LITB3

AQA LITB3 Revision – Gothic and The Uncanny/Psychoanalysis

Hey! I hope revision is going well for everyone reading! So, here are my notes on The Uncanny/Das Unheimliche within the scope of the gothic. As ever, hope it helps.


Because the LITB3 exam requires a lot of perceptive and original interpretation to achieve the higher bands, it’s useful to look at texts like Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, Macbeth and even The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale through the lens of different critical perspectives. Aside from the interpretation of the gothic genre as sensationalist, serving no other purpose than excess and titillation, it is also a plastic, ambivalent discourse that can be used in many ways and to different ends in conveying a number of social, political, cultural messages. For this reason, psychoanalysis provides a theoretical framework through which we can read the gothic, that is perhaps more relevant and less orthodox than the ever-predictible feminist theory, which is applied so much to Carter’s work in the exam, to the extent that people tend overlook what actually makes the text ‘gothic’.


So, to understand the uncanny, it’s useful to have a basic grasp of the concepts underlying psychoanalysis, Freudian theory in particular. Here is a link to Freud’s essay on The Uncanny/Das Unheimliche that should help with this if you want to get a full understanding, but I’ll break down the basic ideas here:

The Unconscious

  • Division of the psyche that contains thoughts that we are unaware of – this is gothic in that it deals with the sexual, primitive and aggressive urges that lie beneath the civilised exterior that we portray to society. These urges motivate our behaviour in powerful ways that we are unmindful of.
  • The unconscious is dynamic, boundless and unknowable.
  • It reveals itself through jokes, parapraxis (slips of the tongue – a ‘Freudian slip’), and dreams (this is particularly important for the gothic).
  • Site of past childhood and developmental traumas.
  • It contains disturbing material that we need to keep out of our awareness – they are too threatening for us to acknowledge. Thus, this information needs to be repressed in order for individuals to function (otherwise – they are mad/criminal)
  • Exerts compulsions and repetitive behaviours.
  • Ambivalent – the competition between civilised conscious thoughts and sex/death instincts – this conflict manifests in the behaviour of many gothic characters.

‘Das Unheimliche’ / ‘The Uncanny’ (all quotes taken from the article I cited earlier in the post)

  • ‘The word ‘heimlich’ is not unambiguous, but belongs to two sets of ideas, which, without being contradictory, are yet vey different: on the one hand, it means what is familiar and agreeable, and on the other, what is concealed and kept out of sight’
  • So, Unheimlich can be defined as ‘The name for everything that ought to have remained…secret and hidden but has come to light’
  • Heimlich is a word meaning of which develops in the direction of ambivalence until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich’
  • Understanding of the uncanny in relation to the gothic can be simplified as follows – ‘that class of the frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar‘ and ‘nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression

The subject of The Uncanny and its manifestations within gothic literature

  • Uncanny feeling is ‘produced when the distinction between imagination and reality is effaced‘.
  • Uncanny as disguise/disguised – what is beneath the disguise?
  • The subject of the uncanny… is undoubtedly related to what is frightening – to what arouses dread and horror equally certainly, too, the word is not always used in a clearly definable sense, so that it tends to coincide with what excites fear in general. Yet we may expect that a special core of feeling is present which justifies the use of a special conceptual term. One is curious to know what this common core is which allows us to distinguish as ‘uncanny’ certain things which lie within the field of what is frightening’.
  • Freud also lists a number of more specific sources of the uncanny including: ‘intellectual uncertainty, doubles, deja vu, coincidences and repetition, omnipotence of thoughts (recalling our surmounted belief in the power of thoughts to affect the material world), the blurring of the boundary between imagination and reality, incest, being buried alive, ghosts and death itself’.
  • Furthermore, castration; doubles; doppelgängers; split personality; mirrors; involuntary repetition or the compulsion to repeat (Wiederholungszwang).
  • The uncanny evil eye; scopophilia and the love of looking; this way, the uncanny can also be related to feminist theory, so if you’re not quite ready to lay to rest the ghost of Angela Carter and her second wave collective, then this might be something to mention! This fear that a person is able to inflict harm upon another being merely by a glance’ ; the ‘substitutive relation between the eye and the male organ […]” particularly in the context of lost vision and dismemberment’.

Macbeth and The Uncanny

In Macbeth, The Uncanny appears in the following forms, and psychoanalysis can be applied accordingly:

  • The uncanny feeling is produced when the distinction between Macbeth’s imagination and uncivilised thoughts of Duncan’s ‘murther which yet is fantastical’ come into fruition as he commits the deed of ‘treasonous malice’.

Put simply, the distinction between his imagination and reality – his brain, which is fundamentally ‘wrought with things forgotten…,’ containing disturbing introspections which he wishes to repress, is obliterated. There is evident conflict between the ‘black and deep desires’ of the psychological id and conscious, rational thoughts of a man who notes that Duncan ‘hath honoured  [him] of late’. As these repressed thoughts creep into the conscious mind, the result is terror – a ‘horrid image that doth unfix [Macbeth’s] hair and make[s his] seated heart knock at his [ribs].’ Though at this stage, uncivilised thought and ‘present fears are less than horrible imaginings’ – as he kills Duncan, Macbeth ‘murther[s] sleep’ and progressively descends into a downward spiral and state of psychological unrest. Furthermore, the notion of the power of thoughts and their ability to affect the material world is significant to a psychoanalytic reading of the play. Macbeth’s subversive thoughts – in the sense that they subvert hierarchy – ‘[shake so his single state of man],’  and as the body can be considered a microcosm for society, the affects of these thoughts causing the earth to become ‘feverous,’ ‘shake’ and even result in literal disruption as ‘the chimneys were blown down’ represents an uncanny destruction of nature.

