October 29, 2009

Do you know what Pain is?

"You think you know about pain?" (Ketchum 3)

What an amazing opening line. Ketchum knew exactly what would draw the reader in and what a horrific ride he takes us on. David gives us a close and personal journey into the world of pain. Not only do we witness Meg's physical and psychological pain, but we watch as her younger sister Susan endures atrocious pain too. Then there is David's pain. Perhaps at times his is less sympathetic, because in so many ways he causes the pain of guilt that stays with him the rest of his life, but it is pain none the less. His whole reason for recording the events of that summer long ago is to finally express the guilt that he feels.

"Pain can work from the outside in.
I mean sometimes what you see is pain. Pain in its cruelest, purest form. Without drugs or sleep or even shock or coma to dull it for you.
You see it and you take it in. And then it's you." (5)

David is a fascinating character. As readers we usually expect to identify and care about the protagonist in a story, but David makes this either difficult or uncomfortable to do. We don't want to identifly with him, because we are too afraid this may say some disturbing things about ourselves, but how can we not identify to some degree. What would we do if we were in David's shoes? I would hope that I would have acted differently, but part of what makes The Girl Next Door so truly terrifying is that somewhere in the back of the readers mind we are unsure of ourselves. David embodies the pain of his decisions and in some warped way becomes the pain that was inflicted on Meg. For the rest of his life he lives with this pain. He cannot hold a relationship because of the terrible things he saw. He pays daily for his actions, or lack of action.

I wanted to focus on David, because I thought his character was the most interesting and complex when it comes to identification. He has so many chances to make the right decisions and he bypasses them with excuses that even he knows are wrong.

"I drank the beer and thought of Meg. I wondered if I should try to help her somehow. There was a conflict here. I was still attracted to Meg and liked her but Donny and Ruth were much older friends. I wondered if she really needed helping. Kids got slapped, after all. Kids got punched around. I wondered where all this was going." (148)

This scene happens after Meg went to Officer Jennings for help and Donny slapped her for telling on his mother. David already knows that things have gotten out of control in the Chandler houshold, yet he still uses the excuse that kids get slapped around as a reason to wait the situation out and see what happens. This begins his pain of allowing himself to "see." His "conflict" of Donny and Ruth being "old friends" is only an excuse. They really aren't his friends, which comes to light at the end of the story when they lock him up with Meg and Susan. Ruth manipulates the local children with beer and cigarettes this is why David believes she is his friend. She has become the cool mom. Even David's mother doesn't like Ruth. Perhaps she doesn't even know why she doesn't like her, but there is something in Ruth's nature that she doesn't trust.

David is young and still impressionable. What twelve year old boy, or girl, wouldn't be happy to escape the strictness of his parents house and venture over to the neighbor who treats him, somewhat, like the adult he is not. But, this is not an excuse. We, as readers, find it difficult to excuse David from his behavior just because of his young age. We know that at twelve you are more than aware of right and wrong. Ketchum was smart to capture this story within the 1950's setting. This was a time that is usually reflected as the American family ideal, yet we know that discipline and beating one's child was viewed much differently back then. People stayed out of other peoples business and didn't want to get involved. It was more difficult then to convince a parent that your friend didn't deserve the punishment they were recieving, because the parents figured kids do bad things they must deserve the punishment. They would probably find it hard to fathom that the punishment was akin to torture.

But, these are still not excuses for David. He knew. He caused his own pain. And even the adult David is difficult to feel empathy for, because in his recollections he makes it clear that the power of the abuse seduced him right along with the others, even if he didn't physically hurt Meg himself. There is a period of time David avoids the Chandlers, when he decides to venture over they now have Meg in the basement and the boys are using her like a "tackle dummy" (156). This is the first time I truly despise David, and it is because he tastes power and he becomes the animal that the others already are.

