In An Enemy of the People Ibsen deals with the conflict between the various perceptions of ‘truth for the public good’ – the altruistic blinkered perception of Doctor Stockmann; the political, social and financial interest of his brother, Mayor Stockmann; the “editorial opportunism” (McFarlane/Ibsen, 1994, p. xiii)  of the local paper’s editor, Hovstad; the political timidity/moderation of the printer, Aslaksen; the blatant dishonesty of the tannery-owner and foster-father, Kiil; the clear-sighted vacillation of Stockmann’s wife, Katherine; and the idealistic zeal of his daughter, Petra. These perceptions result in personal attitudes, some of which are status driven, some financially driven, some idealistically driven, and yet others driven by the need for social acceptance and political safety.  Thus, as each character sees and deals with the situation from his own perspective, the personal and the social/political are interwoven within the play.

While the universal themes of pollution, official corruption, and materialism are explored within An Enemy of the People, we can’t take anything at face value in Ibsen plays.  In the public sphere this play deals with public issues of health, politics, honesty, proberty in public life, and both public and personal responsibility and irresponsibility.  But the polluted water of the baths stands as a metaphor for the political and ethical pollution in the Norwegian society within which the play is set.  It deals with both internal and external issues, and the interplay and tensions between them.

The internal issues deal with the ramifications within the Stockmann family – the interactions between the various family members, their division, and their effects on each other.  In particular, it forefronts the difference between the brothers and the tensions that causes.  Doctor Stockmann is socially generous, physically vigorous, is not political, and embodies idealism, honesty, and integrity. His impetuosity, and passion for the truth proves counter-productive in the political town environment to which he is a newcomer.  Fond of young people, “with initiative and minds of their own” (ibid, p. 9), he believes, ironically, that he has finally come to a community to which he can belong.

“I can’t tell you how happy I feel, surrounded by all this growing, vigorous life …. [T]hink of me, living all those years in the North, cut off from everything, hardly ever seeing a new face, never the chance of any decent conversation … for me it’s like coming to some great metropolis.” (ibid, p. 8)

However, he does not understand the machinations of its society.  The Mayor is mean and frugal, with poor digestion and no apparent family, lives for politics and business, and links his fortunes with the town’s prosperity.  He is “the influential representative of entrenched authority, not without courage … and horribly experienced in the manipulation of others … masks self-interest and self-preservation as ‘the common good’”. (ibid, p. xiii)

The external issues revolve around the pollution of the burgeoning tourist attraction, the public spa-baths that offer ‘cures’ and social activity to tourists and townspeople. As the Mayor remarks to Hovstad:

“Mark my words!  The prosperity of the town will come to depend more and more on the … splendid new Baths. ….Just look at the quite extraordinary way things have improved in the last year or two …. with plenty of visitors, and lots of convalescents to help give the place a reputa- tion…. recommending the place generally as a very healthy spot.” (ibid, p. 5)

With the threat of closure to this lucrative attraction, the external issues broaden into a very real conflict between public health and public and private prosperity. As a nineteenth century doctor, Doctor Stockmann is a researcher, representing rationality, scientific method, rejection of superstition, and a commitment to clear sight, truth in one form or another.  His discovery, that the water piped to these baths is polluted, triggers the action of the play and the revelation of the various personal perspectives of what constitutes the ‘public good’.  Before learning of this discovery, the Mayor ironically and prophetically lectures his brother on following the correct procedure when dealing with public issues:

“I cannot permit any dubious or underhand methods. …. You have a chronic disposition to take things into your own hands … And in a well-ordered community, that can be equally reprehensible.  The individual must be ready to subordinate himself to the community as a whole; or, more precisely, to the authorities charged with the welfare of that community. …. [T]hat’s just the thing you don’t seem to want to learn.  But mark my words; one of these days you’ll pay for it …” (ibid, pp. 10-11)

As a rationalist with a scientific issue at stake, the Doctor cannot foresee the political twists and turns:  the actions of Hovstad and Aslaksen, the Editor and Printer of the newspaper; the fickleness of public opinion, or even the vehemence that his discovery arouses in his brother.  Based on turning Stockmann’s idea of the Baths into reality, the Mayor jealously guards his reputation as an astute and practical business man with always the public good in mind.  Besides, the cost of mending the pipes and the sewerage system is prohibitive, the task will take two years, and a neighbouring town could easily entice away their tourists.

Believing in the urgency of warning the public about the health-risk of the pollution, Doctor Stockmann notifies Hovstad. Favouring an article on the findings, the editor suggests “[t]he sooner the public hears about this, the better”. (ibid, p. 20)  Billings, the journalist, ironically adds: “[y]ou’ll be the leading light of the town, Dr. Stockmann,” (ibid, p. 20) and asks Hovstad to initiate the town “to organize something to show its appreciation “ (ibid, p. 20) of the Doctor.  Aslaksen, agrees, putting the weight of the compact majority, comprising the Temperance Society and the Ratepayer’s Association, behind the Doctor.  Initially Hovstad wants to use the information to further his:

“intention of breaking up this ring of obstinate old buffers who’d got hold of all the power …. a certain group of officials …. [their] friends and hangers on … – the wealthy ones of the town, and the well-connected …. the people in control.” (ibid, pp 27 & 26)

But upon discovering that the Mayor – the most influential – is against its release, and will use his position to their detriment, they change their minds to agree with him.  Motivated by the necessity for a viable paper, reliant on the public for sales and advertising – a public, who, according to the Mayor, will be irate when they discover that their prosperous baths must close – Hovstad buckles.  Aslaksen, through political timidity, and fear of the Mayor’s power, withdraws the support of his compact majority.

Believing in her husband’s integrity, and his need to prevent an epidemic, Katherine Stockmann can, however, see the inherent dangers to her family’s prospects by opposing the Mayor.  More practical than her husband, she acts as a reality check – her common-sense responses indicate how little Stockmann understands the situation, politically.  She is prepared to compromise – not to preserve political power like the Mayor, or to stay inside of authority like Hovstad, but to maintain the status quo and possible safety of her family.  Wary of the fickle support of the compact majority, she correctly gages the Mayor’s reaction to the news, even suggesting that her husband “share the credit with [the Mayor, and]…. drop a hint that it was he who first put you on the track…” (ibid, p. 22)

As an independent woman with a reputable teaching job, Petra, with more commonsense than her father, has a social conscience that aligns her with his cause.  When he is threatened with dismissal from his Baths employment, Petra berates the Mayor: “Uncle, this is a disgraceful way to treat a man like Father!” (ibid, p. 40)  With her mother’s sensitivity, and knowledge of society’s fickleness, she supports both parents alternately.  However, at the end of the play, Petra, for having “extremely advanced ideas about all sorts of things” (ibid, p. 89), and being her father’s daughter, is given her notice by Mrs Busk, who ”didn’t like doing it.  But she daren’t do anything else.” (ibid, p. 88)

A form of blackmail to force Stockmann to withdraw his claim that the tannery has polluted the Baths, Kiil locks the inheritance funds of his foster-daughter, Katherine, and her children, into shares in the Baths.  Bought while low, he intends to profit when they rise again.  To his family’s detriment, Stockmann refuses to be bought off, putting his naive social interests for the good health of the town before the vested financial interests of the townspeople, Kiil, and the ruthless Mayor.  Ironically, as a man standing up against corruption, Stockmann stands alone – except for the unusual support of Captain Horster, in whose house the meeting is held, and who suffers ostracism from the community for his alliance with the Doctor.

But if we see Stockmann as a lone embattled admirable figure with the courage of his convictions against all society, we’re overlooking his political naiveté, his misreading of the signs. An erratic character, Stockmann gets carried away, zealously rushing into publication of his findings, and when thwarted sees only the political ramifications in terms of corruption and vested financial interests of his brother and foster-father-in-law.  Finally disillusioned by them and all they stand for, Stockmann states: “[w]e live by peddling filth and corruption!  The whole of the town’s prosperity is rooted in a lie!” (ibid, p. 41)  As with his narrow-focuss when discovering the pollution, he still does not see the complete or personal picture of financial ruin.

Towards the end of play, Stockmann’s character becomes more complex and ambivalent.  His sense of intellectual superiority erupts with his anger at his impotence at the public meeting which he called but could not control.  In fact, Stockmann internalises the external issues – takes personally the social/political perspectives – when he castigates those he wants to sway to his side of the debate.  Instead of talking about the “petty business about the water-supply being polluted and the Baths standing over a cesspool” (ibid, p. 73), he belittles the “so-called leaders … [as] a lot of goats in a young forest – there’s damage everywhere they go” (ibid, p. 75), then attacks the compact majority, which he says is “[t]he worst enemy of truth and freedom in [the] society …. trying to prevent [him] from speaking the truth.” (ibid, p. 76)

His speech develops into a dangerously elitist, anti-humanist (with his analogies to mongrels and poodles) diatribe which alienates both the audience on stage at the meeting and the one in the theatre watching the play.  The latter still believe he is right to publicize the water-pollution, but are appalled at the politically Fascist nature of his speech.  As an intelligent man, he believes he has a right to judge his audience.  They, in turn, form into a mob, jump to conclusions driven by the emotive speeches given by the Mayor and Hovstad, and very quickly turn to violence.  Thus Stockmann and the fickle mob are manipulated by the tensions created by those in power to behave outrageously.

In contrast with their opulence at the beginning of the play, where they show their enjoyment in their new-found wealth, and their generosity in sharing it with others, at the end of the play the Stockmann family have no jobs, no money, no house of their own.  Their home is barren, with broken windows in stark contrast with the warmth of the house in the opening scene.  Taken in by Captain Horster they plan a future based on impracticality and idealism, of which Katherine is skeptical but which Petra embraces with her father.  After the curtain goes down the audience is aware that more action is to follow.  The play, with its interplay and tensions, an interweaving of the personal, social and political issues, ironically highlights the idea that possession of the truth, “its establishment and its promotion” (ibid, p. xxiii) does not equal or entail the public benefit.

(C) Jud House  26/04/1998 & 30/10/2012


McFarlane, J. (trans. & ed.) (1994) Henrik Ibsen – An Enemy of the People, The Wild Duck, Rosmersholm.  Oxford:  Oxford University Press.

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In The Oxford Paperback Dictionary, reality is defined briefly as: ”the quality of being real, resemblance to an original.” (Oxford, 1979, p. 532)  Illness as reality refers to the actual physical illness – in the case of Ghosts, that of Oswald’s physical weakness and mental instability caused by inherited venereal disease.  The reality of syphilis is that it does not always reach its final tertiary stage in all who contract it.  Thus, via a mother who shows no trace of it, “the  sins of the fathers are visited upon the children” (McFarlane & Arup, 1990, p. 138), passed from generation to generation.  As reality, illness brings about anguish and madness for Oswald and Mrs Alving respectively.

According to Abrahms:

[i]n a metaphor, a word or expression which in literal usage denotes one kind of thing or action [subject or tenor] is applied to a distinctly different kind of thing or action [object or vehicle]….  In an implicit metaphor, the tenor is not itself specified, but only implied …” (Abrahms,1993, p. 67)

Illness as metaphor refers to anything in the play that can be represented as a particular form of illness:  heredity; and social malaise in the form of power, hypocrisy, respectability, concealment and morality.

As a metaphor, Oswald’s real illness highlighted the illness of narrow-mindedness and hypocrisy that infected the Norwegian society. The plays of Ibsen, reflecting these social attitudes, are “characterised [realistically]… by representing complex characters with mixed motives who are rooted in a social class, operate in a highly developed social structure, interact with many other characters, and undergo plausible and everyday modes of experience.” (Abrahms, 1993, p. 132)  His plays depict not only specific political and moral problems/themes via his characters, but also their place in society, and its controlling effect on their lives.

