Kaerleikshvetjandi blogg

laugardagur, apríl 29, 2006


As with everything else, our sense of value differs. Those of us who are excessively vain are bound to get acquainted with all sorts of predicaments because among other things, we tend to incircle ourselfs and our circumstances with so many unnecessary accessories that others can be appalled.

Vanity is a regular millstone in our communication with others because it makes us favour worthless and precarious values. Therefore it is essential that we ignore completely the arrogant “glamour before goodness” point of view. Of course this is not to suggest that taking care of ourselves and keeping our outer and inner self in good condition is wrong. On the other hand it is literally inappropriate and precarious for our personal values and moral development, to focus all our energy and thought on some sort of “humbuck” and glamourous priorities that will in the long run prove themselves worthless and naive.

Worst of all is when vain and dependant thinking will lead us to spend excessively and go way beyond our budget. There is very little to gain in mastering our daily activities in such a way that they will only become hollow and stressful because of the vanity and pretense that compell our actions. If we are so vain and influential that we believe that what we possess and can afford to indulge ourselves with is never enough, we are obviously in big trouble and moral danger.

Such circumstances will undoubtedly lead us to disappointment and anxiety rather than well-being and ease. It is quite constructive to remind ourselves that if our addiction to vanity and pretense is allowed to go to extremes, it will turn on us and is therefore not even worth considering. Nothing negative that clouds our happiness and human prosperity deserves attention.

Selfconsciousness and wordly materials should not be such a demanding aspect in our thought and surroundings, that it will make us feel poorly each time we are not able to indulge in what we fancy. It is a certain kind of self-torture to constantly want to lead our lives differently than our circumstances and finance allow. It is essential that we try to avoid everthing that hinders us from being honest and straightforward in demeanour. It is wise to train ourselves to emphasize equally on both our inner and outer valuables. There is nothing wrong with savouring the fancy and “glittery” things of life, as long as it does not weaken our knowledge of the importance of strengthening our human spirit in a sophisticated and practical manner.

Excessive vanity and pretense that relate to arrogance and spiritual neglect, are unsuitable and precarious. That kind of attitude towards life encourages conflicts and destitude of the soul. Those of us who care for humane and understanding relations with others, should wish to eliminate unecessary complexities and tunnel vision from our daily lives. We should vote to value modest needs and behaviour over vanity and excessive pride, since we choose to take the responsibility for our own inner and outer well-being seriously.

fimmtudagur, apríl 27, 2006

Composition II: February 20th 2002

Nína Rúna Kvaran

Most of us have at one time or another experienced the sensation of hyper self-consciousness. The feeling of being watched by everyone or even being the victim of some kind of conspiracy has probably made itself familiar to all of us at some period in our lives. Many go through times of insecurity and paranoia, thinking the whole world is against them. It’s a miserable feeling of alienation and often afflicts those who have low self-esteem and a poor self-image.
The purpose of this essay is to look at the point of view of the narrator of Herman Melville’s short story “Bartleby the Scrivener” and show how it influences the development of the plot and theme as the story unravels. The intention is to demonstrate how the narrator’s lack of assertiveness contributes to a chain of bizarre events that create the most uncommonly and unacceptable circumstances and lead him to a state of paranoia.
“Bartleby the Scrivener” is one of the first American stories that take place in an office. It’s a 1st person narrative, the narrator being a lawyer of about sixty and the employer of four rather peculiar characters. Turkey is a red-faced elderly gentleman who works best in the mornings but gets gradually more irritable and useless as the day runs its course. Another copyist is Nippers, a young piratical-looking man that suffers from “indigestion” (most likely hangovers) in the mornings and isn’t really up to speed on anything until in the afternoon. There is also a twelve-year-old office boy that goes by the name of Ginger Nut, not to mention the eponymous character, Bartleby.
Bartleby is an excellent copyist at first, but then the narrators carefully describes how he starts “preferring” not to do things, eventually succumbing to an almost immobile state. The story deals with the narrator’s evasive reactions to Bartley’s behaviour and how his constant avoidance of conflict leads to him moving his whole office rather than being assertive enough to throw Bartleby out.
Melville wrote “Bartleby the Scrivener” in ca.1853 and the story is a good example of what professor Martin Regal calls “Melville’s compulsion to write about the un-interpretable”. When one reads the story for the first time, it’s easy to assume that Bartleby is the most important character. Of course there wouldn’t be a story to tell if it wasn’t for his peculiar existence but in fact we know almost nothing about him. He is the “un-interpretable” factor in the story because he lacks everything. Bartleby is a blank page. The only thing we know of him is the fact that he worked at a dead letter office. He is distant and cold and seems to have no emotional or social needs and even though he works very well in the beginning, these strange characteristics are already evident: “But he wrote on silently, palely, mechanically”. We know nothing about his motives or what exactly lies behind his astonishing behaviour. One day he simply starts saying “I would prefer not to” and he gradually uses that sentence more and more, eventually not doing any work and “preferring” not to leave the office! We have the descriptions of the narrator and since his behaviour has considerable influence on the plot, I think it’s justifiable to think of him as the main character.
The narrator is an easy-going fellow with a meek temperament, which is not surprising since his life’s motto is “that the easiest way of life is the best”. He explains to the reader that despite being of the infamously energetic and neurotic law profession, he has rarely let anything disturb his peace of mind. He is an extremely tolerant boss and has accepted the eccentricities of both Turkey and Nippers in the most compliant way. Instead of becoming furiously annoyed by their abnormal work ethics he tries to make the best of the situation and convinces himself that they compliment each other because when one is being useless the other one isn’t. To use his own words: “This was a good natural arrangement under the circumstances”.
It’s easy to assume that the narrator is just being a diplomat because the ability to compromise is very important for a boss. But his leniency towards Turkey and Nippers has created a situation where he is getting the work of one man for the price of two and his constant avoidance of conflict gets him into serious trouble when he has to face the most eccentric and difficult employee of them all, Bartleby.
Concerning the robot-like character of Bartleby, it’s difficult to say what exactly Melville ment him to stand for. We only know the aforementioned; that he worked at a dead letter office and that he’s an excellent copyist. In that information we have two horrible notions for any writer. Firstly, the idea of writing something that will never be read as is the fate of all the letters in the dead letter office. Secondly, the idea of never having an opportunity to be creative in writing, but to constantly copy the works of others, as is the fate of the office workers in “Bartleby”.
But whether Bartleby is a symbol for frustrated writers or not, is not the main issue here because what he represents to the narrator is more important. Is he the ultimate test for a man that constantly avoids conflicts of any kind? There seems to be a considerable amount of self-denial going on in the mind of the narrator. He tries to claim that had it been anyone else other than Bartleby, he would not have been so lenient. The truth is that he has already demonstrated that he’s extremely tolerant towards his employees and I’m sure that he would under no circumstances fly “outright into a dreadful passion” as he puts it himself, no matter how badly provoked.
Another example of his insecurities is how he constantly asks his other employees for advice on how to handle Bartleby when he first starts to refuse to do certain assignments. He says: “Accordingly, if any disinterested persons are present, he turns to them for some reinforcement for his own faltering mind.” These are the first symptoms of paranoia starting to sink in. The narrator is so flabbergasted by Bartleby’s impudent and continuous refusals that he starts to seriously doubt his own appreciation of the situation. Even when Nippers, Turkey and Ginger Nut all agree on that Bartleby’s behaviour is unacceptable and outrageous, their boss is still not courageous enough to simply let the man go or at least reprimand him. Instead he convinces himself that Bartleby’s eccentricities are involuntary and that surely he means no harm with his “preferring “ not to do things. He decides to try his best to befriend the “poor fellow” and even refers to his own, and in my opinion, very natural inclination to give Bartleby a peace of his mind, an “evil impulse”, as if standing up and using his lawful right as Bartleby’s boss to reprimand him, was something quite horrible and unthinkable.
As the situation evolves, Bartleby comes to a total stand still. His boss discovers that he is living in the office 24 hours a day but his pity for Bartleby is so great that he has immense trouble trying to fire him. It’s almost as if he believes that doing anything to upset the drone-like tranquillity of Bartleby might bring some disastrous misfortunes upon himself. As he contemplates Bartleby’s inevitable dismissal he says to himself: “…nevertheless I strangely felt something superstitious knocking at my heart, and forbidding me to carry out my purpose, and denouncing me for a villain if I dared to breathe one bitter word against this forlornest of mankind”.
Another interesting example of the increasing paranoia of the narrator is when he realises that the word “prefer” so obstinately used by Bartleby, has started to manifest itself in his own dialogues with Turkey and Nippers, almost as if it had a mind of its own. As he puts it himself: “I thought to myself, surely I must get rid of a demented man, who already has in some degree turned the tongues, if not the heads of myself and clerks”. The word “prefer” has come to symbolise all his problems with Bartleby and his own involuntary use of it is eerie, to say the least. As if Bartleby’s special kind of dementia is rubbing off on the others, spreading like an incurable infection of emptiness.
When Bartleby finally decides to give up copying all together, making himself completely useless as a scrivener in the process, but having no intention of leaving the office, the narrator finally takes the plunge and fires him, realising that Bartleby has become “…a millstone to him, not only useless as a necklace, but afflicting to bear”. He generously gives Bartleby six days to remove himself from the premises, which of course he does not. This casts another spell of hysteria over the narrator as he imagines what might happen if the situation is left to thrive like this. He sees himself being ridiculed by peers of the law profession and his reputation in ruins. He even contemplates the possibility of Bartleby “outliving him, and eventually claiming possession of his office by rights of perpetual occupancy.” The narrator has let his fears bring himself to a miserable state of paranoia but despite that, he does not face his fears but rather moves his whole office to another building so as to escape having to physically throw Bartleby out or set the police on him.
I think that there is a definite theme of how not facing one’s fears can diminish ones sense of self-worth, not to mention damage the view others have of one’s character. I’m not sure whether a different reaction from the narrator would have made any difference to Bartleby who eventually ends up in jail where he slowly starves himself to death. But as has been stated before, I don’t think Bartleby is the main issue in the story but rather how people around him handle his amazing behaviour. The narrator is so afraid to take definite action against his “office problem” that he rather goes through immense trouble avoiding conflicts and humiliates himself in the process. I doubt that anything could have been done to “save” Bartleby, his way was doomed to be a dead end almost from the start, but the narrator could have handled the situation in a manner that was more respectable for his own person. He eventually runs away from the “problem”, leaving it for others to solve, knowing full well that the police would eventually be called for. His behaviour is in fact no less perplexing than Bartleby’s. There are likely many things that can be interpreted from this story but I think that there is a moral to be found in it. It isn’t always good to be too kind and lenient to people because excessive leniency can backfire. To be able to stand up for one’s right is very important for the self-image and one is not necessarily doing people any good by constantly humouring them.

