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 – To what extent is Macbeth responsible for his own downfall?

Hey there, this is a practice essay (Ie. not a real past paper question) that I completed for homework over half term. I haven’t had it marked yet, but thought it seemed decent enough to post! Reading over what I’ve written, one thing I’d focus on more if I could re-write it, is probably the influence of the witches, considering some of Heccat’s dialogue (‘trade and traffic with Macbeth / in riddles and affairs of death,’ the apparitions, the interpretation of Macbeth as a ‘wayward son’ for some further structural analysis etc.). I did write this with a conclusion (I concluded that he was the source of his downfall, but not responsible for it), but for some reason, it wasn’t saved to my laptop, so I’ll update this when I get my grade back.

The eponymous hero of Shakespeare’s Macbeth undeniably suffers a tragic downfall, from the ‘noble’ thane of Glamis in the play’s exposition, to an ‘abhorred tyrant’ in its denouement. Though it would outwardly appear that Macbeth is rather indisputably corrupted by extraneous forces of evil that lead him to his demise, such as Lady Macbeth and the three witches, perhaps a stronger interpretation is that such forces merely bring his latent evil into being. Ultimately, if we consider a psychoanalytic reading of the text, then we can regard Macbeth’s madness and guilt as a form of psychological defence, rather than proof of his good nature. The source of his downfall lies not with the malign guidance of others, but with the ‘black and deep desires’ of his own subconscious. However, whether Macbeth can actually be held ‘responsible’ for this is subject to interpretation, as he tragically seeks to repress such urges.

It could be interpreted, that as Macbeth is depicted as a ‘noble’ and ‘valiant’ warrior in the play’s exposition, he is an inherently decent character who allows himself to be corrupted by his, wife, and he is thus, not responsible for his own downfall. As Shakespeare uses the imagery of the ‘[eagle]’ and the ‘lion’ to characterise Macbeth as noble and brave and fully ‘deserv[ing]’ of the praise he receives then perhaps Lady Macbeth acts as a femme fatale and preys on his good ‘nature’, which she speculates is ‘too full o’th’ milk of human kindness’ by ‘pour[ing] her spirits in [his] ear, and goading him to commit regicide. Macbeth’s guilt is clear before he even commits to ‘treasonous malice,’ as the very thought of killing Duncan is ‘horrid’ to him, making his ‘seated heart knock at [his ribs], and this would certainly affirm the view that Lady Macbeth ‘chastise[s]’ him into the act and that she is to be held responsible for his downfall, as she is the character that incites his ‘illness’ and his villainy. Though Macbeth falters and states that ‘we will proceed no further in this business,’ the use of sequencing, as he is very quickly ‘settled’ into killing Duncan in addition to Lady Macbeth’s recognition that he already has the ‘desire,’ then it is a stronger interpretation to consider that her intervention is minor and that Macbeth’s earlier descriptions as valiant ‘eagle[s]’ and ‘lion[s]’ merely suggest his predatory nature and delight to ‘bathe in [the] reeking wounds’ of battle. As Macbeth surpasses Lady Macbeth’s mediation by murdering Banquo, ignoring her request for him to ‘leave this’ , his feelings of unrest cannot solely be attributed to her – perhaps `she is not solely responsible for his downfall.

