Gender Issues in "The Prisoner of His Own Masterpiece"

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The topic of gender issues within “The Prisoner of his Own Masterpiece” is very noticeable and it plays a huge part within the story’s theme, plot and context of conflict.   I found that there was an emphasis almost on the stereotype of men and women, and that through Berthe’s murder we get to see the true sides to humanity, and understand the emotional layer that goes along with issues of gender and horror fiction.

In the second paragraph of the piece, Haraucourt writes “I’m a violent fellow, and I don’t try to disguise it. All my friends have borne the brunt.  I’ve fallen out with plenty of people that I really liked and ruined my chances in the world a dozen times over.  I’m sorry enough for these acts of violence after the event, but I do and say things without being able to hold them in, and without really trying to… It’s the demon in my struggling to get out…”  This is significant for several reasons when delving into our protagonist’s nature and psychology.  First off, our author has chosen to go along with the strong, violent, manly essence for the husband, which is very stereotypical in horror.  He doesn’t try to foreshadow or anything to hide the obvious, but instead tells us very upfront about the character’s behavior.  So now, we have a very hackneyed impression of the man, and always expect him to overpower the helpless woman (that is sure to show up, or so we think) and take what is his as a man.  So now that we are somewhat accustomed with our protagonist, we are not surprised to learn about his obsession with his wife’s beauty, and then the jealousy/paranoia that shortly followed after he heard about the affair.

In contrast with the husband, the wife does not follow the damsel in distress stereotype that women normally fall under in the horror genre.  I find it very interesting that she almost takes the characteristics of a male in her actions by means of being strong, by being the one having the affair, by giving ultimatums and being devious.  Normally in any type of movie….9 times out of 10 it’s the guy that plays the villain and the girl that is left heartbroken and devastated in the end.  What I liked about this story is that everything in regards to gender stereotyping is switched backwards in the end.

For instance, Berthe takes control of the situation by cheating and manipulating her husband, only to turn into the victim in the end when her husband’s paranoia/jealously leads him to murder her.  So she went from leading lady, to the helpless victim pretty fast.  Then, when you look at it from her husband’s point-of-view, you can see a similar turning of events.  The man, whom we know to already be violent, becomes consumed by his rage which leads to him murdering his wife.  But after the murder, he becomes remorseful and the guilt consumes him as he begs for forgiveness.    So here were have the strength and audacity of a malicious, paranoid driven murderer who turns soft and thus becomes a victim of his own actions.

I found it interesting that there are two levels of gender issues:  basic stereotypes and reverse stereotypes.  This story gives you both what you expect and what you don’t at the same time.  I like that both characters fall into the place of the victim in the end, which isn’t something that I have seen a lot in horror.  Normally, the killer is proud of his work and never considers himself to be the bad guy based on a legit reasoning for his actions; this story proved different and I think that the outcome of the murder (on both parts with the husband and the wife) was what fascinated/upset me the most.


Kristin said:

She comes back after she is dead, still in control. She might be physically victimized, but she still holds an emotional upper hand.

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