Tone and Diction in The Scarlet Letter

Chapter 2 of the Scarlet Letter written by Nathaniel Hawthorne uses deep imagery and strong diction to set the tone for this chapter and subsequent chapters in the work. The setting of a prison yard in Puritan Boston is established quickly in the beginning of the chapter and the almost content eagerness the crowd in the prison yard had awaiting the execution “The grass-plot before the jail, in Prison Lane, on a certain summer morning, not less than two centuries ago was occupied by a pretty large number of inhabitants of Boston; all with their eyes intently fastened on the iron-clamped oaken door.” (Hawthorne 54). Strong, solid images of a prison yard are created from the simple phrase “iron-clamped oaken door.” (54) Hester Prynne, the woman standing accused is made a public spectacle and as Prynne “stood fully revealed before the crowd” ( 57) such diction is a strong indication for the humiliation and vulnerability facing all people who stood before a group of their peers before a public execution.

The diction used to describe the scarlet letter itself is artful and powerful, indicating the power the letter had in affecting how the public viewed Hester Prynne “It was so artistically done, with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy that it had all the effect of a last fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore…” (57). The scarlet letter itself was a fabled mark of Cain to Hester Prynne marking her sin and crime of adultery and the letter branding her unto death as an adulterer.

The last paragraph of chapter 2, Hester Prynne realizes the gravity of her situation after reminiscing on her childhood and past up until her arrival in Boston. “Could it be true? She clutched the child so fiercely to her breast, that it sent forth a cry; she turned her eyes downward at the scarlet letter, and even touched it with her finger, to assure herself that the infant and the same were real. Yes!-these were her realities-all else had, vanished.” (62) The quickness of the meter and the direct pauses create a sense of dread and urgency.

In conclusion the tone, diction and imagery in the second chapter of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter create a tone and setting of dread, misfortune and mounting regret through the use of solid imagery and diction help set the mood for this chapter and the remainder of the novel. Such methods have been used by authors for centuries to set stronger and more concrete settings and tones. The Scarlet Letter is filled with robust images and foreboding language to help set the overall mood of suspicion, regret and intolerance in Puritan Boston.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, and Ross C. Murfin. The Scarlet Letter: Complete, Authoritative Text with Biographical, Historical, and Cultural Contexts, Critical History, and Essays from Contemporary Critical Perspectives. Boston, Mass. [u.a.: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006. Print.


The Mystery of Sin and Forgiveness: Critical Examination

When I scoured the expansive list of topics for one that seemed the most interesting I came across, in bolded letters “Sin”. I chose that and raided the library for books on the same subject matter and came across The Mystery of Sin and Forgiveness edited by Michael J. Taylor, a large compilation book with pieces written by priests and other theologians. The book seemed simple enough, a thorough examination of sin and how to properly atone when we sin.

I chose sin as a topic for discussion and further inquiry because no one wants to think about that; sin is that dirty word that we use about others and not about ourselves. Sin is a word thrown around a lot but isn’t understood fully by most.

In a section of the book contributed by Kevin F. O’Shea, sin means “saying no to God” (90) and he goes on to say that “Sin is in the heart of man and disrupts the personal communion he must live with God in every action.” (91).This is a definition that most of us grew up with; sin was in a way a defiant act. A more theological definition comes on page 92 saying “Sin is a refusal of love in and through a detailed human action.” And that sin is a “violation of this covenant” The covenant being that which was made between God and the Israelites during the Old Testament times.

In mentioning sin we must consider that there are different types of sin, original sin and the seven deadly sins. Original sin is the sin that Adam and Eve first committed in the Garden of Eden. To us now original sin can be most aptly considered to be distant curse, placed on mankind thousands of years ago and we have no choice but to accept this reality. The best definition of original sin can be said on page 255 “They are born with original sin that is to say in a state contrary to God’s intention.” God loves us and as stated in the definition above is that “sin is a refusal of love”. I find this to be fairly accurate and that chapter to be true. Original sin has been a burden placed on us and that we have to live with. Modern philosophers have debated on whether original sin exists or if it is simply a modified mass version of determinism and indifferentism.

In the book there was also mention of determinism which states “that all of our actions, despite our illusions of freedom, are in fact dictated by the drives, urges and complexes that lie buried in the dark pit of the Unconscious of each of us.” (7) this doctrine much like predestination removes completely freewill and forces us into a “collective guilt” (7) this collective guilt is fueled by a sense of helpless due to the overbearing influence of original sin and a strong deterministic secular cultures. I have a problem with determinism, I was raised Catholic, so in being raised that way I was taught that God gives us freewill. Granted, I have no scientific proof to either effect, that life is determined or that I have choice in my life and my choices, be that to sin or not to sin. Determinism at its very worst removes personal responsibility and therefore removes the need for sin. If one has no say, then there is no sin because sin is a conscious choice to reject God’s covenant.

The book also mentions indifferentism (6) in which the attitudes towards anything is merely indifferent. The book also then says that under indifferentism “the act of sexual intercourse is indifferent as drinking a cup of coffee.” (6) .Under indifferentism it does not matter if we sin or not, we face a similar fate and either point of doing good or evil is irrelevant. The issue I have with indifferentism is that is removes love and passion from life and any other emotion that one can name. Indifferentism removes guilt from sin and from life itself and asks to have the same emotion for any event. Most would agree that the birth of a baby is considerably more significant than a cup of coffee. Indifferentism is a common way to cope with a feeling of insignificance and sadness in the world.

Sin also has varying levels of severity such as “venial” sins and “light” sins (105), these include but are not limited to little white lies and sin that only affects ourselves in a very small way. There are also “serious” and “mortal” sins (107) Mortal sins involve death most commonly. This class system is fairly typical of what most of us in the Catholic faith grew up with. The book emphasizes that each level of sin is still sin, saying that just because one is less severe does not make it acceptable though it can be agreed that murder is a more significant sin than a tiny white lie. There are ways to commonly skew the lines and rationalize those lesser sins. We brush off those occasional white lies and vow to say a few extra Hail Mary’s that night. Shrugging off the small sins is just as dangerous, such a disregard for any violation of the Covenant is precarious that can lead one on a slippery slope of rationalization and denial.

Another notion in the book that struck me was the opening line “The modern word has lost its sense of sin.” (3). I disagree with this idea completely. Especially as a modern Catholic, I feel as though we live in a world riddled with guilt and preconceived notions of sin and what sin is. We go to confession during every major liturgical season, we pray each time for the forgiveness of our sins. The secular culture is just as guilt-ridden but not in the same sense as Christians. The secular culture has some of the perspectives listed above, indifferentism and determinism. The secular culture uses those above perspectives to cope with the overbearing nature of sin without the Christian concepts of faith, grace or repentance. Without the concepts of faith and repentance one can either turn to despair or nihilism to cope with the overwhelming sense of remorse brought on by the unyielding burden of sin.

