Free will and the Lack of it

“The Lady of Shalott” by Alfred Lord Tennyson is, in my opinion, a giant story about the imprisonment of the free will. The Lady, secluded in a tower, experiences the world only through reflections in a mirror, unable to directly engage with reality. Her confinement symbolizes the restrictions placed on individuals by societal expectations and norms. The lady is not allowed to be a part of society, or anything for that matter. It is –

Only reapers, reaping early

In among the bearded barley,

Hear a song that echoes cheerly

From the river winding clearly


This curse that befalls her when she looks directly out of her window can be seen as a metaphor for the consequences of breaking away from societal constraints. The poem underscores the theme of self-imposed exile, suggesting that the Lady’s isolation is not solely a result of external forces, but also a consequence of her own adherence to societal expectations. Tennyson’s narrative prompts reflection on the limitations imposed on personal agency and the consequences of breaking free from societal expectations. Later in the poem, when the Lady looks out and sees Lancelot, Tennyson writes:

She look’d down to Camelot.

Out flew the web and floated wide;

The mirror crack’d from side to side;

“The curse is come upon me,” cried

The Lady of Shalott.

Even in her brief moment of free will upon, the Lady of Shalott succumbs to the curse, highlighting the ongoing imprisonment of her will. The constraints of societal expectations persist, limiting her life even outside the castle. The tragic consequence of her escape underscores the pervasive nature of societal restrictions, the role of women in this time period, and the ongoing struggle for one’s own destiny, are demonstrated in this story that deprives a women of living life to the fullest. Without creativity, the ability to choose, and capability to interact with others, combines to underline the restriction of the Lady of Shallots ability to achieve a free will and in turn live a life of freedom and happiness without consequence.

The Distortion of Christianity and Religious Symbols

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, several themes are readily apparent, including prominent symbols like blood, vampirism, and sexism. However, one theme that often goes unnoticed yet plays a pivotal role in our comprehension of the novel is the distortion of Christianity, something that is displayed countless times throughout Dracula. I believe these distortions are intended to instill fear in the reader while elevating the image of God and “holiness” in the context of the Victorian era, a period marked by significant challenges to traditional beliefs and values. In this context, Stoker employs a range of Christian symbols that serve the dual purpose of distorting Christianity through the actions of Dracula and uplifting it through the deeds of the protagonists. For example, in chapter 2 “When the Count saw my face”, referring to the interaction between Jonathan and Dracula, “his eyes blazed with a sort of demoniac fury, and he suddenly made a grab at my throat. I drew away and his hand touched the string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change in him, for the fury passed so quickly that I could hardly believe that it was ever there.” It becomes clear early on throughout the novel that Stoker begins to assign religious symbols to the characters. The depiction of Dracula’s blood-thirsty nature in this interaction is crafted to evoke a profound sense of monstrosity in the reader. Meanwhile, Jonathan, who is saved by the crucifix, symbolizes the holiness of a Christian man, eliciting empathy, and a reassuring comfort in this character.

As the novel progresses, the assimilation of characters into religious symbols, or the distortion thereof, persistently generates empathy for the Christian values prevalent during that era. The distortion of Christianity intensifies as the novel progresses, with elements like communion, marriage, sexuality, and “followership” portrayed in ways that dishonor the Christian ideals. For example, Van Helsing states “And now, my friends, we have a duty here to do. We must sterilize this earth, so sacred of holy memories, that he has brought from a far distant land for such fell use. He has chosen this earth because it has been holy.” (Chp 22). Van Helsing’s dialogue regarding Dracula serves as a strong metaphor, symbolizing the divide between Christianity and Non-believers, highlighting the ongoing conflict between faith and malevolence within the novel. In a deeper analysis, I believe that this portrayal highlights a noticeable contrast that challenges followers who grapple with progressive ideas that challenge the traditional beliefs of the Victorian era.

Blood as a symbol. Exposes Dracula for who he is

Throughout the course of the semester, we have encountered various themes and motifs that have both aided our understanding of texts, but have contributed to the mystery, evil, and monstrous elements within the characters and plotlines. Nevertheless, I am convinced that one motif stands out among all others, and that is the gothic motif as described by John Bowen. According to Bowen, there are various ways a text can be considered gothic, and, in my opinion, Dracula stands as the epitome of this motif. As a literary work, Dracula embodies the characteristics outlined by Bowen to classify it as a “gothic” text. However, I believe that these gothic elements function not only as literary tools to evoke a feeling of eeriness in readers but, more significantly, they aim to demonstrate that blood holds a more profound significance than merely being a literary device.  For example, in chapter 8, Mina says ” I looked at her throat just now as she lay asleep, and the tiny wounds seem not to have healed. They are still open, and, if anything, larger than before, and the edges of them are faintly white. They are like little white dots with red centres. Unless they heal within a day or two, I shall insist on the doctor seeing about them.” (Stoker pg. 91). I am convinced that this description carries a more profound meaning that goes beyond a concerned friend. In a literary context, the text emphasizes what Mina find as she looks at Lucy. Upon reading this, it certainly added to the monstrosity of the situation, however, I believe there is a deeper meaning in exposing Dracula’s profound wickedness, revealing how he ruthlessly exploits the innocent, transforming those around him into monstrous beings. Furthermore, I believe this also highlights the concept of “womanly virtues” from the Victorian era and how they were exploited. Employing the symbol of blood to discredit and diminish women not only highlights the disrespect towards them but also reveals Dracula’s predatory nature. This portrayal raises significant questions about the depiction and treatment of women, indicating the unsettling sexual undertones within the narrative. The desire for someone’s blood unveils yet another broader theme: Dracula stripped Lucy of her supposed purity.

