Essay Preview: ‘Moral Development and Change in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’


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If you’re studying Huckleberry Finn, or just fancy knowing a little more about how morality is conceptualised by Twain in the book, then read on, my friends, read on!

Moral Development and Change in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (2006a, pp.1-504), first published in 1884, starts out in a small fictional town of St. Petersburg in Missouri situated close to the Mississippi River, and is set a few decades before the outbreak of the American Civil War. The story is narrated by the protagonist, Huck, and follows his journey wherein he is faced with a number of moral choices, which subsequently lead him to question the morality and supposedly ‘civilised’ nature of society, outgrowing his own instincts of self-preservation and moral deviancy in the process. Using Kohlberg’s theory of moral development (1981, cited in Gibbs, 2003, pp.57-76), this essay will analyse how and why Huck begins to take responsibility for his own moral choices, rejecting the prescribed morality of some of the authority figures in his life and accepting that of others, thus demonstrating how life experiences of kindness and cruelty can affect the development of an individual’s morality.

Huck’s Initial Absence of Morality

At the opening of the novel, the reader finds Huck feeling restricted after being placed in the guardianship of Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. This occurs after he has come into possession of a large sum of money as a result of his earlier adventures with friend, Tom Sawyer – who, of course, features alongside Huck in Twain’s earlier text, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (2006b, pp.1-375) – and is placed under the widow’s guardianship by a judge who hopes she can “sivilize” him (Twain, 2006a, p.7) by teaching him the Christian faith. Huck is keen to demonstrate that her attempts have been unsuccessful, describing his desire to join up with Tom’s gang of thieves rather than being trapped in such a respectable household, feeling cramped and sweaty in the new clothes she makes him wear, and being frustrated at not being allowed to smoke, curse or slouch (Twain, 2006a, pp.7-9). He is dismissive of the morality contained within the religious teachings that the widow offers him, noting that he has no interest in the dead are they are “no good to anybody, being gone” (Twain, 2006a, p.9), and even goes so far as to tell the widow that he would prefer to go to Hell rather than Heaven, because he could “see no advantage in going where she was going” (Twain, 2006a, p.9). He is similarly pleased to hear that the widow believes Tom Sawyer will go to Hell (Twain, 2006a, p.10), as that means they will be together, showing his flippant approach to serious issues (Blair, 1973, p.138). He also demonstrates his tendency to lie (Twain, 2006a, p.53), steal (Twain, 2006a, p.32), and exhibit his prejudices, such as can be seen in his initial stereotyping of the black slave, Jim, who Huck repeatedly disregards as a simple “nigger” (Twain, 2006a, p.22). Huck’s morality at this point corresponds well with the ‘pre-conventional’ (otherwise known as the ‘pre-moral’) stage identified in Kohlberg’s theory of moral development (1981, cited in Gibbs, 2003, pp.57-76), wherein the individual’s behaviour is dictated by self-interest and self-preservation. His avoidance of further arguments with the widow regarding Heaven and Hell, for instance, is not a mark of respect for the woman trying to raise him as her son, but rather a recognition that pursuing his point would “only make trouble” for himself (Twain, 2006a, p.9). His response is dictated by the possibility of punishment or gain, rather than by a moral sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (Kohlberg, 1981, cited in Gibbs, 2003, pp.57-76). This is also demonstrated by Huck’s adherence to superstitious behaviour and beliefs, such as his worry that burning a spider will bring him bad luck, his use of horseshoes to frighten bad spirits, and the binding of his hair to ward off witches (Twain, 2006a, p.10)…

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Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, on the Subaltern and Epistemic Violence (Bite-Sized Study Notes Series)


On The ‘Subaltern’

The ‘subaltern’ is the collectively name given to those considered to be at the lowest level of the social hierarchy. This heterogeneous community consists of those denied the opportunity of self-representation and ‘access to hegemonic power’: the illiterate peasantry, the sub-proletariat and tribal communities restricted by their linguistic exclusivity. This leads Spivak to question whether the ‘true’ subaltern group are able to ‘speak’ for themselves (i.e. self-represent). In the face of epistemic violence, cultural repression and their designated submissive role in society, she believes this is not currently possible. These oppressed minorities are defined and understood solely by their differences to the rest of the social strata. The systematic implication is always one of inferiority. They are not able to think or communicate as a unified collective subject because they have been objectified. To truly understand the consciousness of the subaltern we must appreciate the significance of their silence, Spivak argues, instead of forcing their representation by speaking on their behalf.


On ‘Epistemic Violence’

For Spivak, to commit ‘epistemic violence’ is to actively obstruct and undermine non-Western methods or approaches to knowledge. This imperialist subjugation of non-Western understanding is a way of constituting the colonial subject solely as a heterogeneous ‘Other’. The dominant Western narrative, according to Spivak, is ‘palimpsestic’: that is, it aims to alter the historical and social native consciousness; to delete all traces of the original and overwrite it with something considered more appropriate. Non-Western epistemology is dismissed as inadequate, ‘insufficiently elaborated’ and naïve. She provides examples of this epistemic violence through the Western intrusions into Hindu laws, such as the right to perform ‘sati’ (widow sacrifice).