"...suddenly it was clear to me again that all she could do was take it, powerless. And lose.
And I remembered thinking at least it's not me.
If I wanted to I could even join them.
For that moment, thinking that, I had power." (156)

"But for the first time I saw her as essentially other than me. She was vulnerable. I wasn't. My position was favored here. Hers was as low as it could be." (156)

"For the first time I felt that maybe Meg's separation from us might be justified.
I wanted to feel it was justified.
I say that now in deepest shame." (157)

David's feelings of power begin to outway his knowledge of right and wrong. His adult feelings of shame are a little to late, yes? This is aspect of the novel, for me, was one of the truly horrific and disturbing themes. The animal nature versus human nature. The dark side of our humanity and how easily we allow it to come forth. David exemplifies this nature perfectly and in that way the reader can identify with him. It's just an identification that we would never want to vocalize or admit to.

October 15, 2009

Annie Get Your Ax

Annie Wilkes. I find her to be one of the most interesting characters that I have ever read. I've read Misery many times and seen the movie quite a few times as well, and there is still never a boring moment with Annie. She is dynamic. It was different this time around reading this novel, because I had never really taken the time to examine just what it was that I was reading. I found myself looking at the story in a whole new light and rediscovering the characters in a way that I hadn't before.

Paul, for instance, though I wanted him to succeed in the end and come out of it as intact as he possibly could, there was a part of me that didn't like him, at first anyway. He irritated me with his prejudgments of Annie. Those times when he thought of her as a stupid woman, who was just another fan of his Misery books. I think it does go back to what Lauri Berkenkamp says in her essay about the reader/writer relationship. As a voracious reader, myself, I understand Annie's addiction to Misery. There is a relationship that develops between the reader and the book he is reading, especially if he finds a connection with the characters. I've stayed up all night, or well into the night, because I had to know what happens next, in many books that I've read. Granted Annie takes this obsession a bit farther than the "normal" person would, but the idea is still there. Paul at first underestimates the readers involvement in the story. He soon learns the truth when Annie begins to critique his work. His epiphany hits him the hardest in his first attempt to write the new Misery novel and Annie calls him on the "cheat" (106). At first he gets annoyed and feels that "Constant reader had just become Merciless Editor" (106). But it isn't long before he realizes just how intuitive the Constant Reader is about reality in fiction, "she saw the story's creative course as something outside of her hands, inspite of her obvious control over him...she really was the Constant Reader, but Constant Reader did not mean Constant Sap" (107).

Once Paul comes to realize the relationship that is growing between them, and there is definitely a relationship, though a terrifying and scary one, his writing becomes the best it has been. Misery, even becomes a joy to him, an escape from the dangerous reality around him. In the end, he even publishes the new Misery, something he would not have even contemplated when he first began writing it.

Annie on the other hand, though psychotic and frightening, I found sympathy for. Did I wnat Paul to kill her in the end? Sure, I did, but there was still something about Annie that I found empathy for. We only really discover the atrocities that she has done, we never fnd out if something happened to her to create the monster inside her, or if she was always a monster. There is an innocence to Annie, that King captured almost too well. For one thing, she is completely convinced that she has done nothing wrong. And her paranioa, is a bit justified. Even Paul feels a shadow of sympathy for her when the news crew, local police and teenagers come knocking. It does't last long, but he feels it.

Annie is a terrifying villian, but what makes her terrifying is our ability to understand her. There is a certain amount of humanity in Annie that makes her real and King weaves this humanity around the instability of her mind and her justifications for her actions. After she kills the young cop, she tells Paul, "I didn't kill him you know. You killed him" (266). I don't think she is trying to convince herself or that she is trying to make Paul feel guilty, I think in Annie's world Paul is the one who killed that young cop. Her reasonings don't make sense to a sane and rational world, but to Annie there is only her reality.

This has always been one of my favorite Stephen King books and reading it, once again, has only deepened that feeling. Annie and Paul make a great couple. They feed off of each others emotions and fears and in the process Paul learns a great deal about himself. Annie, of course, learns nothing, except that in the end she underestimated Paul's desire for freedom and his hatred for her.

October 5, 2009


My review for the short story "Doll's Eyes" can be found on Dr. Arnzen's blog. This story is from the book The New Uncanny in which 14 authors contributed their interpretations of Freud's essay The Uncanny.

September 24, 2009

Was Raglan just another Cult Leader?