  • Also, the notion of disguise and concealment is integral to Macbeth (see my essay here on darkness and concealment). Not only through literal concealment, darkness and equivocation, but also Macbeth’s transformation, as he adopts an ‘otherness’ in order to commit his bloody deeds. There is plenty of imagery relating to appearance and reality as a result – Macbeth takes on a ‘vizard‘ to mask his depravity; Lady Macbeth instructs him to ‘look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t‘. The recurrence of ‘false face‘ and duality is inherently Freudian.
  • Coincidences and repetition, in particular the echoing of the ‘fair is foul and foul is fair chiasmus‘ through Macbeth’s own rhetoric (‘so foul and fair a day I have not seen‘), as this sentiment resonates throughout the entirety of the play.
  • Similarly, Lady Macbeth straddles, uncannily, the border of nightmare and reality, exerting compulsive and repetitive behaviours as she expels the damaging content of her unconscious mind though somnambulism.

She suffers the following; ‘A great perturbation in nature, to receive at once the benefit of sleep, and do the effects of watching. In this slumbery agitation, besides her walking and other actual performances…’. Sleep is a process by which we recover from the hardships of daily life – ‘sleep that knits up th’ravelled sleeve of care‘. Yet, as ‘only the innocent sleep,’ this familiar process is distorted and changed into something horrific; unfamiliar, or uncanny, even. Her repetitive behaviours and compulsions also adhere to Freud’s notion of the unheimlich – as repressed memories of Duncan’s bloody murder creep into her subconscious, she begins to ‘rub her hands,’ an ‘accustomed action,’ to rid herself of the blood that she recalls from the scene.

  • Again, repetition is significant with Duncan/Macbeth, as Duncan notes in a sort of ominous and uncanny proleptic irony that there is ‘no art to find the mind’s construction in the face’ prior to his murder at the hands of Macbeth, who notes that ‘false face must hide what the false heart doth know’ chillingly soon after. Coincidence and fate is also uncanny within the play. The past appears to repeat itself, as the original Thane Of Cawdor, ‘a gentleman on whom [Duncan built] an absolute trust’ is similar to the originally ‘noble’ Macbeth in that he commits treacherous acts and succumbs to his eventual death.
  • The uncanny evil eye – This fear that a person is able to inflict harm upon another being merely by a glance’ ; the ‘substitutive relation between the eye and the male organ […]” particularly in the context of lost vision and dismemberment’. – let the eye wink at the hand and yet let that be which the eye fears‘ – Macbeth fears the eradication of his masculinity and wishes to overcome the moral and ethical consequences of committing murder, which would cause him psychological unrest if he were able to physically see the act.
  • Finally, Banquo’s ghost is also an apt example of the uncanny within the play – he appears in an unfamiliar form which is evidently troubling for Macbeth, resulting in his terror and the ‘very painting of [his] fear’. Thus, as he begs for the ghost to ‘never shake thy gory locks at me, thou canst say I did it!’ he evidently engages in both the denial/repression of his aggressive and uncivilised actions, motivated from the unconscious/id and absolute fear.

The Bloody Chamber and The Uncanny

Because the comment I received about the uncanny specified Macbeth, I’m not going to specify psychoanalysis in The Bloody Chamber in quite so much detail but I’d look out for the following:

  • See my essay on base instincts/subconscious desires here, or my essay on the beasts as more humane than the humans here to read about the uncanny in The Tiger’s Bride. One thing I didn’t really touch on was the full significance of scopophilia and the male gaze and also, the role of the automaton, but I’m sure that’s something you can look into.
  • The Erl-King for me is the most obviously psychoanalytic of all the texts in the collection – the whole story has the potentiality to be a construct of the narrator and a manifestation of her unconscious desire (‘he came alive from the desire of the woods’ ‘all perspectives converged’ ‘invented distance’ ‘imaginary traveller’ – she is addicted and desires the Erl-King, as shown through the imagery of the ‘nicotine’ etc. etc.’.
  • In the titular story, look out for imagery of mirrors, gothic duplicity with the Marquis, references to scopophilia and eyes (Those of the Marquis, contrasting with those of the more benign Jean-Yves – he evades the male gaze, as though he is blind, his eyes are ‘singularly sweet’).
  • The Snow Child is evidently open to psychoanalytic interpretation, due to the dream-like atmosphere and periodic references to desire and aggression. The Count is ‘weeping’ as he succumbs to his own unconscious desire – is he helpless in his depravity? The Countess is similarly ambivalent – she ‘watched him narrowly’ and resigns to her own aggressive instincts.
  • Finally, all of the stories evoke the latent content of fairytales –  childhood stories appear to be subverted into horrific adult nightmares, but Carter is merely extracting the latent content. This is uncanny in that the terror is already underlying the prose that we have read as children, once again, showing the gothic to be a pliable genre that we can use to project didactic messages for our own means, whether they be political, feminist, social etcetera.

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AQA LITB3 PPQ – JUNE 2012 – ‘Write about the significance of darkness and concealment in Macbeth’

In Macbeth both darkness and concealment are essential to play and its descent into tragedy, as metaphorical darkness is used most obviously in relation to death and as an element of characterisation, conveying the evil nature and immorality of both the Macbeths and the witches. Concealment is used to a similar avail, characterising Macbeth as a gothic double, yet it is more likely that darkness and concealment are at their most significant when they are used in conjunction with one another, dealing directly with the debate regarding the source of Macbeth’s corruption.

Both Macbeth  and Lady Macbeth evidently utilise literal darkness to conceal their depraved actions from others and as a mode by which they can protect their consciences. As Macbeth calls upon the ‘selling night [to] scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day’ in a similar fashion to Lady Macbeth’s bid for ‘thick night [to] pall [her] in dunnest smoke,’ both characters essentially profess a desire to disguise their acts ‘that be which the eye fears’ in order to avoid any ethical or divine scrutiny that would prompt them to ‘hold’ and terminate their plans to commit ‘murthers too terrible for the ear’. Thus, it is utilised as a structural device that allows the crises of the play to occur.