The second half of the book dealt with forgiveness. The only antidote for sin is forgiveness. In the book’s title forgiveness is under the title of mystery. I pondered on this choice in words for a while. For most, I believe that people generally do not think of much of forgiveness until they have to forgive. I believe that forgiveness is one of those words, like sin, is thrown around without much meaning. We casually toss around “I forgive you.” But we often do not understand the true meaning of forgiveness.

As Catholics we see formal forgiveness as Penance and this quote in the best described it best “When one of the faithful confesses, he comes to the Church to win by its mediation full reconciliation with God.” (158) this is a comforting notion to Catholics. I know I go to Confession when I can and I admit to a bit of a disconnection when I do miss the occasional service.

The book also noted that “The Church mediates grace through the priest, through the power he has received from Christ, with the bishop, and in dependence with him.” (207) this of course, chimes directly in with the Catholic notion of apostolic succession which gives power to the pope directly from Christ through the apostles and through the teachings of the Church. The other section in which the Church is mentioned the novel mentions that the Church body itself does not have the power to forgive but they do through God. I find this to be accurate. The Church body by itself cannot give Penance aside from on a personal level but on a sacramental level, the priest can authenticate the Penance.

Considering the mystery of forgiveness though is odd. I thought about it for a while and did my best to understand why they would consider forgiveness to be a mystery. As a Catholic, forgiveness is synonymous with Penance, so it seemed easy. I go into the confessional, I confess and the priest says a prayer and tells me what to do for my personal Penance. The book even had an explanation that more was more in-depth than that and makes my views of confession seem rather shallow “In confession the sinner addresses himself to the Church. He confesses to the priest because he sincerely believes he encounters Christ through the Church…By his repentance he expresses his desire to take his place in the community again, to live more faithfully as a Christian, and to participate more deeply in the life and mission of the Church.” (161) the book also stated that “Confession is the frank and candid disclosure of what is most intimately our own: our aspirations, our thoughts, our secret desires, our hidden actins insofar as they fall short of the ideal before us. Confession is the ultimate in human communication and self-disclosure.” (188-89) I am sure that this is one of the most accurate assessments of Confession provided by the entire book. The book also states that Confession is an act of self-improvement and I could not agree more.

But to say it was a mystery was a bit confusing. It had always seemed so simple. But then I considered personal forgiveness. How easy would it be of me to forgive someone who caused my family or my person physical or emotional pain? Therein lays the mystery. What allows us to forgive? Some evolutions believe that human forgiveness is almost like a fluke. No other mammals seem to have a concept of forgiveness as open as humans do. Theologians believe that forgiveness is passed down through the Church and through Jesus Christ. “The divine plan can be carried out only through Christ, the head of the new humanity.” (157) The answer to the mystery lies within this quote “By his Incarnation and the mysteries of his life, the Son of God becomes Lord in the power and fullness of the Holy Spirit. The essential relation between Christ and the sacramental actions of the Church should be realized in its full import.” (159).

In closing, the book The Mystery of Sin and Forgiveness fully explained and the definition of sin and forgiveness while also providing a deeper understanding behind the Theology, psychology and sociology of sin and forgiveness from both the Catholic perspectives and the secular perspectives. After reading this novel I found a deeper perception of the topic at hand. Each part of the book I comprehended and found to be useful in coming to understand this complex topic and assisted in answering questions I did not even know I wanted to inquire further into the subject and did not want to explore further until now.

Works Cited

Taylor, Michael J. The Mystery of Sin and Forgiveness. Staten Island, N.Y.: Alba House, 1971. Print.

Spirited Away and Westernization: Is It All Disney?

The film Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki is the coming of age story about a girl named Chihiro and her magical journey through a land of spirits, demons and monsters.  This is thought to be a quintessential Japanese story of determination and strength through what is to most a very exotic and foreign land but upon closer inspection one can see that this film has deeper Western influence within it than at first glance despite this being Miyazaki-senpai’s fabled “return to Japan”.

Westernization as defined by the dictionary is “the influence of Western culture on non-Western cultures”. This can also be called the imposing of Western ideals on non-Western cultures.  Westernization in Japan began in the Meiji Era in the late 17th to 18th century when American traders forced the Japanese to open their ports and flourished again during and shortly after World War II and has since gained speed with globalization. Westernization can be seen not just in the culture and language but in various films and publications from Japan. Everywhere from McDonald’s to hearing more and more people in Japan speaking English, Western influence has been the battle we seem to be losing as we struggle to preserve cultures outside of our own.

I’ve watched this film countless times and never gave it any thought, I always assumed it was just to appease American audiences and must have had something to do with the Disney influence but further investigation revealed that it is not only intentional but original to the film.  It all started with a moment of watching the film with friends and keying in on one key line. “Don’t worry, Daddy’s got credit cards.” Chihiro’s father went on in the key scene at the café for the spirits with Chihiro’s parents who up until then I never considered to be overly Westernized but that sort of flaunting of wealth and money and then the overly pluralized capitalist remark from her father just sealed the deal, this film has more Western influence in it than I think anyone knew.

The first place this is apparent is in Chihiro herself. She spends most of her time in the film yelling, whining or complaining.  These are very non-typical traits of a Japanese character of firstly her age being that of ten years old and of her gender, being female. The typical Japanese girl is even in this modern era meant to be quiet and respectful, polite, considerate and respect her parents. Even with the slight influence the West has provided in modern Japan, Japanese children even up until young adulthood maintain a level of respect that is uniquely Eastern.  Chihiro was unlike any character I had seen in a Japanese film before.  This is meant to show the duality of characterization and she was meant to provide a foil to the traditional background of the film but she seemed to be a more basic example of Western influence than a mere foil to the tradition of the film.
The second place is in the main setting itself, the Bath House of the Spirits. The Bath House is run by the witch Yubaba, who is a greedy, sinister and selfish character who runs her bathhouse strictly and with an iron fist. Firstly the bathhouse in Japanese culture is a mostly male dominated realm not to be owned by a female. And a female with such strong Western ideals. Though this is one of the more traditional parts of the story, most often in Japanese myths women that as wicked and greedy are shown as grotesque as Yubaba and are often the villain of the story as with Yubaba.  She is also dressed surprisingly in a Victorian outfit that seems to be a nod to 19th century England; her clothes are tight-fitting and show off her large broad body which shows strength and ferocity, traits that are uncommon for even villains of Japanese myth. Such capitalistic greed and concern for money and self-preservation as Yubaba shows are surprisingly common for Japanese myth but her clothing, style of speech are distinctly Western. But there is one key that does tie her back to tradition, she takes Chihiro’s name, this is a very Eastern concern, the tie between the soul and the name. But in a moment of Western concern Yubaba takes Chihiro’s first name and not her family name which even for girls is of more concern than their first. Between her pipe smoking and over-concern with her gold stash she reminded me more of a female brothel owner in the South than a Japanese villain.