Is the Somafree Institute a cult compound? There are many similar characteristics to that of cults. Raglan is a domineering psychiatrist who demands complete obedience from his patients. He keeps them isolated from the outside world and even demands that their families obey his decisions. He lives in a rather extravagant home, while his patients are housed in plywood cabins on his property.

In the opening scene of the movie it shows how Raglan uses his psychoplasmic therapy to insinuate himself in a father role in order to "help" his patient Mike. It is almost an hypnotic form of therapy, where the patient comes to believe that it is his father who is speaking to him and he reacts to this stimulus in the way that Raglan manipulates him too. This scene is poignant because it sets up Raglan as a messiah-like figure to his patients, by being the one to console them after forcing them to a bad place psychologically. We, as participants in the film, must decide for ourselves whether or not Raglan's type of therapy is working. Does he get his desired results? I think to a point he does. He manages to bring his patients to the point of rage that manifests itself outwardly from their bodies, in the form of lesions, tumors, and for Nola a tumerous-like womb.

And what about his relationship with Nola and her brood of monstrous children? This is another area that Raglan seems to exemplify the cult leader mentality. He kicks all of his other patients out of the institute so that he can focus on Nola exclusively. Most, if not all, cult leaders demand that they have exclusive rights to the female members of their cult. Raglan manages this flawlessly. He keeps Nola locked up in her cabin and no one, not even her husband or father are allowed to see or visit her. The only person he allows access is her daughter Candy, another female.

In my opinion, Raglan is a type of father to the brood. He didn't father these creatures in the traditional sense, but he is the one who brought Nola to a place in her therapy that created them. The male patients outwardly projected their pyschoplasmic therapy through the markings on their bodies, while Nola gave birth. Raglan protected these creatures and housed them along side their mother, even when he had full knowledge of their murderous ways. Perhaps, it was his paternal instinct not to kill his own psychological childern. Raglan, even if not conventionally, is the father of the brood. He created the therapy and circumstances that surround their birth and life. The dormitory like room above Nola's is filled with beds, play toys and childerns clothes, which means that he also went out of his way to treat them, to some extent, like real childern.

Raglan dies in the end at the hand of his own creation. He sacrifices himself to save Candy, though why he does this is not completely certain. We can only assume he fears for the childs life. But, even the vision they give of his death is cult leader-like. The last we see of him he is lying on the floor with the brood's tiny bodies scattered around him. All of them dead. This is not a picture that is unusual for us, we have seen it in the case of many cult leaders and their followers.

Woman + Womb = Disease

In Barbara Creed's The Monstrous Feminine, the womb is considered a monstrous place inside the female body. This is where another life comes into being and lives for nine months feeding off of the host body, like a parasite. What's so monstrous about that?

In the horror film The Brood David Cronenberg takes this image of the "monstrous womb" and goes a step further, not only are the products of Nola's womb monsters, but they are psychically linked to their mother. The rage that Nola feels towards the injustice done to her in her past and present manifests itself in the form of her "brood." According to Creed, "It is not that their identity has sunk irretrievably into the mother's; their identity is the mother's" (47). This link that these monsters have is tied completely to the feelings of the mother, as though they are one. She goes on to say,"the disease which is passed from mother to daughter is the disease of being female," so we have gender as a disease (47).

When we think of disease we usually think of a bacteria or organism that is destroying the confines of our bodies, yet sometimes these diseases surface in the form of lesions or growths on the outside of the body. This is seen in great detail through Jan and Mike the other two patients of Dr. Raglan. Creed attributes this to "the subject's rage-manifested as sores on the skin- is a rage at having been born of woman," but why, if this is so, are Mike's psychoplasmic treatments about his father (48)? If being born of woman is the disease, why are memories of his father what evokes such horrific lesions on his skin? And Jan, we never quite find out exactly what his problems were that led him to Dr. Raglan in the first place. It is only Nola's rage at her, supposedly, abusive mother which leads to the tumor-like womb that extends outside her body and the murderous brood that she births.

I actually enjoyed Creed's chapter on the monstrous womb, but I'm not sure that this movie is a great example of her arguement. Yes, the elements are definitely there, the angry woman, her perverted births, and her uncapped rage which boils over into the creatures that she has created, but my problem lies within the other characters. If Mike and Jan were not in the picture, or if their own psychological problems stemmed from relationships with their mothers then I would say that there is better validity to these claims.

