Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Connections with 'Othello'
Relationships are affected by racial prejudices
Othello is not seen as a fit match for Desdemona:
'an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe.'
'you'll have your daughter covered with a Barbary horse'
Othello is accused of being a perverted black man using magic to win Desdemona:
'thou hast practised on her with foul charms,
Abused her delicate youth with drugs or minerals'
Othello seems aware yet unaffected by these racial judgements:
'Most potent, grave and reverend signors,
My very noble and approved masters'
'Rude am I in my speech
And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace'
Othello's respect, honour and decency are recognised by the Duke:
'If virtue no delighted beauty lack,
Your son-in-law is far more fair than black'
Eventually Othello becomes the barbarian he was accused of being:
'in Aleppo once
Where a malignant and a turbaned Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by th'throat the circumcised dog
And smote him thus.'
(He kills himself with a death befitting a barbarian)
Iago wants revenge on Othello for sleeping with his wife:
'For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leaped into my seat'
In both books, there is a sense that issues of race overshadow and dominate the relationships between the characters. In 'Beloved', the Garners try to treat their slaves as 'men' yet the fact that they are owned cannot be escaped. Also, we see every relationship in the novel is somehow affected by events in the past and emotional traumas that cannot be forgotten.
In 'Othello', race is incessantly commented on. At first, Othello is able to disprove any slanders with noble actions, but as he is manipulated by Iago he becomes the murderous savage he has been described as earlier in the play. However, while 'Beloved' acknowledges these problems and nonetheless encourages the reader to engage with them, the tragic end of 'Othello' suggests that such behaviour should be cast aside or terrible things will happen.
Othello becomes an uncontrollable savage:
'Arise, black vengeance, from thy hollow cell!'
'O, blood, blood, blood!'
Iago's actions are equally driven by jealousy and revenge:
'And nothing can, or shall, content my soul
Till I am evened with him, wife for wife'
Iago is portrayed as a true villain:
'The Moor's abused by some most villainous knave'
In 'Beloved', the concept of the 'jungle inside all of us' suggests that the issue of slavery brought out savage behaviour on both sides. Sethe's bloody attempts to murder her children to protect them from slavery are never judged directly by the narrator of the book, just presented as they happened. Similarly, schoolteacher and his sons commit a number of terrible acts such as whipping Sethe, stealing her breast milk and listing her animal characteristics. Morrison is trying to show the damage on both sides and the need to realise in exact terms what occurred during this period of history.
In Othello then, Shakespeare leaves us with the irony that although Desdemona's death is both disturbing and tragic, Iago's actions are somehow more traumatising because they are unjust and unexplained. Every terrible thing that Othello does is of Iago's making, and this helps us to realise that ultimately, he is the truly evil character as Othello displays some humanity with the deep pang of guilt that leads him to commit suicide.
Language reflects contemporary values
Black people are referred to in a derogatory way:
'the lascivious Moor'
Othello's skin colour is constantly referred to:
'Come hither, Moor'
Black people are portrayed as uncivilised barbarians:
'your daughter and the Moor are now making the beast with two backs'
'the Turk of Cyprus'
Othello becomes an angry savage who is unable to control his jealousy:
'O damn her, damn her!'
Come go with me apart. I will withdraw
To furnish me with some swift means of death
For the fair devil. Now art thou my Lieutenant.'
'My lord is fallen into an epilepsy'
In 'Othello', race is constantly an issue and referred to by the male characters in power. Even when Othello is rational and respectable, he is somehow seen as an exception to their prejudices rather some one who would challenge common beliefs ('more fair than black').
Similarly in 'Beloved', slavery is a constant influence and we can compare Garner's discussions about his 'Nigger men' as they too show how black people were judged by stereotypes. Morrison makes no concession and shows how often the nigger men were dishonest, violent or deceitful. As she reveals at the end of the book, her goal is to reveal important aspects of this terrible story, and she even uses the language and writes in the style of African oral tradition to show that although 'it was not a story to pass on', it is important that people understand what occurred. Morrison's language reflects the language of the Black Americans by using colloquialisms and comparisons to everyday domestic objects: 'soft like cream'.
Crucially, 'Othello' employs different characters to present different points of view; Iago constantly derides people and judges them by their status, while Desdemona never judges anything by its appearance. However in 'Beloved' the author uses language to emphasise and qualify her own opinions. Having said that, it is important to note that Morrison also represents both sides without clear bias, instead using language to engage the reader with the subject material. In this way, both texts aim to present the views of the time they describe to allow the reader to consider the information carefully and make their own judgements.