The Norwegian society, in which the authority of the church dictated morality, comprised: “the hollowness of great reputations, provincialism of outlook, the narrowness of small-town life, the suppression of individual freedom [internally and externally] … and the neglect of the significance of heredity.” (Meyer, 1980, p. 22)  As the church’s representative, a deeply conservative Pastor Manders was an instigator of repression and hypocrisy, seeking to avoid scandal at the cost of truth and morality.  Unable to accept new ideas on sexuality, new social ideas, family matters like unmarried couples with children living as a family: “[t]o think the authorities tolerate such …. blatant immorality” (McFarlane & Arup, 1990, p. 111), Manders demonstrated the narrow constraints of his church.

His concern about other’s opinions of him, and fear of scandal, led to him not insuring the Orphanage: “men in independent and influential positions …. [might believe] that neither you nor I had a proper faith in Divine Providence.” (ibid, p. 104)  In turn, this led to his blackmail by the thoroughly disreputable Engstrand, who though a cheat, was honest about it, and with himself.  Because Manders was gullible, and dishonest with himself and others, he concealed from himself the reality of funding a brothel by believing Engstrand’s description of it as a home for sailors.  Both Manders and Engstrand “talk[ed] and th[ought] in cliches” (Northam, 1973, p. 78). Manders “believe[d] in the validity of appearances and platitudes that Regine and Engstrand exploit[ed] to hide unseemly realities …. he belong[ed] to … the world of moral cliches.” (ibid, p. 79)

Ibsen didn’t provide answers – he posed questions.  After all, he ascribed to:

[t]he idea that the writer has a mission to perform, that he should endeavour through his work to create new currents in the stagnant waters of contemporary society, [that] was widely accepted among liberal minds around 1880.” (Aarseth, 1989, p. 51)

By his metaphorical and real use of illness in Ghosts, and his choice of characters from the various social classes, Ibsen brought to the attention of his society the masculine hypocrisy that ruled it.  Begun in his play, A Doll’s House, he continued to disclose the inequality of the role expected of women in society compared with that practised by men. As women Nora and Regine’s plights were similar – both were financially dependent on others and were thus disempowered. Reliant on Mrs Alving for her livelihood, Regine’s choices were marriage, service, prostitution, or shop-or-factory work.  Needing to exploit every opportunity, Regine first ‘made a play’ for Manders then for Oswald, as possible solutions to her elevation in society.  Faced with the knowledge of her parentage and Oswald’s illness, she opted to join her stepfather, Engstrand, in his enterprise, despite her doubts as to its moral status.

A wealthy widow, Mrs Alving had more control over her financial affairs, although she left the running of the trust for the Orphanage to Pastor Manders.  Upright, admirable, wealthy, hard working, she increased her work through her wealth and vice versa.  She was charitable, accepted social responsibility, and was considered, by all who were ignorant of the real state of her married life, to be a pillar of society.  The fact that she read books that challenged church teachings and bourgeois restrictions came as a shock to Pastor Manders, and led to a lecture on proper behaviour.  Her enlightenment gave her confidence and the courage to reply against the force of Manders rhetoric – “his rebuke [wa]s massive and in its way impressive …. we recognise[d] a demonstration of society’s power to coerce and it [wa]s not negligible.” (Northam, 1973, p. 84)

Naturally, Ibsen’s society reacted vehemently to his exposure of their failings:

Among the things that shocked delicate readers was … the implicit reference to a hereditary venereal disease, the idea that incest may occur in many a decent-looking family, and possibly also the dramatic irony aimed at a naive clergyman. (Aarseth, 1989, p. 52)

Add to that the notion that euthanasia was the proposed solution to Oswald’s and Mrs Alving’s future burden of coping with his physical incapacities, and it becomes apparent why society reacted in the way they did.  These topics are still controversial today – his play was set prior to the turn of the  twentieth century!

In Ghosts, Ibsen exposed “the connection between heritage and decadence.” (Meyer, 1980, p. 22).  He dealt with the ghosts “not [of] superstition, but rather … of destiny” (Aarseth, 1989, p. 59) of the past, in the form of inherited family traits and congenital disease/illness, that returned to haunt his characters and expose hidden truths. Powerful in the nineteenth century, this notion of heredity strongly permeates Ghosts .  Not only did Oswald inherit the venereal disease from his father, but also his physical features and innate characteristics, apparent to Manders on seeing him with his father’s pipe.  He had Captain Alving’s “aversion for walking in bad weather … his taste for liqueur and cigars as well as his expressed attraction to the maid …. Inheritance [wa]s not as easily abolished as Mrs Alving ha[d] been assuming.” (Aarseth, 1989, p. 73)  Oswald’s grasping at Regine symbolised his grasping at life, as his father did before him.

Thus Oswald’s congenital disease acts as a metaphor for the way the past continued to affect the present.  It is a metaphor for the inescapability of the past.  Mrs Alving was forced to return to her husband by Manders’ rejection, and his inhumane and hypocritical notion of duty: “[w]hat right have people to happiness?  No, we have our duty to do”. (McFarlane & Arup, 1990, p. 113)  For the sake of respectability, she tried to hide the true nature of her marriage, and of her husband’s depravity, from Oswald, and the society in which she worked and lived.  “Mrs Alving may, with half her mind, be a radical, but with the other half she … chose to act by the social standards she s[aw] to be false … she … kept appearances society demand[ed].” (Northam, 1973, pp. 86-7)    Initially led to think of Captain Alving as honourable, the audience gradually realise he was dissolute.  Oswald told his mother and Manders that he had been forced to smoke his father’s pipe as a child:

‘Smoke, lad,’ [Father] said, ‘go on, lad, smoke!’  And I smoked as hard as I could, till I felt I was going quite pale and great beads of sweat stood out on my forehead.  Then he roared with laughter …. Then I was sick, and I saw you were crying .… Did Father often play tricks like that? McFarlane & Arup, 1990, p. 109)

Mrs Alving put up with her husband‘s behaviour for the sake of her son who was ironically already poisoned by his father, when sent away to escape his pernicious influence.  Turning to the power of work to inure herself against him, she “took control in the house … complete control … over him and everything else.” (ibid, p. 118)  With the “weapon” of her knowledge of his affair with her maid, and the evidence of Regine’s existence, “he didn’t dare say anything” (ibid, p. 118) for the sake of respectability.  With Oswald’s return from Paris, just as the culmination of her concealment was in sight, the past re-emerged in the present:

The insidious brain illness which Oswald has inherited from his father … buil[t] up to its final attack exactly when Mrs Alving [wa]s making the final arrangements to ensure that her son d[id] not inherit anything from his father. (Aarseth, 1989, p. 72)

As a catalyst, the past impacted on the present and set the action of the play, and the inevitable exposure of the truth, in motion.

According to Meyer, “Oswald’s inherited syphilis may be regarded as a symbol of the dead customs and traditions which we inherit, and which stunt and cripple us and lay waste our life.” (Meyer, 1980, p 24)  Inherited from his father, the ‘Joy of Life’ – not only “to live for the satisfaction of appetite, for drink, art, love, beauty … but [also] to throw one’s life away” (Hornby, 1981, pp. 128-9) contributed to Oswald’s mental illness.  The conflict between this energy and vitality of the ‘Joy of Living’ and the gloom of Duty in Ghosts, foregrounded the already mentioned social malaise of the puritanical, pietous Norwegian church and polite society that, as a result of its bastions’ timidity and hypocrisy, imposed restrictions, and repressions on individuals.  Believing in doing her duty by her husband, Mrs Alving thus stifled his vitality, his ‘Joy of Life’ which he then channelled into excesses – drinking, smoking, adultery, and debauchery.  Not only did he throw his life away, but also that of his son – “Oswald is so passionate about joy and bliss because they are lost to him.” (Northam, 1973, p. 92)

Using her “purchase price …. the [exact] amount that made Lieutenant Alving such a good match in his day …. [she] donated, year by year, to this Orphanage” (McFarlane & Arup, 1990, p. 119) in an attempt to expunge her “bad conscience” (ibid, p. 118) and conceal the past.  A monument for man who was publicly concerned for children, but, ironically, in reality fathered indiscriminately, the Orphanage stands as a metaphor for concealed truth.  Although it was for the good of the underprivileged, the lie of naming it after her husband undermined her altruism.   A false monument to a false past, it burned because it was a lie.  And the fire that devoured it was a metaphor for the light of truth – the past, with its guilt, could not be got rid of by burning it down.

As the vehicle of the curse of the past, Oswald brought home the true nature of his father’s character, his mother’s concealment of it, and Regine’s parentage, in the form of his illness.  The cure for this curse was worse than the disease (of Mrs Alving’s dishonesty and lies) had proved to be.   With the dawn-light – a powerful metaphor revealing the darkness that finally surrounded Oswald as his idiocy set in – her inability to wipe out the past was revealed:

The rays of the sun penetrating the glass walls of the conservatory …. are not to be understood as a sign of warmth and protection, but rather the sharp, cold light of truth without mercy … the irony is evident: she ha[d] been hiding the truth for so long that when the light of perception [wa]s finally illuminating the stage, what bec[ame] visible [wa]s … the human wreck, the consequence of misguided protection and lack of openness and social courage.”
(pp. 74-5)

Faced with two choices, Mrs Alving must terminate her precious son, Oswald’s life as requested with morphine – or face life filled with the personification (the ghosts) of her past as he slowly died. Leaving the question hanging, unresolved – an insoluble problem – Ibsen makes the audience confront this and bear the burden.

“[T]he gloom beyond the windows is a fitting image of the social and moral climate of Norway.” (Northam, 1973, p. 81) With its shroud-like appearance presaging death, the gloom metaphorically hung like Oswald’s illness over the action of the play and the characters of Oswald and Mrs Alving.  “When Oswald complain[ed] of [this] gloom, we know how much more he mean[t] than the physical darkness.” (ibid, p. 92)  In reality and metaphorically he felt and was doomed.

(C) Jud House  29/10/2012


Aarseth, Asbjorn  (1989) Peer Gynt and Ghosts: Text and Performance.  London: Macmillan Education Ltd.

Archer, William, (ed.)  Four Plays: A Doll’s House – The Wild Duck – Ghosts – The Master Builder : Henrik Ibsen  London: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd.

Farquharson Sharp, R. (trans.) (1961)  Henrik Ibsen: Ghosts – The Warriors at Helgeland –An Enemy of the People.  London: J M Dent & Sons Ltd.

Hornby, Richard. (1981)  Patterns in Ibsen’s Middle Plays.  London & Toronto: Associated University Presses.

McFarlane, James, & Arup, Jens (trans) (1990) Henrik Ibsen: Four Major Plays – A Doll’s House – Ghosts – Hedda Gabler – The Master Builder.  Oxford: World’s Classics: Oxford University Press.

Meyer, Michael (trans) (1980) Henrik Ibsen: Plays: One – Ghosts – The Wild Duck – The Master Builder.  London: Eyre Methuen

Northam, John.  (1971)  Ibsen’s Dramatic Method.  Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Northam, John. (1973)  Ibsen: A Critical Study.  London: Cambridge University Press.

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Just a quick  note to start.  While trolling my Essay Archives I came across this mini essay which includes a list of really helpful definitions (that I complied while at University).  I thought it might be of interest to other writers, as we sometimes need a reminder from time to time, especially when things have slipped to the edge of our mind, or vanished into its filing system!  Besides, following the Definitions list are Jacobson’s and Lodge’s interesting views, on Metaphor and Metonymy and their application Narrative Contiguity.  I don’t have a Bibliography for the poems cited here, but feel that they are probably from The Norton Anthology of Poetry 3rd Edition, or any later edition for that matter.

Metaphor – connects different images for one meaning – an illogical abstract entity brought to life – the assertion that this is that, A is B.  It is economical with immediate effect, used to build an elaborate picture.  Metaphors link two meanings, two unconnected things to create a new way of seeing.  There are overused metaphors called ‘dead metaphors’  – the life has gone out of them – but these can be re-enervated, e.g. an arthritic table, to refer to the leg of the table.