And Nola is not reliable. We cannot immediately, if ever, believe her story of abuse. There is no proof other than her word and she is insane. Her problems stem from a deeper place in her mind. So, this passing of the disease of being female would have started with Nola's mother, and actually further down the genetic line. But, Juliana, Nola's mother, is not subjected to these bumps which seem to be the beginnings of all the problems which plague Nola later in life. Everything seems to start with the onset of these mysterious bumps. At the end of the film it is young Candy who is afflicted with the bumps, perhaps this can be seen as the passing of the disease, but where were it's origins? It had to begin with someone. The bumps began when Nola was a child and were not the manifestations of Dr. Raglans psychoplasmic therapy. When the film ends and we get a close up of Candy's arm and see the bumps forming there we realize that this is a sign that the horror will probably continue with the daughter. But why? What caused these unnatural growths? We are never given that information. Nola's mother only mentions that these bumps appeared on Nola and she was hospitalized because of them.
My disagreement with Creed lies in what I feel is the problematic position of Mike and Jan and how they fit in with the female as disease, and with the passing of the disease from mother to daughter. There is definitely a passing of something dreadful between Nola and Candy, we see this in the final scene with the close up of Cany's arm, but is it the disease of woman? I think that might be a stretch. Cronenberg never explains to us, the viewers, what these bumps are and their appeance is the greatest mystery of the movie. Are they manifestations of rage that came to Nola at a young age because she is already disturbed mentally, or are they caused by abuse that both Nola and Candy are subjected to at a young age? Because they certainly are not caused by Raglan's warped therapy, though other monstrosities are.

Cronenberg takes full advantage of Nola's femaleness by exposing her womb and creating the little monsters which are ripped by Nola's teeth out of the womb sac, but does he show that to be female is a disease? I don't think so, I do think he does an excellent job of showing the womb as having potential to be something monstrous, but I don't know if I would go as far as calling the entire gender a disease which gets passed from generation to generation.

Works cited

Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous-Feminine. New York: Routledge, 1993. 43-58

The Brood. Dir. David Cronenberg. Perf. Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar,
Art Hindle, Nuala Fitzgerald. MGM, 1979.

September 8, 2009

Strong Women of Psycho?

Gender issues abound in this novel.
For the first time we witness a man who is psychologically bound to his mother. Does this make Mother a strong female character? Not necessarily. Yes, Normans “mother” personality seems to win over his in the end, but she doesn’t really exist. It is all in Norman’s delusion. How can a personality disorder be considered strength, especially the female inside the male body? Does the personality have dominance? Yes, she does, but that only emphasizes the weak shell that it inhabits. The real Mother is dead, long dead there is no strength left there.

Then we have Mary Crane, a young woman in love and willing to steal so that she can win her man and become an honest woman through marriage. Her relationship with Sam Loomis is unsatisfactory and must be hidden because it is unsavory for a young woman to be in a sexual relationship and not be married. So, when does Mary become a victim? When she is murdered in the shower, or when she has her moment of insanity and steals money to get a man? The thought of waiting for two years to marry Sam was something she could not bear, “two years, she’d be twenty-nine. She couldn’t afford to pull a bluff, stage a scene and walk out on him like some young girl of twenty” (27). The old maid syndrome was hitting her hard. This was a time when a woman had to be married to be complete and Mary was going beyond the call of duty to make this happen. And all of this for a man who can’t even tell the difference between her and her sister. She has to endure being hit on by Cassidy, the man she steals the money from, when he suggests “she take a ‘little trip’ with him down to Dallas for the weekend” (28). There had to be some satisfaction in stealing his money, yet there is the realization that there was nothing she could really do about disgusting men hitting on her in her work place. Mary gets victimized repeatedly until her murder, the ultimate victimization. And this happens again because of her sexuality.

Mary does have some strengths. She sacrificed her own ambitions to take care of her sick mother and send her kid sister college. It took a certain amount of strength to steal the money, and even more to decide to take it back. Unfortunately she never has the opportunity to return it.