Césaire and Achebe, on the Culture of the Coloniser (Bite-Sized Study Notes)


Achebe and Césaire offer very different views on the possibility of engaging with the culture of the coloniser, as outlined below.


Césaire is adamant that engagement with the culture of the coloniser, given the disproportion of power in their relationship, is impossible because the coloniser demands the surrender of the colonised man’s culture as well as submission to his own. Far from being against placing different civilizations in contact, she states that for them ‘exchange is oxygen’7, but draws a stark contrast between civilization and colonisation. The West is seen as a suffocating force with an insatiable appetite. Césaire views the coloniser’s culture (which she defines as ‘humanistic’, ‘capitalist’, ‘Christian’ and ‘bourgeois’8) as poisonous and harbours buried instincts for racial hatred, violence, greed and ‘moral relativism’9.



Achebe’s attitude towards this cultural exchange is more balanced. While he acknowledges the disruption caused by the colonisation of Africa, he credits it with the creation of larger, more secure ‘political units’10 (i.e. nations) and the enablement of their unification through a shared linguistic system. Achebe believes that inherent value of inheriting English language is often overlooked or underestimated. He challenges Wali’s assertion that native Africans cannot express themselves fully without their native tongue, pointing out the pliability of English and its usage. He observes that it is not necessary to use English like an Englishman: instead, the African voice is free to express itself creatively whilst still understood worldwide.

Mohanty- On Culture and Gender (Bite-Sized Study Guide Series)


Mohanty on ‘Culture and Gender’, in ‘Under Western Eyes…’

Mohanty argues that (Western) feminist writing ‘discursively colonizes… women in the third world’, and gives examples of this ‘discursive colonization [of] third-world women’ in the media and political discourse.

Mohanty denotes that Western feminist writing is not an impartial field of knowledge. Because it is ‘purposeful and ideological’ it is not free of political implications. Feminist academia tends to make hierarchical divisions, implicit or not, between themselves and a supposed ‘other’, not only by gender but also by class. The middle-class Western intellectual is automatically assumed to be the subject/norm, creating an unequal balance of power. It divides itself from the multiple native cultures present throughout the colonised working classes that it objectifies, reinforcing the ‘third-world difference’.

Mohanty observes that the discursive processes of western feminist writing reduce the diverse historical, cultural and familial heterogeneities of ‘third-world’ women to the representation of a singular, homogeneous ‘third-world woman’. By casting third-world women in the artificially homogenised role of the object of study, they effectively deny these women discursive subjectivity and equal status as active participants in their world. This ensures third-world women are understood only through how they are impacted upon by certain traditions and/or institutions: their ‘object status’.

Examples of this are present within the Western media and political discussions. Take, for instance, women in British workplaces denied permission to wear the veil because of feminist belief that this is an unfair imposition, despite the country’s supposed democracy. Alternatively, examine the fierce opposition to arranged marriages, in ignorance to their difference to forced ones and/or their cultural value.

Mohanty’s criticisms of the creation of binary oppositions within Western feminist theorisation revolve around their allocation of political and cultural power – or more specifically, powerlessness. Women are understood to be an objectified group, regardless of differentiations in geography, ethnicity and class. This implies that they already share the pre-existing identity of ‘woman’, which is present before – and seemingly unaffected by – entering into the structure of social relations. Their ‘object status’ is then evaluated. In fact, their placement within the various social, economic, familial, religious and/or legal structures appears to be an afterthought. This contains discursive connotations: essentially, that gender has a fixed meaning outside of our social relationships.

The consequence of this assumption is that gender is understood as the origin of their oppression, rather than subjective examples of oppression producing particular forms of gender. Therefore, Mohanty believes Western feminism does not serve to challenge the sexual power struggle, but simply to invert it. Their dichotomous understanding of the (im)balance of power ‘locks all revolutionary struggles into binary structures’, into a ‘[group] move from powerless to powerful’. Instead of this approach, Mohanty encourages the idea of intersectionality as a theoretical model: that is, the avoidance of false generalisations in favour of a context-specific, politically focused approach to the analyses of gender relations.

Fanon – On the Postcolonial Identity (Bite-Sized Study Guide Series)


Fanon on The Creation of (Anti-Colonial & Post-Colonial) Identity , in ‘On National Culture’

Fanon notes how new patterns of cultural expression can emerge from the imaginations of the colonised community, demonstrated by a transformation of both the form and content of post-colonial native literature, arts, music, crafts, dance and oral traditions.

The purpose of these emerging, exploratory art forms is to give representative forms to the voices and struggles of and within the community. Experimental language, literature and art forms tackle difficult new themes and unusual methods of expression, discarding previous characteristics (in Fanon’s view) of ‘despair and revolt’ in favour of a more hopeful unification of the people. In sculpture and craft work, the coloniser’s formalist image of the native is discarded.