miðvikudagur, apríl 26, 2006

Háskóli Íslands

Native Canadian Women

Nína Rúna Kvaran
Einstaklingsverkefni B
Haustönn 2004
Leiðbeinandi: Guðrún B. Guðsteinsdóttir

Table of Content




The nature of the human being is a complicated phenomenon that will perhaps never be understood to the fullest degree, even as science and studies on the subject advance and develop. The human being is a complex creature, capable of great intellect, great inventions, great advancement and, unfortunately, great evil as well. Despite amazing differences and diversity in the human societies that surround the globe, there are certain elements that seem to be held in common by most cultures. On an individual level, we all recognize the need to excel, overshadow or even dominate others, if not personally then through other people. We see examples of men using their gender-based supremacy to exert power over women; women sometimes use their position as adults to abuse children etc. The cases, which demonstrate our possessive and tyrantial will, are seemingly endless.
On a more general note, this seemingly inbuilt drive of the human being to dominate over others is expressed through hierarchy, which exists in all of the larger and more complex societies. A reasonably large society almost always has an order of hierarchy that gives supremacy to some and inferior status to others. But on an even larger scale, we see entire nations taking on the role of the dominant over other nations that are unable to defend themselves from such imposing threats. Although this has always been a part of human history, the cases which are perhaps the closest to us, are those of Europeans dominating other continents by force and colonization, such as Africa (partly at least), South-America, North-America, Australia and the most famous Asian case being that of Britain’s rule over India.
In post-colonial studies the role of women is especially interesting because of the unique status of women that belong to the colonized class. Since the status of women is unfortunately that of the inferior in most patriarchal societies, the status of the women belonging to the forcibly colonized class, is that of a doubly oppressed, having a submissive role towards their own men who themselves are forcibly in a submissive role towards the dominant class. In the book Key Concepts in Post-Colonial Studies, the term subaltern as adopted by Antonio Gramsci is defined as that referring to “those groups in society who are subject to the hegemony of the ruling classes” (215). Using that very term, women of forcibly colonized or oppressed groups of a society, are the subaltern of the subaltern; the inferior amongst the inferior rank. That certainly must be a difficult and interesting position to be in and has been the subject of many modern fiction authors, especially of female authors.
The matter of the subaltern voice has often been a matter of discussion and debate amongst critics and authors. There is a definite viewpoint held up by many that such a voice can only be authentic if spoken by an actual subaltern person. The reasoning is that a white, male author would for example never be able to write authentically and believable about the life experience of a black woman, or that a white woman would never have enough insight to be able to interpret the life experience of a Native American boy. There is of course a valid point in this kind of criticism, that being that the old cliché “never write about what you don’t know” is still a valid rule for writers of fiction to follow. But as far as fiction goes, this viewpoint is equally ridiculous because fiction is exactly what the name suggests: something created out of the figment of the author’s imagination. It would be a very bleak literary world indeed if all authors were thus limited to write only about characters that are exactly of the same level, status and personality as they are themselves. One could then even claim that all secondary characters were out of the picture because of the same line of reasoning. This is of course preposterous and there is no critic or one person that can decide were the fine line lies in the creative process of fiction.
Best-selling author Stephen King refutes this opinion in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, in which he claims that a writer should have the freedom to tackle every subject or type of character as long as he/she makes an honest attempt to write truthfully and to his/her best knowledge, so to give the story and characters authenticity in the eyes of the reader. He nevertheless acknowledges that despite trying to follow that rule, as an author he has often been justly accused by critics of not representing female characters very believably and stereotyping African-American characters in his fiction. Being driven by the guilt of being a white, male born in the United States, he confesses to having unconsciously and repeatedly rendered his black characters more kind, affectionate, humane and simply better people than the white ones.
In this essay, the main aim is to examine by way of comparison and contrast three different literary works by three different female authors, mostly from the viewpoints of post-colonial and feminist theories. The works in question are historical novel The Dream Carvers by Joan Clark, short story The Storyteller by Leslie Marmon Silko, and short story The Loons by Margaret Laurence from her collection of short stories called A Bird in the House. The purpose of this will be to investigate the roles of Native Canadian women both in context to their own historical backgrounds and how due to colonization and exploitation of the white man, their roles and that of their people have altered into what they are today. Furthermore, it might be of interest as a secondary goal, to keep in mind and examine at the same time, the authenticity of these three authors’ representations of the above-mentioned themes, in context to their own personal backgrounds.
A Brief Summary of the Works and Their Authors

Before commencing on the actual comparison and contrast, I feel it essential to make a short note on the three above-mentioned authors and the works in question. I do this with the intention in mind to look later at the authors in context to their own personal backgrounds versus the backgrounds they display in these pieces of fiction that will be examined.
Joan Clark is the author of The Dream Carvers and was born in Liverpool, Nova Scotia but lives at the present in Newfoundland, which is the setting for the above-mentioned novel. She has written many books for children and are some of them, as is the case with this one, historical novels. The Dream Carvers won the 1995 Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for Young People along with other acknowledgements. It is set in the 11th century and describes the tale of Norse boy Thrand who travels from Greenland to Newfoundland and is kidnapped by a native tribe, the Beothuk, or the red ochre people.[1] Thrand’s is a story of immense personal development and maturity, as he struggles at first to escape from the Beothuk but later learns how to appreciate their way of life and way of thinking which is so profoundly different from that of his own Norse people. As time goes by he starts to abandon his schemes of escape and adjusts to his new life, considering himself as one of the red ochre people. Although Thrand is the main character of the novel, I will mostly be putting emphasis on the Beothuk female characters, such as old grandmother of the tribe Imamasduit, her granddaughter Abidith, and young girl Ahune who has a romantic interest in Thrand.
Margaret Laurence is the author of short story The Loons. She was born in 1926 in Neepawa, Manitoba and later in life lived in Africa. In 1962 she moved to England and wrote five books on a fictional town she called Manawaka, that is based on the place where she grew up and its people, both white and Native. One of these books is short story collection A Bird in the House, a book combined of eight interwoven stories that revolve around the life of girl Vanessa McLeod as she passes into womanhood. As mentioned above, my focus will be on The Loons and rather than look at the main character Vanessa, the emphasis will mostly be on the Native girl Piquette Tonnerre. The story is seen through the eyes of Vanessa but what it really describes is the tragic tale of young Piquette, as a neglected and unhappy child who developes into a miserable and unhappy young woman.
Leslie Marmon Silko is (as far as I could find out Guðrún) the only of the three authors that is herself of Native descent. She is of Pueblo, Laguna, Mexican and white descent and differs from the above-mentioned authors because of her Native roots and obviously not being a Canadian, being born in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
She has emphasised greatly in her works, the importance of the oral tradition in the Native cultures and some of her stories are based on real, oral heritage. Silko’s concern about Native culture is eminent in her works and her story The Storyteller, about a native girl of Eskimo descent, is no exception from that rule. The girl has (as have her people) suffered many an injustice from the white man and as the story unfolds, the girl takes a peculiar kind of revenge against the imperial power, avenging her parents’ deaths and taking on a leading role amongst her own people that had treated her with disdain before.

The Post-Colonial Viewpoint

To fully understand post-colonial studies, it is necessary to have at least a minimal knowledge about imperialism; its origins and theory. What does the average person usually think about in terms of the word ‘imperialism’? Perhaps images of the British Empire would commonly pass through one’s mind or something of a similar nature, but it is important to remember that imperialism as a term was perhaps firstly and primarily adapted as a technological term of economics. In the book Studies in Theory of Imperialism, Tom Kemp in his article ‘The Marxist theory of imperialism’, explains how:
The Marxist theory of imperialism sets out to explain the characteristics displayed by the capitalist mode of production in its latest, most advanced stage as a result of the working out of its ‘laws of motion’ discovered by Marx (Kemp, 17).
He furthermore goes on to explain how in that way, the term imperialism is used in a technical sense, which is sometimes quite different from, how historians and others might perceive it. As Kemp says, for the latter it “generally means principally or exclusively the relationship between the advanced, imperial country and the colonial or semicolonial areas falling within its formal or informal empire (Kemp, 18).
Although most might not realize it, imperialism is still a living and breathing thing today, although modern imperialism would perhaps have been impossible without colonialism. As Harry Magdoff points out in his article “Imperialism Without Colonies”, taken from the above-mentioned book, the end of colonialism does not necessarily mean the end of imperialism. He goes on to explain that in the beginning colonialism was essential (with military and political force) to reshape the social and political institutions of the colonized state so it would suit the needs of the dominant force. He claims that when this was accomplished “economic forces [. . .] were by themselves sufficient to perpetuate and indeed intensify the relationship of dominance and exploitation between mother country and colony” (Magdoff, 164). What he is saying is that even though the colonized country would be granted formal independence, nothing essential would really change. This is of course true as can be seen by how so many countries that were colonies of European dominant forces before, still today, despite being independent in word, are completely dependent on various economical resources and assistances from those who colonized them earlier. A vast amount of the so-called third world countries, are still today being supported but at the same time exploited by Western societies and are indeed entrapped in vicious cycles of poverty and political corruption.
What about post-colonial studies within the literary world? It is a fact that post-colonial criticism did not emerge as a distinct category until in the 1990’s and according to the book Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory by Peter Barry, one of the effects of post-colonial studies “is to further undermine the universalist claims once made on behalf of literature by liberal humanist critics” (Barry, 192). He claims that the notion of great literature being in some way timeless and universal, in fact disregards cultural and social differences and life experiences, and instead judges all literature from some “universal standard” that in fact does not exist. This is of course profoundly true because unfortunately the above-mentioned universal standard is based on mostly white, male, Eurocentric norms that are then imposed on to subjects of literature that do not belong to it.
The Subaltern Identity