Within the bathhouse’s work structure we also see another shout back to Victorian England and to factory life of the Industrial Revolution. The workers at the bathhouse seem to be of a lower class and cannot afford to actually enjoy the bathhouse’s luxury but are resistant to change when the human girl Chihiro is offered a job. Each department refuses to take her and such specialization within the workplace seems more at home in a factory in London than a bathhouse in Japan. Also the poor treatment in which they are treated, and conditions they work are of poor standard, crowded and very busy. Not serene at all or zen-like similar to how we believe and have record of most bathhouses being run.
The foremen are cruel and make harsh comments to the female workers, the female workers often girls and young women have to work very hard. In traditional bathhouses women were only allowed to work as geisha and could not even do any of the actual work of the bathhouse and that was relegated to the workers of the bathhouse who were usually male and they worked in what were considered to be normally very equal and fair conditions. These factory conditions did not appear in Japan until well after the Meiji era and the beginning of World War II and is by no means traditional.

The third distinction made was with the boiler man and the overall industrial feel of the film. Despite the film’s backdrop being a very traditional Japanese bathhouse that could have been plucked out of a Meiji Era picture book, the boiler room is a testament to steam era technology that seemed to bypass Japan and seemed to come more from Victorian England than late Tokugawa Japan. Coal power is distinctly Western and the more traditional form used to power bathhouses came from manpower or natural geothermic reactions.  The skyline also in the film is very modern and Western, though it does seem to seamlessly meld with East and West, skylines and dragons, myth and reality, old and new.

Another place we see a near overly Western influence comes with some of the items dotting the landscape in the film. A New Orleans-style paddle-boat brings weary spirit guests to the bathhouse a one-way San Francisco-style trolley car rolls along the stops of the spirit world. These things are almost never seen in Japan outside of theme restaurants and in pictures from the United States. What are they doing playing background image to a traditional bathhouse?

The interpersonal relationships of the film are another mark of Westernization. It is not just Chihiro’s pessimistic and disrespectful attitude but also her forwardness with other authority figures. Her parents are near oblivious to their daughter’s needs and shoo her needs away and her growing concerns about entering the terrifying abandoned amusement park. Her parents are not as attentive as we are accustomed to seeing Japanese parents especially ones that have a young daughter.  We are quick to shove that to the side and assume it is a plot device; if they had listened to her more intently the plot would have never moved forward. Yubaba’s relationship with her foremen and workers is more like that of a factory owner than the traditional respect of an Eastern bathhouse.

Another key fact that gets the plot moving is Chihiro’s family moving, this is actually fairly uncommon even in modern Japan where jobs are very stable and families have not moved from prefecture to prefecture in years even if they do work in the more industrial regions of the country like the Aichi prefecture where there is a great deal of auto manufacturing. The behavior of the characters cannot be simply chalked up to devices of the plot of slaves to moving the story along, there is a deeper Western influence within that perhaps served the purpose of making them more relatable to a growing American audience.

Now, the film has plenty of traditional elements to it. The idea of a bathhouse for the spirits and Yubaba’s odd concern with respect and maintaining her guests’ happiness. The closeness to the spirits is one that is only seen in the US in regions like New Orleans where voodoo is practiced and there is a closeness and concern for the dead there; that is the only other place outside of Eastern myth that I have found the living and the dead communing so casually together. The theme and concern with mythology is one that is uniquely Eastern. Also the great interjection of mythological characters and creatures of folklore that have survived for thousands of years in Japan like the dragon and water spirits, river spirits, demons and monsters that seem to encompass the landscape of the film.

Spirited Away was as Miyazaki-senpai said his “return to Japan”, the film’s exotic setting, mythical creatures and whimsical spirit was very unique and unlike the average film to the average American movie-goer. What did tie the film back to Japan was something Miyazaki does consistently throughout many of his films and it is doing his best to when he can preserve Japanese culture and the dying way of life that is the traditional Japanese way, in a way the Bushido code provided the guidance for the samurai up until the early Meiji with its brief resurgence during World War II, Miyazaki strives to bring that time back, to a simpler time where man lived and respected nature, and therefore respected others. Where myth and legend lived not just on paper but in the hearts of the people. Where honor was key and the most important thing to a person and not money or socioeconomic status.

These more traditional aspects come from another key scene and that is the stink spirit. We come to find that it is not a stink spirit at all but an old river spirit but due to neglect and pollution he has become gross and dirty. It takes outside help from Chihiro and the other workers at the bathhouse to clean him up and discover his true nature, a clean and healthy river he is grateful and leaves powerful medicine behind. This story is one that we see more commonly in the West but we are beginning to see in Japan as the Japanese become suddenly very concerned with preserving their rich natural habitats and local rivers and streams that were the lifeblood of the ancient Japanese and became neglected shortly after industrialization and pollution came to Japan.

The other key place is within Haku. He is one of the only characters to maintain traditional dress and for the most part formalities and respect for others including authority figures. Despite him being a mythical creature his story is also fairly similar to other Japanese stories. River spirits often communicate with humans and form close bonds with mortals, that being the reason why so many rivers in Japan have human names, they were thought to have real human embodiment that could feel and move just like humans could. Haku’s relationship with Chihiro then isn’t just to be chalked to do plot device, this is something that was seen as rather conventional if this story was being told hundreds of years ago in Japan.

Music and dance are other key places where we see the traditional creep back in, the soundtrack to the film is filled with traditional instruments like the samisen and koto, instruments used most commonly by geisha or Shinto priestesses. Also the various fan dances that happen throughout the film, though this even could be considered more a gesture in some instances. Fans are a highly traditional part of Eastern culture including Japanese, Chinese and Korean. Depending on the occasion they can symbolize elegance and grace or signal death and doom depending on the usage and occasion.

Amid criticism that Disney’s influence had been negative on his films, Miyazaki assured his fans that he worked very closely with translators and made sure they did their best to maintain the integrity of his works. This poses the question further. If it wasn’t Disney’s fault, why are these films so filled with Western ideals and images? It would be easy to just blame Studio Ghibli’s partnership with Disney on the Westernization and say this is just what Disney does to these things but since Miyazaki signs off on each film personally that means he either add these things intentionally or he still isn’t quite catching them before the film’s premiere.

