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May 03, 2012


In Gothic texts, the protagonists are imprisoned in a variety of ways with little hope of escape. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

In Gothic texts, the female protagonists often fall into one of two categories: the innocent and helpless victim (such as the unnamed Marquise in ‘The Bloody Chamber’) or the devious and dangerous predator (such as Lady Macbeth). However, what can be said of both the categories is that the woman is imprisoned; whether that is because they are “in blood stepped in so far” and are therefore unable to return from a de-sensitised conscience, or because they are physically and psychologically oppressed by their evil husbands.

Despite being imprisoned in some form or another, Angela Carter uses The Bloody Chamber to explore how women need not accept the role as a victim of male aggression; thus escaping their imprisonment. The heroine in the story of ‘The Bloody Chamber’ is testament to this because it ends “happily ever after” for her, not because she is able to meet her prince charming, but because she is able to escape her previous self as being a naïve sexual object who gave her virginity away for material gain to become a modest woman living with her mother and blind husband after giving away her wealth to help others. One could, however, argue that she is never truly free because she is left with a permanent “red mark on my forehead” and believes that “he sees me clearly with his heart”.

In Gothic texts, the protagonists are imprisoned in a variety of ways with little hope of escape. To what extent do you agree with this statement?
In The Bloody Chamber, our protagonist becomes trapped by her husband upon discovering “the kingdom of the unimaginable.” Metaphorically, this imprisonment could symbolise her new knowledge of her husband’s cruelty, and the repercussions of her stupidity and shame. Before such an event, she could masquerade under the pretence of believing (or fooling herself to believe) her husband to be a good man, and that she had been right in marrying him. After discovering his true self in the form of the chamber (arguably a physical representation of her husbands misogynistic and sexist views) she becomes imprisoned by the knowledge of her own stupidity, as she had given herself to him due to her desire for his material indulgences, and not his true personality. He is said to mark her forehead with the bloodied key like the branding of a sinned animal, a mark she professes to remain eternally on her head long after the event occurred – arguably a concluding comment from the author about how she will forever be reminded of her foolishness: “I am glad he cannot see it... because it spares my shame.”

In Macbeth, imprisonment takes on the form of mental turmoil, as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth find themselves rapt with the guilt from their murders, so much so that you could even say it caused their sad demise. The murder of Banquo appears to drive Macbeth to the verge of his sanity, as he sees his ghost at the dinner table – Freudian theory would agree that this manifestation is a return of his repressed guilt Macbeth obtained by murdering Banquo. It seems as though he will forever be tormented by such an action and is now imprisoned in his own mind, as he is unable to escape such guilt, even when surrounded with the distraction of company. Lady Macbeth even states that his ghost “is the very painting of your fear”, a line that alludes to the unnaturally physical nature (a “painting”) of Macbeth’s mental emotions (“fear.”) She goes on to conclude, rationally, that “when all is said and done you look but on a stool”, once again affirming the increasing irrational and unstable nature of Macbeths newfound mental troubles as well as the inescapable nature of his guilt – that being that it has now transgressed to the physical world, in the form of a supernatural revenant (a key gothic motif.)

On the other hand, you could argue that in the gothic genre, protagonists are not imprisoned but in fact liberated from social, cultural or even natural norms. In Wuthering heights, the possibility of the incestuous nature of Cathy and Heathcliff’s relationship suggests a disregard for social norms or natural tradition. The ambiguity that surrounds Heathcliff’s background (as it has been suggested that Mr Earnshaw might actually be Heathcliffs father) allows for this interpretation to be quite convincing. Similarly, in Macbeth, Lady Macbeth seeks to be liberated from the shackles of feminine weakness in her first siloquoy; “stop up the access and passage to remorse that no compunctious visitings of nature shake my fell purpose.” Here, the desire to repress nature goes against a natural conception of a woman, as typically one wouldn’t appear to desire to rid themselves of their feminine attributes. As Fred Botting remarks "Otherness takes centre stage: sexual transgression, dark desire and fantastical deviance wonderfully subvert the restrictive orders of reason, utility, and paternal morality”: a statement that is applicable here as we see Lady Macbeth indulge her “dark desires” by aiming to repress or transgress her sexual nature. In this light, the sexually ambiguous nature of “stop up the access and passage” becomes apparent, in that she is in fact asking for her female anatomy to be “stopped up” in an attempt to gain masculinity. The sexual nature of the terms “up”, “passage” and “shake” in this statement undoubtedly expose her sexual and “dark desires” in such a way that could be accurately termed as “fantastically deviant” as well as subverting the “restrictive orders” of reason and social norms.

