects of the epic tradition is the fact that stories such as Gilgamesh and Beowulf weren’t written for the purpose of being a novel, but instead were simply a story or folk lore which was told and passed down through generations, and often recited to music until finally being written down. This means that the story has no determinable author and is told as a third person narrative. The story is also not set out as a novel but as more of an epic poem told in a refined manner. As the stories of the epic tradition were primarily for oral transmission they include long speeches and often the story is told through a series of flashbacks.
This means that the stories do lack description and imagery which are fundamental aspects of modern novels, and instead were written as more of a chronology of events and facts and was written as evidence of heroic actions.
The epic tradition has had great impact on modern literature. All novels have a hero, and although they are no longer what one would call epic, as they are not necessarily of high status or do not possess superhuman qualities they are still heroes.
In Shakespearean plays, there are tragic heroes, which contrast to the epic hero, as the tragic heroes usually start off great but through their own flaws they become tragic and fall from their heroic status. Although tragic heroes in Shakespeare’s plays are not exactly the same as the epic heroes, the epic narratives and heroes have greatly influenced the plays as they all centre around one hero, a hero that like that of the epic narratives, is of a high status.
Although the tragic heroes have flaws and at times do bad things, they are essentially good and essentially heroic in the outcome. The tragic hero of Hamlet although different from the epic hero of Beowulf, still achieves a form of greatness by exposing his murdering uncle.
The tragic hero is also represented in the novel of Frankenstein. The influence of the epic tradition on modern literature can also be seen in the story of Robinson Crusoe, as you see a man exert extraordinary courage and strength to survive in a hostile environment, much the same as the epic heroes of the past.
However in the case of Robinson Crusoe, the hero is a sailor and not someone of noble birth or high status. This represents the changes in society at the time the novels are written. In modern times an average man or ‘underdog’ achieving great things is considered more epic than someone of a privileged status. However although Gilgamesh was a noble who was two-thirds God he himself much like the tragic heroes had flaws which meant that he was not very liked and could even be viewed as a villain at the beginning of the story.
But whereas the tragic heroes begin as respected and then are brought down by their mistakes, Gilgamesh learns from his mistakes and after a heroic quest he becomes a hero worthy of the name. The way in which the heroes are represented and the journeys they take determine the differences between the epic hero and the tragic hero.
Slave narratives were a powerful tool in abolishing the slave trade and were significant in creating a voice for the slaves and showing the human experience of slavery. An important slave narrative is that of Linda Brent synonym Harriet Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
She was a slave who struggled for years against her oppressive master and bravely ensured both her own and her children’s freedom. Within this slave narrative Harriet challenges conceived notions of the importance and justification of slavery and pro-slavery ideas. She challenges the religious morality of the slave-owners, their view that slaves were inhuman and the treatment of female slaves.
Harriet and her fellow slaves are represented as the subaltern subject, a group suppressed by a dominant other, ‘in the context of colonial production, the subaltern has no history, and cannot speak, the subaltern as female is even more deeply in shadow’ (Spivak 1988: 28). Harriet is fighting against her oppressors so as to ensure her freedom and save other slaves from the ‘grasp of demon slavery’ (Jacobs 1861: 27).
A key pro-slavery idea challenged by Harriet Jacobs is that of religion and the slave-owners belief in their religious superiority.
When colonising America in the 17th century the colonists felt themselves to be morally superior to that of the natives and justified colonisation by saying the natives were heathens due to their lack of religion, and so it was the colonists’ duty to teach the natives their religion as they were viewed as immoral.
This view was still held by the slave-owners and whites in South America in the 19th century. This act of controlling the subaltern subject through religion is known as hegemony. ‘Hegemonic means of social control, whereby marginalised and suppressed peoples are encouraged to accept the ideas and values of the dominant classes’ (Ransome 1992).
However as shown by Harriet Jacob’s the business of slavery was a contradiction to religious teachings, ‘slaveholders pride themselves on being honourable men… to hear the enormous lies they tell their slaves you would have small respect for their veracity’ (Jacobs 1861: 21). Jacobs talks about how the slave-owners justify their actions by demonising the slaves and seeing them as ‘merely a piece of property’ (Jacobs 1861: 3).