Yet, interpreting darkness only it its literal sense is less integral to the reading of Macbeth as a gothic text, as though it acknowledges the significance of metaphorical associations with evil, immorality and death these are certainly underplayed. Shakespeare’s use of the semantic field of ‘night’s predominance’ following Macbeth’s murder of Duncan infers such a connection between darkness and evil, recognising its all-consuming power and ability to prevail, ‘strangle’ and ‘entomb’ benign ‘living light’. Therefore, perhaps figurative darkness, shown through the antithesis of darkness and light , is used to greater effect in characterising ‘Black Macbeth’ as an archetypal gothic protagonist, particularly in his soliloquy preceding Duncan’s death. He reveals his innermost ‘black and deep desires’ and his depraved conscious wish for these to overcome their very antithesis – ‘any signs of nobleness, [which] like stars, shall shine on all deservers’. As he requests for darkness and the ‘stars [to] hide [their] fires,’ he essentially declares his wish to be stripped of all morality so that he is able to commit his bloody deeds.

Furthermore, as themes of depravity and a lack of morality are evidently deal with more appropriately though symbolism, Shakespeare’s contrasting use of light and dark imagery throughout the play details the consequences of straying from moral principles. Shakespeare’s use of the motif of the ‘taper’ as the play approaches its denouement potentially indicates Lady Macbeth’s ascent back to morality. Unconsciously speaking in disorderly prose, she progresses ‘to [have] light by her continually,’ living in fear of the dark and ‘[murky hell]’ that she has previously allowed to control and ‘tend on [her] mortal thoughts’.

Metaphorical darkness is also significant in its association with the excessive ‘dusty death’ that appears to overshadow the entire play, providing a commentary on the brevity life. As Banquo is murdered in darkness, as shown through the stage directions as ‘murderer 1 strikes out the light,’ his life is extinguished similarly to the ‘brief candle’ of Lady Macbeth’s. As Macbeth realises the futility of his ambition and that his life is ‘but a walking shadow,’ it could be interpreted that such symbolism is essential to the play’s classification as a tragedy and its protagonist’s resignation in his own life that he has ‘lived too long’ immorally.

However, perhaps concealment alone is used to a more significant degree in characterising Macbeth as a gothic protagonist, as dissimilarly to the subjective interpretations of symbolism,  soliloquies and asides prove directly Macbeth’s dishonesty and resulting role in the play as a gothic double. His ability to ‘make [his] face [a] vizard to [his] heart, disguising what [it is]’ affirms this view, as the mask-like disguise of his uncivilised thoughts exposes his earlier claim to ‘speak [his] free heart’ to Banquo to be one that is entirely untrue, as he does not divulge the ‘wicked dreams’ that he is plagued by after his meeting with the witches. Yet, as such secrecy develops to be progressively more sinister throughout the play, as Macbeth surpasses his wife’s intervention, telling her to ‘be innocent of the knowledge’ that he is to murder Banquo, it is clear that he is concealing evil deeds that gradually become more ‘black and deep’ in nature. As duplicitous ‘false face’ is used to cover the dark and depraved acts of murder that are essential to the plot, evidently, the two concepts are more significant when used in combination, detailing Macbeth’s corruption.

Therefore, the witches, who are indisputably evil ‘instruments of darkness,’ concealing truth by the means of equivocation, are of greatest significance in Macbeth, as they arguably corrupt his ‘noble stature’ and render it to be ‘foul,’ inciting the whole basis for the play in their chiasmus ‘fair is foul and foul is fair/ hover through the fog and filthy air,’ as the imagery used here echoes this notion of moral contamination. Contextually, the witches would have been perceived as agents of the devil, and by adopting ambiguous language, they ‘palter with [Macbeth] in riddles and affairs of death’ and as a result he is ‘drawn into his confusion’ by their riddles, perhaps committing regicide due to their intervention. Though there is some debate as to whether Macbeth is solely at fault for his regression, ‘burn[ing] in desire’ to become King by his own account, the notion that the witches  ‘trade and traffic’ with him, exploiting him and lead him to his demise, essentially frames the narrative of the whole play – they are there to ‘meet with Macbeth’ and corrupt him from the very exposition. As this is such a central topic of discussion regarding the play, it can indeed be perceived as the most significant example of darkness and concealment.

AQA LITB3 – Section B Revision – Gothic quotations from critics and possible questions for June 2015 – Part I

Recently, my tutor gave us a list of critical quotations for us to apply to The Bloody Chamber, The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale and Macbeth to consider different elements of the gothic that may come up as questions for section B of the exam (or maybe even section A) this summer. Obviously, if you’re studying other texts, like Frankenstein, etc., I’m sure you’ll still be able to get something from this post anyway! Hope it helps.


1. ‘The violation of innocence – “At the heart of the Gothic text is the tension provided by the possible violation of innocence – the concept of ‘virtue in distress'”

The Bloody Chamber

Story 1: The easiest story to refer to for a question on virtue in distress would definitely be the eponymous story of the collection. Talking about the Marquise and debating the source of her corruption (whether she is already corrupt from the offset of the story, or whether she is corrupted by the Marquis).

You would need to specify i. What constitutes as ‘virtue’ – so, virginity, purity, innocence, beauty etc. ii. Whether the violation of this innocence and the virtue in distress creates narrative tension. The most obvious line of debate would be that i. The Marquis attempts to corrupt the narrator, and this results in tension as we contemplate whether or not she will die as a result of said corruption. However, you can counter-argue and evaluate by posing that she is corrupt from the outset (here, you’re incorporating structural analysis – which AQA love – by referring to the exposition in this way), marrying the Marquis only for his wealth. Also, you could argue that as Carter adopts gothic conventions in a very melodramatic and perhaps even parodic way, that this means no tension is created.

Story 2: The other story I’d talk about for a question on this is The Erl-King, which is probably the most complex story of the collection, but I think it’d give the best opportunity of getting the most marks due to its difficulty. It allows you to speak about narrative perspective and structure quite nicely, and sets up a debate as to whether the omniscient (and very subjective) narrator is the cause of her own corruption (as she willingly goes to the Erl-King, inciting her own entrapment and that she allows herself to be subjugated by males, as she perceives herself the way they do), or whether the Erl-King is a predatory character, causing her corruption and resulting entrapment. Again, there’s the same debate as to whether this creates tension, as with TBC.