This defiance of expectation helps, in turn, to construct a new national identity, one which reflects a new cultural awakening and self-realisation. These creative outlets allow natives to transform their perception of both themselves and the rest of the world.

Thus, cultural expression becomes an arena for anti-colonial rebellion. Fanon explains that the ‘rigid codes of artistic style and… cultural life’ that substantiate the colonisers’ understanding of the natives are threatened by the emergence of a new national identity. They ‘become the defenders of the [old] native style’ in the face of a new rebellion.

A Mirror for Scorn and Virtue: Renaissance Warnings Against Wilful Pleasures (Essay)


A Mirror for Scorn and Virtue:
Renaissance Warnings Against Wilful Pleasures


The Mirror for Magistrates, first published in 1559, was a collection of poetry providing an account of the downfall of different historical figures. Its purpose was to offer a moral warning to its readers, encouraging the pursuit of a virtuous life and restraint from ‘wilful pleasures’. This perhaps explains why it is presented as a series of lamentations in which the prominent historical icons are the narrators of their own demise, each coming forward to ‘make his moan for his unhappy fate to William Baldwin, editor of The Mirror[1]. By holding the mirror up to reflect their deeds and actions in the past, they allow others to examine their mistakes and learn from them in the present. It was produced during a period of intense regulation by secular and ecclesiastical authorities, intent on stamping out moral deviancy. People were already ‘well accustomed to being told how wicked they were’[2] for indulging in life’s pleasures, particularly if those pleasures were sexual. During this time, homilies such as ‘the Homily against Whoredom and Uncleanness’ were read in place of sermons in Church, spitting scathing criticisms at those willing to let ‘true godliness and virtuous living… decay’[3] at the hands of the ‘great swarms of vices’[4] present in their lives. Within this cultural climate, the theatrical profession was strongly linked to ‘sinful and aberrant sexuality’[5] and inherent wickedness. It received strong opposition from Puritans who regarded the theatre as no more than ‘a stimulus to sexual vice’[6] that must be suppressed to preserve moral decency. Stubbes, a vocal enemy of the theatre’s eroticism, warned that ‘[learning] to play the whoremaster, the glutton [or] the drunkard’[7] is to be schooled in the art of ‘[becoming] unclean’[8].

Nor was this association without truth or evidence. London was, as it is now, the epicentre Britain’s theatrical and sexual industries. Rumours regarding the players and their sexual relationships (with both audience members and one another) frequently circulated – not even Shakespeare could escape them[9]. The theatre was also unable to escape its links to the court, and it is well noted that ‘courtiers were notoriously promiscuous’[10]. Though Queen Elizabeth (dubbed the ‘virgin Queen’) was officially chaste, gossip about her secret relations flourished, and under her successors including James I, both Kings and courtiers were the objects of notable scandals[11]. As a result, the personal lives of ‘weak, flawed and tyrannous monarchs continued to figure prominently in literature throughout the Renaissance’[12]. It may be surprising to note, then, that Shakespeare strived towards the same purpose as William Baldwin et al – that is, to use drama to create an accurate and telling reflection of the virtues and vices of humanity. Shakespeare alludes to this in Hamlet, advising that ‘the purpose of playing… is to hold… the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature [and] scorn her own image’[13].

It would not be accurate, though, to declare that Shakespeare’s work embodies the ideals set forth by Baldwin et al., because his plays demonstrate a critical advancement in their thinking. The Mirror was originally meant as a continuation of Lydgate’s The Fall of Princes and, as a result, it strongly reiterates Lydgate’s medievally-influenced moral ideals. Lydgate’s poetic narratives made a direct and deliberate link between happiness and morality. Carroll notes how Lydgate perceives ‘the decline of happiness to misery… as a fall from grace’[14] which could easily be avoided by those living a virtuous life. Whilst many of the tragic plays written during the sixteenth century (particularly the earlier examples) reiterate this rather simplistic connection between sin and consequential misery, playwrights such as Shakespeare and Marlowe progressed beyond the ‘medieval practice of allegorising the struggles of the soul between sin and virtue’[15] as a clear-cut, ‘black and white’ moral battle. Although Shakespeare’s works share the tragic demise ‘impelled by heroic greatness’[16] as these earlier plays, they also make allowances for human weaknesses, and the personality’s contradictions and complexities. The humanist influence on the writers of the Renaissance is evident in his writing. Deep exploration into what constitutes the ‘self’ helped to stress the significance of the individual, because it gave writers like Shakespeare unprecedented insight.

