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Racism in Tarzan, Heart of Darkness, Captain Horn

Published May 2, 2017 by lorijss

 

Tarzan, from the animated Disney’s version to the most recent 2016 installment seems to cut out the racist components of the 1912 novel. With the animation editing out blacks entirely and the latest movie discarding the racism, the question remains as to whether this can be done without wiping out the existence and essence of Tarzan. In Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Borroughs, blacks are seen as barbaric, “savages” with the ape-reared male elevated above the natives with no basis other than because the author said so. However, Tarzan was not unique for In The Adventures of Captain Horn by Frank Stockton which was published in 1895, the Africans are also called “savage” and “half—tamed,” and planted in the narrative for comedic entertainment. Immediately, one can see a correlation between racism and entertainment with the more racist equaling the more entertaining based on the authorship. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, published in 1899 has a more serious undertone whilst still depicting blacks as subhuman and “niggers” which may have costed it it’s effectiveness. It’s important that white  or non-black readers do not read over these stereotypical views and also not take it lightly. That way closer inspection reveal that these novels are not as good it could have been without the distasteful parts. Fiction is better when it’s grounded in reality. All three of the action and or adventure texts, Tarzan, Captain Horn and Heart of Darkness regardless of their genre, portray stereotypical views of blacks or Africans as unintelligent, barbaric, wild and subhuman, thereby eluding the common sense of these persons, their subjective perspectives and overall veritableness.

 

The Adventures of Captain Horn

 

Throughout Captain Horn the supposed Africans are viewed as the same.

When the captain was told of “strange thing,” his reaction was a generalization—“another African!” After Mrs. Cliff and her companions insist that it wasn’t a Native Indian, they said “almost in the same breath..it was an African, exactly like Maka.” The conversation exemplifies a lack of experience or familiarity and possibly an obsession when they say, “you know they’re very dark.” Africans are just like one another. What are the chances that after stumbling upon a new land that he’d find a black person that looks exactly like Maka? It’s ironic that Mrs. Cliff and her companions in the “same breath” are also similar.

           The alleged “African” characters are depicted in an emasculated manner. When the author states, “Making a step toward him, the captain saw that he(Maka) had hold of another man, several feet below him, and that he could not pull him up.

“Hold on tight, Maka,” he cried, and then, taking hold of the African’s shoulders, he gave one mighty heave, lifted both men, and set them on their feet beside him.” Maka is the one that does all the manual labor for the Captain so logically he would not be the one to have the strength to lift both men.

The black characters are always depicted as frightened and scared. An example is, “The new African was sitting on the ground, as far back from the edge of the ledge as he could get, shivering and shaking, for the water was cold. He had apparently at reached the culmination and termination of his fright.” You can see that this “new African” is also authored as fearful like Maka. Keep in mind that they are socialized in two different parts of the word.  Here is another example, “The shivering negro had been listening attentively, and now half rose and nodded his head violently, and then began to speak rapidly in African.” Firstly the description is ironic and not realistic for one to go from “shivering” to “nodding head violently.” With this superficial description of the character’s speech, the reader is forced to think in stereotypes. There are thousands of African languages that were and still are spoken across the continent.

         The “Africans” are always placed at impending danger zones as tools for the initiation of a scene that makes Horn seem brave. It is interesting that the author describes Maka for example, has being fearful but put him the closest to danger. “Maka can sleep in the hall to keep out burglars.(17)” If he is indeed the most scared why would Captain Horn place him where he would be the first to face the onset of danger. Another instance: “then suddenly a scrambling sound of footsteps was heard, and Maka dashed through the two adjoining apartments and appeared before them. Instantly the captain was on his feet, his gun, which had been lying beside him, in his hand.” In this scene the captain is portrayed as being brave because he has a gun. That eludes the fact that anyone can sport a gun. It continues that “the captain satisfied himself with leaving Mok at his former post, with instructions to give the alarm if he heard the slightest sound, and put Maka, as before, in the outer passage.” Maka is placed in the latter passage which is the most exposed part of the vicinity.

Lines like “As soon as the negro saw him, he began to beckon wildly for him to come on,” and five black men in a state of mad excitement” are exaggerated and misinterpreted behavioral expressions of the “Africans.” “Some more Africans have turned up. Maka has gone to meet them…”  This phrase assumes that Maka would automatically run towards the Africans of the land he just arrived on with Captain Horn, like long lost brothers. Once again we find Maka being put at the forefront where if Captain Horn were really the brave one he would take the initiative and “go to meet them.” The lack of sufficient interpretation of Africans is evident when, “…the other African, Mok, sat crouched on his heels, his eyes wide open. Whether he was asleep or not it would have been difficult to determine, but if anyone had appeared in the great cleft on the other side of the lake, he would have sprung to his feet with a yell—his fear of the Rackbirds was always awake.” It’s not clear why it would be difficult to know whether Mok is sleeping or not. It implies that the author is lacking in skills of interpreting or observing behavior.  Again we see assumptions of fear.

Statements to describe black characters in the novel are geared towards “exclusion” or “differentiation.”  Take for example this statement by Captain Horn. “Now we can take it easy to-day, and rest our bones. The order of the day is to keep close…Keep those four niggers up in the pigeonhole.” The use of the word, “those” imply that they are seen as “the other” —differentiated and excluded despite being used for manual labor. Horn continues, “We will do our own cooking to-day, for we can’t afford to run after any more of them. Lucky the fellow who got away can’t speak English, for he can’t tell anything about us, any more than if he was an ape.”  Needless to state, the racism—someone doesn’t speak English they are inferior and the comparison to an ape. We already know that the Captain must’ve had incompetency for learning the languages of the African. For he sees no problem that Maka would know his language but he not know Maka’s at all. When Horn said, “You are a good fellow, Maka,” that quite frankly is a racist statement. The reason is that there is an implication that all blacks are “bad” for him to be making statements such as, “Apart from his being such an abject coward, he seems to be a good, quiet fellow, willing to do what he is told…(83)” The white characters would also say things like “ those black fellows(72)”and “those colored people(73)” after they brought all the food and provisions to them. They are viewed as “the other” and different even though they take care of them. There is a lot of name calling of blacks such as “coal-black heathen(93)”

Blacks wanting to find “good white people” to “take care of them” lacks plausibility as there is no textual evidence of this want. Examine: “The Africans went to a spot..and there they hid themselves, and watched as long as it was daylight…But they saw nothing, and being very anxious to find good white people who would take care of them, they started out before dawn that morning to look for the shipwrecked party…whom they hoped to find their companion Mok.” Maka does the physical work for the crew so it is he that takes care of the captain and the crew. In essence it is the white people that seek blacks to “take care of them,” constantly throughout the novel. When the captain and his crew were soon going to be without food, Maka proposed that he and the rest of the “black fellows” bring some supplies.(60)” Upon return, “The negroes were heavily loaded with bags and packages, and they were glad to deposit their burdens on the ground.(60)” This show us that it’s blacks that are taking care of the whites.

Voices added to the African characters are inauthentic, similar to Captain Horn. For example, “Yes,” replied the African. “One day before, three went out to look for Mok, and they found his track and more track, and they waited in the black darkness.” It is unlikely that an African would say this statement because growing up in The Caribbean or South American climate, the natives would be accustomed to the black darkness at night which is apart of their environment. The African is speaking about the darkness of the night as if it is strange or new and he fears it. These inauthentic voices do not reflect the cultural-environment. In Europe it snows and the atmosphere becomes brighter outside at night when it snows, so the night is shorter and looks like day. Tropical climates have not only longer nights but darker nights all year round with apparently no snow.

The strength of Mok and Maka are underestimated despite the manual labor Stockton depicts them doing throughout the novel. “Maka, that is a fine lot of fire-wood you have brought. It will last us a long time,” said Horn. Maka who seems to have carried a bunch of firewood should imply his strength but earlier on he was not able to lift two men. It’s more likely that Captain Horn would not be able to have the strength to do the latter as throughout the book he only lifts a gun. This is portrayed as if it takes the same strength to lift a weapon as to lift firewood.

Mok and Maka are also given similar sounding names and that eludes to the fact that the author strives to make them all the more alike. Mok is pronounced the same as Muck whose googled definition is “dirt, rubbish, waste manner.” Clearly, even the names of the characters are of a underlying, racist origin.