So, who is the strong woman in Psycho? What about Lila Crane? Here is a young woman who went off to college and found herself a career that has her traveling (one of the reasons it is easy for Mary to steal the money, because Lila is off on a business trip). Lila is the one who initiates looking for Mary. She is the one who will not take no for an answer. It is Lila who eventually finds Mother in the basement. And in Bloch’s novel Lila goes up to the house without Sam’s approval or knowledge. Norman tells him, “You thought she went on to get the Sheriff, the way you told her. But she has a mind of her own. She wanted to take a look at the house. And that’s what she did do” (192). Lila doesn’t follow the rules that society and men set down for her, even Norman understands this about her immediately. She shows strength that the men in the story don’t even have. The only moment she needs someone to save her is in the basement when Norman is going to kill her after her discovery of Mother. Sam rescues her just in time, but I thought it was interesting that Lila screams, (who wouldn’t with a knife and crazy person coming at you), and then quits screaming quite quickly. She closes her mouth the “scream continued. It was the insane scream of an hysterical woman, and it came from the throat of Norman Bates” (208).

In the end the “hysterical woman” is a man. I thought this was a particularly interesting twist to the story. Bloch is a genius when it comes to blurring that gender line.

Norman/Mother, Two for the Price of One

I want to talk repetition. Robert Bloch uses repetition to great advantage in Psycho. There are two instances that stuck out to me. The first is the use of the word “clean” and the second is “mirror.” The word “clean” can be taken in many contexts, but for a horror story there is something almost menacing, yet purifying about the word. And the “mirror” is a reflection of the person looking into it.

When we think of the word clean we think of freshness and purity, but Bloch transforms the word into a moment of menace and dread. He uses it first when Mary is getting ready to take her shower. She had just made the decision to return the money and go home. She is feeling pretty good with herself at this point, nothing to fear. She is going to make everything right and make amends. For Mary the shower meant two things, “Get the dirt off her hide, just as she was going to get the dirt cleaned out of her insides” (49). One of these things was actual, to clean up after a long day of nervous running and the other symbolic, cleaning her insides. Washing away the bad decision that she had made and getting her life back on track. Then she thinks to herself, “Come clean, Mary. Come clean as snow” (49). Does this remind anyone else of the nursery rhyme “Mary had a little lamb its fleece was white as snow”? I can’t help but wonder if Bloch did this on purpose, give the reader something familiar. But, isn’t there something eerie about nursery rhymes? I thought this not only had slight menacing overtones, but was also an interesting way to set the reader up for the shower scene. Here was a young woman that was on the wrong path deciding to do something right and in a moment she will be brutally murdered as she is trying to clean, not only her outer self, but her inner self. Scary.
Then there is Norman. After the murder Norman has to clean up Mothers mess. He comes back from dumping Mary’s car in the swamp and cleans himself up. He is only concerned about getting all the blood off of himself and anything else it may have contaminated, “No blood on his clothes, no blood on his body, no blood on his hands” (74). This was important to wipe away any residue of Mary and her death. But, it is more than just cleaning up the blood and the messy murder. It is about cleaning himself and his part in what happened. If there is no blood, then he doesn’t feel responsible. Perhaps this is another way for his mind to deny his own involvement with Mother and Mary. “Now he was clean. He could move his numb legs, propel his numb body up the stairs and into the bedroom, sink into bed and sleep. With clean hands” (74). He could finally sleep “with clean hands.” I found this to be a symbolic cleanliness, Norman washing himself clean of the murder and Mother. If he has clean hands then he had nothing to do with Mary’s death. Is there something in his subconscious that is trying to tell him that he is the murderer? I think so. This is one of the reasons he must clean up because, “now he was clean,” his subconscious is clean too. And there is something menacing and dreadful about Norman being able to sleep with his clean hands, knowing that there is a dead girl in the swamp behind his home.
The mention of the mirror was one of the first repetitions that I noticed. Mirrors can say so much to us as we look into them. There are bad days when we look in the mirror and think “Oh my God, do I really look this bad?” and there are other days when we preen happily in front of our reflection. But, what about Norman’s perception of the reflections he sees?