When looking at the subaltern role or identity as it is portrayed in the three pieces of fiction, there are various differences and similarities that emerge. In The Storyteller the term subaltern is easily applied since it is common knowledge that the Native people of the Americas were (and still are in many ways) subaltern to the invading Europeans who formed the dominant class. There are many references to this in Silko’s story. One example is the repeated reference to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, an institution set up to handle aspects such as the forced education of Native children so that they might be assimilated into white culture and made to forget or disregard their own. In The Storyteller the girl herself enters the school of the Gussucks [2] but quickly regrets her decision as she realizes what kind of humiliation her people go through there. The dormitory matron of the school even cruelly and degradingly whips her with a leather belt because she refuses to speak English. She remembers her old man’s[3] warnings: “The trouble was that she had not recognised the warnings in time. She did not see what the Gussuck school would do to her until she walked into the dormitory and realized that the old man had not been lying about the place” (Silko, 1146).
Another example of the subaltern position of the girl’s people is the often-mentioned exploitation of the natural resources their land possessed. Or as the old man explains to her:
“They only come when there is something to steal. The fur animals are too difficult for them to get now, and the seals and fish are hard to find. Now they come for oil deep in the earth. But it is the last time for them” (Silko, 1148).
The term subaltern in the story The Loons is also applicable but not in exactly the same direct way as in The Storyteller since in the former the Natives have assimilated much more into white culture than in the latter. In The Storyteller the white people or the Gussucks are much more a distant and impersonal force, very unlike the Natives themselves and very hated by them[4]. In The Loons the Natives are at least assimilated into the white culture to the extent of going to the same schools and being out of touch with their ancestry as I will discuss in better detail later on.
Despite this, in The Loons, the Native girl, Piquette Tonnerre, is very obviously born into a subaltern position. Her family history is briefly depicted as that of a group of half-breeds that fit nowhere into society, they to not belong to the Cree, the Scots-Irish or the Ukrainians. As Vanessa McLeod’s[5] grandmother would have put it: “They were [. . . ] neither flesh, fowl, nor good salt herring” (Laurence, 108-109). The Tonnerre family does not even speak a ‘proper’ language in between themselves but a kind of patois and their English was “broken and full of obscenities” (Laurence, 108). They live in a shack and Piquette is described as being an “embarrassing presence, with her hoarse voice and her clumsy limping walk and her grimy cotton dresses that were always miles too long” (Laurence, 109). On top of this, there is evidently alcoholism in the home and Piquette herself as a young adult falls prey to alcoholism and eventually dies as a result of a drunken stupor, having been arrested many times before for drunk and disorderly behaviour. These descriptions indicate a life of poverty and misery, and alongside with the alcohol-related problems are clear signs of a subaltern position. Some might say that this kind of depiction of the modern Native American or Canadian people, as a group of poverty-stricken, broken and beaten alcoholics, is a horrid case of stereotyping. But it still must not be forgotten that these above-mentioned elements were at play in the aftermath of cruel colonization and systematic extinction imposed on these people. Robbed of their land, lifestyle, culture and self-respect, poverty was what awaited most Native people and the comfort of the bottle was not only a temporary haven for some, but became a way of lifestyle. By this, it is not being claimed that all Natives became drunkards, but simply that a story depicting such a tragic lifespan of one person, in this case, Piquette’s, is maybe not as far from the truth as some would like to believe. Furthermore, it most not be forgotten that Laurence wrote this story as a part of a semi-autobiographical volume, and she was born in 1926. Although this image of the misery of the Native people hopefully does not have a great resounding in the lives of Natives today, it might have had so at the time. At least this portrayal of the subaltern (although Laurence of course does not use that phrase) seems to be what Laurence witnessed with her own eyes as a child.
In the case of Clark’s The Dream Carvers, the subaltern identity is perhaps slightly more difficult to apprehend. As said before, the story takes place in the 11th century, which is long before Columbus ‘discovered’ America and therefore long before any real imperialism or colonialism took place in the Americas. Therefore it is difficult to see where the term subaltern applies in this case. At first it seems logical to assume that the roles are in fact reversed in this novel: the dominant force being the Beothuk people and the white, Norse boy Thrand, being in a subaltern position to them. If looked at from a personal point of view, Thrand certainly starts out as of an inferior rank to the Beothuk, being bound and held captive against his will. But this is really not a strong line of logic since the term subaltern, as mentioned above, is mostly used to refer to groups in society that are subject to the hegemony of the ruling classes, and as such, Thrand certainly does not belong to a subaltern group. But as a person, he is in a powerless situation to begin with.
When looking at The Dream Carvers on a much larger scale, away from the personal situations of the characters, I feel strongly that Clark is showing through her work the wrongness of the mere presence and existence of the term subaltern at any time. The book is historical and it foreshadows the eventual subaltern position imposed on the Beothuk people, that sadly went so far as to reach total extinction of those people. Clark not only describes in detail the way of life and thinking upheld by the Beothuk, she also makes an effort to compare them with Thrand’s completely different and very European view of life; a view and standpoint that eventually led to Europeans invading not only the Americas but other continents as well, with force, cruelty and greed, sometimes disguised as Christian good-will and sometimes not disguised at all. Examples of this are seen early on in the book when Thrand is just realizing that he is a prisoner of the Beothuk and he wonders why they are keeping him alive: “Why have these red people brought me here? [. . .] And why haven’t they killed me? This is what a Norseman would do. Norsemen quickly kill whatever is unfamiliar and strange. That is our way” (Clark, 9). The reader eventually sees that the way of the Beothuk is not to kill but to maintain balance within the family group and Thrand will be used to repair what imbalance he created by causing the death of a young, male Beothuk. This peaceful way of living in harmony with the forces of nature and each other is emphasised greatly in the book and it also explains to an extent, just why tribes such as the Beothuk were doomed to fall victims to a subaltern position when colonization started of their region and homelands. Even if the differences between weaponry and such elements had been eliminated, a people with such a peaceful disposition never had a chance against the aggression of the white man.

Surveillance or the Imperial Gaze

When looking more closely at the three works, it becomes interesting to see just how some known terms from post-colonial theories might apply to them. According to Key Concepts a very important tool of the imperialistic viewpoint is that of the so-called ‘imperial gaze’. The reason for this is that surveillance is one of most “effective strategies of imperial dominance” (226) because it gives the viewer an elevated advantage point and in such a way implies that the observer is in a powerful position compared to the observed. The imperial gaze “defines the identity of the subject, objectifies it within the identifying system of power relations and confirms its subalterneity and powerlessness” (226).
The idea of a ‘gaze’ giving the viewer a distinct advantage point becomes especially interesting when considering the writing process of authors. Is not one of the key elements of becoming a good and accomplished writer to be able to survey people and their, surroundings, behaviour, emotions and reactions? Is it possible as an observer to give an accurate picture of the subject without having been in its shoes oneself? Maybe not completely but this must also not be taken too literarily. Authors Laurence and Clark are not Native Canadians but they have nevertheless written about Natives. The question is, have they done so from an advantage viewpoint of the observer only and does it matter? When comparing them to author Silko, she is of Native descent (albeit not Canadian) and one could say that in that way she might have a more personal understanding of the position of the subaltern. Her story The Storyteller does offer a very profound insight into the completely different way of thinking between the white and the Native and the misunderstandings that can arise from such a difference. I will not examine this from the authors’ personal viewpoints more here, since it would perhaps require a more detailed research on their personal backgrounds. I only mention this as forethought before looking better at surveillance as it is portrayed in the three stories.
In The Storyteller the imperial gaze or surveillance is repeatedly present. The most obvious example is in the communication the girl has with the white oil drillers. She is curious about them and as she passes them they watch her closely. Later when she enters the store, the store man watches her with suspicion and as she walks across the room the men stare at her. Despite of all these examples of white men gazing at this Native girl, it is questionable whether this really puts her in a powerless position or not. Even the text itself implies that it does not: “They stared at her, but she had the feeling she was walking for someone else, not herself, so their eyes did not matter” (Silko, 1149). She has her own hidden agenda and although it might seem as if she is the one being observed, it is in fact the opposite. She is observing them and their behaviour so she can better devise her plans of revenge. Since her plan ends up becoming a success, one might conclude that she is in fact the powerful and not powerless individual and Silko has turned the imperial gaze up on its head.
In Laurence’s The Loons, the question of the surveillance is quite different. As told before the narrator is Vanessa, a white girl and a representative of the author’s own childhood. Vanessa is an observer of Piquette’s short and miserable life. In fact, we never get any insight into how Piquette might be feeling or experiencing her own situation in life. It is all a matter of Vanessa’s interpretation. Although this can be seen as a case of surveillance certainly, it is perhaps stretching it too far to call it an imperial gaze. The author is simply describing what she saw and heard as a child and despite that Piquette’s position is very subaltern throughout the whole narrative; it is more so towards the society she lives in than towards Vanessa herself. In fact, Vanessa feels sympathy and interest in Piquette and repeatedly tries to approach her as a friend but is rejected. Maybe the reason Piquette comes out as such a powerless wretch compared to the girl in The Storyteller, is in some way due to the fact that Silko has a better insight into how it feels to be on the other side of the imperial gaze and Laurence does not, but I will not dive deeper into that here.
When regarding Clark’s The Dream Carvers observation and surveillance are very important elements throughout the entire story. Thrand in his captivity can do little else but observe the Beothuk and that is how he learns of their way of life. At times his surveillance and descriptions of them almost sound as if he was Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians, examining and documenting (in his mind) all he witnesses. This might seem as an imperial gaze on one level but of course, the main difference is that Thrand is in a hopelessly powerless situation and he is himself no less the observed than the observer. The Beothuk see him as a strange creature (some even doubt for a while whether he is human or not) and they talk and debate over what should be done to him. To begin with Thrand is very much influenced by what he has heard before about Natives: “As a boy in Greenland I was told Skraelings were wretches who lived on the outermost reaches of the world. They weren’t people but wild savages who lurked in unknown places” (Clark, 8). But as said before, Thrand quickly realizes that he is the one who is the ‘skraeling’ among the Beothuk; a very definite outsider of their norm: “Other than feeding me and moving me between tent and stake, the skraelings ignore me completely. It’s as if by not being red, I don’t exist. I am outside their world of redness” (Clark, 8). Eventually, Thrand also assimilates into the Beothuk lifestyle and gives up his Norse identity, not only by name but completely. In that way, The Dream Carver is similar to The Storyteller since the ‘gazing’ goes in both directions.