Metonymy – (Greek for change of name) refers to this linking of words, but there is already a connection between the two, e.g. crown for king, turf for horseracing.  This connection is often the result of cultural symbolism.  It seems more logical than metaphor, turning the real into an abstract entity.  Literal term applied to something associated.

Trope – is language that has been twisted for figurative use.  ‘Corrupt clergy’ written as ‘blind mouths’.  Mouths is the metonym, the part being connected to the whole.  Blind is the metaphor, they refuse to see the truth of their actions.

Simile – assumes the comparison that A is like B, whereas a metaphor assumes A is B.  As and like are indicators for a simile.

Synecdoche – replaces part for the whole, part represents the whole, e.g. hand for man, hands signify sailors; sails for boats – a hundred sails means a hundred boats as in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.  It is a taking together – the part to signify the whole. The whole signifies the part – the words Shakespeare, Milton and Blake are used to mean their work, e.g. we read Blake (obviously not the man, but his works).  Attire is used to denote sexes without the use of man or woman, e.g. petticoats signify women, doublets or breeches signify men.

Tenor and Vehicle – Using these well-known phrases: ‘My love is a rose.’                  ‘War against inflation.’ the Tenor is the subject being described – love is the tenor, as is   inflation.  It is often an emotive word.  The Vehicle refers to the word describing it – in this case rose is the vehicle, as is war.  There can be specified and unspecified tenors.

Contiguity – connectedness, connection, alongsidedness, e.g. contiguous houses = terrace houses.  It is the key to metonymy and synecdoche.  Metaphor and simile have no contiguity.

Prosopopeia – personification – abstractions given life, e.g. ‘muttering thunder, some sad drops wept’.

Pathetic fallacy – internal emotional state projected onto the physical landscape, e.g. when the heroine is happy, nature is rejoicing; when she is miserable, nature is miserable.

Roman Jacobson is a Russian critic who wrote a paper called ‘Two Aspects of Language and Two Aspects of Linguistic Disturbances’ which was published in 1956.  He maintained there were two types of linguistic disturbances in people with brain damage, and that there was a connection between them and the language called metonymy and that called metaphor.  Metonymy is the stringing together of things, while metaphor is the substitution of things in the form of language.

A sentence operates in two dimensions.  A normal sentence moves along from subject to verb to object.  It has a contiguity axis – every sentence operates horizontally because of it.  We can substitute other words for those in the positions of subject, verb and object, while the contiguity axis remains the same.  The horizontal contiguity axis corresponds to Metonymy, the vertical substitutional axis corresponds to Metaphor (which is a lie).

Jacobson discovered that one type of brain damaged people couldn’t make the <- contiguity -> axis work, but they could substitute endlessly.  Another type could string sentences together but not substitute, so they repeated the same sentences over and over.  Contiguity and substitution correspond to two different brain functions.  Metaphor and metonymy do the same.  There are quite distinct linguistic functions although their effect is so similar.

David Lodge believes that contiguity / metonymy is a characteristic of prose, and that substitution / metaphor is a characteristic of poetry.  Narrative contiguity is the plot – the thing that structures the novel and maintains the chain of sentences.  Fiction has  to have contiguity or it becomes unreadable.  Poetry is shorter, with language that is more dense, intense, and that requires more from its reader.  Concentration and close attention is needed on the words of poems.

‘O Rose, thou art sick.’  Rose as tenor is read literally; as a vehicle it is a substitution for some unspecified tenor.

‘The Red Wheelbarrow’ – is a compressed poem.  He was an Imagist – anti-Romantic – and an American.  Significance – so much depends upon small things; the poem depends on the images.  Our ability to see the images depends upon them.  So many diverse meanings to be culled because of ambiguity and compression.

‘Ah, Sunflower’ – Blake – sunflower is a metaphor for an aged person seeking Heaven – at end of life – cycle of life – of the flower – sunflowers follow the sun.  Frustrated sexual desire thwarted by society – by frigidity.  Can be read literally, metaphorically.  Time no longer exists – eternity.

‘They Flee from Me’ – Wyatt, p. 91 – Hunting metaphor from man’s point of view in first verse, from woman’s in second and third.  Whole poem could be about Ann Boleyn – newfangleness is her with King Henry.  Change of mood from tenderness to one of complaint./  She’s playing a dangerous role – a change of roles.  Actively seduces and rejects him – image conveyed by metaphor.  Linked to the poem ‘Whoso List to Hunt’

‘The Hand That Signed the Paper’ – Dylan Thomas – Hand is metonymy for power.  Synecdoche – the hand that signs the paper represents the part, signifies the whole man.  The fingers/Kings is metaphor for power.  Third verse ‘treaty bred a fever’ is metaphor.  Two synecdoches joined as similes.  Last line reversal to literal hand.  It is easy to be a tyrant if you don’t let your heart rule your hand/head – can be just a literal statement.  Thomas, as you can tell, wrote complex poetry, re-writing the whole work (always by hand) if he changed one word, over which he would agonise for hours.  So the words he used all carry multiple meanings.

Aporia – one reading of a poem flatly contradicts the other of the same poem, with no conciliation.  Poems deconstruct themselves – contradict themselves logically.  The reading of works using Deconstruction (a la Literary Theory) can render layers of meanings, complimentary and contradictory, which can either enhance the experience, or leave readers wishing they had taken the work at face value.

Jud House 25/08/1998 & 25/10/2012

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According to Abrahms A Glossary of Literary Terms the: “overall setting of a narrative … work is the general locale, historical time, and social circumstances in which its action occurs; [while] the setting of a single episode … within a work is the particular physical location in which it takes place.” (Abrahms, 1993, p 192) (my italics)

The fantasy texts, The Nargun and the Stars by Patricia Wrightson, and The Lake at the End of the World by Caroline Macdonald are both set in our world – Wrightson’s book in Australia, Macdonald’s in New Zealand.  As a literature:

Fantasy … reflects reality through unreality, life through illusion …. makes visible the invisible and illuminates the darkness.  It brings the wished for and the imagined into the rational world….  [and] arises from the human desire to penetrate the unknown and to venture beyond the here and now. (Saxby, 1997, pp. 231-2)  

Established in the opening chapter/segments, the overall settings set up a familiar, yet uneasy, ‘comfort zone’ for the reader – uneasy due to the fantasy element each contained.  To the reader, all was not right with the narratorial worlds, which both reflected reality through unreality.

In Wrightson’s world, making visible the invisible, there existed an ancient earth-element – the Nargun, a stone that consumed carnivorously when the chance arose.  Moving “on stumpy limbs” (Wrightson, 1975, p. 11) it made its way, over an eighty year period, from Victoria to the Blue Mountains in New South Wales.  Wrightson described the gorges, mountain and swamp of Wongadilla, where the Nargun came to rest, and further fantasy elements – “a chuckle” in the swamp (the Potkoorok), and “ancient tricksters” (the Turongs) that threw sticks from the trees. (ibid, p 14)  On the final page of the opening chapter, the human characters were introduced, reassuring the reader by their presence in this familiar yet eerie landscape. They were Charlie and Edie Waters, the owners of Wongadilla sheep run, and “Simon Brent, the sullen boy who was a stranger [like the Nargun]”. (ibid, p 15)

Macdonald informed the reader in the first two sentences that her world was not as it should be: “They told me there was nothing left outside.  They said the world was empty, finished.” (Macdonald, 1995, p. 1)  As the narrative moved from Hector to Diana, chapter by chapter, Macdonald introduced the environments of both protagonists, and the reader penetrates the unknown, venturing beyond the here and now.  Facing similar worries – of infection from “the illness” (ibid, p. 2, 9) and of survival in a polluted world – their communities had sought different solutions.  Hector’s community had retreated underground away from the contaminants, and were not permitted to return to the surface world. Residing beside an unusual possibly-poisoned wilderness lake, Diana, her mother, Beth, and her injured disabled father, Evan, with “his poor twisted leg” (ibid, p. 19), survived by growing vegetables.  Free, but with no supporting community, they were all lonely.

Caused by their differing environments, Hector and Diana’s contrasting physiques were established by their reactions to and descriptions of each other.  To Hector, Diana was “like a super-being, her physical self developed in the wilds …. [with b]lack hair… brown jawline …. angry red and brown face …[and] white teeth. (ibid, p 9, 8, 18)  For Diana, Hector’s appearance and behaviour led her to ask: “[w]hy can’t he bear the light?  Why is his skin so pale and spongy-looking?  Why does he speak so strangely …?  Why has he fallen apart physically after a little three-hour walk?” (ibid, p. 35)

Both authors continued to reveal their social settings and landscapes as their narratives unfolded – Macdonald by a slow unravelling of details, Wrightson by vivid consolidation.  Using many details of rural life: of the farmhouse, the swamp, the mountain, and the tree-felling, Wrightson’s physical setting took shape.  During Simon’s  car journey to the farm, he saw:

[t]all hills and ridges advanced and retreated, turned about and changed places, in a great slow Morris dance. High rocks and shadowy hollows hung with blue; green humps and ridges; slopes the colour of hay or of moonlight; the frown of forests. (Wrightson, 1975, p. 18)

Examples of the continual establishment of Macdonald’s world throughout her narrative are:- descriptions of the bird-life of the lake read by Simon in the journal at the hide (Macdonald, 1995, p. 45);  the stories told to him about the peculiar nature of the lake by Diana, Beth, and Evan (ibid, pp 38-9, 53-5, 74-7);  the letter concerning the plight/social circumstance of the cave-dwellers that Diana found and read (ibid, pp 152-4);  and the avenging nature of the lake which drowned the Counsellor thus freeing them (ibid, p.181).

Interesting was the use of caves by both Wrightson and Macdonald as important settings within their narratives. To shield the inhabitants of Wongadilla, including the Turongs and Potkoorok, from further harm, Wrightson used a cave to entrap the Nargun.  And as the Nargun was of their ‘dreaming’, the Nyols (cave spirits) were placated for their cave’s closure – they alone could tend to his needs.  Macdonald’s cave was also used as a means of entrapment, and as a shield – between the inside and the outside world.

Vital to both narratives is the setting of water – Wrightson’s clean swamp and underground stream, and Macdonald’s mysterious lake and underground flood. The Potkoorok used his swamp to hide the grader taken by the Turongs, and both he and Simon used it as a means of access to the cave for the climax of the plot. While Diana and Hector used the lake to water their vegetable garden, the Counsellor tapped into it to expel pollutants from the cave.  Because the lake had mystical powers of its own – it had previously caused a couple of developers to drown – it permitted the protagonists’ innocuous activity.  But it rose up against the pollution attempt, flushing the cave system to drown the source of evil – the Counsellor.

While the tunnels could be read psychoanalytically as birth canals from the womb-like caves, as facilitators for access and escape, they differ in both narratives.  In Wrightson’s book, the tunnels to the Nyols’ cave, varied in length – the longer “twisted and curved, rose and fell, with winding ways leading up and down.  The floor was heaved into humps and hills of stone.” (Wrightson, 1975  , p 111)  The shorter tunnel, was “a wide passage, low roofed and sloping upward steeply …. [that] seemed to twist through solid rock”. (ibid, p. 116)  It led past the bulldozer, hidden by the Nyols, to the entrance on the side of the mountain. Assisted by the Nyols or alone, Simon found negotiating the tunnels was relatively straightforward.

In Macdonald’s book, the tunnels were a maze, “twisting upwards in a jagged spiral and branching off in other directions at every turn.” (Macdonald, 1995, p. 133) For two of the captured community, fleeing with a message to the outside world, it proved too difficult – becoming lost, they died.  Thus Macdonald used the maze as a barrier between the cave-dwellers and the outside world of probable pollution and possible freedom.  Only with his Basset hound, Stewart’s guiding sense of smell, could Hector negotiate the maze to reach the surface and return underground. When rescuing Hector from the barricaded tunnel, Diana needed Stewart’s guidance. On a later trip, returning to the surface with antibiotics for her mother, she scratched her initial with a rock on the tunnel walls to mark the way.  She wondered: “why Hector and [she] weren’t intelligent enough to make some sort of marks to show the way we came through the maze…. [like] the children used in the fairy tale.” (ibid, p. 133)

As a setting, the barricaded tunnel, shutting Stewart out in the maze to die, caused Hector to question the life that he lived with the cave community:

We are a people of peace.  We would never kill any living thing except for food or in compassion.  The whole idea of our community is to keep life safe.  But still, that is what happened to Stewart.  This is what I could not understand.” (ibid, p. 31)

It also caused Hector to “follow her blindly through the night without considering the consequences.” (ibid, p 30)  The hide that Diana took him to was a place of isolation – not just from her family or for quarantine, but a place to think, quietly, alone – a place to learn about his new environment.