The Black Writers Guild has called for sweeping changes in the UK publishing industry
Yet it is the slave-owners who are represented as morally corrupt and how religion is a mere chore to them, ‘she was a member of the church; but partaking of the lord’s supper did not seem to put her in a Christian frame of mind… she could sit in her easy chair and see a woman whipped, till the blood trickled from every stroke of the lash’ (Jacobs 1861: 4).
This shows the hypocrisy of slave-owners that they preach to others that they must be Christian and yet so casually disregard it themselves. The roles between the slaves and the colonists/slave-owners have now reversed, the slave-owners are now viewed as the beasts and the slaves are shown to have more Christian feeling, ‘It was a beautiful faith coming from a mother who could not call her children her own’ (Jacobs 1861: 7).
The use of sarcasm is rife within Harriet’s narrative as she challenges the lies surrounding the religious superiority of the slave-owners and their families, ‘The honour of a slaveholder to a slave!’ (Jacobs 1861: 1) she feels there is no honour on the side of the slave-owner who is more concerned with money that the treatment of fellow human beings.
Another pro-slavery idea challenged by Harriet Jacobs is the idea that the slaves were inhuman. It was believed they were beneath the human race and so the slave-owners felt it morally acceptable and even encouraged to treat them in such a barbaric way, ‘regard such children as property, as marketable as pigs on the plantation’ (Jacobs 1861: 17).
The slave owners felt that the slaves were incapable of human emotion and so therefore they should have no human rights. Jacob’s challenges this idea and states the slave-owners to be the violent ones, they are the ones who lack human emotion and by showing both her own and her fellow slaves human emotions through her writing she contradicts this belief, ‘this poor creature had witnessed the sale of her children… without any hopes of ever seeing them again’ (Jacobs 1861: 68).
By showing the pain and emotion of the slaves Jacob’s tries to break through the curtain of lies that shroud slavery, ‘the secrets of slavery are concealed like those of the inquisition’ (Jacobs 1861: 17), and to gain sympathy from the reader and support for abolition. ‘What mockery it is for a slave mother to try to pray back her dying child to life! Death is better than slavery’ (Jacobs 1861: 31) this shows the sheer desperation of the slaves, that they would rather their child die than live through the pain they suffer.
The stereotypes of the slaves and the supposed ‘superior race’ have once again been reversed with the slave-owners exposed to be the ones who are inhuman. Jacobs refers to the lack of humanity and emotion showed by the slave-owners towards the slaves, ‘I would shoot him, as I would a dog’ (Jacobs 1861: 20), exposing how through their prejudices they have become blind to the basic rules of humanity and the respect you should have for a fellow being.
Mary Prince, a fellow slave writer also conveys a sense of pain in her narrative and urges with the readers in England to no longer be ignorant to slavery and to help the abolitionists to free the slaves, ‘Oh the horrors of slavery!–How the thought of it pains my heart! But the truth ought to be told of it; and what my eyes have seen I think it is my duty to relate; for few people in England know what slavery is. I have been a slave–I have felt what a slave feels, and I know what a slave knows; and I would have all the good people in England to know it too, that they may break our chains, and set us free (Prince 1831: 11).
Slave-owners were viewed as the honourable sect of society who maintained the hierarchy of race by controlling those who they saw as beneath them. They hid behind this disguise of honour whilst promoting the business of slavery. However this idea of honour is laid bare in Jacobs’s narrative as she exposes the truth, ‘my master began to whisper foul words in my ear’ (Jacobs 1861: 13) and the true treatment of slave girls at the hands of their so called upstanding masters is revealed.
An exploration of the methods used to assert control by the pigs in George Orwell’s political allegory, Animal Farm.
In the 19th century women were viewed as delicate beings that needed to be sheltered and protected, a stark contradiction to the treatment of slave girls, ‘women were seen as needing social and moral protection from male tyranny. This was not compatible with the ‘physical brutalization of females and…[the] disregard for black motherhood and maternity’ (Beckles, 2000: 173), ‘women are considered of no value, unless they continually increase their owners stock. They are put on a par of animals’ (Jacobs 1861: 24).