Orality and Cultural Preservation

The connection between orality and literacy is nowhere as obvious as in cases of post-colonial cultures that upheld oral traditions before being colonized by literary cultures. Post-colonial studies are on a large scale based on the studies and re-evaluation of the oral tradition that was so common amongst indigenous people[6]. Part of the disrespect that colonized subjects received derived from the Eurocentric view of orality as a ‘lower’ form than the literary one and a lack of literacy was seen as proof for a lack of a ‘proper’ civilisation. Now a days, this view has thankfully been abandoned and many that devote themselves to post-colonial studies have desperately tried to salvage what little might have managed to survive of oral heritage of for example the Native American or Canadian cultures. The sad part is, that very often the colonized subjects have been force-fed on information that was exclusively meant to promote embarrassment and lack of respect towards their own cultural history. This brainwashing (often aimed especially at Native children by the Governmental schools) sadly resulted in a generation of Natives that denounced their own culture for the white one, and that obviously meant the decline of many aspects of their culture, as for example the oral tradition.
Of all the three works being investigated here, The Storyteller (as the title in fact suggests) is the best example of the importance of the oral tradition and the frightening reality of people who have rejected their own cultural inheritance. There are two obvious examples of Inuits “adopting” the imperial viewpoint in regards to their own people. The first one is the jailer. He is an Inuit but he still refuses to talk to the girl in their Yupik language. He firmly ignored all the prisoners unless they spoke to English to him, which is of course ridiculous behaviour: “She had watched people in the other cells; when they spoke to him in Yupik he ignored them until they spoke English” (Silko, 1145). The second example is the dormitory matron in the school. She cruelly whips the girl for refusing to speak English and then says: “Those backwards village people [. . . ] they kept this one until she was too big to learn” (Silko, 1146-1147).
According to Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley’s article ‘Yupiaq Education Revisited’, the Native people listened to the stories and as they unfolded they became a part of the people’s present life with myth and reality intermingling. The indigenous people often lived their lives by the moral of the stories and the loss of the oral tradition has in many cases meant the loss of the people’s identity as a nation. The old man’s story is a story within the story about the girl, and it is perhaps more important than the other since it is what inspires the girl. Silko is, as mentioned above, partly a Native person herself and many of her works are about the preservation of the oral tradition that she herself grew up with. It the orality is lost, so is the past for these people and therefore it is very symbolic how the girl takes over the old man’s role as a storyteller amongst her own people:
The day after the old man died, men from the village came. She was sitting on the edge of her bed, across from the woman the trooper hired to watch her. They came into the room slowly and listened to her. At the root of the bed they left a king salmon that had been split open wide and dried last summer. But she did not pause or hesitate; she went on with the story, and she never stopped, not even when the woman got up to close the door behind the village men (Silko, 1156).
She represents a younger generation and the fact that she both took revenge on the white man and became a storyteller herself, gives the reader a sense of hope that these ancient traditions of orality might still be preserved if the people themselves choose so.
There is a very important point going on here and that is the idea of agency. According to Key Concepts the term agency “refers to the ability of post-colonial subjects to initiate action in engaging or resisting imperial power” (8). This is very much what the girl does. She rebels against the imperial power in many ways and this is admirable not only because she is a subaltern, but because she is a female subaltern and therefore an even more underdog. Therefore her rebellion can be seen as not only that of a colonized subject against the imperial dominance, but also from a feminist point of view, of a Native woman’s rebellion against white, male supremacy.
Another point regarding the girl’s obvious feminine powers is her relationship with her grandmother. When the old woman dies she leaves clear instruction that her wolf skin parka be left for the girl. This is very culturally significant. The parka was a prized possession of the grandmother and she decides to leave it to the girl rather than be buried in it. With this she shows her granddaughter the ultimate respect but at the same time she might be sending her a message. According to Kawagley’s article the Inuit people rendered all animals a special meaning and the wolf, alongside with a few other animals, represented power.[7] Perhaps the old woman tries to inspire the girl to use her own power (which she most certainly does) by leaving her this gift.
The girl’s rebellion is seen through a number of her actions. She does not return to the Gussuck school but chooses to return to her own culture, even if it means having to suffer sexual relations with the old man. She also murders the store man with cold blood: “I intended that he die” (Silko, 1156) and that is perhaps the most extreme example of her resistance. If the store man’s causing the death of her parents can be seen as parallel to the whites ‘murdering’ the Native culture, then the girl’s murderous action can be seen as a simple act of cultural preservation. Even when she is imprisoned she continues to preserve her own culture by showing no fear, refusing to lie and assuming the role of the storyteller.
In Clark’s The Dream Carvers orality is not exactly an issue of debate or differences since although the Beothuk are most certainly an oral culture: “Late afternoons, after we have eaten and before it grows dark, we tell stories” (Clark 92), so seems Thrand to come from a mostly oral culture himself. At least by his descriptions of home, he frequently talks about how he was taught and how he learnt from his parents and his elders. He even mentions sharing stories with Teit, a boy close to his own age. Later in the book, Thrand is invited to tell his own culture’s oral tales of Creation and much of his tale is lost in the Beothuk: “Much of Wobee’s[8] story is difficult for us to understand. It is hard to make pictures from his words. We are full of questions” (Clark, 92).
What I feel is even more important than to focus solely on the oral tradition in this case, is the role the women play in The Dream Carvers as powerful figures of cultural preservation. In fact, females seem to have a much more dominant role in a spiritual way than the men.
Old woman Imamasduit is obviously a leader amongst the tribe. Is seems to be her doing that Thrand is being kept alive and it is she that holds aloft the importance of respecting the Beothuk ancient cultural way of thinking. By that I am referring to the importance of balance within the tribe and harmony with nature. Imamasduit is determined that Thrand be assimilated into the group although many others, including Abidith, are wholly against the idea of him ever being able to replace the one that they lost[9]. Imamasduit is a strong female figure and her wisdom turns out lead them to the best solution of the situation. By her decision, she restores the balance that had been lost and in that way serves an important role in the cultural preservation of her people.
Another important cultural aspect in The Dream Carvers is the role of dreams (as the title itself suggests). Again, Imamasduit uses her authority as a leading figure to explain the importance of dreams in the Beothuk culture:
I have listened closely to what Grandmother has said about dreams. She has said there is so much we do not know about ourselves that appears in dreams. She says the origin of dreams is to be found in another time and place. She says dreams picture our longings. It is these pictures, she says, that shape our lives. It is the same for everyone she says (Clark, 96).
Thrand has repeated dreams that reflect his feelings of fear, guilt and other emotions. It is exactly through dreams and other semi-psychic experiences that the characters realize many things. Thrand slowly admits to himself his responsibility in Abidith’s brother’s death, and Abidith at the encouragement of her grandmother, uses her mind-reading abilities to seek insight into Thrand’s mind: “Wobee’s thoughts have been easy to find. Maybe he is human, as Grandmother says. I am surprised how easily some people’s thoughts are found while others remain lost” (Clark, 32).
It is obvious that the power of women is strong among the Beothuk. Not only through the power of dreams, storytelling and mind-reading, but also through the spiritual cleansing of dancing, as Abidith does, at first in her dreams and later as she assumes the official role of the Dancer of her tribe.
In regards to Laurence’s The Loons, there is not much to be said about cultural preservation. That story better reflects the loss of the Native culture than give any insight into it. Narrator Vanessa, has a limited interest in Piquette, until she realizes that she is in fact a Native person, an Indian:
My acquaintance with Indians was not extensive. I did not remember ever having seen a real Indian, and my new awareness that Piquette sprang from the people of Big Bear and Poundmaker, of Tecumseh, of the Iroquois who had eaten Father Brebeuf’s heart – all this gave her an instant attraction in my eyes (Laurence, 112).
As a result of her discovery, Vanessa tries to get Piquette to open up, in the childish hope that she will turn out to be a well of wisdom and information on Native culture. Evidently, her hopes are completely in vain, since Piquette does not even seem to be aware of what she hinting at, and assumes Vanessa is making some kind of insulting remark about the shack her family lives in. Clearly, as Vanessa thinks to her self in her disappointment, Piquette is as an Indian “a dead loss” (Laurence, 114). She represents a young generation of Natives that is completely out of touch with its cultural heritage and when that happens, the heritage, which is exclusively oral, is bound to disappear completely. Vanessa’s suggesting that she and Piquette go to see the loons, since soon it might be too late, is a symbolic reference to the sad disappearance of the Native culture:
There’s loons here on this lake. You can see their nests just up the shore there, behind those logs. At night, you can hear them even from the cottage, but it’s better to listen from the beach. My dad says we should listen and try to remember how they sound, because in a few years when more cottages are built at Diamond lake and more people come in, the loons will go away (Laurence, 114).