Tarzan

            In Tarzan, there are exaggerated and clearly stereotypically racist descriptions of the appearance of “Africans.” Case in point, “Their yellow teeth were filed to sharp points, and their great protruding lips added…to the low and bestial brutishness of their appearance.” It assumes that appearance has anything to do with behavior when he states “bestial brutishness.” It edges the reader to accept that physical appearance are of any intrinsic value in determining a person’s character. The author adds judgements to physical appearances as if there are any basic correlation between the two. He also assumes that appearances of the natives has anything to do with the observer.

Tarzan behavior towards the Natives shows but an insult of their intelligence, despite the fact that apes raised him, according to the novel’s premise. “Without haste he wrapped them securely, and then, ere he turned to leave, the devil of capriciousness entered his heart. He looked about for some hint of a wild prank to play upon these strange, grotesque creatures that they might be again aware of his presence among them.(111)” So when Tarzan is around Africans a devil enters his heart. It’s interesting that the author makes Tarzan first experience with an African be when his ape mother is murdered with a bow and arrow. He could have easily been exposed to the natives before that tragedy. The existence of Tarzan rests partly if not solely on racism. It would be more likely that the natives would have found him—”aware of his presence” and brought him up in human culture.

Like Captain Horn, blacks in Tarzan are depicted as fearful and also emasculated. When the natives found out that their arrows were missing—“thoroughly awed and frightened group of savages”(105). When the village found out that Mbonga died, “They stood in little groups, talking in low tones, and ever casting affrighted glances behind them from their great rolling eyes.”(105)” Anyone with common sense would know that if a prominent person has been murdered in a village then that would be the last reaction. There would be sadness, revenge, an investigation etc.   Fearfulness is then taken to a new level—  without logical reason. “He was moving carelessly along a winding jungle trail…, when suddenly he came face to face with a black warrior. The look of surprise on the savage face was almost com- ical, and before Tarzan could unsling his bow the fellow had turned and ed down the path crying out in alarm as though to others before him. (133)” While we know that Tarzan is fiction this particular scene is like a macho fantasy one because there is no reason one would fear Tarzan. It is unlikely that they’d be afraid of a naked white man running around in their environment. Now notice the phrase, “unsling his bow” which is ironic because we know that this bow was stolen from the Africans. Also, why would this black warrior not have a bow and arrow himself? Even if Tarzan practiced with the bow and arrow he would not be as skilled as the natives. They not only engineered them but have a society and culture that would contribute to them mastering shooting a bow from an arrow through socialization and education. That apparently contributes to the whole racism which includes the insulting of people’s intelligence.
Scenes in Tarzan are remindful of southern lynching in the 19th and 20th century during which time the novel was published. “The blacks, their eyes protruding in horror, watched spellbound. Once beneath the trees, the body rose straight into the air, and as it disappeared into the foliage above, the terrified negroes, screaming with fright, broke into a mad race for the village gate. (248)” It is apparent that lynching was done in hopes of instilling fear of the latter description in maintaining white supremacy as exemplified in Tarzan even in the “African jungle.” By now we see numerous scenes of fearful Africans both in Tarzan and Captain Horn being repeated over and over again in hopes that this continuous repetition would make it true or real, for the obvious reasons that it is not true or actual.

Esmeralda in Tarzan of the Apes

Like the African Natives, Esmeralda is also depicted as fearful “like a frightened child(148).” Her character identity is posited as African American. We know this because she arrived from “America” as Jane’s maiden. Esmeralda wanted to leave the “African jungles.” She said, “You all don’t mean to tell ME that you’re going to stay right here in this here land of carnivable animals…Don’t you tell me THAT, honey.(280)” Not only is this voice clearly stereotypical, she is depicted as having absolutely no interest in the African continent much less in remaining there. Nor in her African roots because we already know that as an African American she would be of African descent.  The only way she would have no interest her African ancestral home, is if she had been brainwashed, denied or stripped of her history by the influence or behavior of oppressor/s during some type of servitude.

Esmeralda, like other “black” characters is there for entertainment—albeit a racist. It’s akin to the minstrel shows used to entertain the white masses. In this period these shows had to be racist to be deemed entertaining by white audiences.  I will go as far as saying that Esmeralda is “blackface”— a non-black character with theatrical makeup to represent a black person. Even though Esmeralda is not one of the African native, she is still portrayed as fearful as much as the African characters in the “jungle” where Tarzan also resides. Whether they are black Americans or Africans in the Congo, they are all depicted as the same: fearful. None of the black characters are portrayed in a suitable manner from the beginning.

Heart of Darkness

Conrad also depicted Africans in his novel in a stereotypical, superficial, and distasteful manner. Here is a descriptions of the natives, “Black shapes crouched, lay, sat between the trees, leaning against the trunks, clinging to the earth in all attitudes of pain, abandonment, and despair they were nothing earthly now….One of these creatures rose to his hands and knees and went off on all fours towards the river to drink. (Conrad 25)” The natives are portrayed as shapes and moving forms with no characteristics so as to distinguish one from the other.  They are described as animalistic, moving “on all fours,” and in a superstitious manner as in “nothing but black shadows of disease and starvation.(25)” Alluding to Captain Horn, they are Mok and Maka, very similar as if they are one body and not separate individuals.

Like Tarzan and Captain Horn, the Natives are described in sweeping generalizations and has literally one body. We know that the author did in fact go to this area of the African continent. However, he must have left with the same stereotypes he came with of Africans and did not discover a full truth exemplified in his racist descriptions of Africans as sub-human.

Similarly, the two previously mentioned novels, blacks aren’t given authentic voices. Marlowe chose to describe the voice of the Africans as a “growing murmur of voices” and a “violent babble of uncouth sounds(15).”

Solely based on authorship, one can tell that Borrough, Stockton, and Conrad do not know or have little to no familiarity with blacks making their stance superstitious. Examine the phrase, “Then Mbonga emerged, a look of mingled wrath and superstitious fear writ upon his hideous countenance.” European or white characters are not depicted as fearful, atleast not as much as melanated characters. Logically speaking it would more be the European that would be afraid not being familiar with the surroundings.

Apart from the authors being racist, one can argue that racism is superstition. The definition of superstition in the Webster’s dictionary is: 1. any belief, based on fear or ignorance, that is inconsistent with the known laws of science or with what is considered as true and rational. 2. any action or practice based on such a belief. Meanwhile dictionary.com defines superstition as “irrational belief usually founded on ignorance or fear and characterized by obsessive reverence…a notion, act or ritual that derives from such belief. 2. any irrational belief[racism], esp with regard to the unknown[blacks].” Evidently, it is ironic that the natives or blacks are repeatedly shown to be superstitious when it’s really Stockton reflected in Captain Horn and his crew, Borroughs, and Conrad that would likely be afraid and superstitious. They carry superstitious beliefs of blacks.

Colonialism in the texts

In both Tarzan and Captain Horn Europeans have been shipwrecked on another land in one way for another. In Tarzan and Heart of Darkness, however short, there have been colonialism.  When Lord Greystroke was sent to “[investigate] conditions in a British West Coast African Colony. The English men stated that the Africans were held in slavery. Even after their enlistment ended they were taken advantage of and kept in servitude for several more years. This is very similar to Heart of Darkness where the Africans are overworked as the earlier quote above describes their conditions and then left to die. In Tarzan there is also scenes that can arguably be symbolic of colonialism. When Tarzan steals the Native’s bows and arrows on numerous occasions, it is symbolic of Europeans exploitation of African resources. And when Tarzan was using the arrow against the Native it’s using the very resources they’ve gained from the oppressed against the oppressed. When “the devil of capriciousness entered [Tarzan’s] heart,” it can also be symbolic of the behavior of colonists because of the subjugation of people and echoes the title of Conrad’s novel—Heart of Darkness. Conrad and Borrough would say Europeans shouldn’t be in Africa looting and exploiting. All three authors would agree more or less that material things are the root of all evil.