Perhaps it is to widen his audience, for many years Miyazaki’s films had only been known to those who could fluently speak Japanese and had subject matter that was odd to the average American including pigs in WWII Italian planes and a secret society of talking cats. These films geared at young adults were highly sociopolitical with references that not many understood. It was not until some of his middle works like KiKi’s Delivery Service and Nausicaa of the Wind Valley that his works became more easily digestible to American audiences and as American audiences asked for more the more Western the films became and the easier it was to relate to the characters and story lines but at what costs? The end result for a while became a film that began in Japan and that at times was in Japanese but was basically the same as any other American cartoon.

In the end Spirited Away may have been Miyazaki-senpai’s fabled return to Japan and to the untrained eye, it’s easy to get swept up in the exotic location, mysterious plot, mythological creatures and intriguing yet relatable characters. But upon closer inspection one sees that this film is far more influence by the polarizing world around Miyazaki-senpai. One that does not know when to be old or new, when myth and legend are appropriate or when they need to be pushed to the side where contrast isn’t just a comment on the inside of a travel brochure it is a legitimate concern. When fans are concerned about the Japan in the texts books fading away forever as the new building encase old pagodas, where will the films be when the battle is decided as East becomes a growing part of the West.

Works Cited

Napier, Susan. “Matter Out of Place: Carnival, Containment, and Cultural Recovery in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.” Journal of Japanese Studies 32.2 (2006): 287-310. EBSCOhost. Web. 21 Nov. 2011. <…>.

“Westernization of Japan – International Business – a Wikia Wiki.” International Business Wiki. Web. 22 Nov. 2011. <…>.

A Fetish for Death

Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me.” Sigmund Freud

I dwell in possibility…” Emily Dickinson

Psychoanalytical criticism began with the work of Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Freud was born in 1856 and began practicing and seeing patients in 1885; from his experience with patients, mostly female he wrote the work that revolutionized the way we see the human psyche and subconscious. In 1900, Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams a compilation of deep analysis of the dreams of his psychiatric patients and an examination of the unruly subconscious of these women.

Emily Dickinson’s work titled for the sake of this analysis “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died” is a complex work that under the broad lens of psychoanalytic criticism can be easily described as the work of an author desperately seeking to control her own subconscious and expel aspects of her neurotic psyche. This will be achieved in three key steps, firstly in analyzing Emily Dickinson herself, and then to analyze the work as a whole, lastly would be to understand both concerns of the fetish and its relation to the tripartite psyche of the author.
One of the major aspects of psychoanalytical criticism is the divided psyche, which is separated into three distinct areas. The first aspect of this is the id, the aspect that embodies “erotic primal urges” (Abcarian 1138) and immaturity, including aggression and desire. The second is the superego, this is considered to be the conscience of the individual, and this provides guilt and “struggles to control the id” (Abcarian 1138). The last of this is the ego, this aspect is the self; “ego” being the Latin word for “I”, the ego strives to balance the struggle of the id and superego and represents reason and logic. The ego strives to balance desire and responsibility. Classic psychoanalytic criticism “reads works as though they were the recorded dreams of patients; interpreted the life histories of authors as keys to the works; or analyzed characters as though like real people they have a set of repressed childhood memories” ( Bain 119) .

Freud, through the lens of psychoanalytical criticism also brought about a new concern with the fetish. A fetish can be an innocent attachment to a certain item, person, or place. Freud turned the fetish into an aspect of sexual and social deviance. Under this scope, the fetish is not just an attachment, it is a neurosis. Neurosis acts almost glitch in the psyche. It can be as simple as a slight obsession with someone relatively innocent or something as significance of a obsessive compulsion but is always a defective function of the subconscious in the Freudian model.

According to Freud, all writers are neurotic; these hidden neuroses riddle the works of poets and novelist. In the Freudian world, each step, each word, every aspect of the human experience is full of hidden whims of the subconscious slipping out from the psyche to the natural world. Even Freud himself is attributed to saying “Sometimes a cigar, is just a cigar.”

Emily Dickinson was born one of three children in 1830 to a wealthy family in Amherst, Massachusetts. She spent most of her life in her parent’s home, unmarried. She led a reclusive life, wearing on only white and refusing to see visitors. She spent less than a year studying at the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary which from there she promptly returned home. She communicated to the outside world mostly through letters and wrote extensively in the years she spent at home.

She had one trip to Washington D.C. while her father was serving a term in Congress; there she met a married man, Reverend Charles Wadsworth. Dickinson considered Wadsworth to be her “dearest earthly friend” (Abcarian 1149) in 1862, Wadsworth moved to San Francisco, California and Dickinson experienced another burst of creative potential. It was also during this time that Dickinson began “literary correspondence” (Abcarian 1149) with critic T.W. Higginson. Many of her greatest known works were written during the time until her death.

Emily Dickinson died of typhoid fever in 1886 at the time of her death, Dickinson asked that all of her countless bound journals filled with poetry to be burned. Her work was published posthumously by her sister Lavinia found the large amount of work done by her sister. Lavinia then did as requested by her sister and burned most of the work but then did her best during the remainder of her life to ensure that the poems were published.

Dickinson’s writing can be difficult to manage; none of her works are officially titled. Several critics and authors have come up with elaborate numbering systems and methods taking the first line or key words of her poems to act as titles for the dozens of pieces of individual written pieces we have in our literary collections today. This can easily be considered as neurosis within many deeper neuroses.

The inability to claim her work through the intimate relationship of titling may be hidden insecurity or fear of her work. Dickinson’s mental status can be a bit difficult; as said in the quote from her above, dwelling in a land of possibility is either a strong indication of her creativity or a deep psychological issue that could either be schizophrenia, depressive or dissociative disorder. Both of these disorders in modern psychology are considered to be repressive aspects and in Freudian terms would be strong neuroses of the id and superego. These can result in prolific creativity in the arts to help cope with deeper issues around the subject.

Emily Dickinson lived a reclusive life. She barely left her parents’ home in her lifetime and during those years she spent a great deal of time writing hundreds of poems ranging in subject matter from birds to death. Dickinson’s relationship with her parents could be described as mostly normal considering her lifestyle as a hermit, locked away in her room. Her refusal to leave her room could be a strong anxiety such as agoraphobia or simply social rejection and an intentional cloistering of herself to focus on her writing work.

Her selective choices in wearing white, a color that symbolizes purity could be a hidden neurosis from her childhood and more likely an aspect of her id doing its best to make its presence know in the levels of her hidden psyche. There is a possibility of repressed memories from her childhood that seem to leak out into her poetry.

Dickinson’s work also lacks titling; that can be an aspect of a neurosis with deeper neuroses. The danger of this step is not having the live subject. Emily Dickinson died years before Freud’s work had be published and the likelihood of her being psychoanalyzed properly even if their time periods had coincided would be very unlikely. Dickinson would have never left the safety of her home, nor is it confirmed that she had a deep psychological problem; since she would not have seen a problem with herself she would not be likely to receive treatment.