In Macbeth, Macbeth is imprisoned by his ambition and by the supernatural elements that conspire against him. This extremity of emotion is terrifying as with its power he is able to commit the ultimate transgression, overthrowing the king. To a contemporary audience this would have been particularly significant as they believed in the divine right of kings, where a monarch was directly chosen by god. Macbeth develops from the obedient servant (like most members of a Jacobean audience) to a ruthless killer “I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.” This conveys the notion that since Macbeth has allowed himself to lose so much humanity, with his murders, that he is now trapped in this liminal state between the un-emotional supernatural and humanity. The image of a river of ‘blood’, is a horrific image, which with uncanny connotations demonstrates the torrent inevitably about to drown Macbeth. The use of the word ‘tedious’ suggests the degree at which humanity has been lost and instead ensnared by evil, as the idea of regaining morals is boring. Although it could be said that here there is still the choice to liberate his soul and it is an active decision made rather than being forced to ‘go o’er. ’ However, it is more convincing that Macbeth lives in a state of self imprisonment, reinforced by “full of scorpions is mind.”

Imprisonment, which is often considered a key gothic concept, can be divided into two categories – imprisonment by another force or self-inflicted. Macbeth seems to be imprisoned by the supernatural elements which conspire against him – the witches. However what seems to truly seal his fate, and what is arguably more unsettling, is him believing in and perhaps therefore fulfilling these prophecies. The audience knows there is no hope of escape for Macbeth or Lady Macbeth as their guilt begins to suffocate them. When the doctor hears Lady Macbeth unconsciously speaking of her guilt - ‘will these hand ne’er be clean’ – he concludes she is troubled by an ‘infected mind’. Macbeth also feels trapped and imprisoned perhaps by his evil thoughts, his mind ‘full of scorpions’. In both cases it insinuates an evil foreign body has contaminated them rather than it coming from within themselves. This mirrors, as Glennis Byron comments ‘a cultures struggle to define the civilised’ and crucially ‘to throw off what is seen as being other to that civilised self’. The personification and gothic anthropomorphism of the Macbeths’ pillows being ‘deaf’ to their secrets emphasises the characters’ denial to the extent that the objects around them have become like a prison. This muffling and stifling image seems a gothic manipulation of what should be a safe and comforting ‘pillow,’ leaving the audience with little hope for the protagonists.

In Wuthering Heights we come across the manifest content of imprisonment where young Cathy is locked in a room imprisoned by Heathcliff. However, it could be said that Catherine Earnshaw is more imprisoned than her daughter, through his possessive love, as Isabella says ‘it is preferable to be hated than loved by him’. Being hated by Heathcliff, young Cathy does have a chance to escape unlike her mother whose very ‘existence’ is entwined with his - ‘he is in my soul’. On the other hand, it could be argued Catherine’s confinement stems from the choices she made. This self-imposed imprisonment by marriage leads to her proclamation; ‘I am tired of being enclosed here’ ‘yearning for [that glorious world] through the walls of a broken heart’. Catherine is separated from Heathcliff and nature (which seems to be the essence of her being) to the extent that her ‘heart’ feels like it’s in a prison. Like Lady Macbeth, concealing or imprisoning something within her leaves little hope of escape, and arguably leads to her death. Alternatively it is the social constraints, rather than her choices, which imprison her and make her choose Linton over Heathcliff. The setting of Thrushcross Grange also has an air of repression - the fire is ‘smothered’ as opposed to Wuthering Heights where it ‘roars’ with passion. Catherine craves the air from outside as she associates freedom with nature and the wild Yorkshire moors. A Freudian reading may predict that the repression of her wild and reckless self will eventually ‘break’ out. This catharsis can be seen in her desperate state when she is overcome by emotions and wanders the moors during a storm. Escaping imprisonment insinuates a release from tyranny into freedom. It may seem Cathy has little hope in achieving this but perhaps in death she does.