Despite their insight into the paradoxical qualities of human nature, the humanist movement did not bring about a radical redefinition of what constitutes sin in the short period between publication of The Mirror and the first of Shakespeare’s plays. On the contrary, the distinct favouritism expressed by the humanist movement towards literary classicism and the revival of Greek and Roman literature ensured Shakespeare’s artistic familiarity with texts such as Dante Algheri’s The Divine Comedy, which offers an uncompromising view of sin. In this text, Dante actively explored the consequences of indulgence in pleasures considered ungodly or impure as he took the reader on a journey passing through Hell’s inferno, witnessing as characters are punished for their sinful blunders whilst living. Seven sins are named as punishable above all others in The Divine Comedy, which have all managed to retain their cultural relevance and importance into the twenty-first century. They are commonly known as the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’[17], and they are thus: ‘luxuria’ (lechery, or lust); ‘gula’ (gluttony); ‘avaritia’ (avarice, or greed); ‘acedia’ (discouragement, or sloth); ‘ira’ (wrath); ‘invidia’ (envy); and ‘superbia’ (pride)[18].

Shakespeare would be aware of the significance of undertaking any of the actions listed above. However, he evidently did not see these vices as something that could be absolutely avoided or abstained from. Further investigation into the Shakespeare’s conception of the human character reveals that he views them as forces that are constantly at work in our lives, ones with the power to ruin or define us. They co-exist alongside the more positive forces that exist, such as ‘honour… [or] conscience’[19] that also affect our behaviour by creating ‘conflicting… mental processes… and qualities of character’[20]. He placed great emphasis on the balance of the relationship between the vice and its virtuous partner. Lust lacks the purity of, but still relates directly to, love; ambition is not a sin unless it is overindulged, allowing it to transform into greed; appetite is not a bad thing, but gluttony is destructive; admiration is not dangerous, unless it mutates to jealousy, and so on. Instead of black and white of medieval morality, he saw the innumerable shades of the human personality that were indefinable in terms of absolute sin or virtue. However, these two forces were not complimentary and cooperative; they cannot be soothed, or separated. This idea has been addressed in countless forms, but perhaps the most potent is Freud’s analogy of the battle of the life and death instincts[21]. Put most simply, if the indulgence is controlled, virtue generally wins. If the vice is granted control, though, darkness may prevail.

The most potent example of this throughout Shakespeare’s illustrious career is his treatment of sex. Shakespeare was driven by both personal and artistic interest in human sexuality, which developed alongside his experiences in both life and art. This unavoidably brought both his life and his writing into contact with what is considered the most potentially destructive of all seven of the deadly sins: lust, or sexual desire. Shakespeare was aware of the dangers present in ‘mistaking animal desire for a higher passion’[22] and that misuse of the sexual instinct can lead to ‘a prostitution of all that is best in man’[23], reducing great men to acts of rape, violence and even murder. Despite that, he was unable to disassociate the act of sex from the concept of love and, as Wells notes, ‘continually saw sex as an instrument of relationships between people… [and] an essential component of even the highest forms of human love’[24].

This introduces the idea that these potential sins are not only unavoidable, but their roots may be found in virtuous places. Take, for example, the virtue of amorous love and the vice of envy. Combined, they create the most fascinating and powerful destructive power of all – sexual jealousy. To use Bates’ phrase, love ‘is shown to contain the seeds of evil’[25]. Comparing its portrayal in a comedy such as Much Ado About Nothing[26] with a tragic counterpart like Othello[27] allows for the exploration of how these two forms dictate how characters’ sins are handled. In both plays, Shakespeare places great emphasis in the plot on the complications caused by distortions of the truth. In Much Ado About Nothing, though, the deceptions undertaken by the characters are much more simplistic in nature, causing Wells to dub them as simply ‘two-dimensional plot mechanism[s]’[28]. The deceptions undertaken by characters – excluding the actions of the malevolent villain, Don John – are relatively positive in nature. They allow ‘virtue [to] hide itself’[29] temporarily using sin as a disguise, but return to it swiftly.a-mirror-for-magistrates2.jpg

For example, Beatrice and Benedict’s fervent arguments that the virtues of marriage are a shackle to be avoided are soon reversed through the good intentions of their friends, misleading both characters to believe the other is enamoured. When Hero accuses Beatrice of the sin of pride[30] knowing she will overhear, it is only to enable her to embrace the idea that Benedict is in love with her. The couple’s witty banter and resistance is purely for appearances and, in reality, they are in love and marry alongside Hero and Claudio. Similarly, Hero’s pseudo-death and public resurrection after Claudio has publicly disgraced her serves primarily to accentuate how virtuous their union is, once it is reinstated and they are joined in matrimony.

Bates explains that Shakespeare engineers the supposed destruction of their love ‘in order to reverse [it] in a glorious moment of redemption’[31]. Therefore, the lie of hero’s death acts as a positive deception too; one which is reversed easily when the truth is revealed and serves to resolve all the characters’ issues.

The exact opposite is true in Othello. Under the disguise of the virtuous friend and loyal servant, Iago manipulates Othello into committing irreversible sins. Instead of the crude physical deception used in Much Ado About Nothing, Iago employs the weapon of civility – language – to gain Othello’s trust and make him doubt the virtue of those closest to him. Don John is a resentful opportunist. Iago, however, takes time to weave an intricate web of lies and nurses Othello him down the path to self-destruction with care and deliberate consideration. He manipulates the others around him into aiding him – Emelia’s retrieval of the handkerchief[32], Cassio’s overheard bragging of sexual conquest [33] and Othello’s vengeful decision to ‘strangle her in… the bed she hath contaminated’[34] are all prompted by Iago’s ‘sly suggestions and expert handling’[35].