Norman watches Mary through the peephole of his office. She is standing in front of the door mirror and Norman can watch her reflection as she undresses. But, there is something wrong with his perception of the image, “the mirror was all wavy lines and lights that made him dizzy” (59). This happens as Mary is taking off her bra. Norman view is skewed by the wavy image in the mirror. It happens again on the same page when Mary starts to sway in front of the mirror, “she was swaying back and forth, back and forth, and now the mirror was wavy again and she was wavy, and he couldn’t stand it” (59). Every time Mary does something that begins to turn Norman on the reflection in the mirror becomes unstable. Norman and his mixed up ideas of what is evil and perverted bring on a spell of his psychotic behavior and soon Mother comes into the picture to make everything clear once again.
This skewed reflection could also be a representation of Norman’s split personality. Later in the book we see him in front of a mirror once more. He is shaving this time and he doesn’t like to shave because, “of the mirror. It had those wavy lines in it. All mirrors seemed to have wavy lines that hurt his eyes” (115). He goes on to remember how he used to like looking into mirrors, until Mother caught him looking at himself naked and smacked him in the head with a hairbrush (115). He remembers that “from then on it seemed he got a headache almost every time he looked in a mirror” (115-116). Looking into a mirror has become something dirty and evil, perverted even. So the way he sees his own image is the way he perceives himself. There is something wavy and unclear in his personality. I think it is the double image of his personalities. The mirror reflects what we see of ourselves and for Norman it is unclear.

August 25, 2009

The Issue of Gender in Dorian Gray

A few years ago I attended a Bible college and I had an instructor who was, probably the most sexist person I had ever met. He told us one day in class that our country began to go down hill when women were given the right to vote. His explanation was that women only voted for the guy they thought was handsome. Now, I'm not beginning this blog with this little tidbit to get any one riled up, I'm going to make a point with it. I did in fact, at first, get riled up myself, but then I realized how absurd this man's statement was. It was ridiculous because men and women are both attracted to beauty, granted I don't know a lot of men who will admit that they find another man attractive, but they do. This isn't a sign of homosexuality. It is the natural inclination to see and appreciate beauty and this is what I think happens throughout Dorian Gray.

Oscar Wilde does a brilliant job, of taking what comes naturally, the attraction to beauty, and creating characters who so convincingly take extremes in order to be close to it. Dorian is the central focus of what is considered absolute beauty. Today it is customary to have a woman as the focal point of this type of attraction. Everyone who comes into contact with Dorian is affected by him in some way.

It begins with the Basil Hallward's attraction to Dorian. It is his painting and his description of Dorian's beauty that intrigues Lord Henry Wotton. He tells Henry of the first time he met Dorian: " I turned half-way round, and saw Dorian Gray for the first time. When our eyes met, I felt that I was growing pale. A curious sensation of terror came over me, I knew that I had come face to face with someone whose mere personality was so fascinating that, if I allowed it to do so, it would absorb my whole nature, my whole soul, my very art itself." (8)
Dorian becomes the icon of beauty in the artist's mind. There is something so overwhelming about him that Hallward becomes obsessed with painting his portrait and may even be falling in love with Dorian. He confesses to Henry and then later in the story to Dorian that: "from the moment I met you, your personality had the most extraordinary power over me. I was dominated, soul, brain, and power, by you. I worshiped you. I grew jealous of every one to whom you spoke. I wanted to have you all to myself. I was only happy when I was with you. When you were away from me you were still present in my art..." (117)
Dorian becomes the obsession of everyone. Lord Henry has an inclination towards all that is beautiful and material in the world, so he naturally gravitates toward Dorian. The only difference is instead of worshiping Dorian the way Hallward does, Henry becomes a teacher, of sorts, to Dorian. He is the one who convinces Dorian that all he needs in life is to keep his youth and beauty and he will always be loved. This of course is a lie, because later on in the story those around Dorian find themselves steeped in corruption or they begin to find fault in him, though they never have proof that he has done wrong.