Angela Carter portrays the literal imprisonment of the Marquis’ previous wives in The Bloody Chamber. The chamber, with its dark and claustrophobic connotations could be seen as a physical representation of the repressed. It could be argued because the female protagonist fully understands what will happen to her - ‘I had another fate’ – it reveals her resignation and the little hope she has of escaping the Marquis. His whole presence overwhelms and controls her ‘the chthonic gravity of his presence,’ even when he is away from the castle. ‘The ultimate horrors lie not without but within’ (Julia Briggs) could be associated with the bloody chamber being hidden in the depths of the castle. However, it seems more accurate and significant in reference to the horrors within the mind of a person, which is also arguably more of a gothic concept. The horror within mind of the Marquis could be seen to make him imprison and murder his wives, where the sadistic impulses reflect the ‘dark desires’ of a culture that Jerrold E. Hogle writes about. Sadism was named after the Marquis de Sade, an 18th century aristocrat, who could have partially been the inspiration for the Marquis in Carter’s story. ‘There is a striking resemblance between the act of love and the ministrations of a torturer’ epitomises the Marquis’ taboo desires, which the girl discovers ‘on [her] marriage bed’. When the protagonist unearths her husband’s dark secret she seems to accept her fate, but the reader may not. We may feel she reacts strangely but it could be considered appropriate for a fairy tale - the heroine courageously and calmly walks towards her death. This bravery may be unanticipated and therefore could alter our prediction for the denouement, giving the reader hope. She is a strong willed character who has been imprisoned like Catherine in Wuthering Heights. However, unlike Cathy, the girl in The Bloody Chamber has hope to escape perhaps due to the feminist slant in which Angela Carter writes the story. In this case is the Marquis who, imprisoned by his sadistic impulses and rituals, has little hope of escaping.

In Gothic texts, the protagonists are imprisoned in a variety of ways with little hope of escape. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

The depiction of the child of the Count's desires, helpless and judged solely on her value as a sex object, assimilates the character as being essentially imprisoned and unable to break free from the debilitating image of, as Cristina Bacchilega calls it, a “masculine fantasy,”. However, the argument that this is true for all Gothic protagonists is debatable. From one perspective, the Countess can similarly be seen as a pornographic image in relation to the Count, yet the Count himself stands as an authoritative figure, who has the power to say something and make it so. In this regard, The Snow Child explores not simply the imprisonment of the protagonists, but stands rather as a critique of the detrimental effects involved in the subjugation of women.

The appearance of Catherine's ghost in Wuthering Heights is symbolic as it reflects the lack of closure for the lovers. In light of this, despite the unsettling and supernatural quality to the character, Brontë's ghost's can be seen as holding a far more logical explanation. From one perspective, the sense of urgency in “Let me in!” is reflective of the passionate yet tumultuous relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff, and the intrinsic need the pair share to be united. The significance of the window therefore, trapping Catherine's ghost from entering Thrushcross Grange, serves as a metaphorical boundary between what is natural and what is seen as 'other' to that natural self. Their complex and divine love seems to transgress any sense of reason, and instead relies upon instinct and emotion. With this in mind, Catherine and Heathcliff (both of whom the novel in centred around) conform to the view that the protagonists are essentially imprisoned and I would argue that Brontë is most faithful in tending to this in presenting the reader with an unresolved passion, eventually destroying them and the people around them.

Greg. ill post more lata

In Gothic texts, the protagonists are imprisoned in a variety of ways with little hope of escape. To what extent do you agree with this statement?

In Macbeth, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are imprisoned due to their mental decline. Macbeth’s ‘full of scorpions is my mind dear wife!’ expresses the guilt that is imprisoning him, ‘scorpions’ particularly violent imagery with connotations of the mind being poisoned. Macbeth’s emotionless state can also be seen as imprisoning him, ‘all is but toys’ and ‘life’s but a walking shadow’, with his inability to escape from his deteriorated mental state as ‘returning were as tedious as to go o’er’. ‘Tedious’ emphasises the callous reaction to violence he has developed through the play, this contrasting with his original, more hysterical, ‘I am afraid to think what I have done; look on’t again I dare not.’ This links with his assertion that he has ‘forgotten the taste of fears’. As well as Macbeth being imprisoned due to his emotionless state, Lady Macbeth is imprisoned due to her growing insanity, her guilt resulting in sleep walking, ‘infected minds to their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets’. ‘Deaf pillows’ emphasises her isolated, or imprisoned, state, ‘infected minds’ linking back to the idea of a mind being poisoned.