Feminine Sexuality of the Native Woman

Finally, in regards to feminism, it is of course not something discovered by the 1960’s ‘women’s movement’. The inequality of women in Western societies had been long before noticed and objected to by many. One strong example is John Stuart Mill’s essay ‘The Subjection of Women’ (1869) in which he strongly opposes the slave-like postion of women and states that:
[. . .] the principle which regulates the existing social relations between the two sexes – the legal subordination of one sex to the other – is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a principle of perfect equality, admitting no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other” (Mill, 1156).
But the feminist literary criticism of today is of course a direct descendant of the 1960’s women’s liberation movement and as Barry notes in Beginning Theory, this movement was “literary from the start, in the sense that it realised the significance of the images of women promulgated by literature, and saw it as vital to combat them and question their authority and coherence” (Barry, 121).
When discussing female sexuality from a feminist point of view, it is unavoidable to wonder whether the notion of sexuality serves as a tool for women in enhancing their own position or whether it is more likely that it servers a key role in women’s subordination to men’s authority. As history tells us, the latter is very often unfortunately true. Many feminists claim that sexuality is a tool in the oppression of women or as Catharine McKinnon says in her article ‘Sexuality’: “[. . . ] sexuality is the main process by which the inequality of power that defines the difference between men and women operates” (McKinnon, 111). An example of this is the idea that sexual relations between men and women are still today built mostly around the sexual desires of men. Whether or not that is indeed the case, will not be fully answered here, but female sexuality and male lust are certainly evident to some extent in the three works being discussed here.
The Storyteller is most likely the most explicit and strongest example of the three, in the context of sexuality. As mentioned above, the girl lives with her grandmother and the old man, although the grandmother dies early on in the story. It is perhaps not literarily stated that the girl has sexual relations with the old man, but it is obvious that it is a fact of her life. There is abundant evidence for this. Firstly, after she realizes the truth about the Gussuck school, she decides to return home although her grandmother is by then dead. She knows that if she leaves with the priest, he will send her to school again, but “the old man was different. She knew he wouldn’t send her back to school. She knew he wanted to keep her” (Silko, 1147). There is something decidedly eerie about the choice of words here that immediately told me as a reader that he must have wanted to keep her for himself, so as she could serve his purpose, which later is indeed obviously a sexual one. This is made even clearer by the sentence stated just a bit later about how she had lost her patience with the old man “who had never changed his slow smooth motions under the blankets” (Silko, 1147). That the girl would rather choose to be a sexual toy for the old man rather than stay in school is also sad evidence to the abusive nature of such educational institutions that were inflicted on Native children.
As time goes by, the girl evidently starts having sexual relations with the Gussuck men that are working the oil drills, much to the old man’s outrage: “I can smell what you did all night with the Gussucks” (Silko, 1148). She uses her sexuality to seduce one of the white workers that are sitting around in the store, and starts having regular meetings with him. As I see it, she has double reason for doing this. She does it to gain access to the store (which was evidently off limits to Natives as a recreation facility) so as to plan better her revenge. Her parents died because a white store man sold them a poisonous alcohol beverage and she wants to avenge for them. She also does this to send the storekeeper a clear sexual signal. He sees her going with the oil drillers and that is enough to evoke thoughts in his mind about what he himself might be missing.
Although this seemingly degrading position she puts herself, to be sexually used by a white man as a semi-prostitute, does not seem to bother her as such. On the contrary, she seems to feel a sense of satisfaction in discovering the contents of the pornographic photo he always looks at while having sex with her. She even shares this information with the old man, much to his enjoyment. The picture reveals a woman with a big dog on top of her, something that further enhances the disgust the girl and old man already have for the white man’s habit of keeping their dogs in the houses with them[10]. That disgust and contempt they feel serves as a kind of soothing medicine on their own otherwise hopelessly low position in the social pecking order.
A third incident in which the girl uses her sexuality to gain her own means, is when she finally decides it is time to take action against the store man. She waits until the season of year is just right, so that the ice on the lake would serve her purpose. She then enters the store:
She sat down in the chair by the stove and shook her long hair loose. He was like a dog tied up all winter, watching the others got fed. He remembered how the she had gone with the oil drillers, and his blue eyes moved like flies crawling over her body (Silko, 1154).
Whether the girl’s sexuality serves her own purpose or that of the men in the story is rather difficult to say. Certainly the story can be seen as a kind of feminine victory over white, male supremacy, with her successfully completing her revenge mission and getting away with murder in the court of the whites. But there is something inherently sad about her fate and her utter disregard to her own body and sexuality as something sacred. Perhaps because she was never taught to respect her own body, it was simply used by the old man to satisfy his sexual lust, she saw nothing wrong with continuing to use her body as a mere tool to serve her own purposes.
When looking at The Loons or The Dream Carvers, it most be considered that those two works are meant for children or young adults (GUÐRÚN, ÉG GERI RÁÐ FYRIR ÞVÍ AÐ THE STORYTELLER SÉ EKKI SKRIFUÐ FYRIR BÖRN). Therefore there are no explicit descriptions of sex to be found in them, but certainly sexuality does come to play in both.
In The Dream Carvers, Thrand slowly becomes infatuated by the girl Abidith and even though she hates him, her sexuality and physical appearance has a definite attraction for him as can be seen is his words: “I feel awkward around her since I see that she is more woman than girl, just as I am more man than boy” (Clark, 31). He furthermore describes her sleeping form as “curved and soft” (Clark, 36), a clear reference to her womanly features and sexuality.
But as the story unfolds, it becomes evident that Abidith is not to be Thrand’s spouse, but a sister figure, and that makes sense since he was taken by the Beothuk to replace her dead brother. There is another female that becomes a romantic figure in Thrand’s life and this is Ahune, a young girl of another tribe. She is not really of interest to Thrand to begin with, since his interest lies with Abidith, and as far as sexuality goes, this is not very explicit as said before. But Ahune is nevertheless a strong female figure with very determined ideas of a future marriage with Thrand whether he likes it or not. [11] She blatantly exclaims that she does not intent to wait forever to marry him and her frankness and forwardness astound Thrand: “I think about Ahune’s declaration that she would marry me. I smile at her forthrightness, at her willingness to challenge me. As a companion, Ahune would never be dull, she would always be surprising me” (Clark, 200). Thrand’s admiration of her also shows a lack of chauvinism on his part, as he clearly sees the qualities of not having a submissive wife, but one with a will of her own. At any rate, Ahune’s assertiveness seems to have its effect because at the end of the novel , when Thrand has finally come to terms with his new life as a member of the Beothuk people, he takes a comb he originally meant for Abidith and re-carves it:
I have also scraped away the mast. In its place I am carving the figure of a woman standing in the canoe, a woman who looks at me with a clear, unfaltering gaze. I am in no hurry to finish the comb, knowing it will be a long time before our next summer gathering beside the western sea. When that time comes, I will seek out Ahune and give her the comb (Clark, 224).
In comparison to the two above-mentioned works, in The Loons the sexuality of Piquette seems to serve absolutely no purpose other than leading her to her doom. Of course, her disposition is rather bleak from the beginning so it comes as no surprise that her sexuality only seems to enhance her problems. Vanessa recalls meeting Piquette at the age of seventeen and how she was astounded by the way the latter had changed in appearance:
Her face, so stolid and expressionless before, was animated now with a gaiety that was almost violent. She laughed and talked very loudly with the boys around her. Her lipstick was bright carmine, and her hair was cut short and frizzily permed. She had not been pretty as a child, and she was not pretty now, for her features were still heavy and blunt. But her dark and slightly slanted eyes were beautiful, and her skin-tight skirt and orange sweater displayed to enviable advantage a soft and slender body (Laurence, 116).
Piquette has made her entrance into the adult world of sexuality and made a rather drastic transformation from crippled, badly dressed girl to that of a fully- fledged woman dripping with sexuality. She even tells Vanessa about how she has found a white boyfriend to whom she binds all her hopes for a better life. But as her beginning is tragic, so is her end. Vanessa later discovers to her surprise that Piquette is dead and how sad her life was. Evidently the dream marriage did not work very well and Piquette returned to her hometown with two small children. She was overweight, badly dressed and with a drinking problem. Both she and children perished in a fire due to her own drunken state shortly after.
Obviously these three works all represent female sexuality in different ways and it simply a matter of interpretation as to how one chooses to see the purpose it serves in each one. If one chooses to look at them as presenting female sexuality in a negative way, it probably is because it never can serve a purpose enhancing for women if it is always viewed in connection to male sexuality, which is the case in all three as can be seen by reading the analysis above.