Conclusion

As a black person reading Captain Horn, for example when I laugh, I always stop abruptly in my tracks to remember that I am laughing at the author’s ignorance. This novel could’ve been hilarious without racism and would make a great movie if my aforementioned discussion is considered. While reading Conrad’s description of blacks, I couldn’t help but think that he was mentally ill. If, Heart of Darkness’ goal was to show the evils of colonization then what better way to show this than through the eyes of oppressors? That Conrad had no empathy towards blacks, making his work less effective if it’s goal was to educate Europeans on the horrors of colonialism so that it may be eradicated. To actively fight colonialism and the oppression, blacks would have had to be an integral part of the solution. We know this because they are the ones oppressed and also because Europeans are on an African land. As for Tarzan, Borrough seems to admit something closer to the truth with this line near the end of the novel, “But one might as well judge all blacks by the fellow who ran amuck last week, or decide that all whites are cowards because one has met a cowardly white.(302)” So when it’s said and done Borrough is implying that in reality it is actually whites that are the cowards and that cowardice is only projected unto black characters in Tarzan and Captain Horn.

Virginity for Dorigen and Alisoun

Published December 10, 2015 by lorijss

Virginity for Dorigen and Alisoun
I. Introduction
Most critics overlook the importance of virginity in both Geoffrey Chaucer’s “the Wife of Bath’s tale” and to a lesser extent “the Franklins’ Tale.” Examining what virginity means to Alisoun and her failure, despite her efforts, to prove to herself that marriage is superior to virginity will help us to see her struggle in expressing love. In “The Wife of Bath’s Prologue,” Alisoun emphasizes virginity which she equates with cleanliness, purity and morality. She attributes “losing” her purity to being involved in a man’s world and this is expressed through her guilt about being a sinful wife.  In “the Franklin’s Tale,” Dorigen on the other hand honors virginity and chastity in her lament which makes her forget that she were ever married to Averagus if only for a while to drift off into this otherworldly notion of virginity.
Alisoun made sure that she was getting “paid not played.” Her marriage for the most part was not based on love so it could not possibly prevail over virginity in all its shapes and forms – physical or emotional view. She equates losing her virginity to being in a man’s world and this is expressed through her guilt about being a sinful wife. She then goes into a discussion on how imperfect barley represents marriage while purified wheat represents virginity. However, Alison—the Wife of Bath does not prove that these two barleys are on equal footing due to this physical view of virginity as not only barley but a prize to be won. Virginity then is important to The Wife of Bath’s prologue and tale and to Alison’s behavior as a wife.
Both women present virginity at the onset of their failed or failing marriages. Dorigen does this in the moment of being forced to keep the promise she made to Averagus while Alisoun does this at the beginning of her prologue, knowing that all her five marriages, particularly the last four ones, as failed. Specifically, Alison turns to virginity near the beginning of her prologue after a brief unsuccessful attempt at proving that marriage on top of marriage, was the way to go. Dorigen’s lament is more applicable to Alison in the Wife of Bath’s Tale than to Dorigen herself only because Alisoun is the exact opposite of the women Dorigen listed. The women Dorigen talks about exemplified chastity and virtue and knew what love was and as a result were willing to die for it. Her lament’s brings virginity closer to love which as a more emotional standpoint. When we compare Alison to the women in Dorigen’s lament, this begs the question, did Alison have her way because she was not particularly virtuous and didn’t care about love? Alison’s view of virginity is physical she does not prove that her marriage superseded it. Evidently, Alisoun’s latter view of virginity and Dorigen’s emotional view of it, as a much larger and extensive role than is otherwise admitted by themselves within the tales, to readers and scholars respectively. One view more damaging than the other.
Firstly, in order to delve more into virginity let us first attempt to understand how virginity was viewed in the Middle Ages: Referring to The Physician’s Tale, Sandra Prior states that in medieval Christian understanding virginity meant purity and innocence. It was the most important part of purity in mankind, virginity was what made humans a worthy sacrifice to God. Virginity, she states, then is “protected like it is a special good or chattel, what is being protected is the physical goods – the body” (Prior 172). Hence, Dorigen and Alisoun both upholding virginity is but a reflection of the middle age Christian ideology that virginity is purity. Only this medieval view of virginity as purity does Dorigen express. The idea that virginity was the “prized good or chattel” of the body, explains why Alisoun’s seems to focus so much on the physical aspects of most of her marriages. Alisoun having, laid the foundation of “virginity” being a physical good proceeds to having all her marriages mainly focused on physical intimacy in exchange for money.
Let us examine further how Alisoun fails to show how marriage is superior to virginity due to her physicality of it. Charles W. M Henebry states that the Wife, shows the superiority of marriage, “with the defense of marriage against the claims of St. Jerome” (146-147). Specifically, when she states that if everyone where to live like virgins for the rest of their lives, human beings would seize to exist. This statement shows her emotionally distant view of virginity as she herself does not have any children. Granted, she wanted marriage to be superior but did not succeed in proving to herself that it actually was. She says that the prize is set for virginity and whoever can, can win it —“The dart is set up for virginitee; / Cacche who so may: who rennet best lat see. (74-5).” To her virginity is a physical prize, like a chattel to be won. This shows that she upholds virginity even after her attempt to convince herself that marriage is superior to virginity by the use of Jerome. She also says, “virginitee is greet perfeccioun/ And continence eek with devocioun.(105-106)” is another attempt at upholding virginity which undermines her subsequent attempts at asserting any superiority of marriage to virginity. After this she turns gears and begins to describe the economical and psychological domination that her marriage was based on. She asserts:
“I would no longer in the bed abyde
If that I felt his arm over my syde
Till that he had maad his raunson unto me
Thanne wolde I sufre hym do his nycetee.” (409-12).
This shows that in exchange of going to bed with her husband he has to pay her. Marriage based on such ideals could not possibility be superior to virginity. The fact that she goes into a monologue about what virginity means to her shows that she has not figured out how to make her marriage on a higher threshold than virginity.
The underlying impact that Jankyn’s book of wicked wives had on Alison, is of the good wife or good woman not making an influence, because she doesn’t exist. Marriage for the most part as caused Alison’s pain and heartache. Having gotten married at the age of twelve, she has not had foundational knowledge of healthy marital love. Alison’s fourth husband was a wanderer, and that just thinking of him makes her “drift off” into thoughts of her not being young anymore. However, this can also imply that they both could possibly have cheated on each other. This can be interpreted as she wandering about to find other men and her husband wandering about to find other women. In her retaliation to this “cheating” she did all she could to make him jealous and to exert dominance over him. Her fifth marriage was important in that it was a marriage to a young man and this brought her closer to her youthful days of virginity – the only thing she actually loves. However all hell breaks loose on this nostalgic reason for choosing a younger man when her husband Janekyn chooses to spend his time reading a book about “wikkyd wyves.(685)” When Alice rips three pages out of her husband’s book Book of Wicked Wives, it isn’t jealousy as many scholars are so quick to say, it is guilt. It is an expression of her guilt complex of her not being a “good” wife — devoted, loving and faithful. Not only to Janekyn but to all her previous husbands as well. If she were a “good” wife, Jankyn would have no need to be reading books about evil women and she being a virtuous wife would have dispelled his notions of or acute interest in wicked wives. She stated that he knew more about wicked women “than been of gode wyves in the Bible. (687)” Does this mean that he did not acknowledge his own wife Alisoun as being a good woman? Apparently not, so now she has a guilt complex that Jankyn is only interested in books of these contents because of her. Alisoun is guilty that her expression of love was not enough to counteract her youngest spouse’s keen interest in tales of wicked women. I agree with Storm Melvin that her physical and spiritual barrenness does not spring forth – “good words or good works.(300)” I add that she is physically barren because she is not in love at this moment.
When Alison rips three pages out of her husband’s book (790), this brings into play another complication. She does not talk about how she felt about Jankyn reading misogynistic literature, she only said that he were reading tales about wikkid wives. Let us delve into why Alison’s prologue cannot be trusted wholly. One reason is her distortion of biblical doctrines. She argues that it is okay for her to have more than one husband because of King Solomon (44). She stated that she wished it were lawful for her like king Solomon to be “refreshed” each time she got married (38). Then she exclaims at how it was a gift from God that he had so many wives. She then goes on to say that he was happy with each of his wives and all his wives and him were living joyfully (35-43). She evades noting that it was precisely this that lead to his downfall. Then she talks about Abraham and Jacob who had more than two wives (55-57). She does this in order to absolve her guilt of having gotten married five times with her he-did-it-so-I can-do-it-too-stance. Her spiritual bareness is evident in these distortion of biblical doctrines which would be unlikely if she were spiritual. These distortions lend a hand to her marriages predominantly economically based where Alison consents to bed with her husbands in exchange for finance. So it is no surprise that feelings mean little to Alisoun, adding to her unspirituality..
The three pages symbolizes the three old men that she has had such an unsatisfactory marriage with and represents revenge on all those years of sex without love. She ripping three leaves out of Jankyn’s book can also represent the revenge of rape or sexual exploitation on behalf of the maiden in the tale. This behavior alludes to the quote, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” One of the pages out of the ripped three represents towards her virginity being “ripped” from her at a young age. The other two pages represents her dissatisfaction with her old husbands who could not perform in bed all the way to their graves. This is but a payback to all her husbands for having lost her virginity in an economical manner that as left her, “spiritually barren.” For her virginity, like the book to her husband – is and was her most “prized possession.” She also hits Jankyn in the face (792), when one would think ripping the pages out of his book was enough. So she is not just retaliating to her last husband but to all her prior husbands as well. Therefore her experiences are piled up and she is lashing these out on the last younger husband, Jankyn assuming that he can take a hit better than an old man. Doloras Poloma asserts that the rape in the tale, represents for Alisoun a transition from innocent, pure virgin to corruptible wife (4). Unbeknownst to Jankyn, he reacts in a violent manner, hitting Alisoun so hard that she dropped to the floor and was left deaf (795). The ripping of the pages not only represents revenge of the maiden that got raped in Alisoun’s tale, but suggests why she is immediately omitted out of the story after the rape. Her exclusion only makes sense when we consider that we already see the reprisal of the raped maiden in Alisoun’s behavior towards Jankyn.
Alisoun also took the time out to tell a long tale to showcases her power and ability as a woman. In the tale a knight is just returning from war. He sees a fair maiden and rapes her. Everyone in the kingdom is shocked and he is taken to the palace where King Author allows the queen to decide the knight’s fate for raping the maiden. I agree with Poloma that the rape in the tale represents for Alisoun a loss of her supposed purity and youth. I would add that she is still grappling to reclaim or overcome that loss through a means far from love. The fact that the woman decides what happens to the knight, represents what Alisoun sees as female power over a man after he has done something wrong. When Janekyn thought that he killed Alisoun, he gives her the power to decide what happens in their relationship. This is similar to when the king hands over to the queen the power to determine the faith of the rapist knight.
Also most critics do not seem to question whether the knight can actually take the maiden’s virginity since rape is an act of forceful violence. For example, William Kamowski, states that, “besides committing a rape, the knight has stolen from his young victim her maidenhood” (8). I do not believe that her virginity was actually taken from her because she did not consent to having sex with the knight so by virtue she is still a virgin. These critics fail to acknowledge the emotional aspects of virginity like Alisoun. How does Alisoun fail to do this? She herself states that the knight “takes away” the maiden’s virginity evidently not attributing virginity to a state of mind as she detaches it from its emotional component. She attributes virginity to something of a prized physical good hence why a man can steal or take it away. If virginity is something emotional can it be as “taken away” as easily?
The origins of Allison’s focus on the physical is in medieval views of virginity as a physical good — “prized chattel,” which in turn formed the foundation of her marriages. This focus on the physical as evidenced through her prized-chattel view on virginity also forms the foundation of her focus on physical attraction. The Wife goes on to describe that “during the funeral she was struck by the handsomeness of Jankyn’s feet (Henebry 154).” Most scholars do not discuss the significance of this line, which displays physical attraction being the main focus of her heterosexual relationships.
“As help me God! Whan that I saugh him go
After the bere, me thought he hadde a paire
Of leggess and of feet so clene and faire
That al myn herte I yaf unto his hold.(595-599)”

