In literature Psychoanalysis deals with the psycho-sexual, the unconscious instinctual tendencies (id) of both writers and their characters, the recognition of the repressed desires, the dreams, and the uncanny relating to them, and the use of the language of nature to symbolise these emotive traits.  Marxism is concerned with the socio-economic backgrounds and references, and the ideological influences on the writers and their characters within the texts.  Both theories are concerned with the relevant experiences of the readers through which they interpret the texts.

According to Selden Psychoanalytic Literary Criticism began with Sigmund Freud’s view that:

the relationship between author and text [was] analogous to dreamers and their ‘text’ (literature = ‘fantasy’); [was] modified by Post-Freudians . . . in a psychoanalytic reader-response criticism . . . ; contested by Karl Yung’s ‘archetypal’ criticism [where] . . . the literary work is . . . a representation of the relationship between the personal and the collective unconscious, the images, myths, symbols, ‘archetypes’ of past cultures; [and recently] . . . .remodelled in the context of poststructuralism by . . . Jacques Lacan and his followers [with] . . .the coupling of a dynamic notion of ‘desire’ with a model of structural linguistics.  Selden

(1993, pp. 136 & 137)

According to David Forgacs:

Marxism is a theory of economics, history, society and revolution . . . all Marxist theories of literature have a simple premise in common: that literature can only be properly understood within a larger framework of social reality. Forgacs, pp. 134 & 135)

He also believes that literature should not be treated or kept in isolation, divorced from society and history.  He adds:

For Marxists, social reality is not an indistinct background out of which literature emerges or into which it blends.  It has definite shape . . . found in history, . . . as a series of struggles between antagonistic social classes and the types of economic production they engage in.” (Forgacs, p 135)

Both Psychoanalysis and Marxism act as a nature/culture binary – ‘nature’ representing metaphorically the subconscious desires, the socially repressed elements of the characters’ natures – ‘culture’  comprising the social class structure, with its historical time-frame, and the revolutionary changes occurring as a result of the power relationships between the classes.

The concept of subject is not as straightforward as one would expect.  The subject syntactically is that which acts upon the object, while in literature is the topic/matter at the heart of the text.  The idea, ‘I think therefore I am’, “proposes a zero-degree picture of the subject: completely independent, completely unified.” (Saunders (1993) p. 99)  However, the completely unified subject can be seen to be environmentally and politically determined, while the notion of complete unity is undermined by the psychologically internal complexity of the subject.


the subject is understood to be constituted by both conscious and unconscious desires and intentions: if you like, there is more to ‘I am’ than the controlled rationality of ‘I think’.  The result is a self which is not unified, but made up of competing factions[.] . . . . Freud’s own techniques of analysis of [the subject’s] dreams . . . goes beyond intention and unity, and looks instead at the fractured, the repressed, the displaced, and the unconsciously symbolic. (ibid, (1993) p. 100)

When the subject is seen through the eyes of Lacan and Kristeva, it is fractured and dispersed, “displaced by a post-modern economy of floating, disconnected desires and sensations.” (ibid, p. 100).

The concept of ‘subject’ can be seen not only in terms of ‘other (that which it is not), and ‘gaps/silences’ (that which is not explained), but also in terms of the psychoanalytical and the socio-economic/ideological.  The ‘subject’ of JANE EYRE (a Bildungsroman novel of formation) is Jane herself, and, as she is the narrator, we are able to see her life unfolding with the socio-economic influences, conscious thoughts, and unconscious desires contributing to her character development.

In the first chapter the distinction between Jane’s position and John Reed’s position in the household is graphically drawn – John is wealthy, arrogant, cruel, and selfish (the latter three being a result of the first), while Jane is poor, dependent (on the Reed family), ‘habitually obedient’ yet stirred to rebellion by the injustice of her treatment.  The Reed sisters are selfish indulged, and indifferent to Jane’s situation while resentful of her presence.  Mrs Reed is tyrannical, unfeeling, jealous (of Jane’s place in her late husband’s affections), and resentful of the burden of caring for Jane.