Final Words

In conclusion to what has already been said, it might be of interest to briefly look over the answers that have been found by contrasting and comparing the above-mentioned works and the personal emotions and feelings they have evoked in me as a reader. All of them are similar up to the extent of tackling the history, background and cultures of Native Canadians, each one in its one way of course. Margaret Laurence’s The Loons, is perhaps the least interesting from that point of view, since, as has been mentioned before, it offers no real insight into the Native Canadian life except from the viewpoint of a white girl that confesses herself to know little to nothing about Native culture. It is a beautifully written story, with a sense of personal and cultural tragedy throughout, but it offers very little sense of hope or feeling that anything might be salvaged that has been lost by colonization. In fact, I found it quite depressing.
On the other hand, Joan Clark’s The Dream Carvers is a much more optimistic story that focuses on the necessity to respect different cultures than our own. The author descriptions of the Beothuk are beautiful, realistic and give a sense that the red ochre people have been brought to life, at least for the time it takes the reader to finish the novel. Clark not only shows this now lost tribe respect by trying to portray their ancient way of life, she also uses an interesting twist to help the reader to better understand how it is to be subaltern and forced to denounce one’s own culture. Through Thrand, those readers that are not of Native origin can perhaps better experience how it must feel to be assimilated into a completely new culture by force. Although Thrand in the end feels content over his fate, it is impossible not to feel strong sympathy for a fourteen-year-old boy torn away from family and friends and completely disconnected to his culture.
Leslie Marmon Silko’s The Storyteller is in my opinion the best example of the relationship between the white supremacy and Native culture. The story offers, as said before, a deep insight into the Native culture and background and that is perhaps due to the author’s personal Native roots. Not only is the story beautifully written, it uses language in such away that better shows the Native way of thinking. Just the fact that the main character (as all other characters) is never given a name, gives the story a feeling of peculiar detachment to the personal and emphasis the importance many Native cultures put on the harmony of the whole.
As an afterthought to the use of language or the choice of a mode of expression that might serve the Native purpose the best, I want to mention one last thing. As is mentioned in Key Concepts it is mentioned how Gayatri Spivak in the essay ‘Can the subaltern speak?’ claims that “in most cases the dominant language or mode of presentation is appropriated so that the marginal voice can be heard” (219). I cannot help but agree. The statement that the “subaltern cannot speak” does not mean that the subaltern culture has no means of expressing itself or rebelling, but that unfortunately, since it is subaltern it will be forced to use the means of the dominant culture to do so, otherwise the message is doomed to be unheard or not understood by those who need the most to understand it: the dominant culture. The Storyteller in itself as a whole is a good example of this. Silko is raising some very important questions about the importance of the preservation of the oral tradition with this story and pointing out many of the injustices and cruelties that indigenous people have gone through, but she does not use the oral tradition herself to get this message across. How could she anyway? She has to use the literary tradition as her form of expression to be heard.
The girl does not use the dominant language or tradition to her advantage so her intentions seem to be lost on the Gussucks. The lawyer does not understand her actions or motives when she has been arrested and refuses to say that the killing was an accident. So the question is, are her deeds completely futile because she persists to use her own language and culture instead of the dominant one? I think not because even though the Gussucks do not understand her, she will as the new storyteller help sustain the oral tradition of her own people, and thereby strengthening her own culture.


Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley. “Yupiaq Education Revisited”. Webpage:
Ashcroft, Bill, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin, editors. Key Concepts in Post-
Colonial Studies. London and New York. Routledge. 1998.
Clark, Joan. The Dream Carvers. Toronto. Puffin Canada. 1995.
Kemp, Tom. “The marxist theory of imperialism”. Studies in the Theory of
Imperialism. Editors Roger Owen & Bob Sutcliffe. London. Longman
Group Limited. 1972. 15-33.
Kaplan, Cora. “Pandora’s box: subjectivity, class and sexuality in socialist
feminist criticism”. Making a Difference: Feminist Literary Criticism. Editors Gayle Greene and Coppélia Kahn. London and New York. Methuen. 1985. 146-175.
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. London. New English
Library. 2001.
Laurence, Margaret. “The Loons”. A Bird in the House. Toronto, Ontario.
McClelland & Stewart Inc. 1989. 108-120.
Magdoff, Harry. “Imperialism without colonies”. Studies in the Theory of
Imperialism. Editors Roger Owen & Bob Sutcliffe. London. Longman
Group Limited. 1972. 144-169.
McKinnon, Catharine. “Sexuality”. Knowing Women. Editors Helen Crowley and
Susan Himmelweit. Milton Keynes. Polity Press in Association with The
Open University. 1992.
Mill, John Stuart. “The Subjection of Women”. The Norton Anthology of English
Literature: The Victorian Age. Volume 2B. Seventh Edition. New York -.
London. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. 2000. 1137-1165.
Olaussen, Maria. Three Types of Feminist Criticism. Åbo, Finland. Åbo Akademis
tryckeri. 1992.
Voices From the Gaps: Women Writers of Color. http://voices.cla.umn.edu/newsite/
[1] The red ochre people is deducted from the tradition of the Beothuk to cover their bodies, hair and belongings with a special kind of red clay which most likely served a purpose of sun or insect protection as well as having a spiritual meaning.
[2] The ‘Gussucks’ is a term the Natives used for the white people.
[3] The old man evidently was the spouse of her grandmother but he is not the girl’s grandfather.
[4] At least by those Natives that are refusing to be assimilated, as is the case with the girl.
[5] Vanessa McLeod is a white girl and the narrator of The Loons. It is through her eyes that we witness Piquette’s tragic life’s story.
[6] This is not to say that all colonized cultures were non-literary. Parts of Africa, India and various other cultures had a strong literary tradition. European cultures are very focused on their literacy but also have a vast oral tradition.
[7] The grandmother obviously has her own specific powers. The children in the village “ran when her grandmother came” (Silko, 1146). The parka represents the grandmother’s power (or status) and she passes this on to the girl by leaving her the parka.
[8] Wobee is the name Thrand is given by the Beothuk.
[9] Thrand is responsible for the death of Abidith’s brother.
[10] There are a number of incidents that show a definite likeness between the dogs and the white man as seen through the Native eye.
[11] Although her determination to marry Thrand might seem ridiculous to us since she is only twelve years old, it must not be disregarded that at twelve, a girl of that time and place might be considered of a marital age.

þriðjudagur, apríl 25, 2006

Tolkien Nína Rúna Kvaran
Professors: Matthew Whelpton
and Terry Gunnell

The Nature and Role

December 8th 2003
When speaking of nature, whether it be the natural elements of the earth, the universe or the nature of man, there are certain keywords that cannot be avoided. Of those, balance and harmony are perhaps the most important. Life is a perpetual cycle of processes that depend desperately on carefully balanced harmony in order to run smoothly. The exquisite perception of this importance of how things, elements and creatures are interlinked, as shown by the mastery of Tolkien’s novel, The Lord of the Rings, is without a doubt largely the reason why his fantasy world has managed to capture so many readers into total fascination. The articulate way in which Tolkien slowly but surely created Middle-earth with its complex network of geography, languages, mythology and creatures, is evidence enough of his immense imagination and creative ability, but more importantly his sense of a whole coming together, unified in all its diversity. Each forest, each language and each creature within the Tolkien’s world has its own distinct role that eventually serves the whole for better or for worse. The hapless creature Gollum or Sméagol is no exception from this rule and his nature and role within the story, will be the topic of the following speculations.