This shows us that physical attraction is precisely how she got all her husbands, perhaps not the first since she were only twelve years old. It also shows the importance of physical attraction to Alison and suggests that she herself partly used this to her advantage in her attainment of husbands. She also talks about how she having a gapped tooth worked to attract Jankyn, “gat-tothed as I was, and that bicam me weel; (603)” According to the editors of the Norton Anthology, to be gap toothed in medieval handbooks of physiognomy, meant to have a “bold” and “lascivious” nature (115). Peter G. Beidler discusses the physical appearance of Alisoun, specifically concerning the line, “A foot-mantel aboute hir hips large,” where he tries to convince Chaucer’s readers of the possibility of them being wrong about reading that line to mean that the Wife of Bath has large hips. Most people, he asserts, including himself read this as literally meaning that Alisoun has large hips. Beidler argues that because Chaucer is writing in middle English we can take into possibility that what Chaucer meant is for “large” to be read as an adverb describing how her “foot-mantle was draped loosely around her hips, rather than as an adjective describing the size of her hips” keeps readers focused on what he believes Chaucer can only see—which is her clothes. So Beidler’s speculation is that “large” means “loose.” I will reverse this hypothesis to claim that sometimes the easiest explanation is the truest. Perhaps she does have big hips and it can be shown under her garments and it is her hips that is a part of the reason, (however small or large that is) in her getting husbands. Were her hips part of her physical attractiveness? The fact that she is financially independent in those times tells us that she for the most part had her way with all her husbands, financially. There is a connection between her having “large hips” and her four husbands. This adds weight to how she was able to continue attracting husbands than if her garments were being “loosely worn.” This same physical attraction attribute spills over into the Tale where the knight lusted after the physical attraction of the maiden through rape. Chaucer seeing only The Wife’s clothes does not add any significance to the Prologue and especially the Tale. Alisoun’s own obsession with physical aspects of relationship with her overt expression of sexual favors tells us that Chaucer wanted us to see Alison the way she was and the way she was, was a physically focused individual. In return this was how she saw others and virginity – physically.
Dorigen’s lament is very applicable to Alisoun, the fact that this is even possible gives one a clue as to how Chaucer might’ve ended the Canterbury Tales had he completed it, although this is not what this paper is about. Dorigen’s lament implies that virginity is the best existence for a women. She drifts off into this otherworldly notion of virginity forgetting for a moment, vows of marriage and the pain of having to keep them. Her lament gives rise to numerous virgin women that would rather commit suicide than to be exploited by men. Alisoun in contrasts flips the script on this and exploits men for their money thereby eluding sexual exploitation. Then Dorigen’s goes on to talk about women who would rather die than lose the chastity that they have kept. “Hath ther nat many a noble wyf er this/ Ad many a mayd, y-slayne hirself, allas!/ Rather than with hir body doon trespas. (1364-66)” Alisoun would rather live and couldn’t care less about being faithful to her husband as long as she is cashing in. However financial security comes at an expense with her “spiritual bareness” and lack of a convincing expression of love. In this striking contrast between Dorigen’s lament and Alison’s traits we are given a clearer picture of Alisoun’s personality — one that outlived five husbands due to her physical focus on virginity which ensured that money would help her to survive. Chaucer would have connected Dorigen and Alisoun’s character on a way that would allow them to learn from and or complimented each other.
II. Virginity for Dorigen
Dorigen’s view of virginity is more emotional and this helps readers to be more convinced that the marriage reconciliation at the end of the tale with Averagus would have a happy-ever after. Dorigen talks about the fifty virgins who would rather die than be raped by men whom they apparently have no feelings for. Dorigen ties virginity to dignity and the necessity of having feelings for men, hence a deduction is made of her emotional view of virginity. This view is responsible for her being able to show her feelings for Averagus whereupon Aurelius acquiesced and broke the prior vow she made with him so that she could return to her husband, Averagus. Another way to interpret this is that Aurelius could interpret her facial expressions and see whom she truly wanted to be with. So just before Aurelius releases Dorigen from the vow he states “…I see well your distress…/I have wel levere evere to suffer wo/Than I departe the love bitwix yow two” (1528-1532). Aurelius is simply reflecting what he could read about Dorigen. Hence Dorigen’s emotional view of virginity set the stage for her view of her marriage as likewise emotional. In essence, she is more responsible for Aurelius breaking the vow with her than is otherwise noted by readers and scholars, including the feminist interpretation that Aurelius denied Dorigen the power of choice. Dorigen’s emotional stance towards virginity makes a more convincing happily-ever after with her husband Averagus.
Now that a clearer picture of Alisoun as now been painted, her Tale will be examined as one that does not prove any superiority of marriage to herself and possibly to her fellow pilgrims. Firstly the rapist knight is a representation of her husbands who have supposedly stolen her innocence and made her “corruptible.” However, in the tale we do not hear of the rape-victim. We see the knight searching far and wide to find out what women truly desires, if he does not find the answer to this in a year he will have his head taken by order of the Queen to King Arther. When he finally reaches upon an old woman, commonly referred to as the hag, he promises that he will do whatever she wants in exchange for the answer; then she gives him the answer. What Allison is trying to say through the hag in the tale, is that she Allison is older and more experienced and knows what a woman wants due to all her experiences specifically those that she has had with numerous men. Noticed that before he stumbles upon the hag there were numerous younger woman telling him all sorts of responses concerning what a woman wants that did not feel right until he finally got to the hag. They both go to the court and the night tells the queen what he has learned from the old woman.
My life lady, generally quote he,
wommen desyren to have sovereyntee
As well over hir housbond as hir love,
And for to been in maistre him above. (1037-40)
When we fast forward to this and the hag asks the knight if he would have a young and beautiful woman that is not faithful but cheats or a hag that will be faithful for time and eternity. Then Allison posits that the night and the hag lives happily ever after. There is one critical dilemma here, what becomes of the maiden? Can this couple, specifically the knight who as supposedly learned his lesson, live in happiness not knowing what became of the raped maiden? Love is a juxtaposition here, an isolated incidence of violence is a predisposition to love. This does not prove any superiority to virginity, at least from Allison’s Tale. This only tells us that in order to have a successful marriage there must be an act of violence that links to some form of happiness in a relationship.
Another example for when violence is seen as a catalyst for love is when critics like Warren Smith believe that when women such as Laodamia and Portia in Dorigen’s lament kill themselves rather than live without their husbands, “it only serves to verify the depth of their love. (387)” One can even argue that this is in stark contrast to Allison because in no way form or shape would she kill herself rather than live without her husbands. Evidently a woman killing herself rather than being with another man after her husband’s death is not an act of love but rather a retaliation to her oppression and the limitations in her choices. Suicide—violence should never be an expression of love under any circumstance. Also, there is one thing Alison would say contributed to her supposedly happy marriage, a beating from her husband who is twenty years younger than her.
III. Conclusion
Separating the Tale from the Prologue, the rapist knight living happily ever after with the hag does not dispel a possible revenge from the maiden. When the Tale and Prologue is joined together, the violated maiden as already gotten her revenge through Alisoun hitting Jankyn and ripping the pages of his book. After Alisoun scares Jankyn into thinking she was dead after he hit her, Alisoun and Jankyn’s abuse of each other leads to an unconvincing happy-ever-after, where Jankyn allows Alisoun to call the shots out of his own guilt and fear. The hag teaches the knight a critical lesson to allow the woman to have what her heart desires, but there is still this underlying notion that some sort of violence —rape must be the instigator of some happy marriage. Since the knight did rape the maiden. Alison’s marriages have been based on superficial elements – sex, money and a fight of dominance in the relationship. Hence physical, economic and fury based marriages cannot supersede virginity and the Pilgrim audience must caution themselves after hearing The Wife of Bath’s Tale.
Alison and Dorigen to a lesser extent tales prove that virginity is the best existence for a woman when a marriage is failing or have failed. Alison tales if anything proves that violence, money and sex are the physical components that predominate all of her marriages stemming from her indoctrination of virginity as something physical. Alison’s prologue and tale also ended up only proving that virginity — though her view of it was physical, was better. However, the proof was done in a manner that served to corrupt her, her perception of love and maneuverings of her marriages. Her physical view of virginity ended up making her happily-ever-after tale with Jankyn doubtful especially since, she even outlives Jankyn. Not only that, her happily ever after ending of the hag and the knight is also unconvincing because both ignored a possible revenge from the raped maiden. Dorigen tale on the other hand upheld virginity only briefly in the hectic moment of feeling as if she had to keep a vow she made with Averagus. This was dissipated owing to her emotional view of virginity which formed the foundation of her viewing her marriage emotionally, then in essence saving it. Female and male antagonism can only be dissipated with love of a spiritual and emotional base and not through physicality of violence or dominance..
Works Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Franklin’s Prologue and Tale.” The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and
the General Prologue. Comp. and ed. V. A. Kolve, and Glending Olson. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005. 212-33. Print.
Baym, Nina, and Robert S. Levine. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 8th ed. New
York: W.W. Norton, 2013. Print.
Beidler, Peter G. “Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s “Foot-Mantel” and Her “Hipes Large.” The Chaucer
Review 34.4 (2000): 388-97. Web.
Henebry, Charles W. M. “Apprentice Janekyn/Clerk Jankyn: Discrete Phases in Chaucer’s
Developing Conception of the Wife of Bath.” The Chaucer Review 32.2 (1997): 146-
61. Print.
Kamowski, William. “The Sinner Against the Scoundrels: The Ills of Doctrine and “Shrift” in the
Wife of Bath’s, Friar’s and Summoner’s Narratives.” Religion & Literature 25.1
(1993): 1-18. JSTOR. Web. 24 Nov. 2015.
Palomo, Dolores. “The Fate of the Wife of Bath’s “bad Husbands””. The Chaucer Review 9.4
(1975): 303–319. Web.
Prior, Sandra. “Virginity and Sacrifice in Chaucer’s Physician Tale.” Constructions of Widowhood and Virginity in the Middle Ages. Ed. Cindy L. Carlson and Angela Jane
Weisl. London: Macmillan, 1999. Print.
Salih, Sarah. Versions of Virginity in Late Medieval England. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: D.S. Brewer, 2001. Print.
Smith, Warren S. “Dorigen’s Lament and the Resolution of the Franklin’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review 36.4 (2002): 374-90. Web.
Storm, Melvin. “The Miller, the Virgin and the Wife of Bath.” Neophilologus 75.2 (1991): 291. ProQuest. 7 Dec. 2015 .