Dorian is the central figure of the story, everyone else live their lives around him. They all strive to be with him in some way. The women fall in love with him and the men want to be in his company. Dorian becomes the feminine figure in the story. Though there are women in the story it is Dorian who is lavished upon, it is Dorian that all care for, and it is Dorian who destroys and dashes men's hopes and dreams, not the women. The women in the story are used more like window dressing. They are only there to facilitate a need to show the well-rounded beauty of Dorian Gray. It is not just a group of men who sit around and pine for this Narrcissus, it is also the women. And like Narcissus, Dorian treats all who love him cruelly and is really only obsessed with his own beauty and with the silent destruction of that beauty in the portrait. Sibyl Vane takes her own life because Dorian can not have what he wants from her, which is perfection in her acting, a beauty that can stand with his own.

It is not necessary to dwell on the homosexual references that are throughout this book to investigate the love men have for one another. Men can and are attracted to beauty the same as women. Dorian is the proves this in the story. Dorian is the ideal. I think that this story could have been told just as effectually without the female characters as it was with them. Wilde brilliantly established Dorian in that feminine role and allowed him to take over where the women would have been.

August 11, 2009

Jekyll's Addiction to Evil

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, addiction plays a major role. It is not so much the addiction to the tincture that Jekyll mixes as much as to the addiction Jekyll has to his evil counterpart Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll’s own exploration of self, his refusal to give up Hyde, and his physical transformation are all parts of his addiction. It is Jekyll’s obsession with the other half of his personality that he cannot give up. According to this website on addiction:

Psychological addiction, as opposed to physiological addiction, is a person's need to use a drug or engage in a behavior despite the harm caused out of desire for the effects it produces, rather than to relieve withdrawal symptoms. Instead of an actual physiological dependence on a drug, such as heroin, psychological addiction usually develops out of habits that relieve symptoms of loneliness or anxiety. As the drug is indulged, it becomes associated with the release of pleasure-inducing endorphins, and a cycle is started that is similar to physiological addiction. This cycle is often very difficult to break.

It is this “cycle” that has Jekyll in its grasp. Jekyll uses the speech of an addict when he tells Utterson, “just put your good heart to rest. I will tell you one thing: the moment I choose, I can be rid of Mr. Hyde.” (22) Addicts are always saying that they can give up their addictions whenever they choose; this is obviously not the case. Every time he tried to detoxify, Hyde would come back stronger: “My devil had been long cage, he came out roaring.” (71) Many addicts think that they can forgo their dependency on their own, but the true nature of their addiction usually wins out.

In Jekyll’s “full statement” at the end of the story, he admits his addiction with Hyde goes deeper than the drug he used to first induce the change. He believes that there is a “duplicity of life” which his high moral standing in the community would never permit him to explore without the help of creating a second personality, which is already within him. This second personality helps to relieve him of loneliness and he discovers a perverse pleasure in the evil life that Hyde lives:

I felt younger, lighter, happier in body; within I was conscious of a heady recklessness, a current of disordered sensual images running a millrace in my fancy, a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul. I knew myself, at the first breath of the new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought, in that moment, braced and delighted me like wine. (64)

This is where Jekyll’s addiction became saturated. His vision of duality and his scientific mind made him curious enough to try and concoct a tincture that would allow him to experiment with the twin nature of good and evil, but once he discovered the pleasures of pure evil, with what he felt were no repercussions to his good name, his addiction became complete. It “delighted” him and he was “happier” with this more lascivious side of himself.

Addicts will do anything to hide who they have become and what they are doing. Hyde is first noticed by the outside world walking into Jekyll’s home through a back entrance, an entrance that “was equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and disdained.” (6) Hyde is already displaying anti-social behavior. Jekyll knows that this side of his personality cannot be seen and he goes to many lengths to keep Hyde hidden from the society in which Jekyll lives. I think what many people forget is that Hyde is not truly a separate person from Jekyll, he is Jekyll. This is why Jekyll cannot easily get rid of him, and why later the tincture that Jekyll uses to transform from one form to another no longer works. Hyde begins to come out on his own, without the help of the drug; “I had gone to bed Henry Jekyll, I had awakened Edward Hyde.” (68)

Along with the psychological addiction there is also a physiological addiction. Like many addicts when he began to lose control over his addiction Jekyll began to take more of his drug hoping that it would help him to regain his control, “I had been obliged on more than one occasion to double, and once, with infinite risk of death to treble the amount.” (69) The mixture that the doctor has created becomes what Jekyll believes, to be the cause and the remedy for his addiction, “..a double dose to recall me to myself; and alas! six hours after, the pangs returned, and the drug had to be re-administered.” (76) When he can no longer control Hyde he panics and tries to use the drug to keep himself at bay. So, there is a dependency on the drug, but it comes from his physical and psychological need to be Hyde. There is a pleasure he gains from the brutality of Hyde.