It is apparent, then, that Shakespearean comedies and tragedies offer the audience two very different breeds of villain. Much Ado About Nothing honours the comic tendency to caricature the antagonist of the piece. Don John is assigned the unfavourable characteristic of being a grotesque ‘bastard’[36] because it subscribes to the popular notion that ‘illegitimate sexual activity can produce social malcontents’[37]. Shakespeare is no stranger to manipulating the cultural prejudices of his audience for dramatic effect. His portrayal of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice[38], for example, demonstrates a deliberate evocation of the existing discrimination against the Jewish community. That Don John presents no solid reasoning for his actions, other than that he is a ‘plain-dealing villain’[39] and has a generalised sense of ill will towards others, has raised questions among critics. His melancholy has been attributed, amongst other things, to envy (of both Claudio’s ‘most exquisite’[40] good looks and military success) and a secret lust for Hero. Gay goes further, suggesting that Don John may even ‘harbour some frustrated, homosexual desire for Claudio’[41].

Similar subtextual motives of homoerotic desire are also often used to explain Iago’s actions, to the extent that this modern interpretation citing ‘latent homosexuality has become… a cliché’[42]. However, none of the motives Iago openly suggests – resentment at Cassio’s promotion[43], circulating rumours about Othello bedding his wife Emelia[44]/[45] or jealousy of Othello’s fortunate marriage[46] – seem sufficient to prompt such a ferocious response. Iago’s sexually provocative speech intended to substantiate his claims of Desdemona’s adultery (in which he claims to have shared Cassio’s bed and been made love to in her place[47]) fuels the fire of this theory by providing ‘the most homoerotically charged lines in the whole of Shakespeare’[48], and when he tells Othello he is ‘[his] own, forever’[49] it sounds like the dedications of a marital ceremony.

However, it can be argued that Don John’s simplicity merely provides a suitable counterpart to the relatively dim-witted Claudio, and that the intricate complexities present in the tragic villain, Iago, must exist in order to counterbalance the psychological sophistication demonstrated by Othello. When Claudio and Othello’s sexual jealousy are placed in direct comparison, the differences are striking. Where Othello is driven into anguished incoherence by jealousy’s overwhelming force and is reduced to near-primal savagery, Claudio manages to retain his perspective and remain somewhat detached from the event. Claudio’s emotional pain is expressed in the sharpness of his tongue, but even here he retains enough self-control to lament, employing both alliteration and paradox as he bids Hero goodbye, declaring she is ‘most foul, most fair… pure impiety and impious purity’[50]. In his place, Othello is reduced from his former eloquence – the quality that allowed him to woo Desdemona in the first place – to a raving near-lunatic (‘Confess? Handkerchief? O devil!’[51]), driven to commit acts of violence and murder against his innocent wife. This may be attributed to a crucial distinction between the two men – Othello possesses a carnal knowledge of his wife Desdemona that Claudio and Hero, as virgins, are yet to experience. Because Claudio has refrained from the physical expression of passionate lust, he is unable to feel the full force of his sexual jealousy; his love is one of the mind, but not of the body. Othello, however, having indulged in this sin, is made to suffer the full consequences.

It would be foolish, though, to attribute the differences in Shakespeare’s portrayal of love and sexuality in these two plays solely to the constraints of the genre. They show not only a development of his dramatic technique, but also perhaps a deepening of his own personal, sexual experience. Wells notes that while Much Ado About Nothing seems to be written ‘from observation rather than experience’[52], in Othello Shakespeare fully appreciate love’s bittersweet and self-destructive nature. The ironic truth that Shakespeare has uncovered – that often our greatest strength is also our biggest weakness – is a lesson that permeates real life on a daily basis. However, when this concept is examined under the microscope of theatre it must inevitably be assigned a narrative structure. By fixing a beginning, middle and end to a series of events, it brings about a forced resolution that reality is unable to replicate. Reality rarely has the luxury of punishing sin, rewarding virtue and tying up all loose ends in an allocated space of time. Presenting events in this way unavoidably emphasises the causal relationship between the characters’ weaknesses and their consequential blunders, accentuated by the speed of their downfall. Perhaps, then, it would be fair to say that the warnings issued by Baldwin et al in The Mirror also resonate throughout the works of early modern historical playwrights such as Shakespeare – that men, particularly those of important social standing, should ‘embrace… [a] virtuous life’[53], because the overindulgence of ‘wilful pleasures’[54] will cause them to ‘blunder’ irrevocably[55], particularly if they find themselves on the wrong side of the stage’s velvet curtain!