For Simon, in Wrightson’s book, initially the log by the swamp fulfilled this purpose, until he became aware that he was not alone.  He then took his thinking to the mountain. There, to mark his identity on the farmland, he scratched his full name on two boulders, one of which was the Nargun.  He climbed the mountain to “sort out the things he wanted to think about” (ibid, p.61) but found himself communing with nature instead.

He sat there … feeling the strength of the mountain surging behind him.  He felt the earth rolling on its way through the sky, and rocks and trees clinging to it, and seas and the strands of rivers pressed to it, and flying birds caught in its net of air. (ibid, pp 61-62)

Ultimately, he had to submit to nature, to trust in the protection of the swamp spirit, Potkoorok, and travel underwater through the mountain stream to the cave.

The setting of ‘home’ and ‘food’ were important in both texts.  Wrightson described the physical setting of the house, the peace of the place at night with Edie sitting “moving her rocking chair …  knit[ting] a sweater for Simon … [while] Charlie sat in an old leather chair … [by] the fire … his feet … almost into the ashes … listen[ing] to the news [on the radio]” (Wrightson, 1975, p. 21)  There was good plain food on the table, lunch bags, and constant offers of cups of tea: “Edie supplied bread and butter and cake to stop the ache inside him” (ibid, p.118) when Simon was hungry.  This social setting was used to create a haven for Simon, one that he did not want threatened by the Nargun.  When the time came to deal with the ancient stone, as preparation for their long night ahead, Edie served the meals “all wrong… Lunch was a hot dinner so that Edie needn’t cook later in the day, and afternoon tea included fried eggs in case it was really late before they could eat again.” (ibid, p. 139)

Macdonald used the strained ‘normality’ of Diana’s home and the artificial ‘home environment’ of Hector to highlight the importance of stability and routine no matter what the adversities.  At Diana’s, the nightly routine of winding the three clocks, marking the day off the calendar, radioing the no longer responding other communities, and preparing the vegetarian meal kept their family functioning in their total isolation. (Macdonald, 1995, pp. 3-5)  As a necessity for their survival, the tending of the vegetable garden established that Diana and Beth were physically active, and that their setting was a rural one.  It also established the nature of their restricted diet: “tiny carrots … {mixed] with hot beans  and smother[ed] … with cheese”, with no “meat or bones”, “potatoes with rosemary and tomatoes …. rice with some dried fish” (ibid, pp. 19, 34, 37). Stored in the grain shed were stockpiles of supplies, such as food, clothing, and equipment, which Diana drew on to mend her wingset, clothe Hector, and construct the irrigation pipe system from the lake to the vegetable patch.  By using the library books, rescued by Beth, Diana established an education of her world (ibid, pp 5-7), while her mother used them to relieve the tedium.

Underground, Hector’s community, augmented by many births of which Hector’s was the last, in 2025 comprised a hundred and two individuals.  Their ‘home’ environment was far from a nurturing, safe haven. Although they continued to advance scientifically, they had deteriorated physically, being pale and weak from lack of sunlight and exercise. Speaking in whispers, they lived in a gloomy atmosphere that was gradually, ironically, becoming toxic from “waste products from the generating system.” (ibid, p132) They too had routine, “[w]ork, food, rest, study, in a perfectly regular cycle” (ibid, p129) vital for the retaining of sanity in their supposedly doomed existence.  Their food was grown hydroponically, their families split up, procreation organised, and education controlled rigidly (revealed in the letter, p 152-3).  Mundane physical tasks were taken care of by caretakers who cleaned their rooms and provided clean tunics daily.

The animals in both texts were also important in the establishment of social setting.  On the farm there were obviously farm animals: sheep, dogs, horses, a milk-cow.  Wrightson portrayed the importance of these to the family – the loss of one sheep, a victim of the Nargun, was not just horrifying by its grizzly nature, but had implications of loss of income if the sheep were not immediately moved.  Obviously proud of his working dogs, Trig, Tess and Nipper, Charlie told Simon: “there’s nothing the old boy [Trig] can’t do, he’s a wonder. – Go out, Trig, you blockheaded old dingo! …. [H]e’ll hold them all night. – Stay, Trig, you bludging old hound!  You’re getting as silly as a wet hen.” (Wrightson, 1975, pp 72-3).  Once the Nargun is discovered, the horses are kept away from the mountain, the tractor taking their place as mode of transport, and the animals shut in their sheds at night for protection.

As companions to the lonely teenagers, Diana’s cat, Matilda, and Hector’s dog, Stewart, add a degree of domesticity to a setting devoid of most animals.  The only other surviving species seem to be the birds of the wilderness lake, endangered species brought there by Evan in an attempt to preserve them.  It was ironic that these birds, so close to extinction should survive when the prolific species appear to have all been destroyed.

By her use of dual first-person narratorial voices, Macdonald was restricted to describing the world only through the eyes of her protagonists, as each learnt more of the other’s world. Also seen through their eyes, the supporting characters were described emotionally and physically from two individuals’ points of view.  As the audience identifies first with Hector then with Diana, their involvement with the text grows ever more intimate.

By Wrightson’s use of omniscient third-person narrative, the overview provided allows the emotional elements of fear, love, hate, courage, demonstrated by the characters, to be experienced vicariously by the reader.  This device allows multiple points-of-view to the action – not least that of the Nargun itself.  His setting, “a gorge, deep and dark and filled with rain-forest, but where there was food and where the earth kept to its old rhythms”, (Wrightson, 1975, p. 11) was of great importance to him.  “In its cold, heavy way it loved the mountain.  It had come to love distance and sky and high rocky places;” (ibid, p. 77)

While both narratorial worlds are in reality our ‘ordinary’ world, by nature of their fantasy each has an extra dimension.  Wrightson’s world is our rural world, with a magical dimension.   “Wongadilla is a pastoral utopia …. [highlighting] the imperfections of the here and now … where Simon meets the spirit world and where his healing takes place.” (Saxby, 1997, p 242)  The setting is a recognisable Australian farm with recognisably Australian characters – Edie, Charlie, Simon and the grader driver.  As already established, their world is enhanced by the indigenous spirits of the Potkoorok, the Nyols, the Turongs and even the Nargun which evokes ambivalent feelings of fear and pity for Simon, Edie and the reader.

Macdonald’s world is our ‘ordinary’ world projected into a possible post-disaster future, after our land has been destroyed by pollution, and erosion – by progress. “Macdonald’s book create[s] dystopia ….a world gone wrong, where there is dysfunction and disharmony …. by taking human exploitation and individual weakness to the limit in our own highly industrialised and technologically exploitative era.” (ibid, pp. 242-3)  However there is the little pocket of wilderness with at its heart the mystical lake, protected and fostered by Diana’s family.  They, the wilderness lake, birds, Diana’s family, and Hector’s cave-community, are the only apparent survivors of the devastation that wiped out the land, the cities, and most of the inhabitants, both animal and human.  The difference between the fictitious world of Macdonald and ours is that our world is still surviving but with signs of pollution build-up that are ominous.

These settings were used by their respective authors to under-line the importance of the ideology embedded in the narratives.  For Wrightson the quiet ‘utopian’ rural setting “characterised by a kind of innocence and by simple, even homely values” (Stephens, 1992, p 128) acted as a foil to the noisy mechanised world of the cities.  There Simon’s parents were killed in a car accident, and from there the bulldozer and grader were brought with their noise and destruction.

The theme of noise and silence are integral to the setting: “And what’s wrong with a bit of noise? thought Simon sullenly” (Wrightsons, 1975, p. 19) while on his journey to the farm. There the farm noises, “dogs … whimper[ing], hens cluck[ing] … magpie’s call … a hard nasal cry [of a sheep], … [were taken by]  the silence [which] … out of them built more silence.” (ibid, p. 19)  This theme abets the conservation message within the text.  Not only is deforestation (by noisy machinery) bad for our environment globally, but locally offends and rouses the spirits of our land to revolt.

Macdonald used noise and silence as indicators of setting.  The silence within the underground community caused its inhabitants to gradually quieten, until they spoke in whispers, and loud noise hurt their ears as bright light hurt their eyes.  In Diana’s story about the lake, noise: “of screaming kids and fighting couples and televisions and rock music and pneumatic drills from council workers doing overtime” (Macdonald, 1995, p. 39) was equated with the crowded life of the cities and towns.  The noise of “the frogs … roaring and the birds in great flocks … shrieking” (ibid, p. 39)   equated with the peace of the lake.  Silence meant solitude, isolation, a thing she and especially her mother, Beth, dreaded.  Using the radio at night, Diana wanted another community to be still out there but Beth had virtually given up hope.  So in Macdonald’s ‘dystopia ‘noise was a good thing, silence repressive.

Wrightson used the rural setting “to evoke [and reveal ] the mythic past not of the European Settler people but of the indigenous Aboriginal people” (Stephens, 1992, p. 126) in the form of carefully researched non-sacred earth spirits.  She wanted to show the Australian reader, who have only had access to European mythical creatures, such as dragons, elves, etc, “that indigenous magic did indeed have powers of conviction and interpretation unmatched by the imported kind.” (Wrightson, 1980, p. 615).  As her spirits are of the trees, the swamps, the mountain, of stone, of nature, it was necessary that Wrightson used their landscape to bring the imagined into the rational world.  They “were part of the earth and this mountain.  People might come and go … but those others …had belonged here always.” (Wrightson, 1975, pp 61-2)  She wanted us to believe that they really exist in our world, as they do for the Aboriginal Australian.  But today’s world of the white Australian is one of mechanical and social progress which leaves little room for fantasy.

Both authors used the environmental warnings of our world to give meaning to their stories.  They used them as the foundation for the overall setting, of social functional and disfunctional circumstance, historical time of here and now and beyond, and general locale, ‘utopian’ and ‘dystopian’, of mountains and lakes, retreats from metropolitan life, in which their protagonists operated.

(C) Jud House  23/10/2012


Abrahms, M.H. (1993) A Glossary of Literary Terms Sixth Edition.  Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Macdonald, C (1995)  The Lake at the End of the World  Ringwood:  Puffin Books / Penguin books Australia Ltd.

Saxby, M. (1997)  ‘Fantasy: Beyond the Rim of Reality’, in Books in the Life of a Child: Bridges to Literature and Learning  (231-247), Melbourne:  MacMillan.

Stephens, J. (1992)  ‘Post-Disaster Fiction: The Problematics of a Genre’, Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, Vol. 3(2): 126-130

Wrightson, P (1975) The Nargun and the Stars  Ringwood: Puffin Books / Penguin Books Australia Ltd.

Wrightson, P. (1980)  ‘Ever Since My Accident: Aboriginal Folklore and Australian Fantasy’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 56(6), December: 609-617


Nargun and the Stars (1975)

Gilderdale, B (1978)  ‘The Novels of Patricia Wrightson’, Children’s Literature in Education, Vol. 9(1): 43-49

Murray, J. (1991) ‘Hurtling into Freedom: Patricia Wrightson’s ‘The Nargun and the Stars’, Papers, Vol. 2(2): 75-86

Norman, L. (1994) ‘Patricia Wrightson: A Dreaming’, Magpies, No. 5, November: 18-20

Wrightson, P. (1974) ‘Hurtling into Freedom’, Reading Time, Vol. 52: 6-7

Wrightson, P. (1986) ‘The Geranium Leaf’, Horn Book Magazine,  Vol. 62(2): 176-185.