Analysis of the work including a consideration of the tripartite psyche involves first the specifically odd meter of the work. The work is heavily dashed, creating rigid pauses during both visual analysis and aural analysis. Certain words as capitalized that normally would not be in any other work, such as “Fly” and “Stillness”. The tone of the poem is melancholic; death is not usually a subject in which joy is associated with.

The Fly in this work is not our narrator but acts almost like the oppressive superego, this lingering figure that does not affect the scene as a whole but provides a source of contemplation. The fly does not stop at the time of the narrator’s passing, an event normally regarded with great respect. In this case the narrator acts almost as both the ego, representing the self as Emily Dickinson and the id, representing the desire to want this moment of her life to be noticed more.

Dickinson’s had an odd fascination with death and morbidity throughout most of her life and many of her works revolve around the subject of death or dying. The tone of these works range from a quiet acceptance to a reverent happiness. Dickinson could have been said to have a fetish for death and morbidity. Fetish is not exactly a negative term; it is simply an affinity for an item. Most humans fear death as a subject and that reflects in our attitudes and writings when we encounter someone who is not afraid of the subject we mark this as social deviance. The fetish only became an aspect of social deviance through Freudian critique. Dickinson’s fetish for morbidity can be explained as either a strong acceptance of her own mortality or an even stronger fear of the subject that is expressed through poetry as a coping mechanism.

Sigmund Freud believed that all writers are neurotic, that deep within each line and word was a hidden defect of the subconscious, an imbalance or imperfection. Aristotle coined the term “catharsis” or healing, this is a more acceptable of an explanation than the neurosis of the Freudian model. A writer does write at times due to a defect or an issue that cannot be discussed in public. Emily Dickinson’s work “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died” can be described as a marked example of writing to help solve either a slight mental defect or to help assist healing of a profound fear.

Works Cited

Abcarian, Richard, and Maravin Klotz. Literature, the Human Experience: Reading and Writing. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2006. Print.

Bain, Carl E., Jerome Beaty, and J. Paul Hunter. The Norton Introduction to Literature. New York: Norton, 1986. Print.

Dickinson, Emily. “I heard a Fly buzz- when I died” Literature, the Human Experience: Reading and Writing. Ed. Richard Abcarian and Maravin Klotz. Boston: Bedford/St Martin’s, 2006. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. Ed.Rivkin, Julie. The Interpretation of Dreams Malden, Mass. u.a.: Blackwell, 2008. Print.


Sexy, Flirty, Evil?

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.

Cheris Kramarae, and Paula Treichler

[Feminism is] a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.

Pat Robertson

Nefertiti, Cleopatra, Agrippina, Lilith, the list goes on and on. This list is the list of women in history that have been vilified for their use of sexuality and in some cases even demonized. This negative social construct towards women in power and embrace their sexuality has been a trend that has been documented since issues between men and women first began in the history of literature. The poem “Christabel” written by Samuel Coleridge exemplifies this concept with the distinct contrast of the virginal Christabel and the seductress Geraldine. What about power and sexuality portrayed by a woman makes it so inherently evil?

Feminism at its core “advocates equal rights for all women (indeed, all peoples) in all areas of life: socially, politically, professionally, personally, economically, aesthetically, and psychologically.” (Bressler 144). Feminism is also concerned with removing patriarchal or male influence from various works. Since a man can never understand a woman or a woman’s struggle, how can be properly right about women or women’s issues? It is this concern with l’ecriture feminine, or “creation of a female language” (Bressler 160) that states that this is where the negative female archetypes stem from. It is the patriarchy that is responsible for the vilification of females and female sexuality.

Christabel” is a poem written by Samuel Coleridge about a young girl named Christabel who comes across a woman in the woods and invites the woman in thinking that the woman is merely injured and lost. This woman is Geraldine. Geraldine is at first seen as weak and helpless but proves to be a dynamic force of sexuality and evil. Geraldine is most likely a lamia or succubus. A succubus is a “lascivious she-demon… She copulated with men in their dreams, and sucked out the essence of their souls(semen). Nocturnal emissions were always attributed to the attentions of she-demons who ‘cause men to dream of erotic encounters with women, so the succubae can receive their emissions and make therefrom a new spirit’” (Walters 960 ). While Christabel throughout the poem is called “sweet”, “lovely lady” and even in one line the writer evokes to “shield sweet Christabel!” (Coleridge 88). Geraldine’s intentions are seen quite early on her evil nature is described line after line “And Christabel saw the lady’ eye, and nothing else saw she thereby…” (Coleridge 86) and that when Geraldine’s entered the house, the dog barked, the fence shook and candles went out, all signs of evil entering a home. Evil also must be invited; this rule applies not just to vampires but to lamia and succubae as well.

This was the first clue to most readers of the work that Geraldine was not who she seemed. And whilst in the midst her of pure seduction and subsequent destruction over the house Geraldine even finds time to seduce Christabel “’In the touch of this bosom there worketh a spell, which is lord of thy utterance, Christabel! Thou knowest to-night, and wilt know to-morrow, this mark of my shame, this seal of my sorrow…” (Coleridge 89). The other key clue was when the bard told the king of his dream involving the serpent and the dove, two classic symbols of the dichotomy between good and evil “’And in my dream methought I went to search out what might there be found; and what the sweet bird’s trouble meant…when lo! I saw a bright green snake coiled around its wings and neck. Green as herbs on which it crouched…” (Coleridge 96). Green is a colour naturally used to depict vile and wicked things. Witches often have green skin, green snakes are often thought to be the most poisonous. While doves, pure and white are seen as innocent and peaceful. Contrastingly doves are seen as naïve and snakes as knowledgeable in forbidden ways. Similarly snakes are associated with male sexual energy and male sexuality. Often times females in a position of power are depicted as very masculine or having masculine traits. Doves are seen as mostly innocent no sexual connotation to them. That is another trait of woman is that innocent that is meant to remain intact for the rest of their lives.

Now, why does Geraldine, a strong and powerful force on her own need to be evil? Why does her use of sexuality to gain power seen as so negative? The negative female archetypes have existed since writing began: the femme fatale, the seductress, the witch, the cause of man’s downfall. But it was not always this way. In Ancient Roman and Greek mythology, priestesses are seen as strong and independent forces, goddesses are often just as strong or even in some cases stronger than their male counterparts. This strong feminine character is embraced and even worshiped in some cults and cultures. So this is not an entirely Western concept, it would appear to be more of a social construct. Certain groups and societies demonize female power and sexuality.