Female slaves suffered from the double negative of black race and female gender which only created more issues with how the readers viewed her credibility, ‘the reception of Incidents arrested to the continuing difficulty of Jacob’s, or any black woman writer’s, gaining an audience: faced with the “double negative” of black race and female gender’ (Garfield, Zafar 1996: 4).
The “double negative” also contributed to the treatment she suffered at the hands of her masters, ‘slavery is terrible for men; but it is more terrible for women’ (Jacobs 1861: 39). The slave-owners would often berate their slaves and justify their actions by claiming the slaves to be beasts and yet they were the ones who abused their slaves in a beastly manner, ‘peopled my young mind with unclean images, such as only a vile monster could think of’ (Jacobs 1861: 13).
Jacobs states how slavery is not a positive influence on the white race as the slave-owners would have them believe, but is instead a curse, ‘I can testify from my own experience… that slavery is a curse to the whites as well as the blacks’ (Jacobs 1861: 26), slavery is turning them into monsters who disregard their religion and their humanity, ‘the white-faced, black-hearted brother’ (Jacobs 1861: 36).
It is also spoken of how the slave-owners treat their own children who are conceived out of their disgrace, if the child has a slave mother then it must ‘follow the condition of the mother’ (Jacobs 1861: 21) and be ‘reared for the market’ (Jacobs 1861: 26). Showing a distinct lack of feelings towards their own flesh and blood on the part of the slave-owner. However the rule that the child follows the ‘condition of the mother’ only applies if the mother is a slave because if the mother is white and the father is a slave then ‘the infant is smothered, or sent where it is never seen’ (Jacobs 1861: 26) showing a complete disregard for the commandment thou shalt not kill.
Most female slaves were not even allowed to act like mothers to their own children, ‘I longed to be entirely free to act a mother’s part towards my children’ (Jacobs 1861: 86), and there was indignation on behalf of the slave-owners wives that slaves should be allowed to do so, ‘considered it alright and honourable for her, or her future husband, to steal my children; but she did not understand how anybody could hold up their heads in respectable society, after they had purchased their own children’ (Jacobs 1861: 72).
This represents how warped the minds of the slave-owners and their families had become when they felt they had more right to own another being than for them to be with their families, a basic human right.
Harriet Jacobs’s narrative challenges fundamental pro-slavery ideas and aims to abolish the business of slavery. Her narrative however can be viewed as subjective and therefore biased causing the readers at the time it was published to question its authenticity.
At the time of the publication of slave narratives there was a stigma that slave writers were melodramatic in their accounts and so the readers often failed to believe them continuing their support for slavery ‘Jacobs.. had to contend with a sceptical readership that said her work could not be “genuine” because of her emphasis on the domestic, her “melodramatic” style and her unwillingness to depict herself as an avatar of self-reliance’ (Garfield, Zafar 1996: 4).
To try to connect with the reader and to convince them of her narratives authenticity Jacobs speaks directly to the reader, ‘I am telling you the plain truth’ (Jacobs 1861: 17) and states that ‘I do not say there are no humane slaveholders. But they are like angels visits- few and far between’ (Jacobs 1861: 25), showing she is not biased against all slaveholders just those who violate the very core of humanity.
Harriet writes that she knows the readers will not believe what she says, ‘the wrongs, the vices, that grow out of slavery, are more than I can describe…greater than you would willingly believe’ (Jacobs 1861: 13) she states they will not believe her as they cannot possibly know what it is like to be a slave, ‘O virtuous reader! You never know what it is to be a slave; laws reduce you to the condition of chattel… subject to the will of another’ (Jacobs 1861: 28).
Jacobs also questions the authenticity of pro-slavery writings, she speaks of how their writing is deceptive and do not show the true reality of the life of a slave, ‘men go to see slave-owners and encounter favourite slaves in comfortable huts’ and they complain of the ‘exaggerations of abolitionists… what does he know of… girls dragged down into moral filth? Of pools of blood around the whipping post?’ (Jacobs 1861: 38).