Addicts also have noticeable changes in their physiognomy. Most drug addicts and alcoholics, when on the drug for a length of time, become altered in appearance. The alteration is never a flattering one. They usually become thinner, paler, and develop a deformed look to their facial features. Hyde is small in stature, hairy and deformed. He is the complete opposite to the handsome physicality of Jekyll. Utterson describes him as looking, “pale and dwarfish, he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation.” (18) This deformity is commented on throughout the text. I think it is the evil that others see in him that causes them to see him as deformed. There is a hideous and unnaturalness about him that they can describe in no other way.
Jekyll’s addiction with Hyde is his undoing.

He has all the signs of an addict in every aspect of his life. He hides himself away from others and is in constant denial about his involvement with Hyde. He tries desperately to convince himself and others that Hyde is a separate entity, when in fact they are the same person and a part of Jekyll gets pleasure from the depravity of Hyde. This is why it was so easy for his dual nature to take over his body without the help of the drug. The two personalities begin to mesh and Jekyll becomes fearful of what he has unleashed in himself.

August 4, 2009

Why will you say I am Mad?

Edgar Allan Poe's story, "A Tell-Tale Heart," is a wonderful example of the egotism and self-importance of the madman. The narrator, when speaking of his actions, lifts himself upon a noble pedestal. He never deviates from the terror that the old man's cataract has upon him, but when he refers to himself it is always to speak of how wonderfully he handled the situation; that is until the end.
From the very beginning he speaks of his "disease" and how it "sharpened my senses"(199). So, already his ego-mania has taken control. I thought that this showed how the narrator saw himself. It is his inability to separate the irrational terror of the old man's eye and his own self indulgence. This only heightens when the transfer from sight to sound, the terror from the eye to the beating of the old man's heart, occurs. He speaks of his "fury," but again he refers to his own "over-acuteness of the senses"(200).
Throughout the entire text the narrator constantly refers to his own greatness:

- "you should have seen me"
-"You should have seen how wisely I proceeded-with what caution-with what foresight"
-"You would have laughed at how cunningly I..."
-"would a madman have been so wise as this?"
-"I went boldly... and spoke courageously"
-"Never before...had I felt the extent of my own powers"
-"You will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took"
-"I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly"
-"In the enthusiasm of my own confidence..."
-"my perfect triumph"
-"My manner convinced them."

He tries to convince his audience, and perhaps himself, that he couldn't possibly be mad because of the greatness with which he conducted himself in the murder of the old man. His self-importance only fuels the terror he feels. It seems to me that he gets to the point where he must convince himself of his own superiority over the sights and sounds that are haunting him.
From the very first paragraph he establishes his own importance and how he can't possibly be insane. He states:
"I heard all things in heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell.
How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily-how calmly I can
tell you the whole story." (199)

With his claim to hear all things in heaven, on earth and in hell, he has put himself in a God-like position. He believes that his senses have become so acute that he sees and hears what no other mortal being can see or hear. I believe this not only amplifies his ego, but his terror as well. This god complex heightens as the story progresses. He gets more and more confident in his own wisdom and ability to combat the terror that is enveloping him. He even believes that he has powers, which allow him entrance into the old man's chambers.
I could say that madness wins over ego in the end, because he snaps and tells the officers that he is indeed the murderer, but since he is the one telling the story this doesn't ring true to me. His ego stays in tact. His ego disallows him to admit defeat. He blames the officers and the sound of the beating heart for his discovery. He has come to believe that the officers are taunting him with their own knowledge. They become the villians in his mind.
Does ego-mania equal madness? I believe it does to a certain extent, because to experience madness and psychotic behavior the individual comes to believe that he is more aware than others around him. The narrator in "The Tell-Tale Heart" is a prime example of this egotism of the psychotic.