(Images: The British Library)


[1] E.I. Feasey, ‘The Licensing of The Mirror for Magistrates’, Oxford Journals, March (2005), pgs178-193

[2] Stanley Wells, Shakespeare, Sex & Love (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pg13

[3] Anon., ‘The Homily against Whoredom and Uncleanness’, cited in Shakespeare, Sex & Love (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pgs13-14

[4] Anon., ‘The Homily against Whoredom and Uncleanness’, pgs13-14

[5] Wells, Shakespeare, Sex & Love, pg14

[6] Wells, Shakespeare, Sex & Love, pg14

[7] Phillip Stubbes, Anatomy of Abuses, in The English Renaissance: An Anthology of Sources and Documents, ed. by Kate Aughterson (London: Routledge, 2002), pgs180-185

[8] Stubbes, Anatomy of Abuses, pg180-185

[9] Bill Bryson, Shakespeare (London: Harper Perennial, 2008), pgs 65-94

[10] Wells, Shakespeare, Sex & Love, pg15

[11] Castiglione, The Courtier, trans. by Thomas Hoby, in The English Renaissance: An Anthology of Sources and Documents, ed. by Kate Aughterson (London: Routledge, 2002), pgs159-163

[12] Andrew Hiscock, ‘Renaissance, 1485-1666: Historical Overview’, in English Literature in Context, ed. by Paul Poplawski (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pg135

[13] William Shakespeare, Hamlet, in William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (second edition), ed. by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), Act III Sc II lns20-23

[14] Claire Carroll, ‘Humanism and English Literature in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries’, in The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Humanism, ed. by Jill Kraye (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), pg247

[15] Hiscock, ‘Renaissance, 1485-1666: Historical Overview’, pg154

[16] Carroll, ‘Humanism and English Literature in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries’, pg247

[17] Claire E. Honess, ‘Introduction’, in The Divine Comedy, trans. by Henry Francis Cary (London: Wordsworth Editions, 2006), pg xvii

[18] Dante Algheri, The Divine Comedy, trans. by Henry Francis Cary (London: Wordsworth Editions, 2009)

[19] Wolfgang Clemen, ‘’Introduction’ Chapter to the Tragedies’, in Shakespeare: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory 1945-2000, ed. by Russ McDonald (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), pg56

[20] John W. Draper, The Humors and Shakespeare’s Characters, cited in Shakespeare: An Anthology of Criticism and Theory 1945-2000, ed. by Russ McDonald (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), pg56

[21] Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, ed. and trans. by James Strachey, vols I-XXIV (London: The Hogarth Press, 1960), vol XXI, pg122

[22] Wells, Shakespeare, Sex & Love, pg250

[23] Wells, Shakespeare, Sex & Love, pg250

[24] Wells, Shakespeare, Sex & Love, pg250

[25] Catherine Bates, ‘Shakespeare’s Tragedies of Love’, in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Tragedy, ed. by Claire McEachern (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pg192

[26] William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, in William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (second edition), ed. by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), pgs569-593

[27] William Shakespeare, Othello, in William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (second edition), ed. by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005),pgs873-907

[28] Wells, Shakespeare, Sex & Love, pg169

[29] Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act II Sc I ln112

[30] Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act III Sc I lns49-50

[31] Bates, ‘Shakespeare’s Tragedies of Love’, pg182

[32] Shakespeare, Othello, Act III Sc III lns294-324

[33][33] Shakespeare, Othello, Act IV Sc I lns109-165

[34] Shakespeare, Othello, Act IV Sc I lns202-203

[35] Bates, ‘Shakespeare’s Tragedies of Love’, pg190

[36] Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV Sc I ln190

[37] Claire McEachern, Much Ado About Nothing, cited in Shakespeare, Sex & Love (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), pg169

[38] William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, in William Shakespeare: The Complete Works (second edition), ed. by Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), pgs453-479

[39] Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act I Sc III ln30

[40] Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act I Sc III ln46

[41] Penny Gay, As She Likes It (London: Routledge, 1994), pg161

[42] Bruce Smith, Homosexual Desires in Shakespeare’s England: A Cultural Poetics (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1991), pg61

[43] Shakespeare, Othello, Act I Sc I lns8-32

[44] Shakespeare, Othello, Act I Sc III lns379-380

[45] Shakespeare, Othello, Act II Sc I lns294-295

[46] Shakespeare, Othello, Act II Sc I lns290-295

[47] Shakespeare, Othello, Act III Sc III lns423-430

[48] Wells, Shakespeare, Sex & Love, pg177

[49] Shakespeare, Othello, Act III Sc III ln482

[50] Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act IV Sc I lns103-104

[51] Shakespeare, Othello, Act IV Sc I lns40-42

[52] Wells, Shakespeare, Sex & Love, pg173

[53] Baldwin et al., A Mirror for Magistrates

[54] Baldwin et al., A Mirror for Magistrates

[55] Baldwin et al., A Mirror for Magistrates

A Psychoanalytical Perspective on Oswald’s ‘Dart’ (Bite-Sized Study Guide)


Approaching Oswald’s text, Dart, from a psychoanalytical perspective means its aesthetic intentions become secondary to the analysis of repressed emotions. In order to decipher the river’s voice, the reader must acknowledge that the subject of the poem, the river Dart, has its own consciousness. Oswald intended the text to ‘be read as the river’s mutterings’[1].