She shows herself to be in contrast to pro-slavery writers to be writing a stark and truthful account of the barbaric nature of slavery, not shying away too much from topics such as rape which was not something women were supposed to mention in the 19th century regardless of their status, ‘for the female slave to give a first-hand account of her personal experiences was to contradict nineteenth-century ideas regarding the ‘privacy of “woman”’ (Fisch, 2007: 232).
There is also in parts a lack of evidence such as letters which had been sent to Harriet from her master which were lost but this lack of evidence could of discouraged belief in Harriet’s narrative, ‘absence of materials, may be due to the highly contested theoretical and methodological problems relating to the study of the subaltern subject – problems that are further exacerbated when the subaltern is female’ (Morton 2012).
The editors comments at the end of the narrative also tries to provide Harriet with credibility helping to show the readers that her account is honest and not a fabrication, ‘the author of this book is my highly- esteemed friend’ (Child 1861: 304) showing that she has trust in the writer and therefore so should the reader.
This is also the case with the narrative of Mary Prince, for whom the issue of authenticity was also a problem with many not believing her account, likely due to the fact that she like Harriet was a female slave writer. The editor therefore states that, ‘the narrative was taken down from Mary’s own lips… no fact of importance has been omitted, and not a single circumstance or sentiment has been added.
It is essentially her own, without any material alteration farther than was requisite to exclude redundancies and gross grammatical errors, so as to render it clearly intelligible Pringle 1831: i).
Slave narratives like that of Harriet Jacobs were used as a tool by abolitionists in their campaign for abolition and were used to reveal the experiences of the slaves, ‘the narratives quickly became the movement’s most essential texts, providing eyewitness accounts of slavery’s brutal reality’ (Fisch 2007: 28).
Jacob’s not only challenges pro-slavery ideas such as religious superiority, the dehumanisation of slaves and the treatment of female slaves, but she also challenges the very principals of the slave-owners and their complete lack of humanity.
An exploration of the methods used to assert control by the pigs in George Orwell’s political allegory, Animal Farm.
George Orwell’s Animal Farm explores the Machiavellian way in which politicians are able to abuse their power to dissolve a democracy and create a totalitarian regime in its place.
But just how are the pigs able to maintain their power?
From the outset of the rebellion it was violence, or at least the threat of it, that the pigs used to further their own agenda. However, while the attack dogs keep the other animals obedient this physical intimidation doesn’t prevent silent dissent, or the whispered questions about Napoleon’s actions and motives.
To neutralise this threat to his and the other pigs power Napoleon relies on something more subtle than violence. He uses rousing slogans, phrases, and songs to instil a sense of patriotism and camaraderie amongst the animals.
On Animal Farm it is language and rhetoric that are the most effective tools at the pigs disposal for social control.
Crucially the pigs realise that the songs and slogans must be simple to memorise and easy to repeat so the other animals are able to internalise their principles.
When written commandments prove difficult for some of the animals the pigs transform them into one brief catchphrase that they repeat everywhere: “Four legs good, two legs bad.”
You might also be interested in our review of Animal Farm
Animal Farm is an allegorical tale about intelligent animals that overthrow their ruling farmers and set about creating a society of equals. Yet this co-operative doesn’t quite work out as well as it did on paper. You see some of the animals recieve a bigger share of the spoils than others do and some of … Continue reading “Animal Farm by George Orwell Review”
This slogan inspires loyalty and commitment towards the pigs, and fear against the humans. This blind commitment and loyalty to the pigs is most strongly emphasised in Boxer, the cart-horse. Boxer constantly reaffirms his loyalty with the slogans “Napoleon is always right,” and “I will work harder.”
These slogans become increasingly effective to the point that they are used by the animals as a means of self-policing. During a protest against Napoleons decision to sell farm products to humans it is not the “tremendous growling from the dogs,” that calms the angry voices, what breaks the tension is when the sheep begin to recite the mantra “Four legs good, two legs bad!”
During this key scene Orwell explicitly contrasts the strength of brute force with the power of language, demonstrating that while violence may work in the short term, it is only language that can create lasting affects.