Macbeth

Again, you would be able to write about structure relatively easily with Macbeth by analysing the imagery in the exposition (the perspective that Macbeth is a tragic hero, regressing from high status to that of an ‘abhorred tyrant’ If you’d like to read some analysis of this, my post on how the first few scenes of Macbeth adhere to the gothic heremy essay on Macbeth’s downfall here and my essay on Macbeth as a butcher here should help. When writing about Macbeth though, I think it’d be good to unpick the critical quotation even more, as the presence of the witches and their arguable control over Macbeth from the exposition means that the violation of his innocence is not a possibility, but an inevitability.

The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale

In my opinion, this is the most difficult of the texts to refer to (in most cases actually – I’ve yet to see a question that I find easy to answer). I guess you could talk about i. The concept of ‘virtue in distress’ is shown to a much lesser extent in the prologue/tale, because the Pardoner, nor any of the people he speaks of are virtuous. However, you could talk about how the Pardoner preys on the innocence (and thus, virtue) of his audience for his own gain, as he cons them into paying for his false relics and convincing the uneducated that they have committed terrible sins etc. As for tension, I don’t think the concept of virtue in distress/lack of any virtue in the Pardoner creates any tension as such, but rather evokes the disdain, disgust and contemptuous laughter from the reader/contemporaneous audience, as the Pardoner is so obvious in his evil.


2. ‘The shocking elements of the gothic are selfish and go beyond the boundaries of what is acceptable in society’ – “Gothic fictions seemed to promote vice and violence, giving free reign to selfish ambitions and sexual desires beyond the prescriptions of law or familial duty”

The Bloody Chamber

Again, very easy to classify what is shocking – illicit lust/sexual gratification, language, subversion of religion etc. and how these transgress societal boundaries. I’d personally refer to The Snow Child and The Bloody Chamber for this question. The sexual primacy of the Count most definitely transgresses familial duty as he commits to incest and pedophilia (and necrophilia too), having sex with ‘the child of his desire’ intended merely for his own selfish and sexual desires. He’s unpunished within the denouement (thus, structural evaluation and hitting assessment objectives). You could also analyse the Countess as she ‘reigns in her stamping mare’ and symbolically gives free reign to her husband, as she so evidently cannot control him. In TBC, I’d obviously refer to sexual gratification, the link between sex and pain and how this is selfish, but I’d refer to religious transgression as the Marquis is characterised (hitting more assessment objectives!!) as a satanic figure (‘the key to my enfer,’ the fact he has Huysman’s ‘La-Bas’ ‘bound like a missal’ and treated as prayerbook, his ‘chthonic gravity’ etc.), promoting vice and violence, and how this could be perceived as ‘shocking’. Yet, as the Marquis is killed within the denouement, is such behaviour really promoted by Carter?

Macbeth

The main thing for Macbeth would obviously be his act of regicide, as this definitely goes beyond both the prescriptions of law, and of the divine. Selfish and ‘vaulting ambition’ is clearly exercised in order to bring Macbeth’s wish to be king into fruition. Though the play does also becomes progressively more violent and Macbeth succumbs to vice, the play cannot be said to promote such behaviours, as it could be interpreted that Macbeth is punished in the denouement as Macduff enters bearing ‘Macbeth’s head on a pole’ and Malcolm’s dialogue also echoes the sentiment of a morality play as he exclaims a wish to ‘[Produce] forth the evil ministers of this dead butcher and his fiend-like queen’. Yet, there is a clear absence of unrestrained sexual desire in Macbeth, so this needs to be approached also.

The Pardoner’s Prologue and Tale

Though the Pardoner outwardly preaches against vice and violence, chastising his audience against sin; ‘glutonye,’ and all its ‘cursedness,’ ‘lecherye’ etc. through his use of the sermon form and inaccurate biblical allusions, as he only does this for his own gain, ‘prech[ing] nothing but for coveitise,’ and not suffering any punishment for this, it could be said that the tale does does promote vice (but not violence).

AQA LITB3 PPQ – JUNE 2010 – ‘At the end of the play, Malcolm describes Macbeth as a butcher. Do you think that Macbeth is merely portrayed as a butcher?’

Here’s another band 6 Macbeth mock I did in my own time, this time, focussing in on the excessive violence Macbeth’s tragic regression than the last.


Malcolm’s description of Macbeth as a ‘butcher’ in the play’s denouement is certainly an appropriate one, as he is responsible for many brutal, excessive and unnecessary murders within the play all of which become more ignoble and uncivilised as it progresses. However, though Macbeth’s villainy is obvious, so is his degree of humanity, evident in his early doubts, later disillusionment and his tortured conscience, which could be perceived as transcending that of a mere butcher. Furthermore, though it could be interpreted that he is indeed a savage and trained killer, unfit for sovereign rule, his final soliloquy affirms a philosophical introspection not characteristic to an unthinking butcher. Ultimately, the interpretation of Macbeth as a tragic hero is a stronger one – his unravelling corruption implies that he kills out of madness and paranoia to ensure his safety rather than the evil intent of a butcher.

It could be perceived that, as Shakespeare characterises Macbeth as a typical gothic villain, committing brutal and savage ‘muthers … too terrible for the ear,’ that worsen as the play progresses, then Macbeth is indeed portrayed as a mere butcher. Macbeth’s initial act of regicide is a ‘more than bloody deed,’ excessive to the extent that it is ‘unmannerly breached with gore,’ exercised without any honour, or Duncan’s provocation. Macbeth’s butchery is furthered, as Shakespeare’s allusion to ‘The Rape Of Lucrece’  within Macbeth’s soliloquy, which can be seen to reveal his innermost thoughts, certainly aids his characterisation as an uncivilised butcher, as he describes his movements towards Duncan like that of ‘Tarquin’s ravishing strides,’ evoking his inhumane and tyrannical spirit as he proceeds with the murder. The later murders of Banquo and in particular, the family of Macduff, shown through the asyndetic list of his ‘wife, children, servants, all that could be found’ all exemplify Macbeth’s brutality, and thus, as he ‘savagely slaughter[s]’ so many characters, the interpretation of Macbeth as a ‘mere butcher’ is a credible one.