Wrightson, P. (1987)  ‘Folklore and Fantasy’,  Orana,  May: 76-83.

The Lake at the End of the World (1990)

Gilderdale, B. (1991) ‘Caroline Macdonald’, in Introducing Twenty-One New Zealand Children’s Writers (94-98), Aukland:  Hodder & Stoughton.

Plato (1987) ‘The Simile of the Cave’, in The Republic, (book Six) (316-325),  London:  Penguin


Alexander, L. (1971) ‘High Fantasy and Heroic Romance’, Horn Book Magazine, Vol. 48(6), December: 577-584.

Bettelheim, B. (1976) ‘Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, and Consolation’, in The Uses of Enchantment (143-156), New York: A. Knopf.

Hughes, T. (1970) ‘Myth and Education’, Children’s Literature in Education, Vol.1, March: 55-70.

Tymn, M., Zahorski, K. & Boyer, R.J. (eds) (1979) ‘On Fantasy’, in Fantasy Literature (3-38), New York: Bowker & Co.

Wrightson, P. (1977) ‘The Nature of Fantasy’, in Robinson, M. (ed.) Readings in Children’s Literature (220-243),  Melbourne: Frankston State College.

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What do we understand by “Ideology” in the Theory of Althusser?  How does it function in society, and also in subject formation?  In what ways do Foucault’s ideas correspond with or supplement Althusser’s, and to what extent do they conflict with them?

One can hardly discuss the ‘ideology’ of Althusser and Foucault without first disclosing the Marxist foundation upon which their views were laid – Foucault’s theories first, becoming foundations for Althusser’s theories. I will discuss these theories in relation to Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein.

Marx reversed the idea held in his time, the mid-19th century, that human religious and political society was the creation of divine reason and human consciousness, arguing “that all mental (ideological) systems are the products of real social and economic existence.” (Selden & Widdowson, 1993, p. 71)  With his famous architectural metaphor of ideology and politics as ‘superstructure’ that rests upon a material/economical ‘base’, Marx argued:

that what we call ‘culture’ is not an independent reality but is inseparable from the historical conditions in which human beings create their material lives; the relations of exploitation and domination which govern the social and economic order of a particular phase of human history will in some sense ‘determine’ the whole cultural life of the society.” (ibid, p. 71)

Behind these statements lies the understanding of the class struggle created with the destruction of the feudal system of production where workers were self-employed with owned equipment, replaced by the Capitalist mode of factory production with profits going to the owners who paid the workers cheaply for their labour. The ‘Ideology’ that Marx presented, as sociologically driven, arranged by the minority upper classes to control the lives and behaviour of the majority lower working classes, was picked up by later philosophers and literary critics – Lukacs, Althusser, Foucault, Macherey, and Eagleton – and used to show how literature ‘reflected’ this ‘ideology’, presented it, developed it, and promoted it.

A historian, Michel Foucault saw himself as an archaeologist who looked at layers of ideas and concepts.  Like Nietzsche, who looked at things from the power position, for example how good and evil are dictated by those in power in society, Foucault looked at how power operates in society through people and their language/discourse. He determined that this discourse is language in relation to power – “the circuits of communication are the supports of an accumulation and a centralization of knowledge; the play of signs defines the anchorages of power”. (Foucault, 1977, p. 88)  Access to the diverse and ‘professionally specific’ language/discourse of the ruling, educated class, gives individuals power, while those in the lower class with only a rudimentary language/discourse are subjected by their ignorance.  Thus the teaching and acquisition of language is used to perpetuate the power of the dominant over the dominated classes.

Not necessarily oppressive, this discursive power is a controlling force or energy that runs through society.  For Foucault:

[o]ur society is one not of spectacle, but of surveillance; under the surface of images, one invests bodies in depth; behind the great abstraction of exchange, there continues the meticulous, concrete training of useful forces; …. it is not that the beautiful totality of the individual is amputated, repressed, altered by our social order, it is rather that the individual is carefully fabricated in it, according to a whole technique of forces and bodies. (ibid, p. 88)

Interested in social and medical institutions, rather than tracing their history, Foucault looked at the discourses of, for example, madness, sexuality, and illness – as social constructs as well as medical conditions. Via their language/discourse these key concepts are constructed explicitly and implicitly.

The ‘economy’ of discourses – their intrinsic technology, the necessities of their operation, the tactics they employ …. such as] the listening technique, the postulate of causality, the principle of latency, the rule of interpretation, [and] the imperative of medicalization …., the effects of power which underlie them and which they transmit – this, and not a system of representations, is what determines the essential features of what they have to say. (Foucault, 1978, p. 92)

Desirous to see a unified relationship between individual subject and society, Foucault believed this uniformity had to be created by force to control society in either of two ways – by rigid expulsion of individuals (moral / ethnic / religious cleansing); or by imprisonment.

Foucault saw Bentham’s Panopticon, a circular prison block around and open to a central control tower, as a metaphor for the way society imposes discipline on its subjects.  He believed it had use as a correctional device in various social capacities, for example as a means of instilling discipline in “a madman, a patient, a condemned man, a worker, or a schoolboy.” (Foucault, 1977, p. 85)  Within the Panopticon, the subject is always visible, but cannot communicate with his neighbours; and the watcher is never visible – in fact may not necessarily be there.  The subject is not controlled at all times, but is subject to the possibility of continual surveillance.  Thus self-discipline is created – the individuals control themselves.  Discipline, as a power, operates in society in the same way –

by ‘specialized’ institutions (the penitentiaries … schools, hospitals … or by pre-existing authorities … family … educational and military, … medical, psychiatric, psychological … administrative apparatus … or finally by state apparatuses whose major … function is to assure that discipline reigns over society as a whole (the police). (ibid, p. 87)

More subtle than Foucault, Louis Althusser, a philosopher and political scientist, expanded on Foucault’s discourse/power theory, exploring the threefold way ideology operated in society.  He expounded that the ideology of society represented people’s imaginary versions of the reality in which they lived; that conflicting and diverse ideology ‘interpellates’ individuals as subjects; and that this ideology was controlled by Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) which governed their daily existence overtly and covertly.  These ISAs, a less rigid variation on Foucault’s prison, were not necessarily repressive, although they did include prisons, police, army, courts, and government agencies.  The social institutions/apparatuses which exercised power ideologically mainly consisted of the religious, educational, family, legal, political, cultural, and all forms of communication/media ‘institutions’.

Ideology imposes itself not simply through consciousness nor through disembodied ideas but through systems and structures; ideology is inscribed in the representations (the signs) and the practices (the rituals) of everyday life.  Most importantly, though, it is through ideology that individuals are constituted as ‘subjects’ – (mis)recognizing themselves as free and autonomous beings with unique subjectivities. (Rice & Waugh, 1997, pp. 51-2)

An example of ideology as ‘imaginary reality’ is the different viewpoints held and believed in by different social groups/sectors/ individuals, which often make conflicting demands, within the larger society.  Each systematically excludes the other as ‘wrong’, and each lives within his own ideology, unable to escape it. Ideology, rather than being conscious structures or sets of beliefs, are sets of pre-suppositions, values, and assumptions, held unconsciously, which we use to make sense of our lives by describing our relationship with the world in which we live.  While they help us to construct our perceived ‘real’ world, this differs from individual to individual, group to group. Our personal perception of the real world is ‘imagined’ – to place us in a position of power within it.  Thus, ideology can be delusory, with the imaginary conditions not matching the real conditions.

Althusser states:

there is no ideology except by the subject and for subjects. …. [A]ll ideology hails or interpellates concrete individuals as concrete subjects …. [and that] the existence of ideology and the hailing or interpellation of individuals as subjects are one and the same thing. (ibid, pp. 57, 58, 59)

Interpellation calls us into some kind of condition of internalised discipline, which causes individuals to ‘do the right thing’ as if constantly subject to surveillance.  Almost all our ethical behaviour operates in the same way, for example our reaction to speed cameras (causing us to slow down), or to red lights on deserted streets late at night (at which we stop and wait for the green light), are controlled by ideology and interpellation. This reaction, this process of being subject to demands, is an ongoing process of ideology, and we believe in the ethics behind our behaviour because of interpellation.

The ideological power, according to Althusser, operates only through the people, including those within the ISAs, who are also ‘subjects’; and the way ideological factors are interpellated differs according to the institutions in question.  We are constantly hailed, subjected to, and respond to ideology within ISAs, each of which subjects us to often conflicting ideology in and out of which we move as a subject in process.  These conflicting parts of society create a multiplicity of powers that cause the subject (as one in a position of power) to become ‘subjected’ (subjugated beneath the power of others).  Language/discourse is the vehicle which interpellates individuals into social positions as subjects.  Inherent in both Althusser and Foucault is the notion of the subject in a subjected sense, with the subjects within and the systems of society running themselves.  However, Foucault sees this happening controlled externally by institutions and by discourse, while Althusser sees the controls as both external (ISAs) and internal (interpellated self-discipline).

Within novels, characters are subjected to ‘calls’ of contradicting ideologies, their temporal and historical location dictates the ISAs that surround and govern them, and their ideology can determine the novel’s thematic subject matter.  Like  Althusser, nineteenth century novels were concerned with the relationship of the individual to society; one that was not homogenous, not exactly the same all the way through but full of conflicting social groups with their conflicting claims on individuals. The task of the novel was not to confront the irreconcilable social conflicts, but rather to provide imaginary solutions.  Novels have a  political/ideological unconscious, which, if they are read carefully, can be discerned in the ‘gaps and silences’ within the texts.  Even a tragic death is a resolution of a kind, giving meaning to the contradictions caused by the diverse social conflicts.

In Frankenstein, Shelley uses three individual narratives to show ideology at work in society – how the implicit and explicit controls of their respective societies governed their positions within it and their actions to try to escape it.  In Volume One, the first narrative is provided via the letters of Captain Walton to his sister in England.  Through these we learn as he replies to her, of her fears for his safety as he rushes to find adventure outside the safe parameters of society.  He holds an imaginary version of the reality of his life, seeing himself as the finder of the north polar passage and thus beneficiary of the world.  In his first letter he raves about the beauty and wonders of the north polar region, ignoring the possibility of blizzards, icebergs and pack-ice that would crush his ship.  His views are idealistic, with little contact with reality – yet it is his reality – an imaginary version of reality.

I may discover the wondrous power which attracts the needle …. I shall satiate my ardent curiosity with the sight of a part of the world never before visited …. These are my enticements, and they are sufficient to conquer all fear of danger or death, and to induce me to commence this laborious voyage with the joy a child feels when he embarks in a little boat, with his holiday mates, on an expedition of discovery …This expedition has been the favourite dream of my early years … (Shelley, 1992, pp. 13-14)

The second ideological demonstration of society is provided via Victor Frankenstein’s narrative.  He reveals his life story, from birth, with details of the characters and type of society that surround him.  For his parents he was

their child, the innocent and helpless creature … whom to bring up to good, and whose future lot was in their hands to direct to happiness or misery, … as they fulfilled their duties towards [him, w]ith this deep consciousness of what they owed towards the being to which they had given life … (ibid, p. 33)

Frankenstein fails to follow their example, when he flees in fear from his creation, the monster, without a thought for his responsibility for its care.  He tells Captain Walton that the turning point in his search for scientific truths was caused by the dismissive way his father reacted to his discovery of the works of Cornelius Agrippa.  According to the ISA of family that existed at the time, a father need not explain himself to his thirteen-year old son – it should have been enough that he “looked carelessly at the titlepage of [the] book and said, ‘Ah!  Cornelius Agrippa!  My dear Victor, do not waste your time upon this; it is sad trash.’” (ibid, p. 38)  His father is interpellated as head of the family, the power-figure whose word is law, and Victor is interpellated as young inquisitive school student/son who obeyed those in power.  His mother has also been interpellated as young defenceless woman in need of protection, pampering and cosseting back to ‘tranquillity’.  With his description of the hovel in which Elizabeth is discovered by his mother, Victor reveals the degree of material and social difference between the classes.