Imagery over romantic love in Astrophil and Stella I

Published December 2, 2015 by lorijss

Imagery over romantic love in Astrophil and Stella I

Many people struggle with expressing their feelings for others. In Astrophil and Stella Sonnet 1 Sidney does just that with a lover, struggle. He starts to declare how he has been trying to find the right words that would make his poem have an impact on its recipient. Unfortunately for him, this woman doesn’t give him the time of day so he is stuck with his imagination rather than any expression of romantic interaction. Incapable of writing a poem about his professed love for this woman, he does however, successfully uses succinct imagery to express how difficult it is for romantic words to come out unto the paper.
There are multiple ways to interpret some of the image-laden lines. Most notably the line “I sought fit words, to paint the blackest face of woe” where he starts to declare how he has been trying to find the right words that would make his poem have an impact on its recipient. He wants something that will arouse pity from his lover in order to get her attention. He hopes that this attention in the form of pity will transform into returned love. “The blackest face of woe” can be interpreted racially by an African American reader. If taken literally posits that to have a black face is to be in misery. It can even be seen as racist; as a woe is a thing that causes trouble and distress implying to be black is to cause trouble. The other meaning is that Sidney simply sees himself as the most depressed and sorrowful person on the face of the earth.
Sidney paints a vivid picture of the condition of his mind during writer’s block. Another densely packed imagery line is, “Some fresh and fruitful showers upon my sunburn’d brain,” is that gives the reader an idea that he is in pain, trying to force something from his head, rubbing two sticks together to create fire. The only problem is that he ends up sunburn’d. Now he would like something fresh and original, fruitful as in mindblowing and profound stemming from a shower of inspiration. There is a world wind going on inside of him that he wants to unleash but feels week, saying he is “great with child to speak and helpless in my throes.” This metaphorical imagery lets us know that he wants to lets the words out but is unable to. He empathizes with a woman late in pregnancy who cannot wait for the birth of the baby and who experiences intense pain and struggle in childbirth. “By biting [his] truant pen,” televises it in one’s mind not only that he is biting his pen but that he’s truant like an absent student who is not where he needs to be when he needs to be in school. Finally the writer is on to something, he begins to think that there is something he is not doing, somewhere he is not going.
The most powerful line of the poem is the very last one that is introduced through, “beating myself for spite,” where he blames himself. It is this self-flagellation that incites his Muse to say immediately after, “Fool, look in thy heart and write.” It would appear that this might have been more captivating if his Muse yelled this instead; if Sidney had put an exclamation point to indicate strong feelings. Upon first read it would appear that he comes out of nowhere with that command of writing from the heart, but a closer encounter shows that he beats it out of himself. One sees how closely beating is related to the heart. He is possibly subconsciously aware of his heartbeating. His muse tugs at his heartstring urging him to look within. Hence a firm statement can be just as resounding and emphatic as an indication of strong feelings. The ultimate line also vibrates (resonate, continue to cause the preceding lines to be heard) the preceding lines: blackest face of woe, great with child, and sunburnt brain, allowing underlying cohesive depth to the poem. These are examples of successfully crafted imagery. Behold, Sidney completed an imaginative poem even though it isn’t particularly the romantic-love one he set out to do in the beginning.