The importance of language within the pigs regime is shown with the powerful role given to Squealer, the spokespig of the authorities, and the presence of Minimus, the government poet pig.
Alongside the songs, poems, and commandments, Napoleon and the rest of the pigs also use language in the form of oral and written histories of the Farm to maintain their authority.
As soon as Napoleon violently seizes power he uses language to justify his actions and secure his own position. He denounces his former ally and fellow revolutionary, Snowball, calling him a human sympathiser and an enemy of the animals.
This story of Snowball’s betrayal is told again and again until Snowball’s role in the revolution and founding of Animal Farm is erased from history.
Somehow even though many of the animals remember Snowball being given a medal for his bravery in the Battle of the Cowshed, Squealer convinces them he actually fought alongside Mr Jones against the animals.
The ever loyal Boxer struggles to believe this lie when first told, though he is convinced with the intervention of Squealer who tells him that Napoleon knows it to be true. “Ah, that is different,” exclaims Boxer. “If Comrade Napoleon says it, it must be right.”
When the pigs eventually move into the farmhouse Squealer makes some revisions to the commandments to better benefit the pigs and their new found luxuries. The commandment “No animal shall sleep in a bed” to “No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets,” while the rule about drinking becomes “No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.”
Even the mantra that had so effectively created loyalty is changed, becoming the wildly different “Four legs good, two legs better,” until it ultimately becomes the famous quote, “All animal are equal, except some are more equal than others.”
Even when Squealer is caught changing these commandments the animals don’t suspect anything, the power of the pigs rhetoric and language has made them blind to the obvious truths.
The other animals have been brainwashed by the pigs use and implementation of language, so much so that even when the pigs have their dogs slaughter dozens of animals for colluding with Snowball their actions aren’t questioned, especially once the sheep begin their bleating of “Four legs good, two legs bad.”
Yet language is not always used in a negative way in Animal Farm. Old Major’s rousing use of “The Beats of England,” initially leads to the overthrow of the tyrant Farmer Jones and the creation of their own government.
Yet as Orwell shows language can be used for insidious purposes. Napoleon seizes control and uses language for the purposes of social manipulation and control.
The most important lesson he leaves us with is that rhetoric is often more powerful than state-sanctioned violence or the threat thereof.
A monster is most often defined as a “large, ugly, and frightening imaginary creature.” Most often in literature the main character of the story is a good guy, a man or woman who goes against evil to destroy a villain or monster. And yet despite the fact that the creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a quintessential example of a monster, big, ugly, unnatural, it is in fact Victor, the main character who is the true monster. But can we really dismiss his creation as no monster? I don’t think so.
Victor is the one who wished so much to create unnatural life that it ultimately led to the deaths of everyone he loved so dearly.
Some people argue that the creature is the monster of the story based upon the way he looks, he fits the criteria sure but Frankenstein is a novel about the inner reality of a soul, it is a story about how the actions not the physical appearances of people make them monsters or not.
Yet in most analysis of the text the creation is referred to as Frankenstein’s monster, that is his most common label. After all his description is horrifying, “His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries, his hair was of a lustrous black, his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriance’s only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.”
This is a classic example of judging a book by its cover. We, just like the society in the book only see the scary and monstrous aspects of the creature and did not think to judge him by what he was on the inside, within that most horrifying of extremities. Someone who is newly born cannot be evil, they do not know right from wrong, they do not understand the world around them.
The creation is shown to be fascinated with the world, with nature specifically, “I started up and beheld a radiant form rise from among the trees. I gazed with a kind of wonder. It moved slowly, but it enlightened my path.” This is the moment when the creation shows his curiosity for the first time, by allowing us to heart his wonderment through his own words Mary Shelley shows us that he is not a monster, he’s more accurately a child.
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (most commonly referred to simply as Frankenstein) by Mary Shelley is an old classic of Gothic literature.
We are even shown that he is capable of being good by performing helpful deeds such as gathering wood. It is quite clear that if he had been taught and nurtured he could have been brought down the right path and found his place within society.