The upper class or Bourgeoisie, which the Reeds represent, are paradoxically shown to be uncharitable, unkind and unpleasant, yet because of the power they possess as a result of having affluence, as a desirable class to belong to and/or attain.  Jane’s portrayal of others of the same privileged class is on the whole equally unflattering.  Brocklehurst is depicted as hypocritical (has a puritanical expectation of how POOR young girls should behave and dress, while his own daughters are permitted to dress frivolously and behave ill-manneredly), stern, cold and uncharitable (witness the burnt porridge episode).  The Ingram family are haughty, overbearing, caught up in their own esteem, and once again ill-mannered.  Even Rochester Jane shows to be selfish, overbearing, arrogant and oblivious to those beneath him unless directly affected by them.

Jane, however, has virtually no status – she is ‘less than a servant’ in the eyes of all, including the servants.  By birth she is the Reeds’ social equal, yet her impecunious state dis-empowers her.  Ideologically she must learn to conform, to control her passionate nature (repress the id), in order to attain her economic independence and subsequent rise through the class system, while refusing to allow her own victimisation.  By learning to say no to John Reed she learns the power “of resistance against oppression and . . . of self-confirmation, asserting the right to value her well-being above the demands made by others.” (Nestor, p. 51).

Various levels of class are portrayed by Jane – from the moneyed Bourgeoisie (property owners) like the Reeds, Brocklehurst, Rochester, Mr Oliver “the proprietor of a needle-factory and iron-foundry” (Bronte, (1976) p. 381); to the poor ‘gentry’ who needed to earn a living like Miss Temple, Mrs Fairfax, and Diana Mary and St. John Rivers; to the servant/working class people like Bessie, Abbot, Hannah, Grace Poole; and finally to the peasant class children in the Moreton School, whom Jane describes as “heavy-looking, gaping rustics”, “farmers’ daughters”, “rustic Scholars”, and at the end of her time there of “some half-dozen of my best scholars: as decent, respectable, modest, and well-informed young women as could be found in the ranks of the British peasantry.” (Bronte, (1976) pp. 392 & 416)

As well as these there are coachmen, inn-keepers, shop-keepers, gardeners, maids, doctors, teachers, clergymen and others, all adding to the fabric of the narrative.  There are a few historical references to the Industrial Revolution time-slot – to the potato-famine of Ireland: “burnt porridge is almost as bad as rotten potatoes; famine itself soon sickens over it.” (ibid p. 63) – and (as mentioned above) to the fact the Mr Oliver owned a needle factory and iron foundry.

There was also mention of another kind of class system – that of the older girls at Lowood dominating over the smaller younger girls: “whenever the famished great girls had an opportunity, they would coax or menace the little ones out of their portion.” (ibid, p. 77)

The psychological references and influences are abundant in JANE EYRE.  In first chapters the red and white pattern is established by “folds of scarlet drapery . . . to the right” (ibid, p 23) and to her left the “drear November day” (ibid, p. 24) through the clear glass panes of the protecting window.  This pattern is repeated in the red-room, with “[i]ts red drapery and carpet and contrasting white bed and easy chair embody[ing] two separate threats to Jane – a prison of passion and a chill, ‘pale throne’ of repression.” (Nestor, p. 51)  Thus red is symbolic of passion which Jane must learn to suppress if she is to mature, while the white is symbolic of a cold, sterile life void of that passion.

This idea of imprisonment is thus hinted at in the opening pages to be followed by the actual imprisonment in the red-room.  On escaping the confines of this room, then her nursery, and finally Gateshead itself, she finds herself in another confining, regimented location – Lowood school.  Having worked herself up to the semi-independent position of teacher, she leaves the institution to venture into  the wider world – only to find that at Thornfield she is surrounded by signs of enclosure.

As Jane enters its gates they ‘clash’ behind her, Mrs Fairfax locks the hall door and takes the key before showing Jane to her room, just as she later securely fastens the trapdoor from the attic, and in the library Jane discovers that most of the books are ‘locked up behind glass doors'(104)” (Nestor, p. 58)

The fact that Jane sought e sense of freedom on the third floor of Thornfield is ironic – it was the site of Bertha’s imprisonment.  Even when Jane runs away and enters the Rivers’ household she is bound by another form of entrapment – that of St John Rivers’ uncompromising expectations of and plans for her.  Her ultimate release is seen to be when she returns to Rochester as an equal, financially independent, and releases him from his confining restraints of blindness.