It is also a feasible interpretation to suggest that as Macbeth plays victim to the ‘supernatural soliciting’ of the witches and is seduced into corruption by their favourable prophecies and equivocations, he is thus, not solely responsible for his downfall. Structurally, the witches are established as agents of chaos from the play’s very exposition. Not only do they frame the play’s narrative, but also establish their ability to render things ‘fair’ in nature, perhaps like ‘brave Macbeth’ into things that are ‘foul’ in their ominous chiasmus ‘fair is foul / and foul is fair’. Such control over Macbeth is implied further, as he unknowingly echoes their chiasmus in conversation to Banquo as he remarks ‘so foul and fair a day I have not seen’ and manifests as soon as ‘[their] charm’s wound up’ in a sort of proleptic irony. As they show an apparent power to control the speech and actions of Macbeth, it is not altogether surprising that he is left in a ‘rapt’ state at their claims that he is to inherit the title of ‘Thane of Cawdor’ and ‘King hereafter’. However, though the witches are formidable in their powers, they are clearly not all-powerful; as the witches ‘curse a man forbid’ at the beginning of I:III, the couplet ‘though his bark shall not be lost / yet it shall be tempest tossed’ indicates that though the can manipulate nature to a certain extent, it is not in their power to exert complete destruction. Thus, the use of ‘noble’ Banquo as a foil, whose recognition that ‘To win us to our harm / the instruments of darkness tell us truths / win us with honest trifles / to betray’s in deepest consequence’ leads to the view, that, in spite of their malicious intentions, the witches can only partially lead Macbeth to his downfall. Though the witches are ‘there to meet with Macbeth’ and not Banquo, as he falsely interprets that ‘two truths are told,’ he essentially exhibits clear ‘vaulting ambition’, that is characteristic to him and not the witches, perhaps they are merely manifestations of his own ambivalence and inner conflict that drives him to commit ‘dread exploits’ lending to the interpretation that he is clearly the one to be held accountable for his downfall.

If we consider a psychoanalytic reading of Macbeth and consider him to be an inherently evil character who has previously suppressed his ‘black and deep desires’, then perhaps he is actually responsible for his own downfall. As Lady Macbeth reports how Macbeth ‘burned in desire’ to hear the prophecies of the witches, it is clear that his earlier soliloquy, which can be seen to reveal his innermost thoughts, reveals his subconscious intentions to kill Duncan. The subjunctive mood of Macbeth’s statement that ‘chance may crown [him] without [his] stir’ perhaps reveals not his innocent intentions, but instead, the possibility that he ‘may’ intervene. This is furthered as he speculates that Duncan’s ‘murther yet but is fantastical,’ as he unknowingly comments on the inevitability of treason, it seems to indicate that his evil has been present from the play’s very exposition. As his latent evil is eventually brought into being, the witches, who would have been perceived, contextually as proponents of the devil refer to him as ‘wicked,’ branding him rather indisputably as a gothic villain – the notion that an advocate of Satan would regard him to be evil potentially affirms that he is again, the one to be held accountable for his demise. However, if we consider the prospect that Macbeth is unstable, seeing an unreal ‘air-drawn dagger’ that provokes him to such deeds and plagued by ‘the torture of [his] mind,’ though the source of his downfall does lie within him, perhaps he cannot be held responsible for it due to his unstable state of mind.

AQA PSYB4 PPQ – Discuss how the biological approach helps psychologists to understand human behaviour. In your answer, refer to two topics you have studied in psychology.

Just thought I’d post my most recent psychology essay! I’ve only just started learning the PSYB4 module, so I’ll have some better essays on this soon, as well as some PSYB3 essays.

The biological approach believes humans have evolved through Darwinian evolution and therefore, certain behaviours have evolutionary explanations. For example, we have evolved to have a ‘fight or flight’ response to threatening situations. Our sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for action by releasing adrenaline and increasing heart rate, and this is said to have an evolutionary basis as it aids survival. However, the biological approach s criticised for focusing too much on the nature side of the debate. This is a weakness as it may be an overemphasis on the importance of evolutionary factors and biological processes at the expense of psychological and environmental factors. Yet, it is untrue to say the biological approach ignores environmental factors completely, as it is known that the phenotype is influenced by both genotype and the environment. For example, in a situation where identical twins, who share the same genotype, are separated at birth, can potentially have different phenotypes, which can reflect in both their personality and their physicality as they are treated differently by their parents. Therefore, this is a clear acknowledgement of environmental influence by the biological approach, as it recognises how those who are expected to exhibit the same behaviour as they share exactly the same genetic make up, can show different behavioural tendencies depending on how they’re brought up. Furthermore, the diathesis stress theory of schizophrenia acknowledges how an individual may be genetically predisposed to developing the disorder, but that it takes a stressful life event to trigger the disorder. This is a clear strength of the biological approach, as a knowledge of genetic predisposition can lead an individual to avoid the environmental stress factors that incite the disorder, and therefore, deter its onset altogether.