When reading a book, watching a movie or indeed, participating in real life, there seems to linger a persistent tendency in most of us to label characters or persons, as good or evil, or at any rate either sympathetic or not. When evaluating characters such as Gollum, some readers come to an almost moral dilemma because they cannot help liking the wretched creature in some way. At first glance it seems obvious that such a creature deserves nothing but the readers contempt and even hate, as vile and horrible as he is by most depictions in the books. The evidence of Gollum's monstrous nature is clear when Gandalf repeats the Woodmen’s fearful description of a “…new terror abroad, a ghost that drank blood. It climbed trees to find nests; it crept into holes to find the young; it slipped through windows to find cradles.”[1] This disgusting cannibal can hardly be worthy of any sympathies? But why then are so many of Tolkien’s readers moved to an almost compassion with Gollum?
Firstly, as Gollum’s history is revealed by Gandalf, we learn that he was not always so. He used to be a hobbit-like creature, living with his family, having friends and his own name, Sméagol. He is even said to have been “…the most inquisitive and curious-minded”[2] of his family. Surely the knowledge of his rather lovely origins, so similar to those of Frodo and Sam, make the sad state he succumbs to a rich soil to plant seeds of pity in the reader’s mind.
Secondly, Gollum suffers greatly at the hands of others. Whether he deserves it or not is another thing but certainly he does suffer maltreatment several times in the story. Sauron’s forces capture him and in the wizard’s dark demesnes Gollum is tormented until he confesses everything that has happened to him. Later he is captured by Aragorn who admits at the Council of Elrond to have not been “gentle”[3] with him. Interrogated by Gandalf, who uses the “fear of fire”[4] on him, the luckless creature is again forced to speak against his will. Obviously, Aragorn’s and Gandalf’s treatment of Gollum cannot be compared to that of Sauron’s, but the way in which he is hated, despised and used by others, be it for good or evil, and how he weeps under Gandalf’s scrutiny, does evoke some feelings of pity for him.
Thirdly, the manner in which Gollum behaves is so incredibly pathetic that even though one might feel utter contempt for him at times, he also evokes feelings of compassion through the shear misery of his being. After being captured by Frodo and Sam and made to serve their purpose, his behaviour is depicted as such:
“…but he was friendly, and indeed pitifully anxious to please. He would cackle
with laughter and caper, if any jest was made, or even if Frodo spoke kindly to
him, and weep if Frodo rebuked him.”[5]
These descriptions are as of an insecure child that is over-eager to please and surely, even the most cold-hearted of readers cannot avoid feeling slightly sorry for him even though he might very well deserve this humiliation. In the movie The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,[6] his constant grovelling before the hobbits and secret confrontations with himself, even provide comic relief that no character truly hated by its reader or viewer could ever do.
Fourthly, Gandalf’s comments about how, despite there being very little hope for Gollum’s rehabilitation, he is not completely a lost cause, encourage the reader to view him as not wholly evil. A character that has “…a little corner of his mind that was still his own…” with, as Gandalf further explains “…a light coming through it…”[7] cannot be completely dismissed as pure scum. This description of a once hobbit-like creature and its slow and agonising decay into evil is very sorrowful and makes the reader anxious to know whether Gollum really could be morally saved or whether it is just a matter of time before the tiny part of him that is still capable of good, disappears forever.
After having speculated thus briefly on Gollum’s nature it might be of interest to look further into his role within the story. What purpose exactly does he serve in the development of the plot of The Lord of the Rings? Seeing that this is a long story filled with different places, things and characters, it can be difficult to see clearly what function each individual has, that might affect the progress of the story. Some say that certain characters are there only to make a point without really being necessary for the plot itself and that other characters serve a much more direct purpose in bringing the plot together. Personally, I do not agree with this since I find a great loss in characters such as Tom Bombadil, even though he was successfully cut out of the movies without it seeming to harm the plot. This refers back to the point made before about how each element, thing or character introduced by Tolkien has a place and purpose within the story since a good story is not solely based on a good plot but a number of other elements that make it credible. In this way, Gollum has two functions within the story. He is a very important character when looking at the development of the plot and his own personal story and development as a character serves a universal point of its own because it brings a message to the reader.
When looking at the plot it is rather obvious that Gollum serves a repeated point in its development. He is absolutely a key character in the plot, appearing several times exactly at a crucial point where he can make a difference relevant to the entire progression of the story. In The Hobbit, Bilbo would never have found the ring had Gollum not originally brought it to the Misty Mountains and been careless enough to leave it unprotected. Had Bilbo not been moved to pity as he watched the creature from his secure invisibility and spared Gollum’s life, the whole order of events that was to take place in The Lord of the Rings would have been completely altered. As Gandalf told Frodo:
“My heart tells me he has some part to play yet, for good or ill, before the end;
and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many—yours not
Had Sauron’s forces not captured Gollum, Sauron would likely not have discovered the whereabouts of the ring or the existence of the Shire. Without Gollum’s lead, Frodo and Sam would not have found their way into Mordor and last, but not least, without Gollum’s participation, the ring would never have been destroyed. These events are evidence enough in themselves as to how Gollum affects the story and do not need further proving. Certainly, there might be other aspects to Gollum’s importance in the plot but these particular instances are some of the most obvious cornerstones of his importance. These incidents all seem to be coincidences at first but by looking at the way in which Gollum has a repeated impact on the fate of the ring, it becomes more and more clear that his destiny lies with it. Gandalf’s eerie way of prophesising what is to come emphasis the fact that Gollum’s certainly unwilling part in the destruction of the ring is foreordained:
“He must do what he will. But he may play a part yet that neither he nor Sauron have foreseen.”[9]
Regarding the more vague, universal role of Gollum, it might be said, that aside from serving an obviously important point in the story plot, Gollum represents with his own pitiful existence, larger themes that lie deep within the roots of The Lord of the Rings. One of these themes is the seemingly endless struggle between good and evil. This theme has omnipresence in the story and Gollum’s struggle with himself, so humorously depicted in the abovementioned movie, can be seen as symbolic for the conflicts between good and evil as represented in the books and also within every one of us in our daily lives. Gollum is an awful example of a person ruined. He fell under the spell of the ring and became corrupted by its power just as both Middle-earth and indeed almost every single being living there, is at risk of being corrupted by the lure of power. Perhaps this underlying theme of corruption also offers one more explanation of why Gollum’s character has fascinated so many readers. He represents something in us. He is an example of the moral decay that can so easily devour us if we let our guard down. This is made abundantly clear in Gandalf’s reply to Frodo’s disgust of Gollum:
“I think it is a sad story…and it might have happened to others, even to some hobbits that I have known.”[10]
In her article Moral Vision in The Lord of the Rings, Rose A. Zimbardo talks of the problem of “the All versus the self in human consciousness.”[11] She explains how evil in the romance vision is a perversion of human will. By perversion of will she is referring to when a man uses his will first and foremost to service himself instead of the whole, or the All. Selfish deeds therefore lead to lack of morality and in the end, total corruption. As Zimbardo says, had Frodo not been unselfish enough to spare Gollum’s life, he would have lost his own life later and in the process ruined many others. By this I am referring to the scene in Mount Doom where Frodo cannot destroy the ring but since Gollum attacks him and falls into the abyss while holding the ring, he saves Frodo from the spell of the ring and prevents him from making a fundamental error in judgement. Yet another service that Gollum unwittingly provides.
Zimbardo describes the All as being a chain, perhaps a chain of life of some sorts in which all creatures have their own place, providing harmony similar to what I mentioned before. But as each creature has its place within the complex network of the world of Middle-earth, it also has an evil counterpart, if not personally then as a species. So that for the beautiful and noble elves there exist the hideous and decadent orcs, good Men are counter-parted by the evil Ringwraiths, Gandalf has an evil counterpart in Saruman’s treacherous character and last but not least, Frodo has his evil counterpart in Gollum who is the opposite of everything in the least bit hobbit-like. This all leads us to yet another one of Gollum’s very important roles within the story. Frodo knows every detail about Gollum’s miserable life. He knows how Gollum came to possess the ring through murder and then how he became consumed by it as the years went slowly by, as if being eaten alive. This knowledge and then Frodo’s personal relations with Gollum, both serve as a stern reminder for him. A reminder of what could easily be his fate if he falls under the power of the ring and a reminder of the extreme importance of the success of the task he has been entrusted to fulfil. As Zimbardo says:
“Frodo must conquer his own dark counterpart, the Ring bearer must prevail
over his own image turned Ringwraith, before the destruction of that image, and
with it the destruction of the Ring, can be accomplished.”[12]
The conclusion therefore is, that Gollum is Frodo’s alter ego of sorts, providing Frodo with a horrifying mirror image that could easily become reality if he caves in to the awful temptation of the ring.

It is true that many critics do not like the idea of interpreting a moral message from the works of authors, especially not by claiming that that is exactly the intention that the author had in mind as he wrote his work. As a general rule, I tend to agree because as a reader, I do not appreciate a preachy tone in a narration. It can at times make the story seem awkward and the narration somehow too conscious of itself. But nevertheless, there are some moral lessons to be learnt from life since mostly, incidents and happenings tend to follow a pattern. In the same manner, The Lord of the Rings, although it has first and foremost a wonderful tone and sense of storytelling, does have an undertone of morality and the importance of making the right kind of decisions. Although obviously, Sauron and his ring are the ultimate symbols of moral corruption they are impersonal and therefore difficult to associate with anything remotely human. But Gollum is not. His depressing fate not only has a profound effect on the story, making him one of the most important characters, but also on the reader because he is a reminder of the power and ruin of corruption. He represents, in fact, what could have been the fate of Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf and numerous other characters tempted by the awesome power of the ring, had they not been saved from such a gruesome destiny. The power of evil is a prominent theme within the story and according to Cliffs Notes on The Lord of the Ring, Frodo’s ignorance of his “shadow self”, that being Gollum of course, causes him too easily pass judgement on Gollum, but as his experience accumulates he later is moved to pity.[13] Gollum multi-sided personality furthermore serves as a testimony to the author’s mastery in character construction. The genius with which Tolkien constructs Gollum by his behaviour and by how his story is told in bits and pieces, starting in The Hobbit and coming to a bitter end in The Lord of the Rings, brings the reader into the same kind of love-hate relationship with Gollum as Gollum in fact has with himself and the ring.


Hardy, Gene B. Cliffs Notes on Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and the Hobbitt.
Lincoln, Nebraska. Cliffs Notes, Inc. 1998. Page 60.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Hobbit or There and Back Again. London. Grafton (An Imprint
Of HarperCollinsPublishers). 1991.

- - -. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and
The Return of the King. London. HarperCollinsPublishers. 1999.

Zimbardo, Rose A. Tolkien’s Moral Vision in The Lord of the Rings, from Tolkien
and the Critics: Essay’s on J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Ed. Neil
D. Isaacs and Rose A. Zimbardo. London. 1968. Pages 100-108.

Movies Referred to

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. Director Peter Jackson. Actors
Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen and others. New Line Cinema.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Director Peter Jackson. Actors Elijah Wood,
Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen, Liv Tylor and others. New Line Cinema.

[1] Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1999. Page 77.
[2] Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1999. Page 69.
[3] Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1999. Page 332.
[4] Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1999. Page 75.
[5] Tolkien. The Two Towers. 1999. Page 276.
[6] Director Peter Jackson. 2002.
[7]Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1999. Page 72.
[8] Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1999. Page 79.
[9] Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1999. Page 336.
[10] Tolkien. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1999. Page 71.
[11] Zimbardo. Tolkien’s Moral Vision in The Lord of the Rings. Page 100.
[12] Zimbardo. Tolkien’s Moral Vision in The Lord of the Rings. Page 104.

[13] Cliffs Notes on Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbitt. 1998. Page 60.

mánudagur, apríl 24, 2006

Photography and Nineteenth Nína Rúna Kvaran
Century American Literature
Professor: Eva Heisler

In Search of the Mark

April, 2003

Nathaniel Hawthorne is an author deserving of great interest for he has a way of diving into the darker sides of humanity and expose the moral decay that can at times be found in the damp basements and gloomy attics of the human soul. As an author he has a way of supplying his readers with just the right dosage of morbid-ness needed to produce goose bumps and shivers. The Birth-Mark is no exception from this as Hawthorne manages to take the notion of beauty and perfection and through imagery contort it so that it may be seen as perhaps being mankind’s greatest flaw.
This paper is going to look closely at the subject of the image of beauty, by examining Nathaniel Hawthorne’s aforementioned short story “The Birth-Mark”. I will investigate with considerable detail the imagery and ideas put forth by the author. The main point of this will be to demonstrate how different images of characters and objects that are presented in the story, portray certain ideas of gender roles, science and most importantly, of beauty, as those subjects might have been seen in the period of the author’s life and might be seen in modern life as well.