Oswald quotes Illyich, indicating ‘water always comes with an ego and an alter-ego’[2], encouraging a Freudian view. I have attempted to identify revealing imagery or statements in Dart which coincide with Freud’s claims. I questioned the river’s sex and motivations. I wondered what ‘unsatisfied wishes’[3] the river might have, and how its phantasies might ‘[correct] reality’[4]. Oswald describes a dreamer that ‘secretly sleepwalks’[5]. This statement confirms that pursuing repressed desires is shameful and should be hidden from others[6]. Staying ‘out all night’[7] implies rebellion. He has ‘dreamed [himself] bare’[8], now ‘clothed only in his wings’[9]. This could be a reversion to childhood freedom in play[10], mixed up in earlier imagery of ‘[flapping] seagulls’[11]. It could warn that he is vulnerable to the whims of the unconscious mind and whilst dreaming he cannot repress his desires/fears.

As the dreamer is male, these are sexually orientated (confirmed later as he wakes ‘twice in a state of ecstasy’[12]). Oswald identifies ‘dreamers of every kind’[13], including ‘till-workers, thieves [and] housewives’[14], which correspond respectively with the ego, the id and the superego. It is significant that the id’s attempts to attain something desirable are suppressed by the controlling forces of ego and superego. Others include ‘prisoners on dream-bail’[15] (repressed feelings allowed freedom) and ‘children with no parents’[16] (suggesting the superego cannot dictate action). During this poem, ‘the river’s dream-self [walks]’[17].This shows that the personified river can dream, too, and express its repressed desires, secrets and memories, although they are disguised behind an ‘incentive bonus’[18].



[1] Alice Oswald, ‘Foreword’ in Dart (London: Faber and Faber, 2002), pg iii

[2] Oswald, ‘Foreword’, pg i

[3] Sigmund Freud, ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’, in Art and Literature: Jensen’s ‘Gradvia’, Leonardo Da Vinci and Other Works, trans. & ed. by James Strachey (Hammondsworth: Penguin Freud Library, vol. 14, 1985), pg134

[4] Freud, ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’, pg134

[5] A. Oswald, Dart (London: Faber and Faber, 2002), pg27

[6] Freud, ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’, pg133

[7] Dart, pg27

[8] Dart, pg27

[9] Dart, pg27

[10] Freud, ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’, pg139

[11] Dart, pg27

[12] Dart, pg28

[13] Dart, pg28

[14] Dart, pg28

[15] Dart, pg28

[16] Dart, pg28

[17] Dart, pg28

[18] Freud, ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’, pg141

Isherwood: Queer Theory and Modernity (Bite-Sized Study Guide)


Isherwood and Queer Theory

Isherwood disrupted the ‘conventions of a coherent self’[1] during his reconstruction of the memories recorded in his diaries. Carr focuses on the earlier entries, covering 1939 to 1944, in his text Queer Times: Christopher Isherwood’s Modernity. Isherwood’s reflections, and the consequent alterations he made to the original documents, were made during 1946, a full two years after the diaries were written.

Carr suggests that these changes provide Isherwood’s text (Diaries, Volume One: 1939-1960) with more conscientiousness than his original writing would have possessed. This disruption may have occurred because of the changes to the text’s narrative style in order to shape it to fit its new form – that is, fictional prose. Isherwood confesses that the diaries he kept between 1939 and 1944 were irregular and incomplete records of his life.

Isherwood openly admits that changes to the original diaries were needed in order to provide a clearer and more consistent narrative. As result, the text has been revised and expanded upon where necessary. He also had to ‘fill in the gaps… [by] writing bridge passages of narrative’[2]. Carr observes that Isherwood’s tendency to re-write the past to construct his narratives ‘turns his life into a work of art, and holds history up to the task of critical reflection’[3].

The implications of this action are far-reaching. Isherwood’s diaries are no longer an accurate portrayal of his self and his life. He has used them as material for several texts based in the same time period, re-creating and manipulating his personal records of reality. These texts include three fictional-autobiographic novels and a personal memoir, all offering different accounts of the same events. As Carr eloquently puts it, Isherwood has ruptured the ‘linear time… of history… [by] narrating the past again and again’[4] in this manner. His reconstruction of his memories creates a duality of fact and fiction within his personal history.



[1] Jamie M. Carr, Queer Times: Christopher Isherwood’s Modernity (Oxon: Routledge, 2006), pg3

[2] C. Isherwood, Diaries, Volume One: 1939-1960 (reprint edition), (unknown: Harper Flamingo, 1998), pg3

[3] Queer Times, pg3

[4] Queer Times, pg3

Bowlby and Woolf – Feminist Writing (Bite-Sized Study Guide)


Bowlby and Woolf, on Feminist Writing

Bowlby declares that feminine writing is a form which ‘throws into question the status of all [other forms]’[1], defying the conventions of masculine writing. She states that ‘feminine writing… [allows] the body and the unconscious [to be] expressed… without the intervention of patriarchal codings and compartmentalisations’[2]. This female insight and approach could prove beneficial, ‘[encompassing] women’s values [and producing] … new… possibilities for fiction’[3]. Making a claim for a form of literature which belongs to and represents only women (a ‘single and homogeneous female tradition[4]’) sheds light on the fact that current forms are predominately masculine.

