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To what extent do you agree that obsession is a significant element in the gothic writing you have studied?
Obsession can be said to be a recurrent and key theme in most gothic novels. The state fits well into the employment of melodrama and heightened emotion as obsession can be said to be the product of an excess of curiosity or desire. As such, Macbeth’s obsessive pursuit of the crown grows from his initial, more innocent hope for kingship, and similarly, victor Frankenstein’s humble, childhood “thirst for knowledge” evolves into a pursuit which renders his life full of “horrors”. Whilst obsession is clearly a driving force behind the narrative of these two novels it is found to be less so in the stories from the bloody chamber by Angela carter. There arguably are obsessive characteristics to be found in some of the secondary characters, however the females in the story are not afflicted with such a vice, perhaps a testament to the more recent publishing of the novel and expansion of the boundaries of the gothic genre.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley certainly demonstrates obsession, with the insinuation that it can lead to danger and corruption. Indeed, victor is said to have “pursued nature to her hiding place” with the implication that he is unearthing forbidden knowledge and disrupting the balance of nature. Shelley specifies the gender of nature, as the feminine holds connotations of “mother nature” and the almost predatory nature of victor’s actions. The obsession of his “resolved will” further indicates a disruption of natural forces as the creation of the creature takes place under a “black and comfortless” sky, signifying that god is unapproving. This is further evidenced by the unnatural phenomenon of “thunder burst all at once” and from “various quarters of the heavens”. Perhaps a modern audience might not read into this as anger from above but the xxth century mindset, with its dedication to faith and belief, this would have played directly into the fear of the reanimation of corpses which seemed to be on the brink of actualization.
Frankenstein also utilizes obsession to indicate a descent into madness. Victor who begins as eager to go where “no man” has gone before, is horrified by his own creation and in the end wishes not to destroy the monster, but to meet him in “mortal combat”. He has grown “generally melancholy and despairing” thanks to his ardour, which “almost exceeded moderation”.
Frankenstein also illustrates the consequences of obsession through the harm it does to others. Victor refusal to take responsibility for his creation can be argued to lead to the monsters “feelings of rage and revenge”. Despite the monsters pleas to be nice to his “natural lord” he still rejects the it calling it “abhorred” and vile”. As a result, the monster conflates William to be one and the same as victor and “grasped his throat” and kills him. Although it cannot be said that the monster himself is entirely blameless. He shows glee in destruction, “dancing” around the “devoted cottage”. However this can also be seen as a result of victor’s rejection of him as his violent tendencies escalate in direct proportion to the level of rejection he faces from society.
The bloody chamber is different from Frankenstein in the sense that it emphasizes other gothic elements in its stories, more so than obsession. But perhaps the most obvious presence of obsession occurs in the form of male’s obsessions with forming females to meet their own desires. Their obsession with power and control over the opposing gender is seen in the bloody chamber and the snow child. In the snow child, the count toys with his countess. He wishes for child to be the product of ideas inspired by chance encounters on his journey. A child with a “red mouth” after a pool of blood and “black hair” inspired the sighting of a raven. The undressing of the countess shows the control he knows that he has over the woman and the raping of the dead girl is the epitome of his control over a product of his “desire” as he is the only one who needs to feel pleasure from the exchange. However, the despite similar tendencies from the marquis in the bloody chamber, the more significant element of the entire novel seems to be one of the subversion of gender norms and the rejection of the controlling power of men. It is significant that the narrator of the bloody chamber writes in retrospect and the female first person as by doing so, carter allows a voice to the traditionally voiceless and also the sense that the narrator became free and happy once she dared to defy male domination. This too is seen, albeit more subtly in the snow child, where the rose remnant of the snow child “bites” the countess. This can be interpreted to mean that the competition elicited from patriarchal society between women is harmful to all people in the end.
Macbeth shows clear signs of obsession in pursuing the title of king after the witch’s prophecies it. He kills Duncan and banquo, and has little reservations about killing the macduff household.
However, whilst certainly a significant element in the story, obsession is perhaps less prevalent than in other gothic texts, for example, Frankenstein. For, if the story were mostly about the obsession with power and status, Macbeth would have been eager to kill Duncan, but he shows real reservation and it is lady Macbeth who shames him “to wear a heart so white”. In fact he leaves the kings bedroom in a horrified stupor still carrying the knives. And his internal guilt is externalized in the form of banquos ghost appearing at the dining scene. The fact that he grows into his obsession is significant as it allows the play to be seen as the potential for corruption of man and the danger of soliciting with the supernatural. Nowadays the witches elicit little fear from modern audiences but in the Jacobean era, such things were the fear of many people including even the king who wrote a paper on demonology. It is true that Macbeth seems to become obsessed with becoming an immortal king but a more convincing argument seems to be that his fear drives him on. Indeed he says “I am in blood stepped so far in” that returning is as tedious as to go o’er.”
In conclusion, obsession is arguably most present in the work of Shelley. The extent to which is seen in the way it is present from the beginning of the novel, with Walton leaving being his family in the “dangerous” “acquirement of knowledge” and ending angry and “disappointed” that he could not pursue his learning’s” Macbeth also shows signs of obsession, however arguably, it is lady Macbeth who is the most obsessed with rising status as she convinces Macbeth to “look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it”. The bloody chamber has its most prevalent examples of obsession in the sadistic behaviors of its men but even this can be argued to be more of an addiction.