Another ISA is the university faculty at Ingolstadt, which directs Victor’s studies in Chemistry and Natural Philosophy.  The two professors who teach Victor are interpellated by him as worthy or unworthy of his attention by appearance and class.  M. Kempe he classifies as “that conceited little fellow” (ibid, p. 46) because he is “a little squat man, with a gruff voice and a repulsive countenance …. an uncouth man” (ibid, p. 45) who ridicules Victor’s former obsession with outdated philosophers.  On the other hand his reaction to M. Waldman, whose “certain dignity in his mien during his lecture, … [at home] was replaced by the greatest affability and kindness”, (ibid, p. 47) is dictated by Victor’s own sense of position in society (his interpellation), his feeling of equality with Waldman, and his search for the truths of natural philosophy.

Until his creation of the monster, Frankenstein had lived an imaginary version of reality, creating the narrative of his life in relation to his esoteric and laboratory research.  He believed in what he was attempting to do – construct a living form animated by electricity to “banish disease from the human frame and render man invulnerable to any but a violent death!” (ibid, p. 40)  After its creation however, the values instilled in him by his family and society’s ISAs, his sense of right and wrong, as dictated by that society’s morals, alter his ‘imaginary version’ of reality to that held by his community.  The enormity of his deed affects him dramatically.

Mingled with the horror, I felt the bitterness of disappoint-ment; dreams that had been my food and pleasant rest for so long a space were now become a hell to me; and the change was so rapid, the overthrow so complete! (ibid, p.57)

As legal ISA, the court system, constrained to judge on evidence alone, incarcerates, tries, and hangs Justine, who by her innocence is an individual in conflict with society.  The ‘indignation’ and animosity of the general public – a collective group, an ISA by their unity – focusses on her as the perpetrator of a heinous crime, “charging her with the blackest ingratitude”. (ibid, p. 82)  This triggers in Victor a need to repair the damage he had caused by destroying his creation even if this means the loss of his own life.

The third narrative is that of the monster in which Shelley blatantly spells out the ideology at work in society.  In the Introduction, Maurice Hindle (1991) points out that she

cleverly (some might think not so cleverly [and I am one of them]) … manipulates the plot … by having the Creature learn the language, history, ideas and morals of the world [in other words the ideology of the prevailing society] by eaves-dropping upon the fortuitously placed De Lacey household”. (ibid, p. xxxi)

thus creating a “class-consciousness” (ibid, p. xxxi) in the monster. Even with his acquisition of language/discourse the monster still has no power, because his discourse is borrowed, and not recognized by those with whom he comes in contact.  They are so traumatised by his appearance that they fail to hear him.  With his ‘education’ the monster learns that man exists in a variety of contradicting forms – he can be

so powerful, so virtuous, and magnificent, yet so vicious and base …. a scion of the evil principle … noble and godlike …. [He] heard of the division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty; of rank, descent, and noble blood. …. A man might be respected with only one of these advantages; but without either he was considered … as a vagabond and a slave, doomed to waste his powers for the profits of the chosen few!” (ibid, p. 116)

This is pure Marxist ideology, yet exhibits the Althusserian notions of the interpellation of individuals as subjects of ISAs, some empowered and others disempowered.  The monster has no place in society, is constantly rejected by society, has no name, no identity, and is always ‘the other’.  Instead of being an empowered subject or subjugated individual, he is positioned as an object, a Monster, Fiend, Daemon, outside of society’s controls, which, as a result, are ineffective on him. In other words the interpellation  that calls us into some kind of condition of internalised discipline, which causes individuals to ‘do the right thing’ as if constantly subject to surveillance is missing.  The monster is therefore not bound by moral ethics, and feels no compunction in seeking revenge upon his creator through his family.

With the narrative back in the hands of Frankenstein, he relates how the monster will only yield to the values upheld by Frankenstein, his family, and his society if he creates a companion to validate the monster’s existence.  When out of fear for the consequences of possible monster off-spring Frankenstein destroys the half-created companion, the fate of both he and the monster is settled.  The idea of revenge and reprisal, of crime and punishment, steps outside the regulated control of ISAs like the police or army.  The immediate result of Victor’s broken promise to the monster is the murder of Victor’s friend, Clerval, which causes Victor months of ill-health in jail.  With the death of his wife on their wedding night, begins the long pursuit of the monster by his creator that leads them across the polar pack-ice and into the company of Captain Walton and his crew.

With the final narrative back in Walton’s hands, we learn that Frankenstein’s tale has destroyed the ‘imaginary reality’ the Captain had originally lived by.  In his final letter to his sister he states that while he is unsure whether he will see England and his ‘dearer friends’ there, his “courage and hopes do not desert” (ibid, p. 205) him – traits instilled in him by the ideology of his society and its ISAs.  He continues that “it is terrible to reflect that the lives of all these men …. the brave fellows [who] look towards me for aid …. are endangered through  me.  If we are lost, my mad schemes are the cause.” (ibid, p. 205)

The monster’s last conversation with Walton presents Shelley’s final attempt to show how ideological power works in society, to engender some sympathy for those oppressed because of it, and to question the need to change this class system.

[W]hile I destroyed [Frankenstein’s] hopes, I did not satisfy my own desires.  They were forever ardent and craving; still I desired love and fellowship, and I was still spurned.  Was there no injustice in this?  Am I to be thought the only criminal, when all human kind sinned against me? …. I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion, to be spurned at, and kicked, and trampled on.  Even now my blood boils at the recollection of this injustice. (ibid, p. 213)

If ever an individual was in conflict with society and the world in which he lived, then the monster epitomised that being.

(C) Jud House  3/06/1999  &  18/10/2012


Foucault, M. from Discipline and Punishment (1977)’ andfrom The History of Sexuality (1978)’  in  ‘Subjectivity’  in  A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader

Rice, P. & Waugh, P. (eds.) (1996) Modern Literary Theory – A Reader Third Edition  London:  Arnold / Hodder Headline Group

Selden, R. & Widdowson, P. (1993)  A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Literary Theory – Third Edition  Hertfordshire:  Har-vester Wheatsheaf

Shelley, M. (1992) Frankenstein  London:  Penguin Classics / Penguin Books Ltd


Abrams, M.H. (1993)  A Glossary of Literary Terms – Sixth Edition  Fort Worth:  Harcourt Brace College Publishers

Culler, J. (1997)  Literary Theory – A Very Short Introduction  Oxford: Oxford University Press

Eagleton, T. (1996)  ‘Histories’  from The Illusions of Postmodern-ism  Oxford:  Blackwell

Forgacs, D  (?) ‘Marxist Literary Theories’  in ?

Hawthorn, J. (1998)  A Concise Glossary of Contemporary Literary Theory – Third Edition  London:  Arnold / Hodder Headline Group

Marx, K  from the ‘Preface’ to ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’ in Literature and Society: Marxist Approaches

Marx, K. & Engels, F. (1947) from The German Ideology’ and from A Contribution to the Critiqued of Political Economy’  in  Literature and Art, by Karl Maarx and Frederick Engels: A selection of Their Writings  International Publishers Co., Inc.

Morris, P. (ed.) (1994) ‘A Glossary of Key Terms’ from Bakhtin Reader  London:  Edward Arnold

Saunders, I. (1993)  Open Texts, Partial Maps – A Literary Theory Handbook  Nedlands:  The University of Western Australia

* * * * *


The voice of a literary text is linked with the persona and the tone created by the author.  Persona is defined as the first-person narrator, whether fictional or autobiographical; the tone is the same as tone of voice used in everyday speech.  Abrams describes tone as revealing

by subtle clues, our conception of, and attitude to, the things
we are talking about, our personal relation to our auditor, as
well as our assumptions about the[ir] social level,intelligence
and sensitivity …. [It] can be … critical or approving, formal or
intimate, outspoken or reticent, solemn or playful, arrogant or prayerful, angry or loving, serious or ironic,condescending
obsequious …. (Abrams, 1993, p. 156)

As tone of voice implies this is an integral part of voice, both in literature and speech.  The voice of a text gives the sense of the author behind it, the narrator within it, a sense of persona pervading the text.  There may be several voices within the same work – that of the protagonist, that of the narrator, and that of the author, layered or interwoven within the text.

In his book The Rhetoric of Fiction (1961), “Wayne C Booth’s project was to examine ‘the art of communicating with readers – the rhetorical resources available to … writer[s]”. (Selden, 1993, p. 20)  Booth established that the implied author was invented by the reader “by deduction from the attitudes articulated …. [in the text producing a] distinction between author the ‘authorial voice’”(ibid, p. 20)  But

his separating out of ‘reliable’ and ‘unreliable’ narrators
[voices] – the former, usually in the third person, coming
close to the values of the ‘implied author’; the latter, often
a character …, a deviant from them …. [thus] paradoxically
… promot[ing] the belief that authors do mean to ‘impose’
their values on the reader and that ‘reliability’ is a therefore
good thing (ibid, p. 20)

were to be Booth’s main legacy regarding rhetoric, that is the use of voice.  Referring to Booth’s use of the term implied author, Abrams writes that “the implied author, although related to the actual author, is nonetheless part of the total fiction … important [to] … the total effect of a work on the reader.” (Abrams, 1993, p. 157)  The critic, Walter J Ong saw this implied author as a false voice – the true voice being an “[e]xpression of the author’s genuine self or identity.” (ibid, p. 157)

Thus voice is that nuance of personal views and beliefs, moral, spiritual, political, and social, that permeate a text, whether poetry or prose, narrative or meditative, classical or exploratory.

There is another form of voice that should be considered, and has been by Dylan Thomas – that of the reader’s or performer’s actual voice.  Depending upon their point of view, they can project into a performance piece/ poem their own attitudes and feelings.  They may be passionate about the piece in question, or skeptical of its message, or enthusiastic about its author despite not quite understanding the meaning of the language used.  This overlays the voice of the author, and/or the narrator of the text.

In his radio talk/script ‘The English Festival of Spoken Poetry’, Dylan Thomas describes people who “cannot keep their liking [of poems] to themselves” (Thomas, 1983, p. 126) but feel compelled to share it with others – to “reel the lovely stuff off aloud.” (ibid, p. 126) Having described the various styles in which they then read the poems, he continues:

Known words grow wings; print sprints and shoots; the
voice discovers the poet’s ear; it’s found a poem on a
page is only half a poem…. they find that good poets are
better than they (the readers) thought they were…
(ibid, p. 26)

He admitted that there were obvious flaws encountered by listeners – those of sibilance, melodrama, over-inflection that “strangles rhythm and truncheons meaning[,] …. the ‘dead voice’ … of flat understatement” (ibid, p. 129), and multiple illustrative actions.

In ‘My Last Duchess’ by Robert Browning (Norton, 1983, p. 717), the Duke who describes his former wife to an emissary from the Count, whose daughter he wants to wed, is a fictional persona.  As the narrator he is totally separate from the author, who writes in the Duke’s voice, not his own.  And the character of the Duke, arrogant, assured of his right “[n]ever to stoop” (ibid, p. 718, line 43) to admonish his wife of her apparent lack of respect due his position, his “gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name” (ibid, p. 718, line 33), builds line by line through the condescending tone of his created voice.  But the voice does much more than that.  It manipulates the reader to share the reactions of the position of listener.  The reader is not just overhearing the conversation, the warning of the fate that awaits his new bride should she be unfaithful, but is a part-actor aligned with the emissary and his reactions.