At one point he takes a families wood cutting tools and brings them back an ample supply of firewood, an act of pure kindness, “I discovered also another means through which I was enabled to assist their labours. I found that the youth spent a great part of each day in collecting wood for the family fire, and during the night I often took his tools, the use of which I quickly discovered, and brought home firing sufficient for the consumption of several days.”
At his most basic the creation has a personality that cares for others and craves their acceptance within their lives. And yet no matter how many acts of kindness he performs nobody is willing to accept him within their society, he is always judged by his looks alone and not by his deeds or actions, “he dashed me to the ground and struck me violently with a stick.”
Those were the actions of a family the creature had grown to love from a far, the family he would chop wood for secretly so they never went cold, and yet they were terrified by what they saw, they could not bring themselves to look past the outside to the kind hearted person within.
Mary Shelley gives us the false impression that the creation is the monster of the story, but of course that is not true. Victor is a selfish man whose rejection of his creations leads to his own demise and that of his family, he is the monster of his own creation, he is the true villain.
When the creature is first born his introduction into our world is cruel and unforgiving. His creator, and more rightly father, is horrified by him and abandons him immediately, which for a being of new life is terrifying.
This was not a creature born evil, he was simply a product of Victors unwillingness to accept the truth about his experiement. He tries to reach out to other people, to find the comfort and companionship he should have had from Victor. All he ever wanted was to be accepted, and his one true chance at that was taken cruelly away from him when Victor destroys his companion, “The wretch saw me destroy the creature on whose future existence he depended for happiness, and with a howl of devilish despair and revenge, withdrew.”
It was this harrowing death that pushed the creature to his breaking point. Throughout his entire life he had never known one single act of kindness, he had known only disgust and hatred, based on nothing more than his appearance.
The creature deals with Victor in kind and kills his beloved wife Elizabeth.
Something can not be created evil. It is the surroundings and environment within which they are raised that ultimately influence their behaviour. And we see first hand the creature turn from a kind hearted individual into a killer.
Shelley shows us quite clearly that people focus too much on whats on the outside and forget to look at whats on the inside of another person.
Victor was a reckless monster driven by his own passion and ambition, instead of truly thinking about the ramifications of his actions he focused on his desire to be famous.
When Justine is accused of murder Victor stays silent, he doesn’t tell the truth and take responsibility, he allows another to take the fall, and when the creature threatens him on his wedding day he thinks not of Elizabeth but of himself.
Victor describes his own creation as an animal, he never once looks at it as if it were human. But he’s not the only one to reject him.
The creatures entire life is filled with societal rejection and hatred, and we are able to understand, though not justify, his extreme actions in retribution, after all it is societies fault that he is led to the actions he commits.
When he is on his own the creature is a kind individual, he saves a little girl from drowning and he helps a family survive the harsh winter. But he is not seen as the hero he is but as a monster, and it is that fear and hatred leads to the creation of a monster to rival his creator.
The creation certainly did not wish to be born to be evil, he did not wish to be born at all, yet so many literary experts say that simply because of Victors horrible actions his creation is not a monster, as if excusing his actions. They are both monsters, they are both evil, why cannot that be so? Society turned the creature into a monster but I argue it did the same for Victor. He sought approval and fame, shallow things yes but things that society encourages and rewards. They were both corrupted by the same thing, the views of others.
Vampires have enjoyed something of a renaissance in modern literature and one of the main reasons for that is the sexual nature of what is otherwise a monster from the depths of mankind’s nightmares
Vampires have enjoyed something of a renaissance in modern literature and one of the main reasons for that is the sexual nature of what is otherwise a monster from the depths of mankind’s nightmares.
If we look backwards in time at the first proto-literary vampires they may not have been unable to engage in ‘normal’ sexual activity like their modern day counterparts, but they certainly were not asexual creatures as some people would believe.
To understand the sexual nature of vampirism we really need to look closely at arguably the greatest masterpiece within the entire genre. I am of course talking about Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The sexual nature of vampires is first seen within those pages when Jonathan Harker encounters the three vampire brides who reside within Dracula’s Castle. Harker openly describes the brides as sexually appealing, ” I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with their red lips.” Stoker also described the three brides as sensual predators whose bites were more akin to a kiss. One of the women even anticipated the biting of Harker with her own desires, “He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.”