In addition, blood establishes various other connections that contribute to a deeper significance beyond the gothic motif. Symbols of Christianity, science and superstition, as well as clashing time periods, all serve to give a deeper understanding that is beyond literary devices. Themes that in a larger assignment, I would certainly like to cover more.

Sherlock Holmes obsession for justice

“You will excuse me for a few minutes while I satisfy myself as to this floor,” He threw himself down upon his dace with his lens in his hand, and crawled swiftly backwards and forwards, examining minutely the cracks between the woodwork with which the chamber was panelled.” (Doyle 144)

Throughout the narrative, and specifically this quote, the quest to uncover the truth behind Julia Stoner’s mysterious death is amplified. In Chapter 8, Holmes is faced with the daunting task of exposing the real villain, Dr. Grimesby Roylott. The language in the quote, “You will excuse me for a few minutes while I satisfy myself as to this floor,” is laden with purpose and determination, painting a vivid image in the readers head of exactly how Holmes is conducting this search. Doyle starts by giving the reader an idea that Holmes is willing to excuse himself from dialogue in order to begin conducting a very thorough search. Through this, the reader can imagine Holmes quickly shifting from a train of thought to looking for more clues. As in all great detective stories, it is imperative that the main character pays close attention to their work, however, in looking deeper into the language, I believe this is meant to serve a larger purpose than simply showing how detailed Holmes is in his work. In this moment, I think a broader metaphor for justice is unveiled.

The use of phrases like “satisfy myself”, “threw himself”, and “examining minutely the cracks” goes beyond imagery and underscores Holmes’s commitment to thorough investigation, highlighting his dedication to uncovering the truth. Just as Holmes painstakingly examines the floor, he delves into the darkest corners of human behavior to expose wrongdoers. It reminded me that the idea that true justice demands a thorough investigation and an unwavering commitment to the truth. We discussed in class the idea of Sherlock Holmes being an early superhero, something like that of a Marvel Character. I think as I looked deeper into this passage I could envision Sherlock as a true modern day superhero, with his immaculate ability to use inductive reasoning as his “super power”.

The Power of Descriptive Language in Lady Audley’s Secret

“I’m not a romantic man, Bob,” he would say sometimes, “and I never read a line of poetry in my life that was any more to me than so many words and so much jingle; but a feeling has come over me, since my wife’s death, that I am like a man standing upon a long, low shore, with hideous cliffs frowning down upon him from behind, and the rising tide crawling slowly but surely about his feet. It seems to grow nearer and nearer every day, that black, pitiless tide; not rushing upon me with a great noise and a mighty impetus, but crawling, creeping, stealing, gliding toward me, ready to close in above my head when I am least prepared for the end.” (Braddon Ch. 8)

Something that really stood out to me in this passage was the imagery. The line “a feeling has come over me, since my wife’s death, that I am like a man standing upon a long, low shore, with hideous cliffs frowning down upon him from behind, and the rising tide crawling slowly but surely about his feet” specifically stood out to me in Braddon’s word choice. Instead of just saying that George is upset and sad, she uses this very strong and descriptive language. In a sense, it makes the reader have a deeper sorrow for him in dealing with a loss, while also continuing to set a dark and grim tone for the story. While there is no clear repetition in this line, I find this to be a common theme in Braddon’s writing. Instead of just saying that George is upset, or Robert loves someone or something, Braddon often goes into length using descriptive language either tell the reader something, or more importantly allude to something. In this specific passage, initially I didn’t think much of the lengthened description of George’s feelings, however as I read on, I now see that this could have foreshadowed George’s disappearance, specifically what is mentioned in the last line of this passage referencing “prepared for the end”. In this way, the passage is related to the novel by serving as a narrative device, or motif, that suggests that there may be impending doom or tragedy lurking beneath the surface. This vivid descriptive language prompted me to continue to ask the question “So What?”. This constantly has me trying to uncover the hidden motives and dark truths behind Lady Audley’s façade and question the significance of these descriptions and their role in unraveling the central mystery.