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


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