In ‘When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer’ by Walt Whitman (ibid, p. 764) the distinct voice of the author can be heard.  There is no suggestion of a separate character, but a persona is created – that of someone tired of Science and its discoveries, its revelations of “proofs” and “figures”, “charts and diagrams” (ibid, p. 764, lines 2 & 3) that attempt to explain the universe in which the author lives.  The reader overhears and shares with the author the knowledge of man’s insignificance that is encapsulated in the lines:

           In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
          Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.
(ibid, p. 764, lines 7 & 8)

In ‘This Is Just to Say’  by William Carlos Williams (ibid, p. 945) the author’s speaking voice is loud and clear.  Of course it could be the voice of the implied author, related to the actual author, part of the total fiction … important [to] … the total effect of the work on the reader.(Abrams, 1983, p. 157)  Overheard by the reader, the poem is a simple, personal message from one partner to the other, laid out in three four-line stanzas with an unexpected break in rhythm in lines 6 & 7.  The language of the third stanza is particularly evocative reinforcing the fact that the plums “were in / the icebox”. (ibid, p. 945, lines 3 & 4)

          Similarly, the poems ‘Unfortunate Coincidence’ and ‘Resume’ by Dorothy Parker (ibid, p. 1038) both bear direct messages from the author.  Whether this is the author’s false voice or true voice, the persona is clearly defined by the cynical tone.  In ‘Unfortunate Coincidence’, at first there is some doubt who the author is addressing – who is the ‘you’ of the poem, the reader?  When it is revealed that the “Lady” is being addressed, it is clear that she has romantic tendencies “shivering and sighing” (ibid, p. 1038, line 2), while her lover is passionate with “infinite, undying” (ibid, p.1038, line 4) emotions.  With their personalities revealed, it is apparent that there are three personae within the poem – the “Lady”, her lover, and the author.  The amusement at the expense of the protagonists is obvious in the tone of the author’s voice.

In ‘Resume’ the irony is heavy, the message one of the futility of attempting suicide and the necessity to accept the alternative – “[y]ou might as well live.” (ibid, p. 1038, line 8)  The poem’s matter-of-fact set of opinions highlight the persona of the author, implied or genuine – a no-nonsense realist.  Rather than the readers overhearing the opinions, the author’s use of the second person directly involves them, making them active recipients.  The poem’s voice manipulates the readers to participate with its content.  Considering that the poem was written in 1926, the voice is a surprisingly modern one, its message relevant in today’s world.

‘Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night’  by Dylan Thomas (ibid, p. 1181) was written by Thomas during the final illness of his father.  A plea to his father to resist death, the poem is deeply personal, baring the emotions of the author – the tone of voice one of anguish.  Yet the author attempts to reason with the recipient, his father, to give examples of how other men, wise, good, wild and grave, refuse to yield to death without a fight.  The sadness of death is evoked with the lines:

            And you, my father, there on the sad height,
          Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
          Do not go gentle into that good night.
          Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
          (ibid, p. 1182, lines 16-19)

The creation of a very private moment between father and son by the tone of voice leaves the reader in the position of eavesdropper.

‘Playboy’  by Richard Wilbur (ibid, p. 1225) contains three personae – the narrator, the subject/stock-boy, and the object/Playboy-girl.  Though narrated in third person omniscient, the characters are each given a persona – he that of a gawky pubescent male so engrossed by the Playboy girl that:

Sometimes, without a glance, he feeds himself.
The left hand, like a mother-bird in flight,
Brings him a sandwich for a sidelong bite,
And then returns it to a dusty shelf.
(ibid, p. 1225, lines 5-8)

She, the Playboy girl, is frozen in time in the photograph at the moment when she submits to the gaze of the onlooker, and “beyond control, / Consents to his inexorable will.” (ibid, p. 1226, lines 27-8) Throughout the poem runs the amused, knowing attitude of the narrator/author to his subject, given away by his choice of metaphors and similes.  Educated, observant, wry, he makes his descriptive language create the atmosphere of the stock-room, and of the photographic “pink-papered alcove” (ibid, p. 1225, line 10) with its “tasseled and vermilion cloth”. (ibid, p. 1226, line 18)  With his question: “What so engrosses him? (ibid, p. 1225, line 9) the author invites the reader to share the role of on-looker, and to share in the amusement caused by this act of voyeurism.

The poem, ‘To Aunt Rose’ by Allen Ginsberg (ibid, p. 1279) is a first person narration of the second person subject, his Aunt Rose.  The voice is that of an implied author who could be fictional having a part to play in the poem, or could be that of Ginsberg.  Either way he contributes by presenting his view of his aunt, and his understanding of what he knew of her:

– your long sad face
          your tears of sexual frustration
(ibid, p. 1279, lines 18-19)

representing his conjecture concerning her tears.  The persona of the author and that of his aunt are intertwined, though the voice is always that of the author/narrator, ambiguous as that sometimes is, with, for example, reference to his homosexuality: “knowing me a man already – / and I an ignorant girl of family silence …” (ibid, p. 1280, lines 27-28).  The tone is nostalgic, expressing views on the waste and value of life, and on intimacies between family members to be remembered retrospectively.  Various characters are evoked in a few words: “a stranger with a cloth arm / in his pocket / and a huge young bald head” (ibid, p. 1279, lines 14-16) and “my father, the Poet, on his visit to Newark … [whose] book / had been accepted by Liveright”. (ibid, p. 1280, lines 38 & 41-2)  The voice positions the readers outside the poem, as onlookers overhearing personal reminiscence.

‘Hanging Fire’ by Audre Lorde (ibid, p. 1364) is another first person narration of either an implied author or the real author when younger.  The voice is anxious, insecure, complaining, and jealous –

and momma’s in the bedroom
with the door closed
(ibid, p. 1364, lines 10-11, 22-23, 34-35)

– that of a teenage boy with his hormone-induced traumas.  There is no confusion as to the origin of the voice, or the topic of the poem.  There is only one voice – the views and attitudes are those of the adolescent complaining and questioning the ether, or anyone who will listen – in this case the reader.

T S Eliot’s poem ‘The Waste Land’ (ibid, p. 1000) is the ultimate in voice poems.  Because of its multiple voices it readily transformed into a radio play, and takes on life when read aloud.  The first person narrator is ambiguous throughout – is it the voice of the author or of an implied author, an invention within the fictions set out?  And the second person addressee – is it the reader or one of the characters?  Each voice gives a cameo of each persona, all intermingling, overlapping like a collage to create a complete work that carries multiple layers of meaning.

Alluding to various works mythical, classical and modern, Eliot provides his characters with inter-textual depth, juxtaposing them with superficial personal moments.  An example of this borrowing is his allusion to Shakespeare’s The Tempest with the lines: “I remember / Those are pearls that were his eyes” (ibid, p. 1004, lines 124-5), referred to as “that Shakespeherian Rag -“ (ibid, p. 1004, line 128), placed beside a reference to “a game of chess” (ibid, p. 1004, line 137) from Middleton’s Women Beware Women, then followed by a contemporary dialogue between the implied author and Lil about the latter’s husband Albert’s de-mobbing.

Mostly the voices place the reader in the listening position, as an observer of the lives of the participants.  But in places the reader is involved, asked to become part of the “we [who] should stop and drink” (ibid, p. 1009, line 335) and accompanied by an unknown “third who walks always beside you” (ibid, p. 1010, line 360).  The tone is also diverse – sometimes serious, sometimes frivolous, often enigmatic and baffling – as it accompanies content varying from natural descriptions to social situations to philosophical meditations.

These poems all illustrate how the voice of a literary text is vital to the total effect of a work on the reader (Abrams, 1993, p.157), and how it is generated by the use of first person narrator, and/or of tone of voice, to create the sense of a presence, a persona, either authorial, fictional or implied within the work.

(C) Jud House 20/11/1998

NB:  I was going to put links to all the poems used in this essay, but was unable to locate them individually.  When collections were found they were invariable for the purchase of the volumes.  No doubt I was looking in the wrong place.  However, the Norton Anthology Third Edition referred to, and displayed at the beginning, is readily available in Libraries and online.  There are of course later editions, but I do not know whether all the works mentioned will be in them.

Jud House  17/10/2012


Abrams, M H (1993)  A Glossary of Literary Terms 6th Edition.  Fort Worth:  Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Allison, Barrows, Blake, Carr, Eastman, & English Jnr; + Stallworthy (essay) (1983)  The Norton Anthology of Poetry 3rd Edition.  New York:  W W Norton & Company. (Referred to as NORTON)

Saunders, I (1993)  Open Texts, Partial Maps – A Literary Theory Handbook  Nedlands:  The University of Western Australia.

Selden, R & Widdowson, P (1993) A Reader’s guide toContemporary Literary Theory Third Edition  Hertfordshire:  Harvester Wheatsheaf.  (Referred to as SELDEN)

Thomas, D (1983)  Quite Early One Morning – Poems, Stories, Essays.  London:  J M Dent & Sons Ltd.

* * * * *


The thing that draws me to Mikhail Bakhtin is his focus on the novel – not just as a genre, but as a vehicle for heteroglossia via language/ discourse/ dialogue.  At last, the theories about the minutiae of linguistics, the ideologies and the underlying psychological forces of societies are gathered, sorted, some set aside, while the aggregation of the often contradictory elements of others are compounded into something useful for the literary critic.

[Bakhtin] emphasizes performance, history, actuality, and the open-ness of dialogue, as opposed to the closed dialectic of Structuralism’s binary oppositions.  Bakhtin makes the enormous leap from dialectical, or partitive, thinking … to dialogic or irrational thinking.

(Clark, & Holquist, 1984  p. 7)

He applied the nuances of these past theories, combined with his own early views (on architectonics, aesthetics, consummation, the self and other, the author and his hero), with his later major works (on dialogism, heteroglossia, and the novel as genre), to literature – demonstrating their applicability with high-lighted examples from authors such as Dickens.

In his ‘Introduction: The Architectonics of Answerability’ Michael Holquist defines architectonics as: “the general study of how entities relate to each other, whereas aesthetics concerns itself with the problem of consummation, or how parts are shaped into wholes.” (Holquist & Liapunov, 1995, p. x)  These provided a ground for Bakhtin’s discussion of

how relations between living subjects get ordered into categories of “I” and “another” …. [and] how authors forge the kind of tentative wholeness we call a text out of the relation they articulate with their heroes. (ibid, p. x)

As one would expect they also evolved and were incorporated into his more complex notions of heteroglossia in relation to the novel.

Bakhtin’s focus on language began with his focus on the individual and the way one sees oneself – from within and not from outside.  Thus every individual is incomplete from within but sees every other individual as complete, because they can be observed from outside.  In order to see oneself as ‘I for myself’ it is necessary to see oneself as ‘I as seen by others’ – in other words, one needs to know others’ perspectives of oneself in order to see oneself as complete.  Although they may show similar characteristics, each individual is non-identical, different, unique – thus there are a multiplicity of individuals.

And there are a multiplicity of languages, saturated with ideologies, which ‘interpellate’ the individual throughout life.  While Althusser thought in terms of ISAs (Ideological State Apparatuses), institutions controlling society, Bakhtin thought in terms of individuality – the micro level of society.  Every individual has a language, which can be grouped in rings of relationships – overlapping language rings, for example an individual’s sporting group language overlaps his University group language which overlaps his work group language which overlaps his family group language and so on.  These languages saturated with ideologies are multiple.  Thus the world consists of multiplistic languages/ discourses/ voices – in other words heteroglossia.

The natural world is a world of heteroglossia.  The centripetal tendency to create a unity of language silencing other forces, for example that of a unitary language, subsumed to the poet’s voice, as the only language for the discourse of serious poetry, is a violation of this.  (An exception is T S Eliot’s poem ‘The Wasteland’ which with its multiple voices is very heteroglossic.)  Today’s tendency is centrifugal – a fleeing away from unified language to that of multiplicity.

The centripetal forces of the life of language, embodied in a
‘unitary language’, operate in the midst of heteroglossia.  At
any given moment of its evolution, language is stratified not
only into linguistic dialects … but also … into languages that
are socio-ideological: languages of social groups, ‘professional’ and ‘generic’ languages, languages of generations …. [even] literary language.
(Rice & Waugh, 1997, p. 232)

In Epic and the Novel Bakhtin stated that the earliest work of literature was the epic, which was National not personal, always in the past and completed – its end was in the past even before it was written down, for example Homer’s Iliad – and was separated by epic distance from the reader’s time.  In the epic,a single line of movement ran through the narrative, often tied up with identity, especially National identity.  Because there was no alternative to the hero’s destiny (he had no choice – his life was his destiny) it could only be seen from one perspective – monoglossic – with no competing voices/languages.