However, as Macbeth is at first unconvinced by his murderous plans, exhibiting doubt and a guilty conscience that drives him to the brink of his sanity, it is clear that he possesses thoughts that are certainly not characteristic to a one-dimensional and unthinking ‘butcher’. Macbeth’s guilty apprehension is present before he even commits to the act of ‘treasonous malice’, as he remarks that ‘We will proceed no further in this business,’ as the very thought of murdering Duncan is ‘horrid’ to him, making his ‘seated heart knock at his ribs’. As he only commits to the act of regicide when he is goaded and ‘chastise[d]’ by his wife, it is likely that he does not have the strength of mind to execute cruel murder as a ‘butcher’ would. Macbeth’s resulting ‘brainsickly’ psychological unrest, which manifests symbolically in the form of Banquo’s ‘horrible shadow’ indicates that he is not ‘merely’ a butcher, able to commit horrific acts of murder without any sense of remorse. Though he is quickly ‘settled’ into such acts, the ‘torture of [his] mind’ demonstrates the humane and regretful contemplation of a man ‘afraid to think on what [he has] done’ and it would be altogether more feasible to interpret that whilst he is a ‘butcher,’ he is also conscience-stricken.

Furthermore, within the exposition, whilst it could be interpreted that Shakespeare does indeed depict Macbeth as a butcher from the outset, delighting in the ‘reeking wounds’ of bloody battle, due to the imagery and verse form that utilised, it is a likelier interpretation that this connotes his nobility of character, rather than the evil intentions of a butcher. Macbeth is initially and universally regarded as ‘noble’ and ‘brave,’ and Shakespeare affirms this by utilising the imagery of the ‘[eagle]’ and the ‘lion’ to in order characterise him as fully ‘deserv[ing]’ of the praise that he receives. Though this imagery, in addition to the depiction of ‘bloody execution’ and how Macbeth ‘unseam[s Macdonwald] from the nave to ‘th chops’ could be perceived as both dire and butcher-like, the verse form of this passage confirms an inherent nobility that a mere butcher could not possibly possess.

Yet, though Macbeth is arguably depicted as noble warrior within the exposition, Malcolm acts as his foil, exposing that he is, perhaps, a trained killer unfit for sovereign rule and instead, prone to uncivilised and butcher-like ‘tyranny’. Though Malcolm claims that he has ‘no relish’ of any ‘king becoming graces,’ this is simply a guise, as he is revealed to be virtuous and ‘yet unknown to woman.’ As he exhibits the ‘good truth and honour’ typical of a king and devotes himself to ‘[his] poor country’s to command’,  the ignoble traits of Macbeth, shown through the syndetic list; ’bloody…avaricious, false, deceitful… malicious, [and] smacking of every sin..’ are emphasised. As as a result, by contrast, pure Malcolm indicates that ‘black Macbeth’ is fundamentally, a sinful butcher by nature, devoid of any redeeming qualities.

Nevertheless, this interpretation can be refuted,’ not only as it is delivered from the biased perspective of Duncan’s son, but also as Macbeth was once undoubtedly a ‘worthy’ character of high status, it is a more credible view that he is not a ‘mere butcher,’ but instead, a more complex tragic hero. Macbeth eventually recognises his own brutality, and that he is ‘in blood stepped in so far…returning were as tedious to go o’er,’ and the endless succession of violence that occurs as ‘blood will have blood.’ Considering the concept that violence will beget more violence and that he is in a position that he cannot return from, then perhaps Macbeth kills as a result of his psychological entrapment – the ‘saucy doubts and fears’ regarding his position as king, that he is ‘cabined, cribbed and confined’ by indicates that he progresses to the role of butcher, consciously acting on the ‘firstlings of [his] hand,’ and suppressing his ‘human kindness’ so that he is able to commit such bloody deeds. This notion is furthered in Macbeth’s final soliloquy within the play’s denouement, which occurs after he has already committed much of his brutal action, as he reflects on the brevity of his ambition and the transience of life, speculating that ‘life’s but a walking shadow’ and the tragedy of his own plight as he comments that his is meaningless, ’signifying nothing’. Thus, even as he is left corrupted at the play’s end, Macbeth’s profound and complex introspection confirms that he is not merely a thoughtless and uncivilised butcher, as he clearly achieves an anagnorisis.

AQA LITB3 PPQ – JANUARY 2012 – ‘Carter explores base instincts rather than subconscious desires’

Probably one of the better essays that I’ve written timed/without the book. I got it marked today and it’s a band 6 response, hope it helps!


In ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ it is true that Carter explores base instincts, such as those of the narrator’s father in ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ the depraved sexual primacy of the Count in ‘The Snow Child’ and the malign sexual instincts of The Erl-King. Yet, it is debatable that the exploration of base instincts are favoured by Carter. In fact, in the case of the Count, it could be perceived that base instincts arise from the subconscious mind and that the two are intrinsically linked. Furthermore, by considering the benign nature of ‘La Bestia[’s]’ instincts, in addition to the interpretation of ‘The Erl-King’ as an exploration of the narrator’s subconscious desires, it is clear that Carter does not simply wish to explore base instincts. Ultimately, the two concepts are not mutually exclusive – the ambiguity of Carter’s prose allows her to explore the relationship between the two.

In ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ through the use of parallelism and the motif of the gothic double, Carter explores the base greed of the narrator’s father, which seems to be as instinctive to him as the animalistic ‘ferocity’ of the tiger, in order to convey the innate human tendency to succumb to the psychological id. Within the exposition, the narrator immediately alludes to her father’s base greed through the asyndeton of ‘his gaming, his whoring, his agonising repentances’ that led to the death of her mother. He is characterised as ‘a man in the last stages of debauchery,’ sensually indulging in ‘gambling’ and ‘perpetual pleasure’ and Carter elucidates that such base behaviours are instinctive by utilising the motif of the mask, characterising ‘La Bestia’ as an inverted gothic double, resulting in an ironic caricature of human behaviour. As the tiger wears ‘a mask with a man’s face painted on it,’ where ‘one profile is the mirror image of the other’ Carter echoes Freud’s concept of the uncanny, offering the reader an uncomfortable, yet inherently familiar reflection of uncivilised human instincts, as the tiger is literally a beast behind a guise of civilisation. Perhaps Carter is addressing how humans are either ‘fighting a battle with [themselves]’ as the tiger is, or instinctively succumbing to base and ‘perpetual pleasure’.