An even more obvious allusion to the sexual nature of vampires is given when Lucy Westenra, one of the novels ‘good’ women, becomes distracted by the presence of Dracula. During a sleep walking incident Lucy is found by her friend Mina being fed upon by the Count. This begins Lucy’s transformation from a prim and proper lady of the day into what is described by some as a “sexual monster.” As the vampire took a hold of her Lucy took on a most unladylike voluptuousness that was unbecoming of the period.
Not only this but on her death bed Lucy requests that her lover, Arthur, give her a kiss, when he leans in however she attempts to bite him. Yet its within the blood transfusions meant to save her life that Stoker truly shows his understanding of the sexual nature of the vampire. While never able to consumate his love for Lucy Arthur muses that by sharing his blood with her they have at least, in the eyes of God, been married.
Yet it was not Lucy that was the true goal for Dracula, that dubious honour was held by Mina, an honour that led to the most sexually charged scene of the novel. When Van Helsing realises Dracula’s intentions he calls together the men of the novel and they quickly make for her bedroom. Bursting through the door they discover Dracula sitting on the bed and forcing the poor women to drink his blood from a ragged tear upon his chest.
Dracula does not respond well to the interruption. “His eyes flamed red with devilish passion….” Once he was driven away and Mina realised what had occurred she felt violated and vowed never to “kiss” her husband again.
Stoker will no doubt have taken inspiration, at least somewhat, from the Eastern European vampire lore, including their beliefs as to the vampire’s sexual nature. In southern slavic lore for instance it is believed that when suspected vampire corpses are dug up many will have an erection.
In Gypsie folk lore they too thought of the vampire as a sexual entity. The male vampire for instance was believed to have a sexual appetite so strong that it alone would prove powerful enough to bring the creature back from the grave. His first act upon reawakening would be to return to his widow and engage in sexual intercourse, an activity that would continue nightly, leaving the poor widow exhausted and emaciated.
The more modern interpretation of vampires as young handsome men may take inspiration from the Russian folklore which described the vampire as a young handsome stranger who would lure unsuspecting women to his bedchamber. This tale was used to frighten and curtail the more adventurous of a towns youth.
The original vampire in literature can be found in “The Bride of Corinth” which drew heavily from an ancient Greek tale of a woman who died a virgin and returned from death to enjoy the sexual proclivities of her parents house guest.
Clearly vampires have been creatures of a sexual nature since the human mind invented them. Yet it is only in the modern stories that the sexuality has become so overt.
Carol Fry, author of the compelling article “Fictional Conventions and Sexuality in Dracula”, pointed out that Dracula was also being depicted as a staple of nineteenth-century books, the rake. The purpose of the rake within books was simply to torment and distress the good ladies of upright society. In many ways the stereotypical rake was very much like a vampire in their demenor and actions. In many tales falling for a rake would leave a female character as contaminated as “morally depraved”. Just like this sociatal label of depravitiy Dracula leaves behind his own contamination on the innocent women who fall beneath his charms.
When the creature was brought from the page to the stage Dracula took on a new life. No longer was he relegated to the background he inhabited in the novel, now he was front and centre, a place where it was much easier to understand the romantic appeal of the creature. However it was Christopher Lee and his set of fangs that truly brought the charming romance of Dracula to the mainstream when the count hit the big screen in 1958.
While it was arguably Lee and his portrayal of Dracula that really showed us the sexuality of the vampire he wasn’t the first to do so. In Dracula’s Daughter (1936) a female vampire seduces a young model with a charged sexual appetitie hitherto unseen from the vampiric species.
As human society continued to evolve and sexual proclivites became more normalised it was soon the turn of the vampire to be turned into a semipornographic feature by the French director Jean Rollin. It wasn’t long before other directors released equally risque material around the vampire mythology.
While the vampire continued down this adult orientated genre for some years it was not until the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer was released that it really gained momentum.
But thankfully it was not the adult film industry that helped redefine and mold the evil monster of the gothic era into the often romantic lover that we see today though. It was books and mainstream films that created the idea of a vampire being not just sympathetic but often times even a hero.
