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Love “Barter’d” in The City Jilt

February 21, 2010

In numerous ways, Eliza Haywood’s The City Jilt portrays love as a bargaining process. For example, after the ruined and humbled Melladore learns that Glicera, whom he formerly impregnated and thereafter abandoned, holds the mortgage to his estate, he writes her a letter, admitting to his wrongdoings: “Like the foolish Indians, I have barter’d Gold for Glass, exchang’d the best for one of the vilest that ever disgraced the name of Woman” (101). Melladore’s letter expresses the supposed regret he experiences by choosing to marry the wealthy Helena over Glicera, who is a woman of little wealth but exceeding merit. Although he recognizes his selfish and shallow mistake, he uses words like “barter’d” and “exchang’d” to describe his poor marital decision, as though marriage was a haggling process. Thus, even after his downfall, Melladore continues to see love as a financial transaction; he realizes the errors in his marital stance, but he simply cannot overcome his profiteering outlook.
As Melladore falls victim to his persistently sexist viewpoints, he also establishes himself as a victim in the above quote by likening himself to an Indian. Although he does not clarify the type of “Indian” he refers to, it is interesting to note that in the eighteenth century, Native Americans in the New World traded gold (an abundant resource for them at the time) for European glass beads (De Mendiola 39). The European colonizers believed the natives were extremely ignorant for misjudging the value of gold (an exhaustible natural resource) versus glass (a copious man-made good), and they greedily took advantage of the Indians’ lack of knowledge by acquiring as much gold from them as possible (De Mendiola 40). Though Melladore relates himself to the Indians, his greed actually parallels the Europeans’ behavior. Not only does he marry Helena for her wealth, but his greed for sexual pleasure leads him to seduce Glicera; he fools her into believing that he will marry her after they have sexual intercourse. Thus, just as the colonizers abused the Indians’ lack of knowledge to gain their riches, Melladore ruins Glicera by exploiting her naivety and subsequently achieving the sexual satisfaction he sought.
Also worth noting are the multiple meanings of glass. As mentioned before, glass represents an inferior product to gold, yet it also symbolizes transparency and reflectiveness. After Melladore marries Helena, who not only drives him into poverty but deserts him for another man, Melladore begins to witness the consequences of his wicked behavior towards Glicera. When he “trades” Glicera for Helena, or according to his analogy, trades gold for glass, Melladore symbolically and inadvertently gains both the clarity and reflection of glass: physically, glass can be clear, or also reflective, as in a looking glass. Further, it clarifies sight (as in eye-glasses) or magnifies an object (like a magnifying-glass) (“Glass” n1. 10d). Because glass allows individuals to see more clearly, for Melladore, it symbolically enables him to observe the wickedness inside himself and the error of his ways.
While likening Helena to glass, he also labels her as “the vilest that ever disgraced the name of Woman.” Though, here, he obviously refers to her low moral character, the word “vile” also means, firstly, “cheap, low (in price),” (“Vile” a. 5c) and secondly, “of poor or bad quality; wretchedly bad or inferior” (“Vile” a. 6). Therefore, even while critically describing his wife’s morality, he still manages to fiscally evaluate her, too.

Works Cited
“Glass” n1. 10d. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford UP. 21 Feb. 2010.
Haywood, Eliza. “The City Jilt.” Three Novellas. Ed. Earla A. Wilputte. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1995. 65-103. Print.
Pérez de Mendiola, Marina. Bridging the Atlantic: Toward a Reassessment of Iberian and Latin American Cultural Ties. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996. Print.
“Vile” a. 5c. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford UP. 21 Feb. 2010.
“Vile” a. 6. The Oxford English Dictionary. 2nd ed. 1989. OED Online. Oxford UP. 21 Feb. 2010.

The Savior and Dismemberment in Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko

February 3, 2010

Aphra Behn’s Oroonoko concludes with the hero’s ghastly execution. The following conversation and events ensue between Oroonoko and his executioners:
And turning on the men that bound him, he said, ‘My friends, am I to die, or to be whipped?’ and they cried, ‘Whipped! No, you shall not escape so well.’ And then he replied, smiling, ‘A blessing on thee’, and assured them, they need not tie him, for he would stand fixed like a rock…and the executioner came, and first cut off his members, and threw them into the fire; after that, with an ill-favoured knife, they cut his ears, his nose, and burned them. ( Behn 72)
In the above passage, Oroonoko becomes a Christ-like figure, and thus, at times, his execution mirrors Jesus’ crucifixion. For example, Oroonoko blesses the men who bind and prepare him for an excruciating death, similar to Jesus’ plea to God in St. Luke’s Gospel, where he asks God to forgive his accusers, “for they know not what they do” (King James Bible, Luke 23:34). Oroonoko also parallels Jesus in his refusal to save himself; he “assured them, they need not tie him, for he would stand fixed like a rock,” echoing the biblical scene where Jesus, although taunted by soldiers who challenge him to save himself, willingly submits to his own crucifixion (King James Bible, Luke 23:37). The word “rock” has Christian implications of its own: after Jesus’ death, when his followers visit his tomb, they discover “the stone rolled away from the sepulcher” (King James Bible, Luke 24:2). Oroonoko is also Christ-like because he dies for the “sins” of his fellow slaves. Through much of the novella, Oroonoko represents the slaves’ leader, and he is often referred to as their “king” (Behn 73), which echoes Jesus’ title, “King of the Jews” (King James Bible, Luke 23:3).
Oroonoko’s dismemberment, first by his own hand in a preceding scene, and again in the scene above, alludes to the Indians’ voluntary self-dismemberment. As explained by the narrator, Indian warriors battled with one another to become the head general in an impending war. Each attempted to outshine the other by disfiguring himself to an extremer degree: “When he who is first asked, making no reply, cuts off his nose and throws it contemptibly on the ground, and the other does something to himself that he thinks surpasses him…” (Behn 56). Although in the passage above, the executioner means to humiliate Oroonoko by removing his genitalia, and then later, his nose, he in fact aggrandizes him through the process of dismemberment. Through his dismemberment, Oroonoko achieves a Christ-like status, first, through the biblical imagery in the passage above, but also because he symbolically becomes the prevailing Indian warrior who wins the honor to fight for his people, or in Oroonoko’s case, the slave population in the British colony.
Yet the novella’s conclusion presents readers with an interesting irony. One must assume that the championed Indian who wins the right of generalship in war must become extremely physically weakened by the dismemberment he endures; thus, he will most likely represent a poor warrior and leader in battle. Similarly, though Oroonoko’s death serves as appeasement for the British colonizers and plantation owners, his followers and fellow slaves remain imprisoned, and thus, their so-called savior seemingly dies for nothing.

Works Cited
Behn, Aphra. “Oroonoko.” Oroonoko and Other Writings. Ed. Frank Ellis. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1994. 3-73. Print.
The Bible: King James Version. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. NetLibrary. Web. 03
February 2010.

Declining “Members” in John Wilmot’s “The Fall”

January 20, 2010

Though the Garden of Eden often connotes an image of innocence, John Wilmot’s poem “The Fall” presents a much more salacious vision of paradise where “man and woman,” or Adam and Eve, indulge themselves in limitless erotic pleasure: “Naked beneath cool shades they lay;/ Enjoyment waited on desire./ Each member did their wills obey,/ Nor could a wish set pleasure higher.” (43) The word “member” in this stanza contains a double meaning. Firstly, member signifies both man and woman, each a representing member of mankind. Thus, Adam and Eve, the only man and woman who exist, love one another in harmony and in accordance to their lover’s wishes. Neither person leaves the other unsatisfied. Secondly, the phrase “each member” symbolizes human body parts, or specifically, the genitals, indicating that, in Eden, man’s body and/or penis complies with his sexual desires during every intimate moment. In contrast, post-Eden humans, whom the speaker addresses as “we,” are “poor slaves to hope and fear” and “Are never of our joys secure.” (43) “Hope and fear” stem from the knowledge that man obtains immediately prior to his fall from grace; thus, the abundant joy Adam and Eve experience in Eden arises from their ignorance. Knowledge causes anxiety and dread during intimacy, causing joy to “lessen still as [sexual intercourse] draw[s] near.” (43) The speaker therefore proposes the irony of sex: as he “draws” his lover “near” and approaches the moment of intercourse, his anxieties rise as his “member” or penis falls or loses its erection. Hence, the title of the poem “The Fall” suggests two separate meanings: initially, “the fall” represents mankind’s fall from grace, but then secondly, it signifies man’s inability to maintain an erection and perform satisfactorily during sexual intercourse.
Finally, the speaker further separates himself from Adam and Eve in the last stanza. Although he depicts Adam and Eve as lustful and pleasure-seeking, the speaker reveals that he cares for his lover for nobler reasons: “Then, Cloris, while I duty pay/ The nobler tribute of a heart.” (43) Unfortunately, however, his greatest fear is that Cloris loves him for baser reasons–his penis– or as he labels it, his “frailer part.” (43) The hell he describes in the first stanza (“We need not fear another hell”), which implies that mankind already lives in hell, comes to fruition at the end of the poem. (43) Although he desires to express his love in a way that his lover will appreciate (through sexual intercourse), his body will not cooperate, which leaves him in perpetual hell.

Works Cited
Wilmot, John, Earl of Rochester. Selected Works. New York: Penguin Group, 2004.

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January 19, 2010

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