However, though Carter does explore some instincts that are base in ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ she does not present all instincts as such. As the narrator undergoes a metamorphosis in the story’s denouement, as she ‘shrug[s] the drops off [her] beautiful fur’ and assumes an animal form, she learns from the benign and pure instincts of the the beast, who is actually a ‘delicate creature,’ as he offers her an escape from her entrapment and ‘balked simulation of life’ by encouraging her to shed superficial appearances in order to achieve liberation, as foreshadowed in the exposition by the ‘introspective’ setting in which he lives – his desire to see the narrator ‘unclothed’ is clearly not the product of base and sexual instincts, but of instincts altogether more positive and natural. Nudity is depicted in a completely un-sexualised manner, disconnected from any baseness, as the narrator who was once ‘unaccustomed to [her] own flesh’ and ‘unused to [her] own skin’ evades the objectification of a society ‘who take no account of [her] existence’ as she ‘peels down to the cold, white meat of [her] contract.’ She is able to find solace and rebirth in a ‘peaceable kingdom’ in which the oppressive base instincts of men ‘need not be [her] extinction.’

Furthermore, similarly to the way in which the narrator’s father succumbs to his greed in ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ it could be interpreted that the Count acts on his ‘base’ and sexual instincts by having sex with the young girl in ‘The Snow Child,’ yet, as she is a manifestation of his subconscious desire, it is more likely that Carter does not favour the exploration of base instincts, but sees the two concepts in relation to one another. As the Count ‘thrust his virile member into the dead girl,’ helplessly ‘weeping’ in the process, it could be perceived that such base actions are instinctive and do come naturally to him, yet it would not only be controversial to suggest that engaging in rape, necrophilia and incest is instinctive, but also, inaccurate. Due to the fact that the girl is ‘the child of his desire,’ manifesting as soon as ‘[the Count] completed his description,’ it is a likelier interpretation that she is therefore, a product of male subconscious desire, as suggested by the anaphora as the Count ‘wish[es he] had a girl as white as snow,’ ‘… as red as blood,’ ‘… [and] as black as that bird’s feather.’ Carter explores how the depraved and unsettling desires of the Count interact with his instincts, as he acts on such sexual impulses, as the girl is ‘stark naked,’ serving no other real purpose than for the Count to fulfil the fantasies of his subconscious, as she dissipates, ‘[beginning] to melt’ as soon as he has raped her.

Within ‘The Erl-King,’ through the narrative voice and the setting of the woods, Carter arguably continues to focus on subconscious desires, rather than base instincts, yet this time, those of the female. Though the Erl-King is characterised as an enticing figure, leading the narrator to indulge in her sexual instincts in ‘profane mysteries under the leaves,’ as ‘he came alive from the desire of the woods’ he is ultimately a construct of her subconscious desire. This sentiment is furthered through the narrative voice, as she deems herself an ‘imaginary traveller’ and alludes to the ‘invented distance’ of the woods, she evidently desires the ‘embracements’ of the Erl-King in spite of the ‘grievous harm’ she knows he is able to inflict. The denouement of the story affirms this interpretation as the Erl-King proclaims ‘Mother, Mother, you have murdered me!’ as she figuratively ‘murder[s]’ and suppresses the desires that she has previously been ‘mother’ to.

Yet, it could be considered that whilst Carter does explore the subconscious desires of the narrator, she does this in order to expose how females perceive the base instincts of men. The Erl-King is characterised as a powerful and ‘irrevocable’ figure, able to lead the narrator astray, and Carter alludes to his base intentions by utilising intertextuality from Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’ as she equates his actions the ‘…thirsty, cankered..’ ones of the goblins of the poem. However, it is inferred that she will be ‘trapped in her illusion’ and her own subconscious desires, as she is essentially, aware of the Erl-King’s dangerous sexuality. Carter proposes that females metaphorically ‘[lose] themselves in the woods’ – it is their perceptions and toleration of male sexual instincts that are more damaging and thus, she explores both subconscious desires and base instincts in relation to one another.

Ultimately, Carter does not explore base instincts at the cost of subconscious desires, but views them as joint, exploring the relationship between the two. Thus, she shows how subconscious desires can be equally sordid and dangerous, and that baseness need not always arise from instinct.

AQA LITB3 Practice essay – Gothic and the past

I haven’t posted in a little while, mainly because I was doing slightly more intense revise in preparation for mock week at college, but I’m back doing notes and practice essays now, so I thought I’d post this one! This isn’t a past paper question per se, but it’s a question that my teacher came up with for one of the other A2 literature classes. I decided to do it as a bit of practice to see how well I could unpick and debate the question thoroughly without the aid of a mark scheme!! Apparently the stuff on TLOTHOL is top of band 6, but the stuff on The Werewolf is a weaker, so that did even out the grade this received.


‘In her stories, Carter’s main priority is to expose the threatening and irrational nature of the past.’ To what extent do you agree with this view?

In ‘The Bloody Chamber,’ Carter explores the relationship between modernity and ancient superstition, and effectively, she finds both the myth in modern subjects and the modernity of fairytales. In ‘The Lady Of The House Of Love,’ not only does Carter base the characterisation of the Vampirella on Romanian folklore of the past, but she also presents the threatening intent of her supernatural ancestors. However, due to the malign control that the ancestors exert on the Vampirella, it could be perceived that Carter’s main priority is actually to expose the nature of the past to be not merely threatening, but physically dangerous. Though Carter does criticise the destructive capabilities of a present that has already been preordained, by presenting irrational fears to the reader, she fundamentally suggests that a more rational fear of the present is much more disquieting. Similarly, Carter furthers this view in ‘The Werewolf,’ a story that also echoes folklore, where inherited and irrational superstitions are exploited as a means of survival. Ultimately, we are left with the suggestion that our true anxieties should remain in the present and the future.