Geraldine’s evil nature cannot simply be a plot device; it cannot simply be that she was meant to foil the virginal Christabel. It is then possible that her evil was driven as a product of male writers who don’t know anything more than just that pluralistic view of the female. Society has shown us that apparently the only sides to women are the pure-hearted virgin or the crazed evil sex fiend. History has given us examples of both, the pure women that are strong and able to stand on their own like Eleanor Roosevelt or Queen Victoria. There are others that embraced their sexuality and used it to full advantage and are often demonized for it, such as Lilith and Agrippina. This is why it is possible that the polarization of the feminine is there. History has given us examples on to what can be seen as either extreme.

This story reminded me in more way than one the story of Adam’s first wife Lilith. The Kabala teaches of a first wife of Adam and her legend seems to shed light to the root of the demonization of female power and sexuality Adam’s first wife was a relic of an early rabbinical attempt to assimilate the Sumero-Babylonian Goddes Belil-ili, or Belili, to Jewish mythology. To the Canaanites, Lilith was Baalat, the ‘Divine Lady.’ Hebraic tradition said Adam married Lilith because he grew tired of coupling with beasts, a common custom of Middle-Eastern herdsmen…Adam tried to force Lilith to lie beneath him in the ‘missionary position’ favored by male-dominant societies…Lilith sneered at Adam’s sexual crudity, cursed him, and flew away to make her home by the Red Sea” (Walters 541-2 ) Even in different cultures Lilith is not seen as a negative force but a woman who simple was strong and worthy of worship.

It was not until the writers of the Bible came about that the story was turned into one of degradation and disobedience. She simply wanted to be sexually equal to her husband and then was banished for demanding equality. She then found equality in the one place a woman could and that was at the time in the occult. Lilith found power with demons and went on to spread her legacy elsewhere.

Now the modern woman does not have to be concerned with having to sell her soul to demons because her mate wants to be on top but the idea hasn’t faded from modern vernacular. Women who are strong are vilified; they are put down and degraded. They are more likely to remain single or retreat to the comfort of other women in relationships to seek equality and understanding in a society that preaches equality but shudders away at a display of strength.

This dichotomy hasn’t vanished, and the worst part is that it may never vanish. We are not entirely sure why is happens. Why some cultures praise women and others stand to keep them down. We are not sure why some feminine traits are glorified and others feared. The cult of the sacred feminine isn’t dead, it has merely been repressed. Feminism’s main goal is to achieve equality for women in all respects and regards and the concern for the modern feminist is to now work at re-achieving that sexual liberation and equality we were able to gain in the 1960s.

It would be letting male writers get off to easily to simply chalk this all up to social construct. Perhaps it comes down to men’s own inability to understand the complexities of the feminine thus promoting the concept of the women’s writing. Perhaps only a woman can write about women’s issues and about women in general. Men cannot possible understand how we so delicately on the razor’s edge the average woman can balance sensuality, power and intelligence. What it comes down to is that no one can fully understand a woman’s whiles and it isn’t our place to assume that such delicate balancing acts are meant to be delegated to the realm of evil. Nor does that mean women are supposed to be innocent little virginal beings that feel nothing stronger than immense joy and utter despondency due to the absence of a male partner or male figure. When we find the answer it well may change how writers address women in works or just well leave writing about women to women authors. The key is that the lesson we learn from the dichotomy of the ‘wicked’ Geraldine and the innocent Christabel in Coleridge’s poem “Christabel” shows that male writers throughout history have had difficulty playing the fine line between strong women and evil succubus-like individuals. This balance can only be achieved through time and knowledge on both sides, men learning that feminine charm doesn’t have to be evil and women learning that men’s ignorance towards understanding our complex nature is not as easy to explain as we think.

Works Cited

Appelbaum, Stanley. English Romantic Poetry: an Anthology. Mineola, NY: Dover, 1996. Print.

Bressler, Charles E. . Literary Criticism. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.

Walker, Barbara G. The Women’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. San Francisco, 1986. Print.


To Court the Mesmerist

Nature may be as selfishly studied as trade. Astronomy to the selfish becomes astrology; psychology, mesmerism (with intent to show where our spoons are gone); and anatomy and physiology, become phrenology and palmistry.”- Ralph Waldo Emerson Nature

A fraud, quack, and a healer? Franz Anton Mesmer’s controversial concept of mesmerism had shaken not just the scientific community but the social community of the 18th century. Mesmer’s concept of “animal magnetism” or “mesmerism” became a massive discussion point for those in social circles, political offices and literary groups. The mesmerist became a cheater, a villain and one who could control the weak and manipulate the masses. Literature has long since viewed this figure under a negative light until Edgar Allan Poe in his work The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar did his best to redeem the mesmerist as not a fraudulent thief to devoted healer.

Franz Anton Mesmer, an Austrian physician, had idea and it was simple “all animated bodies including man were affected by a magnetic force which also mutually influenced the celestial bodies and earth” and by ‘controlling’ those magnetic forces, one could then in theory control the entire human body. This control typically led patients into “violent convulsions, crying, laughter, or other physical symptoms which was then suspended by an extreme lack of energy.” Mesmer was also known for his use of what became his famous ‘baquet’ which was a system of rods and tubes filled with various substances such as opium, alcohol, and arsenic. Many claimed to be healed by Mesmer prompting investigation by both German and French medial commissions. Most of these reports found Mesmer’s miraculous claims of healing the sick and curing an entire menagerie of illnesses baseless. But despite overwhelming evidence that mesmerism is little more than the power of suggestion people claimed and do continue to claim to be healed by mesmerism. Were these people actually cured or was it merely psychosomatic? Did they believe they were cured so they were?

Mesmerism is not a new concept just coined by one individual, the power of suggestion or pure charisma has been employed as an effective means of control since the Druids and further by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Means of control using mesmeric qualities including the use of psychotropic drugs, threats of violence and manipulation of the individual, but pure mesmerism should never involve such means. At its very worse, mesmerism is little than the placebo effect in which those who believe they are receiving medicine for whatever ails them, get better despite only being given sugar pills.

Mesmerism can be found in faith healers using the power of charisma to control the masses, even considered to be found in Freud’s psychoanalysis which was said to be little more than Freud monopolizing the emotions of fragile women. Mesmerism also morphed into the early 20th century snake oil salesman who through galvanism and countless tonics and elixirs could cure anything from melancholia to consumption most of said elixirs contained copious amounts of alcohol or opium, ingredients bound to brighten anyone’s day or at least ‘clear’ them of their symptoms.

Modern reincarnations of mesmerism include hypnotists that claim that any of the body’s issues can be fixed by unlocking the inner power of the self, with the facilitation of a hypnotists and often copious amounts of money spent on sessions and tapes and time spent in offices for visits. And the benefits from said therapy can be anywhere from weight loss, the curing of disease and uplifting the mood.