Imprisonment is less obvious in Wuthering Heights, however Heathcliff is arguably imprisoned through is obsession with Cathy and through his obsession with revenge. In Wuthering Heights the Gothic setting also emphasises the character’s imprisonment in their houses, as opposed to the freedom of being on the Moor that separates the two main residences, a freedom Cathy and Heathcliff experience as children, but Cathy looses leaving her imprisoned as an adult. This imprisonment is most poignant when Cathy, in volume I, is ill and longs to be ‘a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free’. She asserts her ‘soul will be on that hill top’, referencing her desire to be on the moors after death, as depicted in her dreams when the angles ‘flung [her] out’ of heaven and she ‘woke sobbing for joy’ on the moors. The idea of death bringing freedom is encompassed n Cathy’s desire to be on the moors, however the Gothic theme of ghosts suggests the idea of being imprisoned after death. The appearance of Cathy’s ghost in chapter 3 suggests she is still imprisoned after death, only able to be free after Heathcliff has joined her as she ‘dares’ him to. Ghosts being the return of the repressed, for instance repressed guilt, is also a key Gothic theme in Macbeth with the appearance of Banquo’s ghost. The fact the audience can see it as well as Macbeth suggests Banquo’s ghosts really has manifested itself, rather than just being ‘a fatal vision, proceeding from the heat oppressed brain’ like the dagger, and is returning to plague Macbeth and highlight his guilt. This focus on the afterlife can be seen, as Kelly Hurley identifies, as the Gothic’s purpose being ‘to negotiate anxieties for its readership by working through them in displaced (sometimes supernaturalised) form’, in this case the ghosts being the ‘supernaturalised form’ of the anxiety over death. The afterlife can be seen as one of the key anxieties the Gothic addresses, often even death not being an escape for the characters.

By contrast The Bloody Chamber doesn’t have the ghosts of the murdered wives returning, however the fact their blood and bodies are still in the ‘bloody chamber’ gives the impression of a restless afterlife, and the return of the repressed. This particularly emphasised with the violent descriptions of their bodies, such as ‘he had embalmed her’ and ‘the forming pool of her blood’. The Bloody Chamber also explores the protagonist being imprisoned, with little hope of escape, first in her marriage, and then literally in the castle, castles being a key theme in the Gothic. However, the short story form means her imprisonment is not emphasised due to the brief descriptions of it, and the actions of her mother suggest instead hope for her escape. ‘That red mark on my forehead’ however suggests the girl is permanently imprisoned by her experience in the castle, just as Macbeth is permanently imprisoned by his murderous actions.

The theme of imprisonment in Macbeth generally takes the form of guilt-and the resulting self-inflicted mental imprisonment-subsequent to a ‘deed of dreadful note’. This is epitomized by the character of Macbeth throughout the play, for instance in Act III; “full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife.” The sibilance of ‘scorpions is’ as well as the alliteration of the ‘m’ sound form an almost distracting tone to this phrase, serving to embody and further emphasize this emotion. The idea of being imprisoned by guilt in Macbeth also ties in heavily with the gothic theme of mental terror; “I am in blood Stepp'd in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o'er.” It could be argued that this would suggest Macbeth’s freedom from guilt due to his desensitisation to violence, the word ‘tedious’ would serve to enforce this due to its nonchalance. However, the placement of this scene somewhat discredits this interpretation, as the subsequent “horrible sight” of Banquo’s ghost would suggest that Macbeth has perhaps been consumed by his guilt and therefore excepts it -> supported by his cathartic, nihilistic final monologue.

In The Snow Child, it could be argued that the theme imprisonment manifests itself as the sexual frustration of the Countess. The immediacy of the Countess’ ‘hatred’ for the “child of his (the Count’s) desire” established directly subsequent to her apparition establishes the Countess as the victim. This interpretation is enforced by the line “the Countess had only one thought: how shall I be rid of her”, as this would suggest that it might be socially unacceptable for the Countess to vocalise her anger, possibly-from a feminist perspective- as a result of the diminished social standing of women in the time in which this story was set.

(unfinished, sorry sir, i'll send the rest from home)

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