Works Cited
Philip Sidney. “From Astrophil and Stella I.” The Norton Anthology English Literature: 8th ed. Vol. 1. Greenblatt, Stephen, General Editor. New York: Norton, 2012. 1084-1085. Print.

An African American Jamaican Explication of London by William Blake

Published November 28, 2015 by lorijss

An African Jamaican Explication of London by William Blake

Cities are notorious for insinuating dark and dreary emotions from internal corruption and oppression. London by William Blake paints a dark portrait of London as a city in desolation. Even though he may be writing about the environment at present, the depressing imagery of the poem can be applied to not only London but just about any corrupt city in the world. Not only is this poem a depiction of his time in London but a premonition of what’s to come. Repetition and juxtaposition are the most powerful devices that Blake uses as through this he is able to paint that haunting and sorrowful picture of gloom in every stanza. This in turn adds to the poem’s universality towards human suffering.
Repetition is at its strongest when he is repeating not necessarily words but dark emotions:
In every cry of every man
In every Infant’s cry of fear
In every voice, in every ban
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear: (5-8)
Here Blake is emphasizing the intricate reasons for every expression of grief. I think the repetition of ending sounds in words at the end of each line such as “Man” and” ban,” “fear” and “hear” represents the crying calls to be heard or for social consciousness.. “The mind-forged manacles I hear,” is him simply stressing the oppression that stems from political, economic and religious corruption. This line we see its universal application, it’s as if Blake is urging one to break free from the shackles of slavery, obviously in this case it would mean mental slavery. The speaker hearing these “mind-forged manacles” ears are tuned to the clanking of the chains tied to each person’s foot as they walk under the captivity that elicit their cries.
The description of these appalling conditions allows flexibility in interpretation. When he states “how the Chimney sweeper’s cry,” one can even imply that this sound of a cry is enough to seep into one’s soul; so this is more than hearing. “Every blackening church appalls” is stating that the conditions that the people are under while cleaning chimneys tells us that the church is allowing people to work under these appalling conditions by not being proactive about it at the time Blake is writing the poem. Here he is highlighting religious corruption or hypocrisy. There is a premonition of death because the chimney smoke can get into your lungs, thereby shortening your lifespan through respiratory diseases. This could mean that the smoke from the chimney is “blackening” the skins of the fair-skinned child workers. We see the juxtaposition here, “blackening” could symbolize the moral decay of the church. It could also mean that the skin of fair-skinned workers are “blackening;” they are now toiling like the enslaved Africans, including children, in the British colonies. Except now the conditions are a result of the Industrial Revolution. I think the word “blackening” in this poem leaves room for that sort of racial interpretation.
The last stanza serves as a reminder as to what it’s like walking the streets of a gloomy London all day. Then what that boils down to as the day nears its end. The dark tone seems to have been building up from bad to worse. When a reader subconsciously ties blackening from previous stanza with “midnight” from last stanza, there is another juxtaposition. Day fades into midnight as if to say day is “blackening.” What makes this very effective is what he describes after the scene is set –prostitution. This “blasts the new-born Infant’s tear,” could mean new born babies are born blind because of a parent’s venereal disease (Baym et al). It may mean that the prostitution doesn’t make the person fit to be a parent and so when the child is growing up he or she shed “tears” as a retaliation to their parent’s unfit parenting. Some might not know who the father of the child is given that history of prostitution. The missing parent causes an infant to cry as they suffer more without two parents. The line “Plagues the Marriage hearse” tells the apparent undermining of the sanctity of marriage. Married people engaging in prostitution as a way to make ends meet shows the deep rooted social issues Blake is letting his readers become aware of.
The strength of this poem lies it’s effective use of repetition of the word cry, and allowing the word “blackening” to be interpreted through different lenses. Its application goes far beyond just London, it is universal and represents that common human experience of suffering. Perhaps the repetition is Blake’s way of telling readers that the conditions described, repeats itself in the present day by day but that this will become the very history that will repeat itself in years to come. The speaker’s repetition of dreary emotions is a catalyst for change. Granted the cries doesn’t fall on deaf “unempathetic” ears, social awareness leads to social change. This may be what the speaker was trying to imply by ending the poem on such a gloomy note that these conditions, if we don’t nip it in the bud, will become a catastrophe.
Works Cited
Blake, William. “London.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013. 132-33. Print.

Baym, Nina, and Robert S. Levine. “London.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 9th ed. Vol. D. New York: W.W. Norton, 2013. 132-33. Print.

 

Christian elements in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Second Shepherds’ play

Published November 28, 2015 by lorijss

Christian elements in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Second Shepherds’ play

In “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight,” Christ is an overarching figure. We see this in Gawain’s faith when setting out to complete the deathly obligations he has made with the Green knight. Like Christ who knew of his own death following his pact with God. Gawain is tested on his chastity, when the keeper of the castle’s mistress tries to kiss him. It is through these temptations that one sees his reoccurring Christian belief that triggers his smooth evasion of the mistress’ seduction. Again, comparable to Christ who resisted the Devil’s temptations. Likewise in The Second Shepherds’ play, the theme of Christianity is expressed through the shepherds’ forgiveness in difficult times, ultimately foreshadowing the birth of a savior.
Gawain is firm about his faith in Christianity. His “faith was founded in the five wounds Christ received on the cross (199).” On Gawain´s armor, the star or pentangle represents the five joys of Mary, Annunciation, Nativity, Resurrection, Ascension, and Assumption. The conduct of the knights are modeled on the five joys of Mary, “friendship, fraternity, purity, politeness, and pity (199).” So Gawain’s armor is definitely a symbolic rendition of Christ on the cross. It reminds him of how to behave as a knight and that motivates him. When he is going through the mountainside and forests he constantly prays to God and says, “Be near me, in my need (202).” In this way he is asking the Lord to watch and protect him from the very harm he is expecting.
It is through the prior imperfections of Biblical figures that allows one to see Christ’s perfection. After finding out that Lady Bastilak seducing him was but an orchestration to test him, he says, “But no wonder if a fool finds his way into folly and be wiped of his wits by womanly guile (235).” Displeased with himself, he goes on to say that Adam fell because of a woman, that King Solomon had too many wives and so forth. Then finally, that David was fooled by Bathsheba and paid the price with sorrow. He references the imperfections of the men in the bible as if saying that a woman has inherent seduction capabilities that men, as a result, cannot control themselves towards. Still Christ was not mentioned directly but remains the overarching but invisible figure in this instance because he is a symbol of perfection. In this case, Gawain thinks his mistake were as bad as these men of the bible which harkens his Christian faith. His efforts of striving for the perfection of Christ is thwarted for the moment.
In The Second Shepherds’ Play, there is an overarching theme of Christ’s forgiving nature sprinkled throughout. The first sign of this is when the well-known sheep thief Gib, through self-pity, arouses the sympathy of the three Shepherds who let their guard down, befriends him and let him sleep amongst them only to wake up and find one of their sheep missing. When they come to the house of Gib and his wife Mak, the sheep was wrapped up in a blanket as a baby to deceive them. Again this arouses sympathy in the Shepherds. When the truth was revealed, the Shepherds give Gib a third chance when they decide to punish him slightly. Since the punishment for stealing sheep is to be hanged. This is not only because Mak and Gib have children to take care of but because the shepherds are good and humble, reminiscent of Christ. It is this that gave them the opportunity to witness the birth of Christ.
We see through the faith of the characters that Christ is the overarching figure in both tales. The Shepherds’ actions are symbolic of Christ’s forthcoming purpose on earth. Like Christ the three shepherds give people like Gib a lot of chances after they have known them to do wrong. Christ takes this a lot further through his repeated goodwill and acts of forgiveness, and through death on the cross saying, “Forgive them please for they know not what they’ve done.” His resurrection continues that embodiment of forgiveness in Christian faith. In the end, it can be presumed that Christ did protect Gawain as the Green Knight only nicked his neck instead of beheading him. The characters’ hardships and shortcomings are counteracted through either lessons learnt or a happy ending.
Works cited
Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Anthology English Literature. 8th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2012. 186-238. Print.
“Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Greenblatt 186-238.
“Wakefield Second Shepherds’ Play.” Greenblatt 450-476.