We can give much of the credit for this new form of vampire to Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Saint-Germain, who emerged from the pages of the novel not as a blood sucking monster but as a man with convictions and morals, and of course the captivating sensuality that many of his forebears had shown, sometimes he even fell truly in love.
While Germain was unable to have sex traditionally his bite was able to convey an intense sexual pleasure to the recipient, a pleasure women found to be more than adequate.
While books containing the exploits of Germain were being released a new play called Dracula: The Vampire Play in Three Acts was proving a huge draw on Broadway. This would be the first such play to show the public the scene in which Mina is forced to drink Dracula’s blood.
In the novel the scene is akin to rape more than anything else, yet the play transformed it into one of seduction. A transformation that was kept when the play was adapted for the big screen. Gone was the monster, in his place was an attractive foreign nobleman who was able to lure his victims to their demise by the sheer power of his sexual presence.
When Mina now willing rushes to her lover to drink his blood Dracula completes his transformation from being a villain into a hero, and one who lived up to the film’s grand tagline, “Throughout history he has filled the hearts of men with terror, and the hearts of women with desire.” It was this portrayal of Dracula, played by Frank Langella, that then influenced the 1992 Dracula production from the mind of Francis Ford Coppola.
Coppola showed us a young and handsome man who becomes a monster due to the loss of his beloved wife. This Dracula depiction is able to seduce Mina from her weak fiance and a full love story subplot was crafted which ended in a sensual lovemaking climax alongside the iconic blood drinking scene.
Coppola gives us a villain but a sympathetic one who in the end begs for release from his curse so he can die in peace.
The evolution of the vampire into a hero lover was a primary element in the overall permeation of the vampire myth into the culture of late twentieth century society.
Mara McCuniff, the centuries-old vampire of Traci Briery’s The Vampire Memoirs, is overtaken by her sexual urges for three days each month at the time of the full moon,while Lori Herter’s romance novels made the vampire the pinnacle object of a woman’s fantasies.
Sexual tension was an ever present theme throughout the hugely successful Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series, which was one of the first vampire stories set in high school with a young adult cast exploring their newly developing sexuality and having numerous human vampire relationships.
The heightened sexuality portrayed within Buffy inevitably spilled over into the literary world with the likes of Anne Rice (interview with a vampire) being criticised for upping the openly sexual content of her later novels in an attempt to broaden her appeal to the new young vampire fans.
Yet it was the inclusion of vampires within the traditional romance book sector that really pushed the vampire, especially male, into popular fiction. After all romance literature now claims half of the book market.
Many of these novels follow a copy and paste plot. They place a young desirable woman into a forbidden and dangerous relationship with the handsome vampire (either hero or villain). One of the first authors to see big success with this model was Charlaine Harris thanks to her series of books, The Southern Vampire Mysteries, which you may know as the television series True Blood.
This fascination with vampires trickled down from adult romance novels in the first decade of the new millennium and into the rapidly growing YA scene. An early example of this is the hugely successful vampire diaries series. While L. J. Smith published the first three books in the 1990’s it gained much of its popularity in the late 2000’s with its TV adaptation and she returned the finish the series.
Of course there’s one vampire iteration that has to be spoken about. The popularity of the blood sucking monster hit new heights with the release of Twilight in 2005. Stephanie Meyers heroine was a high school girl who finds her true love in a handsome vampire, and kind of also in a werewolf but this article isn’t about them.
Bella Swan and her vampire lover Edward Cullen are faced with holding back their expressions of sexual attraction until marriage, which only occurs at the end of the book series.
This sexualizing and romanticizing of the vampire in fiction may depart from the common belief of a mere monster, but it is certainly not new for the creature of mythology.
As discussed earlier many a native folklore tell of, a vampire like creature with a seductive sexuality that mingles naturally with its innate monstrous nature.
Sadly modern vampire depictions seem intent on lessening the monstrous origins of the creature in favour of salacious sexuality. There is a natural balance in the myth that is being lost in its modern depictions.
What this evolution into the peak of sexuality has ensured though is that vampires will remain a focus of fictional works for many years to come.