Another assumption of the biological approach is that human behaviour is strongly determined by our genes and genetic inheritance. For example, it is thought that disorders such as OCD and schizophrenia may be genetic, as evidence shows that they run in families. Evidence from this comes from Pauls et al, who found that those with a first degree relative with OCD are more likely to develop the disorder. Furthermore, Kendler found that those with a first degree relative with schizophrenia are 18 time more at risk of developing the disorder themselves. However, the biological explanations of OCD and schizophrenia are deterministic, claiming that the disorder is beyond the control of the individual. This is a weakness as it ignores the role of free will and sees us as powerless to change. This has implications for the criminal justice system, as it raises questions such as ‘are criminals responsible for their own behaviour?’ meaning that custodial sentencing may be an unwarranted and unethical punishment, as offenders are unable to stop themselves from committing offences. In addition, this deterministic view also has negative implications for society, those with OCD and schizophrenia may adopt a fatalistic attitude, assuming that they cannot change their behaviour because it already fixed in their genetic make up.

Furthermore, the approach is reductionist as it explains OCD and schizophrenia at the level of genetics, ignoring factors such as upbringing and socio-cultural factors, despite compelling evidence that schizophrenia may be a result of labelling. This is a weakness as it is dehumanising, presenting humans as biological machines, underestimating the role of other important factors on our behaviour. For example, it may be better to explain human behaviour from a social or cultural perspective, as sociocultural theories, such as labelling theory, have shown clearly the damaging effects of labelling an individual with medical terms such ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘mentally ill,’ as others may interpret normal behaviour as a symptom of their disorder, and they can become ostracised from society as a result. In spite of this, biological reductionism is also a strength, as by isolating just one factor, it allows researchers to investigate that factor scientifically in order to establish cause and effect relationships. For example, experimental research is useful, where an IV is manipulated and all other variables are controlled, as by determining causation, researchers may be able to find treatments to aid those with behaviours that lessen their quality of life.

The biological approach assumes that the central nervous system, especially the brain, plays an essential role in thought and behaviour. For example, the amygdala in the limbic system plays a role in emotions. Evidence from this comes from Morris et al, who found that the amygdala shows high levels of activity when a person is shown fearful faces, suggesting that this particular area of the brain plays a role in our ability to recognise fear, thus implying that our reactionary behaviour has a biological basis. This is a strength as it demonstrates how the biological approach has been useful in explaining how and why we are able to recognise fear in another person. This may serve the evolutionary function of keeping us safe as if we can recognise emotion in someone else we can avoid the dangerous situation ourselves. Furthermore, this research is highly scientific. Morris used PET scans which is a precise and objective method of investigation. This is a strength of the biological approach as the research is high in internal validity and can be replicated precisely. This scientific approach enables psychologists to develop universal laws of behaviour and make predictions about human behaviour.

The biological approach believes chemical processes in the brain are responsible for psychological functioning. For example, OCD is though to be caused by low levels of serotonin and schizophrenia is thought to be a result of excessive dopaminergic activity. This is supported by Seeman et al, who found six times the density of D4 receptors in the brains of people with schizophrenia, supporting the claim that the activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine may cause the symptoms of schizophrenia. This is a strength of the approach as there is a clear link between schizophrenia and an increase in dopamine receptors, inferring that chemical processes are indeed responsible for schizophrenic behaviours. Research such as this has developed in useful practical applications, such as the development of drug treatments. For example, SSRIs for OCD and antipsychotic drugs for schizophrenia. This is a strength as it shows the biological approach has been beneficial and has made important contributions to society, improving the quality of life  for sufferers by lessening the debilitating effects of their disorders. However, the neurochemical explanation of schizophrenia is limited as there is evidence to suggest that family dysfunction, such as high levels of expressed emotion can trigger the development of the disorder. This highlights the importance of considering both the influences of nature and nurture on our behaviour, as the treatments that have resulted from this theory, such as family therapy, have been effective, as Hogarty et al suggests that such therapy can significantly reduce relapse rates.

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.