In contrasting the epic to the novel, Bakhtin showed the way society changed in the third century BC in Greece and in the Middle Ages in Europe.  Social turmoil broke down the centripetal monoglossic language with the emergence of parody, in which the hero was seen multi-dimensionally rather than flat.  Instead of epitomising perfection, the hero was seen with flaws comically highlighted.  Profound social changes caused an inversion of social languages and figures of authority seen in the late Middle Ages/early Renaissance Carnival which conveyed a comical inversion of the social order, debunking figures of authority on the one day of the year.  (This is still seen today with the Carnival at Rio, and the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in Sydney.) Bakhtin thought this was essential, and wrote Rabelais and His World (suppressed by authorities, then published at the end of his life) for his university thesis detailing the use of parody and humour as liberating factors.

Laughter destroyed epic distance; it began to investigate man freely and familiarly, to turn him inside out, expose the disparity between his surface and his center, between his potential and his reality. (Bakhtin, p. 35)

Bakhtin saw this pushing, probing, asking questions, as a move into heteroglossia; and with more languages, saturated with ideology, being uttered, heteroglossia moved into literature.

Bakhtin viewed the novel as a genre separate from that of the epic – the former incomplete, flexible, ever-changing – the “most fluid of genres” (ibid, p. 11), “determined by experience, knowledge and practice (the future)” (ibid, p. 15); the latter complete, closed, contained, with “memory, and not knowledge, that serves as the source and power for the creative impulse” (ibid, p. 15).  The novel defies the organising principles of genre, with experts unable to “isolate a single definite, stable characteristic of the novel – without adding a reservation, which immediately disqualifies it altogether as a generic characteristic.” (ibid, p. 8)  Bakhtin gave several examples including that a “novel is a love story” when many are not, or that it “is a prose genre” when there are “excellent novels in verse”, (ibid, p. 9) and so on.  He enumerated the three characteristics that distinguished the novel from other literary genres:

(1) its stylistic three-dimensionality, which is linked with the multi-languaged consciousness realized in the novel; (2) the radical change it effects in the temporal coordinates of the literary image; (3) the new zone opened by the novel for structuring literary images, namely, the zone of maximal contact with the present (with contemporary reality) in all its openendedness. (ibid, p. 11)

He focussed on the chronotope, the spacio/temporal matrix (an inseparable fusion of place/space and period/time) that shapes any narrative text.  As with binary opposites, which Bakhtin believed worked together rather than in opposition, within the chronotope neither space nor time is privileged.  Rather each is interdependent, woven throughout spoken or written dialogue.  “There is no existence, no meaning, no word or thought that does not enter into dialogue or ‘dialogic’ relations with the other, that does not exhibit intertextuality in both time and space.” (Morris, 1994, p. 247)  This dialogism incorporated monoglossia (a stable unified language), polyglossia (a means of demonstrating the national languages within a language), and heteroglossia (‘different-speech-ness’), that

refers to the conflict between ‘centripetal’ and ‘centrifugal’, ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ discourses …. present at the micro-linguistic scale; every utterance contain[ing] within it the trace of other utterances, both in the past and in the future.” (ibid, pp. 248-9)

But, according to Bakhtin, this heteroglossic viewing of a language through the eyes of another language, language speaking to language, languages within language, “should not be confused with ‘polyphony’ …. used … to describe … ‘multi-voiced’ novels, whereby author’s and heroes’ discourses interact on equal terms.  ‘Heteroglossia’, on the other hand, foregrounds the clash of antagonistic social forces.” (ibid, p. 249)  It also provides, with its far wider scope of languages speaking dialogically, an even more effective vehicle for imagery, ideas, and ideology within novels. The modern novel, “as a genre that is ever questing, ever examining itself and subjecting its established forms to review” (Bakhtin, p. 39) is the only truly heteroglossic literary form.

Bakhtin discussed in ‘Discourse in the Novel’ the role of ‘common language’ (the normal written and spoken language of a social group) as used by the author to validate his fictional societal values and points of view.  The author manipulates the aspects of this ‘common language’, “the impersonal going opinion” (Rice & Waugh, 1997, p. 236), to distance himself or to merge “his own voice with the common view.” (ibid, p. 236)  The comic style of novel demands that the author utilise variety in his relations with and distance from “those parodic stylizations of generic, professional and other languages … as well as compact masses of direct authorial discourse – pathos-filled, moral-didactic, sentimental-elegiac or idyllic.” (ibid, p. 236)  Thus the relationship between the author and the language can be direct or subtle, portrayed via character voices that reflect the views of that character type, or views advanced by the author via another’s voice or an authorial aside.

For Bakhtin “a voice will always have a particular ‘intonation’ or ‘accentuation’, which reflects the values behind the consciousness which speaks.” (Morris, 1994, p. 251)  The conflict between the different voices occurs in several ways – 1) through the use of parody, 2) in concealed form with no formal markers to indicate direct or indirect speech, 3) “hidden diffused speech of another”, 4) “double-accented, double-styled hybrid construction”, an “act of authorial unmasking … merge[d] with the unmasking of another’s speech”, and 5) by “pseudo-objective motivation … the speech of ‘current opinion’” where “subordinate conjunctions and link words … lose their direct authorial intention, [and] take on the flavour of someone else’s language”. (Rice & Waugh, 1997, pp. 236, 237, 238, 239)

In Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway, heteroglossia is exposed line by line, as the voices of the characters continually interweave throughout the progress of the one day.  It is a truly unique style, guiding the reader to follow the lives of the two main characters, Mrs Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith, as their day unfolds, interrupted by the thoughts (voices) of other subsidiary characters, and cameo-characters who cross their paths.  It exposes not only the characters’ voices, but the language of a cross-section of social groups, their attitudes to life, each other, and other classes.  And it exposes Woolf’s voice, sometimes as inserted commentary, often bracketed, and sometimes merged within the voices of her characters.

There are a multiplicity of voices – Clarissa’s via her mind and memories; Septimus’s multiple voices due to his mental illness; his wife’s reflecting her anxiety and loneliness; the two doctors’ whose patronising authority triggers Septimus’s suicide:, the political voice of Clarissa’s husband, Richard; the kindly condescension of the courtly Hugh; and the bitterness of Miss Kilman – all revealing social conflict, the contradictory signals that constantly flow through society, as they jostle without markers, juxtaposed on the pages.  To facilitate the portrayal of these differing social classes, Woolf adapts the language according to profession or genre.  For example, when describing the florist-shop scene, Woolf used lyrical flowing language of floral tones, “delicious scents, [and] exquisite coolness” (Woolf, 1992, p. 14) to evoke its secluded oasis-like nature – a seclusion rudely shattered by the backfiring of the car outside.

The heteroglossic interchange passing from character to character, voice to voice, clearly occurs throughout the sequence of the regal car and the sky-writing plane. As the car halts in the street, its occupant’s face is glimpsed, and it moves slowly on, speculation becomes rife among the onlookers, pedestrians, shop-assistants, shoppers, fellow travellers, men in their club, as to the identity of the occupant.  Their attitudes towards the ‘crown’ and country are displayed via their station in life, and their language used to express their sentiments.  The Upper Class stand to attention as the car passes, the Middle Class sit and stare, the Lower Class “wish the dear boy well”, or come to blows over a Colonial insult to the House of Windsor.

The motor car with its blinds drawn and an air of inscrutable
reserve proceeded towards Piccadilly, still gazed at, still ruffling the faces on both sides of the street with the same dark breath of veneration whether for Queen, Prince, or Prime Minister nobody knew. …. But there could be no doubt that greatness was seated within; greatness was passing, hidden, down Bond Street … [the] ordinary people … [were] within speaking distance of the majesty of England, of the enduring symbol of the state. (ibid, p. 17)

These italics are mine, used to indicate the infiltration into the text of heteroglossia, in the unmarkered concealed form of another’s language (elevated, official-ceremonial); followed by the underlined link word ‘still’ indicating pseudo-objective motivation; a hybrid form unmasking the merged voice of the author and the parodic-ceremonial other; moving on to the ‘current opinion’ of ‘greatness’ allied with the merged author voice; and finishing where it began with the parody of the concealed official-ceremonial form.  As the characters intersect to draw the reader away on their individual tangents, this heteroglossia rolls on page after page, flickering conflicting viewpoints within the same sentence, in neighbouring sentences, in paragraphs, through sections, culminating in the aesthetic architectonics that form the complete novel.

With the sudden appearance of the plane writing in the sky, the attention of the crowd is transferred. The car is forgotten and enters the gates of the palace unobserved.  Diverted, everyone looks up, to speculate about the message being written – its signification read differently by each voice, in language loaded with ideology, with heteroglossia – all social voices having their say.  It is relatively easy to read the differences and identify which language is speaking.  By means of the sky-writing plane which can be seen from a multiple of locations simultaneously, Woolf moves the heteroglossic action from venue to venue, character to character.

The Bakhtinian ‘theory’ about the self and other is also evident in Clarissa’s interpretation of herself.  She sees herself through the eyes of her husband, those of her daughter, of Miss Kilman, of her ex-lover Peter Walsh, of Hugh, of Lady Bruton, of the florist, and of the maid.

[T]hank you, thank you, she went on saying in gratitude to her servants generally for helping her to be like this, to be what she wanted, gentle, generous-hearted.  Her servants liked her.  (ibid, p. 42)

Via the dialogism of these people we also see Clarissa from the outside, building up a picture of who she is, just as she does.  Her thoughts betray her uncertainty, her regrets, her fears, as she realizes that if she had gone with Peter “[if she] had married him, this gaiety would have been [hers] all day”. (ibid, p. 51)   Instead she married Richard who had deserted her, to lunch with Lady Bruton.  Unaware that it was a business luncheon between Lady Bruton, Richard and Hugh, to discuss a submission to The Times newspaper, Clarissa felt she was no longer a desirable lunch companion.  “It was all over for her.  The sheet was stretched and the bed narrow.” (ibid, p. 51)  This alludes to her feelings that menopause has ended her sexual, physical life.  She is an ailing middle-age woman with little to look forward to.  All hangs, for Clarissa, on the success of her coming party.

Based on his past experiences, Peter in turn paints one of many pictures of her, as he tries to explain her to himself.

[S]he was worldly; cared too much for rank and society and getting on in the world – which was true in a sense; she had admitted it to him. (You could always get her to own up if you took the trouble; she was honest.)  What she would say was that she hated frumps, fogies, failures, like himself presumably; thought people had no right to slouch about with their hands in their pockets; must do something, be something; and these great swells, these Duchesses … one met in her drawing-room, … stood for something real for her.

(ibid, pp. 83-4)

With this outside view of Clarissa we also are privy to Peter’s own ‘view of self’.  His attitude to her characteristics reveals much about the way he has constructed himself in light of her standards.

Despite my limited examples, the novel Mrs Dalloway teems with heteroglossic material.  Its postmodern format, with its stream of consciousness style, presents a chronotopic slice of Britain after the World War I, with its changing attitudes about personal freedom, gender questions, and a need for better conditions. Both in Woolf’s novel and in his literary contribution, Bakhtin’s

[d]ialogism is …. an account of relations between people and between persons and things that cuts across religious, political, and aesthetic boundaries.  [It] is not the usual abstract system of thought …. [and] never loses sight of the nitty-gritty of everyday life … the awkwardness, confusion, … pain… and joy”.   (Clark, & Holquist, 1984  p. 348)

(C) Jud House  8/11/2005


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Morris, P. (editor) (1994)  The Bakhtin Reader – Selected Writings of Bakhtin, Medvedev, Voloshinov  London: Edward Arnold.

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