Woolf enthusiastically contributes to the feminine challenge of conventional language and form, declaring that the form of a ‘man’s sentence… [is] unsuited for a woman’s use’[5], unless she takes up ‘a man’s materials or a man’s identity’[6]. In saying this, she recognises the possibility of ‘a difference [in] linguistic style according to the writer’s sex… [and] of determining the sex of the writer on the basis of stylistic evidence’[7]. This ‘hypothesis of a man’s and a woman’s sentence suggests that there is a difference in the form of the language suitable to each sex’[8].

However, whilst men are allowed to possess the masculine form of the sentence completely, Bowlby believes that the women’s form is passively defined, and exists only as an alternative to the unsuitable male sentence. This limitation put upon women, and the persistent insistence that women are ‘inferior’, serves to fix the sexes in a static relationship, in which women are understood only in relation to their use, purpose and how they are perceived by their male counterparts. However, Woolf genuinely believes that these divisions can be overcome, but only when ‘womanhood [ceases] to be a protected occupation’[9] and society drops the ‘assumptions founded on… facts observed when women were the protected sex’[10].



[1] R Bowlby, ‘The Trained Mind’, in Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997), pg28

[2] Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf, pg28

[3] Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf, pg26

[4] Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf, pg23

[5] V. Woolf, A Room of One’s Own (St Ives: Penguin, 2000), pg73

[6] Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf, pg25

[7] Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf, pg25

[8] Feminist Destinations and Further Essays on Virginia Woolf, pg26

[9] A Room of One’s Own, pg42

[10] A Room of One’s Own, pg42

Kolodny – Propositions of Feminist Literary Theory (Bite-Sized Study Guide)



Kolodny sees the embroilment of feminist theory in the issues of literary criticism as essential, because embedded within the aesthetics of each text are a set of definable ‘social beliefs, conventions, attitudes and ideologies’[1] that are operational throughout the whole of society and are often left unquestioned, although requiring the analysis and refinement of theoretical minds.

She sees the current literary works acknowledged to be considered ‘exemplary enough to study only hold that position because of the opinions of a few select individuals who subscribe to one particular method of assigning aesthetic value and importance. Therefore, it is important for feminist criticism to ascertain how their aesthetic value is assigned, in order to evaluate the ‘normative’[2], socially learned reading patterns influencing their value judgments. Kolodny believes that feminism has a responsibility to implement changes in cases of ‘value disagreements’[3].

Kolodny sets forth three theoretical axioms that she believes coincide with the ideas and concepts concurrent with feminist literary theory in the 1980s, when she wrote her most influential essay, ‘Dancing Through the Minefield’. The first of her three propositions of feminist literary theory is that ‘literary history… is a ‘fiction’’[4]. The ‘fictions’ Kolodny regularly speaks of in her essay are roughly equivalent to what modern theorists would now refer to as ‘social constructions’[5], and their shifting, unfixed nature causes her to contest the seemingly static position of ‘great’ literature.

The second theoretical axiom addresses the limitations that social constructions can place on our interpretations of a literary text, stating that readers ‘engage [with] paradigms’[6] rather than with the texts. They are unable to avoid their own inherent biases, ‘critical assumptions and predispositions’[7] that they inevitably bring to the reading process.

Leitch observes how Kolodny’s third axiom ‘strives to undo the unconsciousness of readers identified in axiom two’[8]. In it, she stresses that a re-examination of ‘the inherent biases and assumptions informing the critical methods which… shape our aesthetic responses’[9] is needed in order to reinstate the changes she envisions.

This has brought much criticism from fellow critics for a variety of reasons, including her failure to ‘recognise the seismic transformation that would be required’[10] to enable individuals to identify, and break free from, their inherent biases and assumptions.



[1] Vincent Leitch, ‘Annette Kolodny’, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (first edition), ed. by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke & B. Johnson (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pg2145

[2] Leitch, ‘Annette Kolodny’, pg2144

[3] Leitch, ‘Annette Kolodny’, pg2144

[4] Annette Kolodny, ‘Dancing Through the Minefield: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice, and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism’, in The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (first edition), ed. by V. Leitch, W. Cain, L. Finke & B. Johnson (London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), pg2153

[5][5] Leitch, ‘Annette Kolodny’, pg2145

[6] Kolodny, ‘Dancing Through the Minefield’, pg2153

[7] Kolodny, ‘Dancing Through the Minefield’, pg2155

[8] Leitch, ‘Annette Kolodny’, pg2145

[9] Kolodny, ‘Dancing Through the Minefield’, pg2153

[10] Leitch, ‘Annette Kolodny’, pg2145