Before advancing any further, a brief summary of the story is in order. The story takes place in a time period that Hawthorne refers to as ”…the latter part of the last century” which would then have meant the eighteenth century. The setting is the home of Aylmer the scientist who has just married a beautiful young woman called Georgiana. Aylmer has a laboratory assistant called Aminadab. Shortly after their marriage Aylmer’s obsession begins. Georgiana has a birthmark on her left cheek in the shape of a little, red hand. Aylmer becomes fixated with the mark and seeks his wife’s consent to try to remove it. In the end he discovers a way to do this task but the tragic consequence is the death of Georgiana.
I will begin by investigating the images of the physical appearance of the characters since it may well be seen as playing an important part in the story. The physical appearance gives the reader an indication of what kind of behavior to expect from the characters, but nevertheless the characters sometimes stray away from that set frame of expectations.
Aylmer is an educated man of science with a slender, tall frame and a pale complexion. All of this insinuates the image of a refined and intelligent gentleman. His assistant, Aminadab, is on the other hand described as “…a man of low stature, but bulky frame, with shaggy hair hanging about his visage, which was grimed with the vapors of the furnace.” He is even said to have “great mechanical readiness”, since he is able to perform on Aylmer’s demand but doesn’t really understand the scientific procedures. These two characters contrast each other in a very striking way. The most obvious way to interpret these two very different images is to consider Aylmer as a representative of the spiritual element of human nature and Aminadab as the more earthly, physical element of human nature and this idea is indeed what the author firmly puts forth in the story. These images are slightly deceitful because although both characters do live up to these descriptions up to an extent, they nevertheless, as said before, also stray away from what one might expect them to do according to the ideas that their images create in one’s mind.
One would expect Aylmer, since he is such an intelligent man, to have the common sense to be happy with his wife as she is and forget about the trifle detail of her birthmark. One would also expect him as a scientist to at least be able to prevent her death as a result of his experiments. Obviously, he is material and vain enough to let the birthmark become a deadly obsession and he is not a clever enough scientist to keep his wife from dying from the removing procedure. There is even a foreshadowing of this when Georgiana is wandering about and starts reading one of her husband’s folios, in which she can see that “his most splendid successes were almost invariably failures.” After seeing such a record of repeated scientific failure, one would not be shocked if she decided to withdraw from the whole experiment since he might be apt to continue to fail, although such a reaction would contrast with the unselfish qualities and undying love her character has been depicted to have for her husband.
It would not be entirely presumptuous of the reader to expect a character like Aminadab, who is described as being so dim-witted and machine-like, to live up to that, and in many ways he certainly does. It interesting to note that he mutters to himself: “If she were my wife, I’d never part with that birthmark.” By saying so he is, surprisingly, being the more sensible of the two men and by expressing his appreciation of the woman’s beauty he also steps out of the role of the “man of clay” and the “human machine” and shows his human-ness by his healthy manly lust. Another thing struck me as odd about his character, and that is his “…gross, hoarse chuckle…” of delight when Georgiana is waking up and which he repeats when she dies. He could simply be living up to his descriptions of stupidity or this might be a hint of sarcasm. In any case it gives the reader the idea that he is not as much of a “machine” as Aylmer claims.
When speaking of Georgiana, the birthmark obviously comes into mind. She is described as an utter beauty, flawless in every way except that she has this rather unusual birthmark on her face. This image of the birthmark is the most important one in the story and it opens a river of ideas concerning beauty, what it really is and how it may be recognized when seen. There are various observations to be made on the mark.
Firstly, the mark has a way of changing itself according to Georgiana’s mental and physical state. If she is happy and healthy the birthmark is less evident since it melts into her blushing face. But if she is ill or “…any shifting motion caused her to turn pale…” the mark looks like “…a crimson stain upon the snow…” This imagery is delightful and promotes the idea of the mark being a kind of emotion-monitor, making its owner incapable of hiding her feelings.
Secondly, different people see the mark very differently. People that liked Georgiana, especially men, mostly (though not without exception as can be seen by Aylmer) considered its presence charming and liked to imagine that “some fairy at her birth hour had laid her tiny hand upon the infant’s cheek, and left this impress there in token of the magic endowments that were to give her such sway over all hearts”. Another delighting image that gives the reader the impression that the mark is in fact not a defect but only something that in its own way enhances Georgiana’s individual beauty. On the other hand, many women in their obvious envy of Georgiana chose to call the mark “the bloody hand” and discuss how it made her visage seem even hideous.
Thirdly is Georgiana’s own perception of the birthmark. She confesses to her husband that she has never been bothered by the mark and since it had so often been called a charm, she had been tempted to believe it to be just that. But unfortunately, Georgiana takes her husband’s revulsion of the mark dead (excuse the pun) seriously and she very quickly comes to view it with his eyes.
By these various descriptions of the mark, it is obvious that even though it plays a key role in the entire story and its development, it is not so obvious as to what this role might actually be. The mark is at the center of attention throughout story but the imagery of it is forever changing. It’s described either as a charm or a defect and it seems to have a life of its own on Georgiana’s face, fading or illuminating itself according to her disposition. Being the only flaw on an otherwise perfect face, the mark could be seen as a representative of a certain human element. Despite of all the numerous and amazing attributes the human race has, it also has the Achilles’ heel of imperfection. The different images of the birthmark can be seen as a representative of different human elements. It can be seen as a charming attribute, it can represent its “owner’s” emotions and it can represent the human element of error, defect or lack of perfection with all the implications and complexities involved in that, just as Aylmer’s and Aminadab’s physique can be seen as representatives of the spiritual and physical elements of human nature.
Reading through the part of the story where people are described as talking about Georgiana, either to her face or behind her back, one wonders whether people have ever discussed one’s own beauty or lack of it, in the same manner. The story is very thought- provoking and raises the ancient old question of what beauty really is and also what Hawthorne might be trying to say about beauty. Of course the general question will not be answered on these pages but by interpreting the tragic ending of the story it might be concluded that Hawthorne valued the idea of seeing beauty as something that could be measured by how symmetrical faces are or how many scars and marks are on them, as ungodly since in the story this notion (held by Aylmer and later his wife) leads to a process that ends in death and as a result imperfection, two themes that have long since been religiously considered as the opposite of godliness or the divine.
Georgiana shows beauty not only by her sheer physical being but also by her feelings and actions. The reader might be upset when reading the story since it can be difficult to accept Georgiana’s lack of assertiveness and character demonstrated by the fact that she lets Aylmer’s view influence her so deeply and she changes her entire self-image because of him and accepts his proposal of removing the mark. But as one thinks more and more about it, she actually does a beautiful thing. By this I refer not to her submitting to her husband’s demented will, but to the scene where she reads the volumes of his scientific library. She finds out that Aylmer, with all his good intentions, has rarely succeeded in any of his experiments and his failures are more numerous than his scientific successes. This is when she really discovers her husband’s most serious defect (excluding his obsessive vanity). Many, if not most, women want their husbands to be successful in what ever their careers might be. This must have been especially true in times when all the majority of women could really do, was to be married off. Having no careers of their own, they must have been even more set on finding a successful husband to provide for them and give them a sense of pride. Therefore it is not so difficult to imagine that Georgiana’s reaction to her discovery should be disappointment and frustration. But that is not what happens. She is filled with more love than before. Her husband’s fault or defect makes him more human and fallible and she loves him all the more for it as can be seen in her reaction when he finds her in tears over the volumes: “It has made me worship you more than ever”. This scene, as is the final scene in which Georgiana tells Aylmer not to repent his actions even though she dying from them, are the only ones in the whole story that give the reader a sense of true and profound beauty (excluding the beauty of the author’s language use); something that is more than just skin deep so to speak.
Aylmer hardly does much that is remotely beautiful or that promotes beauty in any way, if one excludes the optical illusions he creates to entertain Georgiana. In fact, his whole demeanor is very ugly and he seems to fail at most everything he does. He tries to play God. He is by any standard a lucky man who has a happy and healthy wife but in his morbid search for perfection, he ruins her and ends her life, all because he could not accept that she was not a perfect goddess but merely human, with all the qualities and defects that come with that. It even makes his view more disturbing when Hawthorne expresses Aylmer’s idea that “Had she been less beautiful,--if Envy’s self could have found aught else to sneer at,--he might have felt his affection heightened by the prettiness of this mimic hand…” Poor Georgiana’s doom was that she was simply too beautiful to be “allowed” to carry this mark on her visage. It is only when she is dying that she is finally described as “the now perfect woman”. But what good is her perfection to herself or Aylmer if all she has left to do in her earthly existence is to decompose?
Aylmer is very fallible and there is one image in the story that is particularly foreshadowing of his ultimate failure with Georgiana. This is when he attempts to take her picture, fixing her image by using a daguerreotype-like method. The image turns out horribly, it is blurred and the mark is more evident then ever before. Aylmer throws the failed portrait away immediately because of how obviously the birthmark stands out in it, just as he later throws away his wife’s life for the same wretched birthmark.

There is a message in this story that it fully applies to modern society, even more than it might have applied to Hawthorne’s. The emphasis on physical beauty has always been heavy, especially concerning women since their physical appearance could have immense influence on how “well” they were married off. This usage of feminine beauty as a commercial asset has unfortunately not been eliminated but quite the opposite. With the media explosion of the last decades and its continuum, people are being exposed more and more to images of so-called physical “perfection” and just as the image of Georgiana’s so-called “imperfection”, the birthmark, these modern images are the cause of many misfortunate ideas that have led to misery and self-hatred amongst millions of people, especially women. Even though Aylmer’s obsession about the birthmark is despicable, it is not so difficult to sympathize with his view up to an extent. Many people nowadays not only consider but also actually put themselves voluntarily under the cosmetic scalpel. It seems to be inherent in human nature to always seek perfection or to always search for “the mark” so as to eliminate it from existence no matter how great the sacrifices. One wonders whether we are not doomed to fail in that quest since standards of human perfection and beauty vary so much from one society to another. Therefore it might be said that beauty is a very whimsical notion. Some might even agree that it is nothing but a mere optical illusions as were the “…absolutely bodiless ideas, forms of unsubstantial beauty…” that Aylmer entertained his wife with before she underwent the beauty treatment he had installed for her. What might be perceived as one of the major points in the story is the social and scientific moral that Hawthorne promotes. When one tries to play God as Aylmer does by actually believing that he, a mere mortal scientist, can be the creator of the ultimate faultless beauty, one is doomed to fail because humans are not divine but only very imperfect and defected creatures. Perhaps the only way us humans can succeed in creating perfection and true beauty is when we reach a stage in our lives that allows us to give unconditional love to another person but without promoting our own destruction at the same time as Georgiana does. Here the emphasis on human foully is repeated. Georgiana’s love for her husband most certainly seems unconditional but it is not perfect because she lets herself be destroyed for it, and with her death she also kills the perfection and beauty of her existence by throwing away the most precious gift each person has, and that is her life.


Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Birth-Mark”. 23 January 2003.

Trimmer, Joseph F. Writing with a Purpose. Boston and New York. Houghton Mifflin
Company. 2001, 241-245.