The placebo effect is not harmful, but if that is the case where do most literary figures and social figures for that matter conjure up the idea that mesmerism and Mesmer’s idea of controlling the body to be such a horrid thing? The people who followed Mesmer were willing and praised him for his miraculous cures of various ailments and diseases. The upheaval over Mesmer came most from the Transcendentalists.

The Transcendental movement began as a response to the Jacksonian era spending and industry. The Transcendentalists included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt Whitman valued individualism over all else, sought to find themselves through Nature and the eternal oneness that was the universe. The concept of valuing the self above all else was directly violated by mesmerism. The idea that someone could control the body contradicted their concepts of individuality and it one is able to control just one person, then by interconnectedness we are all controlled.

Many Transcendental writers railed against Mesmer as the craze hit the United States. But while most were naturally critical of any individual that could claim healing with just suggestion, the Transcendentalists vilified Mesmer and his work in the only way the Transcendental writers could, through their writing. But the Transcendentalists also were strictly against phrenology as well, the study of bumps on the head which could be connected to any aspect of the human from assertiveness to virility.

Such pseudosciences were just as damning as the views of the Calvinists and Puritanical which they had strived so hard to distance themselves from and their deterministic views that provided no place for personal expression or uniqueness, did not celebrate the specialness of the self and its relationship with the universe and with the Divine. One’s entire being can be controlled by magnets and their entire lives were determined by various and random bumps upon the head. These concepts were ones fundamentally the Transcendentalists couldn’t support.

Edgar Allan Poe had been noted for his blatant disliking of the Transcendentalists and their works and ideals. His views on life and the afterlife were radically different than the soft and connected views of writers like Emerson and Thoreau. It was his life experiences mostly that lead him down a path to viewing these certain pseudosciences with less hostility. Having lost his mother at an early age to tuberculosis and his child-bride to the same crippling disease, he like most was ready and willing to accept more non-traditional answers to the large questions of life and was not content with the answer simply being ‘the eternal oneness’. He was a believer in phrenology and further, mesmerism.

Poe has often been noted for his use of many forms of science and psuedoscience in his work, his extensive use of anatomy to create more gruesome horror stories. His use of the occult and the supernatural to raise suspense and his mastery of universal human experience to stir up the sympathy and emotion of his readers.

His work, The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar surrounded the concept of the mesmerist doing his very best to use his art to do good for his patient, Mr. Valdemar. The narrator, our mesmerist, had noticed that no one had used mesmerism “in articulo mortis” (Poe 721) in believing that “Death might be arrested by the process.” (Poe 721). He decided to attend to his friend, Mr. Ernest Valdemar, who had been suffering for a long time of a dreadful illness, most likely tuberculosis. Our mesmerist cited having “put him to sleep with little difficulty” (Poe 721) but found that his patient was never “positively, or thoroughly under my control” (Poe 721), claiming that to be a function of his patients’ nerves due to his condition and to the physical deterioration caused by his condition. The mesmerist is called back to Mr. Valdemar’s home finding the man on his deathbed. Mr. Valdemar agreed to let himself be mesmerized, and hence frozen right at the point of death, with the hopes of in theory living in sleep forever. The mesmerist succeeds in mesmerizing Mr. Valdemar, bringing sleep to the man just as he was about to die, and controlling at least part of the dying man’s body though not all of it.

Eventually Mr. Valdemar’s condition grew to be that of a dead man’s, “there was no longer the faintest sign of vitality in M. Valdemar” (Poe 726). The mesmerist left his patient after one week of intense observation , returning in seven month intervals to check in on his patient. Mr. Valdemar as reported by his nurses “remained exactly as I have last described him.” (Poe 727) in the same lifeless and near vegetative state. During his visit, the mesmerist had tried his best to rouse his patient like any attentive physician would, but found the task increasingly difficult. Though the answers the mesmerist receives from Mr. Valdemar as the trance deepens become increasingly disturbing, not sure if he wanted to wake up and face the pain of death or to stay asleep and let his consciousness lay dormant for all eternity.

Mr. Valdemar’s condition continues to become increasingly worse; the only words the patient uttered were “dead!” (Poe 728). What happens next was an unexpected turn for the worse for our patient and the mesmerist treating him “his whole frame at once—within the space of a single minute, or even less, shrunk-crumbled, absolutely rotted away beneath my hands. Upon the bed, before that whole company, there lay a nearly liquid mass of loathsome—of detestable putridity.” (Poe 728).

Poe’s depiction of the mesmerist as little more than a dedicated healer, not the traditionally evil manipulator of the masses. Poe’s mesmerist was only doing his best to save his friend given the one talent he had and it followed along the more traditional notions of the mesmerist being more healer than villain. The moral though of the story is that no matter what the intention, death cannot be stopped even with science or magic. Despite Poe’s relationship with mesmerism being a more positive one than most of the other writers of his time, his views remained the same on the absolutes of life, and no one of any level of skill can stop those.

Contrastingly, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Blithedale Romance shows us a very different aspect of the mesmerist, a more wicked incarnation whose only real goal was not to help the community, but to gain as much money and power as possible using his art as more manipulation than assistance. Hawthorne, despite being an Anti-Transcendentalist himself did share more views with the Transcendentalists than Poe, his work The Blithedale Romance was meant to show that communal living as such popularized by the Transcendental writers of such publications as The Dial and other Transcendental publications could not and would not work in reality. This tale was meant to be cautionary but used a very particular figure to highlight the main concern of any communal living situation: the appearance of someone who can control the weak and thus bring the entire community to its knees with just the control of one or two key figures.

The mesmerist in this work Professor Westervelt is a man of science but is revealed to be a master manipulator. But another key distinction is that he is known in the novel as a magician with the abilities more of hypnotist, using his mesmeric powers to control the mysterious Veiled Lady to do his bidding “.she was a phenomenon in the mesmeric line; one of the earliest that had indicated the birth of a new science, or the revival of an old humbug.” (Hawthorne 35). Westervelt is meant to display the negative forces at play with not just high amounts of intelligence but the drive to use that knowledge for malicious purposes. Though, the members of Blithedale found the act of the Veiled Lady mysterious and exotic.

The one fear of the Transcendental writers, that people would be so caught up in the act that they would be willing to look past the more sinister aspects of control of the body by outside means. Westervelt’s description is also radically different than the warm and caring mesmerist of Poe’s work. Westervelt is cold, calloused and even described as statuesque, having little concern for the life of his patients or his partner the Veiled Woman. He also displays a high level of pride, showing little sympathy when Zenobia commits suicide, even judging her for a foolish death.