The dreams that Jane has throughout the book are also psychological windows to her mind, and premonitions of her future.  The carrying of the child, in the dream Jane had prior to her wedding day, is symbolic of the weight of domesticity which hung around the necks of Victorian women, tying them down and preventing them from being independent.  Her ally, nature, had taken over the ‘prison’ of Thornfield which was reduced to rubble – it could no longer contain her – and through its agent the wind, was blowing away the restricting child, leaving her free to fall into freedom.

The use of dreams as premonition devices in the narrative were also an indication of Bronte’s awareness of the uncanny.  Her:

figurative language is profoundly suggestive, privileging the imaginative and intuitive ahead of the rational.  Similarly her use of the supernatural reinforces the sense of know- ledge beyond logic, of truths that are felt as much as thought.  (Nestor, p. 31)

With this language she is able to suggest psychological links – hunger indicating deprivation, confinement signalling oppression and elements of nature offering a nurturing safety:

Nature seemed to me benign and good; I thought she loved me, outcast as I was: and I, who from man could anticipate only mistrust, rejection, insult, clung to her with filial fondness.  Bronte, (1976) p. 349)

Finally the socio-economic position of the writer, “in an age shaken by religious, scientific and social upheaval” (Nestor, p. 30) where women were powerless, relegated to passivity, had an immediate bearing on the text.

Charlotte endorsed a fiercely individualistic self- sufficiency which placed the demands of society second to those of self, establishing a particularly important priority for women given the nature if Victorian’s demands upon them. (ibid, p.29)

Psychologically, Charlotte Bronte wrote in:

a distinctly female literary tradition . . . marked by images of enclosure and escape, fantasies in which maddened doubles function as asocial surrogates (as Bertha did for Jane) for docile selves, metaphors of physical discomfort manifested in frozen landscapes and fiery interiors and obsessive depictions of diseases like anorexia (of which Charlotte was suggested to have died from), claustrophobia and myopia.” (Nestor, p. 27) (my parentheses)

There are many more indications of the socio-economic and psychological practices at work on the subject in JANE EYRE.  Those I have shown give an insight into the text that a superficial reading may gloss over.

(C)  Jud House 28/08/2005


Althusser, Louis. (1970) extract from IDEOLOGY AND IDEOLOGICAL STATE APPARATUSES.

Althusser, Louis.  ‘Ideology Interpellates Individuals as Subjects’ from ‘Ideology and the State’ in LENIN AND PHILOSOPHY.

Bronte, Charlotte. (1976 ed.)  JANE EYRE.  London: Pan Books Ltd


King, Jeannette. (1986)  ‘Recent Critical Approaches’ in JANE EYRE. Milton Keynes: Open University Press

Kristeva, Julia. (1986) ‘A Question of Subjectivity – an Interview’ in WOMEN’S REVIEW, No 12.

Lane, Margaret. (1980)  THE DRUG-LIKE BRONTE DREAM.  London:  John Murray (Publishers) Ltd.

Marx, Karl.  from the ‘Preface’ to ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’ in LITERATURE AND SOCIETY: MARXIST APPROACHES.

Nestor, Pauline. (1987)  Women Writers/CHARLOTTE BRONTE.  Totowa, NJ: Barnes & Noble Books.

Rhys, Jean. (1968)  WIDE SARGASSO SEA.  London: Penguin Books.

Saunders, Ian. (1993)  OPEN TEXTS, PARTIAL MAPS.  Nedlands: The University of Western Australia.

Selden, R. & Widdowson, P. (1993)  A Reader’s Guide to CONTEMPORARY LITERARY THEORY.  Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, of Simon & Schuster International Group.

Spivak, G. C. (1986)  ‘Marxist Discussion of WIDE SARGASSO SEA’ from ‘Three Women’s Texts and a Critique of Imperialism.’ in RACE, WRITING, AND DIFFERENCE.  Chicago: UCP.

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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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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

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

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

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