Wife “pimping” in the Franklin’s Tale

Published November 23, 2015 by lorijss

Wife “Pimping” in the Franklin’s Tale?

“I have an old saying framed in my office. It goes like this, ‘If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.’ That’s how I feel about a marriage partner, “is one of the numerous variations of this anonymous quote that applies to the Franklin’s tale, specifically to Averagus behavior. Hardly any critics of “The Franklin Tale” comment on what might’ve been the true underlying reason for Averagus sending his wife off to the squire and if they do it is usually through negative lens. What if Averagus may not actually be giving up his wife to Aurelius, but acting on the faith that Aurelius would do the right thing as a knight-in-the-making; and that is to return Averagus´ wife to him. Was he doing a favor to society by helping to prepare future knights for knighthood? If Aurelius returns this act of generosity is this a stepping stone for knighthood? Most critics take Averagus’ action at face value and assume that he wasn’t wise or did not have any common sense. However, when he says to Dorigen — just before setting her free, that maybe everything will turn out okay; he wasn’t gambling or rolling dice, he was allowing things to unfold through faith in untainted love. He loved Dorigen enough that he wanted to let her go, to free her from the bondage of a reason to stay with him and from any of his patriarchal influence. He knows about the latter because he is freeing her from him, knowing that that influence may be upon her wanting to stay with him.
When the Franklin asked, “ which was the most free, as thinkest yow?(1622)” One can argue that Averagus was the most generous if “free” means to be generous and Dorigen was the most “free” in the literal sense of the word. Dorigen makes a promise to Aurelius, the squire that if he could make the rocks disappear she would commit adultery on her husband – is this a premonition of her becoming “free” from reasons to be with her husband? When Averagus sends his wife off to another man wrapped, with a ribbon on her — a gift, this can be seen as an act of generosity. What if Averagus may not actually be giving up his wife to Aurelius, but acting on faith in true love? And to a lesser extent, the faith that Aurelius would do the right thing as an aspiring knight; and that is to return Averagus´ wife to him. Other critics such as Thormann, assert that Averagus “pimps” his wife. Whereas McGregor argues along similar lines that Averagus does not understand his wife, for what she wanted was different than the words that left her mouth. Also  it was this misunderstanding that enabled him to insist she keep her vow. These critics see Averagus’ behavior through negative lens by taking his action at face-value, thereby assuming that he was foolish. The one critic showcasing a neutral perspective is Greene. She says that virtuousness leads to happiness, and that the happy couple must enlist virtuousness in all aspects of their lives, especially in the face of adversity. In this way that very virtuousness almost always assures happiness in an imperfect world. Dorigen and Averagus were virtuous people who did the best they could do in the circumstances they’ve been given and their actions have underlying implications.  Averagus is not simply giving up his wife to Aurelius, but acting on the faith that Dorigen’s true feelings for him would affect the outcomes. Lastly, that Aurelius would do the right thing and that is to mimic Averagus’ generosity by returning his wife to him. Dorigen, on the other hand, was simply reacting to the absence of her husband. Aurelius was behaving typical of a squire, and it is behaviors such as what Averagus does that ultimately but indirectly prepares Aurelius for knighthood. When he hearkens unto Dorigen’s feelings and relinquish’s her from her vow, he is essentially learning how to make sound decisions as a knight.
Thormann interprets Aurelius’ action at face value in that he literally hands his wife over to another man. She argues that Aurelius’ willingness to send his wife off to another man is completely against what is expected of a Christian marriage, that his belief that everything works out well does not eliminate the implication that Aurelius is acting like a “pimp.” I am refuting this and arguing instead that it actually does eliminate Aurelius’ supposed pimping, and shows that there are underlying reasons for his action. When Averagus  states that, “It may be wel, paraventure” (1473), he is actually suggesting two things. One, that he expects that Aurelius would make the right decision, and that is breaking her out of her vow with him and returning her to her husband. This decision would be based on reading Dorigen’s facial expressions and sensing that she actually wants to be with her husband and not Aurelius. Two, that Aurelius as a future-knight would imitate the generosity of Averagus who is already a knight. My main argument in refuting her claim is that if Averagus was simply handing over his wife to the squire, he would not have said, “perhaps all will be well” or have any form of faith. Because if Averagus was pimping his wife over to another man, it is already apparent that all cannot possibly turn out well.
McGreger also interprets Averagus’ actions at face-value and through negative lens. She argues that Averagus ignores Dorigen’s “intent.” Even while acknowledging other critics’ argument that Averagus is actually respecting Dorigen’s will, she refutes this and states that he does not separate her “words” from her “intent.” He also views her “words,” that is, the promise that she made to Aurelius, as more important than her intent — which was to make sure Aurelius never got access to her body. She brought up that if he makes all the rocks disappear, “Ye remoeve alle the rokkes, stoon by stoon…/I seye when ye han maad the coost so clene/Of rokkes, that ther nis no stoon y-sene—”(993-996). She thought that it would be impossible for Aurelius to ever succeed in having all the rocks disappear and felt free to make this promise. While McGregor doesn’t explicitly conclude that it is him ignoring Dorigen’s “intent” that enabled him to insist that Dorigen keep her promise to the squire, it can be implied. Essentially McGregor would agree with Thormann, that Averagus is pimping his own wife because he doesn’t understand her and is “ignoring her sense of who she is” (372).
Here I will examine Dorigen’s “intent” and Averagus’ likely interpretation of it. Averagus’ reaction tells us that “intent” verses “words” is in itself a contradiction. If Dorigen’s intent was to make sure the squire never got access to her body, then she has failed in that regard since this promise actually only opened up the possibility of Aurelius having access to her body. Therefore this “intent” should have either elicited a different set of words leaving her mouth or no words such as that, spoken. Frankly, Dorigen saying, “I wol ben his to whom that I am knit/ Take this for final answere as of me” (986-987), would have sufficed in making sure that she was hands-off to Aurelius. “What deyntee sholde a man han in his lyf/ For to go love another mannes wyf,/ That hath hir body whan so that him lyketh?” (1003-1005) would have also sufficed. If these were all that Dorigen said, it would have sent a point-blank signal to Aurelius that he did not stand a chance. Aurelius may not want any contradiction in his interpretation of the supposed love that Dorigen has for him. I am therefore refuting McGregor’s assertion and arguing that Averagus sees Dorigen’s “intent” and “words” as the same thing, there is no contradiction. He does value her sense of who she is since that would include taking her words seriously, insofar as it involves vows and promises since that was what their own marriage was resting on. McGregor also defines “entente” in “the Franklin’s Tale” as being “linked to that of the heart or mind…it is fundamental to how people view themselves” (369). Her “intent” should’ve been strong enough to affect her “words.” Her heart and mind would have loved Aurelius enough to affect the words that left her mouth. Especially when she says to the squire, “Thanne wol I love yow best of any man.” This is most likely the part that makes Averagus undermines his own title as husband and she doesn’t just stop there, she continues to tell Aurelius, “Have heer my trouthe, in al that evere I can” (997-998), then there lies the contradiction, that was what did it for him. Averagus, as a result, is under the supposition that if she makes a vow to another man and she doesn’t keep it, she will not keep the vow she made with him, her own husband, either. Dorigen’s vow to another makes Averagus reevaluate his “husbandry.” In the beginning, Dorigen made a vow to her husband that she will be a faithful and true wife. “Sire,” Dorigen says to Averagus, “I wol be youre humble trewe wife: have heer my trouthe, til thay myn herte breste” (769-760). Averagus’ husbandry or title of husband then, is but a vow Dorigen made to him. In other words, within the context of the tale, he is a husband only in as far as Dorigen is faithful to him. Averagus then, doesn’t see himself as different from Aurelius except that he wooed Dorigen and became a knight both before Aurelius. Averagus has accepted that his husband title has become fleeting. I think I can safely deduct that he is now testing the authenticity of his wife’s feeling for him by letting her keep her word to Aurelius. Would she have made that vow to Aurelius if she truly loved Averagus? Averagus is taking this seriously and seems to believe that she would not have even let those words slip from her mouth.
Let us examine the reason Dorigen made such a promise to Aurelius. Thormann argues that Dorigen does not fulfill her end of the bargain, her desire and not the terms of the marriage contract is what causes the problem. When Averagus leaves to go to war, he leaves his marriage in jeopardy. Thormann believes that Averagus chose to go to war and leave Dorigen. I disagree, I believe that he had an obligation to his countrymen and had little choice extending beyond social pressure. He had to keep his knightly status both up to par and to date—street credibility. It is Averagus’ absence that arouses Dorigen’s desire for a husband-replacement. This “frustrated” desire is turned onto Aurelius, the first male that comes her way to supposedly offer himself up on a silver platter as this replacement. It is this displaced desire that enabled Dorigen to make such a promise to Aurelius. When Averagus cries on the verge of relinquishing his wife to another, he does this out of fear that Dorigen’s feelings for him were not authentic. “Trouthe is the hyeste thing that man may keep/ But with that word he brast anon to wepe” (1479-1480), means that Averagus believes that a vow such as the one Dorigen made to him in the beginning, is the most prized thing a man can possess in his life. He might’ve only said “trouthe” because having returned from war he is still in a mentality of chivalric knighthood but to Dorigen he actually means marriage vows. Then he begins to cry for the pain of the possibility that Dorigen’s vow was not true. These tears could also symbolize his fear of how soon his wife has developed new feelings for another man in his absence. Aurelius takes the place of the “absent husband,” assuming responsibility for Dorigen’s behavior, he frees her from all the reason she has for staying by him. She would’ve likely not been in a position to make such a promise to Aurelius, had he simply been present, so her behavior should have been predictable at least on the part of Averagus who left his wife and normal given the circumstance.