Hawthorne’s depiction of the mesmerist is more along our view of modern hypnotists or 20th century snake oil salesman that they are fine as long as it only affects one or two individuals in the home but as soon as it begins to affect the community, problems arise. It was not uncommon for mesmerists to travel from city to city bringing their exhibits to the country, similar to Westervelt’s exhibit which just happened to be in Blithedale. The other concern lies in that these exhibits became distractions from work and more important societal tasks. The other key issue with communal living, is that if someone doesn’t pull their own weight and find themselves distracted by the wonders of the outside world, work doesn’t get done and the entire community could easily collapse.

Mesmer claimed that he could control trees with his baquet and with the powers of mesmerism and with that he captivated an entire generation. Mesmerism was at the time considered to be a real and actual science. But the idea where mesmerism began to become baseless and another one of the major grievances of the Transcendentalists was when Mesmer and his followers claimed clairvoyance with the use of mesmerism.

Clairvoyance along with other forms of divination and magic were strictly against the Transcendentalists. Clairvoyance in its simplest form is being able to read the thoughts of others. Many have claimed to posses such a power through various means tarot cards, crystal reading and by simply being born with the gift of mind-reading. The more sinister cousin of clairvoyance is little more than mind-control. If one can read the thoughts, other thoughts can be supplanted and then the entire mind can be controlled.

But controlling the mind, body and other objects did not just stem from Mesmer and mesmerism, older forms come from the Haitian voodoo priests who claimed that with curses and elixirs they could control the body and mind creating the fabled zombie curse of voodoo. The victims of the zombie’s curse remember very little before being put under the zombie spell but then are forced into work and slavery by the voodoo priest. The science behind the voodoo zombie came about in the 1980s where it was discovered that a very special toxin found in puffer fish was found to be a powerful toxin and a powerful paralytic agent which means that it could easily destroy both the blood and nerves and paralyze the body, consistent with the reports of the zombies looking dead medically and physically according to the doctor’s reports.

The reports of mesmerism working with such great success can be accounted for with more than just the placebo effect. His famous baquet, which included plenty of ingredients that could in fact make patients feel better without actually solving a single problem, could account for some of the great stories of success. Alcohol and opium in combination can easily make one feel better hence the wild usage of opium in the medical community to treat everything from toothaches to tuberculosis.

It was a similar case to the Victorian treatment of syphilis with mercury. Syphilis is a chronic sexually transmitted disease that stayed with the person for their natural lives, at the time there was no known cure for the disease which afflicted people in every social strata like no other disease had, but one of the most common treatments for the disease was the toxin mercury. The mercury would have eventually killed the patient at about the same rate as the syphilis, but often times the insanity and violent mood swings that came with mercury poisoning could make the patient believe they were not as sick as they thought. Though it was found with later research that the mercury did provide some ‘relief’ from the symptoms by destroying bacteria in the body along with all the other vital body tissues.

We modernly use herbs and other forms to treat many diseases including St. John’s Wort, a naturally occurring yellow flower, for depression. Valerian, a natural herb, for the treatment of anxiety. Other herbs like rosemary, mint and thyme for such healing purposes as cleaning wounds, relieving pain and speeding recovering.

Another modern incantation of the mesmerist lies within a fear we all face, being controlled by an outside and evil force. Cultists for years have employed similar means as the mesmerist, using drugs and the power of persuasion to get people to follow their message. Cult leaders like Jim Jones convinced hundreds to follow him into death by using threats and drugs to control the members of his cult, a bit extreme for the mesmerist of the 19th century but not entirely uncommon.

My fascination with the mesmerist? It stems from my mother’s own personal experiences with hypnotism. She found that her hypnotist was bringing up memories of hers that she thought to be laying dormant within in. She claimed that she had lost weight, conquered her agoraphobia, and even had the confidence to go out and date after my father’s death. She encouraged me to try it thinking it would cure all of my problems as well. I tried one appointment and noted that this ‘professional’ had made such outlandish claims that came to be just as baseless as Mesmer’s supposed control over trees. The appointment began with her asking me a battery of questions about my past and family history. She then went on to try to lure me into some kind of trance. Perhaps there are claims to the idea of being too intelligent to be hypnotized. I found the entire experience to be just a waste. But I was then allowed a very privileged place in watching my mother’s appointment. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before, the same battery of questions but my mother fell into a deep sleep-like trance. And was now revealing information I was not aware she even knew. Pieces of memories long lost to time, words and phrases my mom never used, this trance just didn’t seem real. It seemed like the powerful use of suggestion, and as long as my mother believed this doctor was helping her, she was in fact curing herself. But at what cost, outside of losing some major respect points with me her daughter? These sessions often hours long cost my mother $150 each. And she went to one every week. This was costing my sick, unemployed mother thousands just so that she could work through her own problems on someone else’s time. What made it worse was that I was helpless in the entire situation. My mother believed she was being helped, so she continued the treatments. I found myself in Coverdale’s shoes, wanting so badly to help the Veiled Lady find her freedom, but this wasn’t just an anonymous broad, this was my mother.

Our fascination with the mesmerist is simple. We are afraid of the mesmerist and his power. We do not want to be controlled, by anyone. Even ourselves to an extent. We fear that someone with little effort could come in and use our own mental weakness against us and use that for evil. And not just for the sake of evil, but even for the small things, controlling us for money or for even emotional power. We naturally want to be free and anything that controls us concerns us greatly.

The difference in opinion between the two authors is the same as the two varying opinions of the act of mesmerism itself. One side sees it as a legitimate way to help society by unlocking a power that is within all of us. One side sees it as a direct violation of the human spirit and a painful intrusion to the self. Moreover, the power this figures gain in society could in theory uproot our entire concepts of democracy and individuality, values the average American holds very dear.

We fear the mesmerist because there is a part of him in all of us. We use persuasion to win cases in court, charm our way out of bar tabs and seduce others into choices they would not usually make. But the implications to that control and the extent of the control forced upon others is entirely up to the individual. Poe’s view finds our mesmerist as a man of science, only doing his part to try and help relieve pain as per Mesmer’s original design. Hawthorne sees the mesmerist as a villain, trying to manipulate those around him to bring order to its knees. Both aspects are not entirely false, but it is up to the reader to decide where we place this character. As harmless medical practitioner or charming fraud whose only goal is to make money and use the weak. What we must understand is that to an outsider, is that the teachings of Jesus Christ very well can look like little more than mesmeric trickery.

Works Cited

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, and Tony Tanner. The Blithedale Romance. Oxford: Oxford Paperbacks, 1998. Print.

“Mesmerism.” The MYSTICA.ORG. Web. 01 May 2012. <;.

Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2007. Print.