In ‘The Lady Of The House Of Love,’ though Carter depicts the ancestors of the Vampirella to be both threatening and irrational influences of the past, it is evident that they are not exclusively just ‘threatening,’ but actively destructive. The use of free-indirect discourse in the narrative voice that exclaims ‘Vous sere ma proie’ mimics the sentiment that the Vampirella ‘does not possess herself’ and that through her, the sinister and ‘baleful, posthumous existence’ of the past lives on. Due to the fact that she is controlled by her ‘demented and atrocious’ predecessors, despite her ‘own horrible reluctance,’ perhaps Carter simply manoeuvres the conventions of irrational folklore symbolically and as a mode by which she can expose the past to be both oppressive and detrimental to those in the present.

Equally, through the characterisation of the ‘rational’ soldier, who escapes the ‘annihilation’ of the Vampirella and her ancestors, Carter clearly exposes the nature of the past to be merely threatening and irrational, which, in turn, critiques the human tendency towards irrational thought.  The young man’s ‘fundamental disbelief’ of superstition and the make-believe threats of ‘the timeless Gothic eternity of the Vampires’ is, ironically, his ‘protection’ against their harm. Carter manipulates the narrative structure in order to deceive the reader into a false sense of fear as we are told of the Vampirella’s predatory nature and her ‘teeth [that] have been sharpened on centuries of corpses,’ leading to the belief that the soldier will, in fact, die at her ‘fatal embrace’, despite the fact we are explicitly told that he is destined to die in the ‘trenches’ of war. Thus, the folkloric allusion to the Vampirella as a descendent of ‘Nosferatu’ and the recognition that ‘it is folly to believe one’s eyes’ implies the notion that Carter’s main priority is, in fact, to critique our irrational fears of the past to expose the notion that the present is much more horrifying. However, through her use of equivocation, as Carter presents the Vampirella as intrinsically linked to warfare, her role as the ‘hereditary commandant of the army of shadows’ does put to question whether or not the soldier dies in the conflict of war. As the soldier is abandoned by his bicycle, a symbol of ‘rationality’ as he enters the setting of the Chateau, then perhaps our fears of his death at the hands of the Vampirella and her ancestors are not entirely unfounded. The denouement itself is an ambiguous ‘no-man’s land,’ and as the soldier is greeted ominously by ‘the heavy fragrance of Nosferatu’s roses’ in the barracks, the reader is left with the implication that his death in ‘the trenches’ does actually come as the result of supernatural intervention. This view is furthered by the use of structural parallelism, as the imagery used to describe the ‘corrupt’ and ‘baleful’ rose links to that used to illustrate the Vampirella’s ancestors, inferring that the young man has not escaped their hold. Though this leads to a more irrational mode of thought, posing that the ‘special exemplary fate’ of the soldier comes from the ‘vindictive inhabitants’ of the past, it is more likely that by ending the story ambiguously, wherein the acts of human conflict are effectively on par with those of ‘corrupt’ and fictional vampires, then the view that Carter exposes the malevolence of humanity is reaffirmed.

Similarly, in ‘The Werewolf,’ through the protagonist of the story, who is deceptively labelled as a ‘good child,’ Carter depicts not the threatening and irrational nature of the future, but the sinister and ruthless nature of the future generations. The exposition of the story presents a society both impoverished and based on folklore – the asyndeton of the ‘cold; tempest’ weather within the setting immediately creates a harsh and foreboding atmosphere, and one that certainly proves difficult for the continuation of the ‘harsh, brief, poor lives’ of its inhabitants. Outwardly, the denouement appears to be the ‘happy ending’ characteristic of a fairytale, as the protagonist prevails in such adverse circumstances, yet, it is more likely that its laconic tone is more chilling than it is satisfying. It could be interpreted that perhaps the child exploits the universal and irrational beliefs that ‘the devil is as real as you or I’ and of the ‘discover[y of] witch[es],’ to allow her own grandmother to ‘[fester]’ and suffer her violent death as she is ‘pelted with stones,’ as she supposes that her meagre ‘wart’ is the ‘[mark]’ of a witch. Thus, Carter reveals the notion that, for survival and material gain, humans will do anything to ‘[prosper]’ as the child does, even if it is at the cost of sacrificing those closest to them, indicating that her main priority is actually to uncover the threatening ‘cold hearts of the future that manipulate beliefs of the past.

Ultimately, though Carter does present the past to be both threatening and irrational in nature, this is not her main priority. It is more feasible that she presents these views in order to warn the reader rather more fittingly, of the alarming nature of both the present and the future.

AQA LITB3 PPQ – June 2013 – ‘It is ironic that the beasts are more humane than the humans in The Bloody Chamber’ consider this in light of two stories in the collection.

Hey guys! This is an essay I wrote quite recently for homework, and one that I have to admit, I enjoyed writing (for the most part!), and it received a band 6 mark of 34.


Just a quick note before you get to reading the essay: I went to a really interesting lecture on gothic literature quite recently and it generally focused on how psychoanalytic/Freudian concepts are cohesive with the gothic genre. The lecture really elucidated meanings of some of the more complex aspects of Carter’s stories, such as the role of the gothic double and why we ultimately enjoy reading texts that horrify, shock and disgust us. For this particular question, the knowledge and understanding of Freud’s concept of the uncanny (or if we’re being pedantic, ‘Das Unheimliche’) that I gained at the lecture was absolutely invaluable (and also, brilliant AO3) when exploring the theme of liminality and evaluating a more contextual point on the male gaze.  If anybody wants me to share my notes on the lecture or a link to Freud’s essay on the uncanny, then I’d be more than happy, just let me know!