When the characters are doing the best they can, given the trials that they are facing, then they are being virtuous. Greene states that, “Goodness, by such logic, is shorn from any natural desire for happiness in this world.” I am agreeing that goodness is related to having your own true happiness. Greene asserts that a man is happy or successful if he exhibits virtuous behavior. She asserts that the Franklin’s tale backs up the assertion that a wealthy gentleman such as the teller of the tale, has carried out the moral duties of “gentillese” by putting the “virtue of generosity” into action. Greene then concludes that the happy couple must enlist virtuousness in all aspects of their lives, especially in the face of adversity. Greene is mostly focused on the teller of the tale within the tale which is the Franklin. I am agreeing with Greene’s hypothesis that virtuousness leads to happiness and extending this assertion by stating that Chaucer is highlighting the goodness in the hearts of human beings through the characters in the Franklin’s tale, that they don’t always have to have an hidden agenda. First he showcases Dorigen wanting to stay faithful to her husband. If Dorigen did not have any authentic feelings for Averagus, she would have probably ended up with the lowly squire. Secondly, we see Averagus’ reaction to Dorigen’s hasty promise. He does not react violently, instead he asks her calmly, “Is ther oght elles, Dorigen, but this? (1469)” Dorigen did not sleep with Averagus or run off with him. Thirdly, Aurelius hearkens unto Dorigens wishes, for he sees how much she wanted to be with her husband. Because she already genuinely wants to return to her husband, Aurelius shows compassion. The characters are enlisting virtuousness in the face of adversity.

By saying that Dorigen manipulates Aurelius, McGregor is underestimating Aurelius’ common sense and Dorigen’s feelings for Averagus. Firstly, Aurelius has no legitimacy over Dorigen, in comparison to Averagus and whatever he has over Dorigen is in so far as Dorigen’s husband allowed. To say that she is manipulating Aurelius is saying she has a hidden agenda and is being dishonest. Thus it would mean that she doesn’t love Averagus and has reasons for wanting to return to him. Secondly, Aurelius is not her husband, even though Averagus undermines his status as husband, the squire still does not have any legitimate claim over her. Part of the reason she was in front of him, to begin with, was because Averagus sent her. Aurelius’ virtuous decision increases his chances of happiness, this includes finding a wife of his own. Ultimately, the characters are virtuous in how they act on their feelings and this will eventually lead to their happiness.
Chaucer is also attempting the highlight the goodness in people and what he believes a true marriage is about. Cartlidge states that Chaucer’s tale is “his most optimistic vision of marriage, (224)” evident in the relationship between Dorigen and Averagus which is based on mutual generosity. Cartlidge suggest that the Franklin is asserting that this marriage is “an exceptionally good one.” This is because, Cartlidge asserts, the partners both agree to behave as if what they have is not a marriage at all. This will come back to inspire Averagus’ decision to test Dorigen’s love for him. If they were behaving as if they were actually not married, then this is why Dorigen’s promise to Aurelius is taken seriously by Averagus. Aurelius sees the vow Dorigen made to Averagus same as the one she made to him. As a result, he does not have the self-evidence of knowing if Dorigen is truly in love with him and only him. With the contract of marriage tossed aside all they would have to keep their dynamics going is love for one another with, as Cartlidge states, “no obligation to constrain them beyond those of mutual respect.” I agree with Cartlidge that the idea that husband should have “soveriegn” over his wife is one that Averagus’ treats as fiction. Cartlidge also states that if marriage is defined as a husband ruling over his wife, then marriage in this tale “becomes too contradictory to be realized at all, except as a fundamentally paradoxical relationship. This is, of course, precisely how the Franklin does attempt to realize” (9224). As I have been arguing in this paper, the contradiction that Averagus sees in Dorigen’s feelings for him, is the reason he trots her off as a test for whether she has true love for him. Aurelius returning Dorigen is the end result of this test. Aurelius sees who she wants to be with and that is enough to hearken unto her wants. Hence Aurelius is answering Averagus by saying, yes her feelings for you are true. So there is no “pimping” in this scenario, just a successful attempt at removing what would have been a “fundamentally paradoxical [marriage]”(224)

Averagus has two underlying reasons for insisting Dorigen keep her promise; one being more important than the other. The less important one is an oath to society for the preparation of future knights. We know this because he went off to war in the first place as an obligation to his countrymen. By giving Aurelius the incentive to make a sound decision he is preparing him to be a knight as generous and has virtuous as he. The most important reason is testing Dorigen’s love for him. It was not that he was pimping his wife or that he did not understand her. He was instead giving Dorigen way more power than what she realizes when she went off to meet Aurelius saying, “Unto the gardin, as myn housbond bad. . . (1512). He wanted to make sure that Dorigen did not want to stay with him just because as a husband, he has “soveraynetee” over her. By relinquishing Dorigen, he is letting her feelings speak for itself. Another variant of the anonymous quote mentioned earlier goes, “If you love someone, set them free. If they come back they’re yours; if they don’t they never were.” This is Aurelius’ premise, perspective and what he was doing. The reason is that he wanted to make sure that he wasn’t controlling his wife’s emotions that her supposed love was not out of duty, fear, and loyalty or reputation. A reason for the love is what tarnishes true love. He wanted that her emotions would have free reign and influence the outcome of matters; so yes Dorigen was the most “free.” Goodness in heart equates to virtuousness, all the characters are for the most part good people because they did the best they could do, given their circumstances. Dorigen trying to fill the missing void was a reaction to her husband being absent for two years. After Averagus’ way of asserting his true love for Dorigen, by saying, “For verray love which that to yow have” (1477), he wanted to test if her love for him was true. Was he truly what her heart desired? When Dorigen comes back, Averagus “cherisseth hire as though she were a quene, and she was to him trewe for everemore” (1554-1555). I would say that both partners ultimately kept their promises to each other. Dorigen and Aurelus’ marriage then, is based on love — the emotional component and generosity — the component of turning words into action. For Aurelius, Dorigen will not “come back;” this leaves the possibility of him finding another lover.

Works Cited
Chaucer, Geoffrey. “The Franklin’s Prologue and Tale.” The Canterbury Tales: Fifteen Tales and the General Prologue. Comp. and ed. V. A. Kolve, and Glending Olson. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton, 2005. 212-33. Print.
Cartlidge, Neil. “Moral Obligations, Virtue Ethics, and Gentil Character in Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale.” Ed. Greene Darragh. The Chaucer Review 50.1-2 (2015): 88-107. Print.
McGregor, Francine. “What of Dorigen? Agency and Ambivalence in the “Franklin’s Tale.”The Chaucer Review 31.4 (1997): 365-78. Print.
Saunders, Corinne. A Concise Companion to Chaucer. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2008. Print.
Thormann, Janet. “Networks of Exchange in the Franklin’s Tale.” Postmedieval 3.2 (2012): 212-26. ProQuest. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.