Exam: Friday 15th May 2015

The Dichotomy of Hungers: Making Disturbing Issues Palatable

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The Dichotomy of Hungers: Making Disturbing Issues Palatable

Two forms of hunger exist in Victorian literature: pitiable hunger and threatening hunger. Women and children — such as the pupils of Lowood school and Pip — display a pitiable hunger, for which readers can easily express sorrow and sympathy. When the hunger belongs to an adult male, however, it becomes dangerous. Orlick and Magwitch, of Great Expectations, both examplify voracious adult male hunger. To the most extreme end, in Lord Dunsany's "The Hoard of the Gibbellins," hunger belongs to the truly monstrous. Victorian authors show a preference for the pitiable, however, as demonstrated by protagonists who are usually women or children. According to Berry, "Novels and social documents" prefer to transform "the dangerous hungers of powerful adults into the blameless and pitiable needs of infant victims" (10). When the adult male hunger suggests the threat of an encroaching mob, authors make issues concerning social unrest and widespread hunger more palatable by embedding hunger in a pitiable child's or woman's body.

Lewis Carroll's Alice provides a notable exception to this dichotomy. Although she rarely expresses her hunger in a direct manner, the inhabitants of Wonderland frequently perceive her as a hungry, threatening being. For example, when Alice eats the left and right sides of mushroom, her neck grows high into the trees, where she frightens a bird who mistakes her for a serpent. When Alice does ask for food directly — at the Mad Hatter's tea party, for instance — she is blatantly ignored. One could interpret Alice's treatment by Wonderland characters as feminist commentary. Victorian society traditionally viewed women as caretakers of house and husband, with few rights of their own. Meek women were praised while assertive "hungry" women were considered a threat. At the same time, women who sought privileges and employment, with the exception of governesses, often went ignored.

Another interpretation of Alice's hunger explores the concept of feminine maturity. "The problem with appetite," argues Anna Silver in Victorian Literature and the Anorexic Body "is that it is always associated with physical change and, symbolically, with a girl's maturation and her concurrent loss of childhood identity" (Silver 71). The disastrous banquet at the end of Through the Looking Glass, which occurs after Alice becomes a queen, supports Silver's observation. Once Alice is crowned a queen, symbolizing her maturation, her adult hunger for food proves more of a threat than ever. The fantastic world inside the looking glass effectively banishes Alice upon her transformation from a child to a young adult. However, Alice still remains a pre-pubescent girl at the end of the novel. The final banquet scene's hostility, then, is perhaps a prelude to the actual world Alice might encounter upon entering womanhood, when she will face discouragement to eat as she pleases, as well as host of other expectations and prejudices. Once again, appetite serves as a vehicle for a more potentially disturbing issue — in this case, sexual maturation from girl to woman.

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