In ‘The Bloody Chamber’ Carter subverts the reader’s expectation by depicting the beasts as more humane than the humans, critiquing the submission of men to their base instincts as a result. However, the use of ambiguous language in the process of characterisation leaves whether this is actually ironic open to debate. Many of the characters in the collection, such as La Bestia in ‘The Tiger’s Bride’ and The Marquis in the eponymous story, are in liminal states and encompass both bestial and human attributes, regardless of whether they are humane or depraved. By blurring the lines between human and animal, Carter is thus able to assess the internal conflict of animalistic and moralistic drives and consequently, what it means to be human. In ‘The Tiger’s Bride,’ Carter contrasts the narrator’s immoral father, ‘a man in the last stages of debauchery’ with the more compassionate Tiger who is ‘[struck to the heart]’ as the narrator misunderstands his request to see her unclothed. In spite of the potential for destruction his ‘great, feline tawny shape’ and ‘savage geometry’ permits, he is indirectly characterised as more thoughtful and contemplative by the ‘introspective’ region in which he lives. The setting echoes his bid for the narrator to see past appearances and look deeper and straight to the ’spongy pith of the lungs’ just as the damp chill does and strip herself of material luxuries. Contrastingly, within the narrative, Carter uses the tedious asyndeton of the father’s ‘[his] gaming, [his] whoring, [his] agonising repentances’ to exemplify the human capacity to be self-serving – continuously and powerlessly yielding to their vices to the extent it is a ‘sickness’. This could certainly be perceived as ironically inhumane compared to the ‘self-imposed restraint’ and control that the beast exhibits, as he remains composed when he would ‘rather drop down on all fours,’ never resorting to such degeneracy. It is perhaps the beasts and not the humans that the reader seeks to identify with.

However, as Carter uses equivocation, referring to the Tiger as a ‘man’ – as having a ‘hand’ and not a paw – ‘La Bestia’ is never addressed clearly as human or beast, putting to question whether or not his benevolence can be considered ironic. As he is anthropomorphised, covering himself in ‘civet’ to mask his natural scent and wearing a ‘mask with a man’s face painted on it,’ the Tiger is characterised as a gothic double, implying his liminality and the guise of civilisation. Here, Carter echoes Freud’s concept of the uncanny through the motif of the mask, where ‘one profile of the mask is the mirror image of the other’ in order to offer the reader an uncomfortable, yet inherently familiar reflection of the more primitive aspects human behaviour, as he is literally a beast behind a mask of civilisation. Therefore, the presentation of the Tiger, who embodies characteristics considered to be typically human, is more indicative of human ability to herald both civilised and animalistic tendencies than it is ‘ironic’. Carter is potentially addressing how humans that strive to be moral, as the Tiger is, are either metaphorically ‘fighting a battle with [themselves],’ ignoring their inevitable, basic instincts, or like Beauty’s father, succumbing to their base ‘perpetual pleasure[s]’. However, the interpretation that the Tiger is not humane in his natural state can be discarded, as the narrator states that in actuality ‘nothing about him reminded me of humanity.’ Therefore, Carter’s message is indeed an ironic criticism directed towards humans and their selfish behaviour.

This perspective is furthered by Carter’s illustration of the human Marquis in the eponymous story of the collection, which counters the view that humans have the ability to be humane. The Marquis exhibits his depravity within the setting of the ‘museum of his perversity’ by displaying his murdered wives – all ’victims’ to his inhumane nature. His deep, internal corruption is also implicit in the text by Carter’s reference to Huysman’s ‘La-Bas’, which he has ‘bound like a missal,’ and treats a fundamentally sacrilegious text as his bible. As the story reaches its climactic point, the Marquis’ ‘monocle,’ arguably, a symbol of civilisation ‘fall[s] from his face’ and he exposes his more ‘disordered’ and animalistic tendencies, hidden behind a guise of civilisation. Perhaps if humans are able to conceal such dark impulses behind a ‘self-sustaining carapace,’ then Carter’s presentation of the beasts of more humane than the humans is not ironic, but instead, sincere. Yet, as reference is also made to his ‘curling mane’ at this stage in the story, it is entirely possible that the Marquis could be regarded as more of a beast than a human.  Carter repeatedly utilises zoomorphism throughout the story, citing ‘the leonine shape of his [the Marquis’] head’ and alluding to Dracula as the narrator describes his ‘kiss with tongue and teeth’ to imply his animalistic and predatory qualities. However, though this imagery does somewhat negate any irony and make his oppressive physical presence seem like that beyond normality, the Marquis is essentially human and just a ‘big man’ that displays beastly behaviour. If we assume that it is due to the female perspective of the narrator that we too, perceive the Marquis to be a ‘monster,’ then perhaps this method of characterisation is used to allow the reader to consider a more contemptible facet of male behaviour. As the narrator notes the ‘sheer carnal avarice’ of the Marquis’ regard, Carter criticises the inhumane objectification of women by exposing the sexual power imbalance of the male gaze.

Though Carter envisages humanity as beastly in ‘The Bloody Chamber’ through the characterisation of the Marquis, the juxtaposing character of Jean-Yves completely counters this view. In her relationship with the ‘blind’ piano tuner, the narrator is able to escape the ‘lecherou[s]’ and inhumane hold of the male gaze that the Marquis exerts over her and this is something exemplified by Carter’s manipulation of the motif of eyes. The emphatic prosody of the description of Jean-Yves’ ‘singularly sweet’ eyes acts in stark contrast to the ‘dark, unreflective’ eyes of the Marquis, conveying romance as opposed to degradation. Whilst it could be interpreted that Jean-Yves is merely employed to act as a foil to emphasise the Marquis’ beastliness and a human inclination towards corruption, as he ‘sees [the narrator] clearly with his heart,’ Carter implies a more optimistic and less ironic view that some humans harbour the ‘lovely, blind humanity’ of the piano tuner, rather than the characteristics of a beast.

Ultimately, though the beasts are generally depicted as more humane than the humans, this is not necessarily ‘ironic’. In doing this, Carter is able to exemplify the competition between primary urges and the humane emotions that distinguish us from animals, articulating how humans can revert to their basic or base instincts and as a result, she offers a scathing commentary on civilisation.