Compare and contrast the flawed and tragic fathers / father figures in ‘waterland’ and ‘hamlet’”
Exploring the notion of fatherhood in Swift’s ‘Waterlands’ and Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ we will be able to compare and contrast the texts in a fluid manner - Compare and contrast the flawed and tragic fathers / father figures in ‘waterland’ and ‘hamlet’” introduction. Although the authors write at different times – Shakespeare in the late fifteen hundreds to early sixteen hundreds and Swift in the nineteen-eighties – and convey their philosophical subjects through different genres i.e. novel and stage play; both use techniques such as character, themes, language, perspective and story telling to structure the dynamic impact of the role of father and express the flawed and tragic meaning behind this role.
Primarily we will explore Swift’s ‘Waterland’.
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‘Waterland’ is a novel written from the subjective viewpoint of ‘Tom Crick’. By intertwining past and present times the author draws us, the reader, into his autobiographical style, making us feel as though we can see and feel many different areas of his boyhood through to his present environment. The author commences the novel through Tom Crick’s quotation of his fathers words, thus ensuring that the stage is set for us to automatically assume his father is an impacting figure upon his life:
“And don’t forget’, my father would say, … ‘whatever
you learn about people, however bad they turn out
each one of them has a heart, and each one of them
was once a tiny baby sucking his mother’s milk’…”1
The author chooses to begin with a piece of spiritual advice spoken by the father, thus creating the character in an instant: a man of morals, question over judgement, logical thought over irrationalism. We begin to realise how much this story-teller father is loved and respected by his son when Tom, as a man in his fifties, reveals he too, as a history teacher, is a story teller: “children, before whom I have stood for thirty two years to unravel the mysteries of the past”2. Tom’s subject is history which is described before the novel begins as an “investigation…a learning” 3 and the novel’s non-linear structure allows us to realise how history repeats itself through love and genealogy. Although we sense this pattern of life cycles we have to question: if Tom’s love and respect for his father runs so deep, why does he in turn not become a father? As the novel twists and turns it becomes apparent that our assumption of Tom not being a father is far from truthful. Mary’s early pregnancy depicts “the prospect of precipitate paternity”4 but it is through his love of his subject – of history- that Tom conveys his father like qualities:
“If you’re going to sack me, then sack me, don’t dismiss
what I stand for”5
By sacrificing his part within his job for his job’s sake, for the children “who will inherit everything”6 he shows a hubris and humility which is a rarely shown by any other than a parent. His subject has become his passion and his classroom of children has metaphorically manifested itself into his own children. Tom echoes his father’s voice to them: “Now let me tell you”7 ; words that you can imagine his own father saying to him when he too was rebellious with a contradictory curious and attentive ear.
By starting the novel with Henry Crick’s words the author ensures that the reader will remember the relationship between Henry and his son Tom as the foremost important, loving and least flawed, parent-child relationship within the novel. Moreover, through the choice of character the author depicts different scenarios which lead the reader to be able to question and compare this relationship. For example, Mary, our protagonist Tom’s (to be) wife, has an extremely puritan, authoritarian father figure in the guise of Farmer Metcalf:
“A grave, reserved, hard headed man … regarded land girls as
replacement labor… Nor did he look upon them as fit
companions for his only daughter..he … discouraged all [her]
tendencies to become the archetypal farmer’s daughter
[wanted her to become] a cultivated young lady.. sent her
to…convent school”. 8
Had the novel been written from the perspective of Mary’s character we may well have finished it primarily thinking how dangerous in stead of supportive a father can be. Father Metcalf’s wife passed away meaning that he was the sole parent in Mary’s upbringing, forcing Mary to live under an oppressive and authoritarian rule; therefore – from a psycho-analysis perspective – she was subconsciously forced to seek love and affection elsewhere. Tom, an attractive boy to her became more relative when she learned that he too had experienced the loss of a mother figure. The author suggests through Mary’s eventual adult decline into poor mental health that same-sex parent-child relationships are necessary for people to remain stable, happy and healthy, indirectly reinforcing the importance of the father- son relationship.
Indeed, Swift portrays the father-daughter relationship as nothing other than flawed . He shows an abusive co-dependency when he expresses how Tom’s mother was impregnated by her father with her first born- Dick. Through Dick’s lack of skill and handicap he is subconsciously labelled as an idiot; thus penetrating the evils of incest. Dick asks Henry, whom at the time he believes to be his father: “Where do ba..babies come from?” 9 Not knowing how to answer such an emotional and sexually charged question, as well as handling the immediate bitterness which has been raised unwittingly from this bastard son born of unkempt ill-breeding to the woman Henry loved but who no longer lives, he manages to answer: “From love. Love is the most wonderful thing there is”.10 How ironic, when this incestuous abusive form of love felt by Henry’s father-in-law, Atkinson, was anything other than wonderful for his subjected daughter. The fact that Atkinson commits suicide by putting a gun – a Freudian phallic object- into his mouth presents the reader with a sense of justice but does not allow Henry’s character to display any consequences of anger we presume he felt. This presents the reader with a case to argue the perfect spiritual father we see Tom has as a spineless anti-hero, a pathetic figure. Moreover, we must understand that we look at Henry through the eyes of his son, Tom, who can only divulge what he sees. If the author had written the novel in the third person then it may have been possible for us to see the inner turmoil the situation had left Henry with, but to read the novel from Tom’s perspective allows us only to understand Henry as Tom’s father figure – how Tom visualises the persona presented, which is obviously through a courageous quietness and blind faith of god.
If the abusive father, Atkinson, had remained alive, the author would have presented the challenge from a community perspective of: who is the father? Who is the real man of the house? Cricks or Atkinson? From a perspective of biological family the answer would have to the latter however horrid or flawed a man (i.e. Atkinson) in physicality he is. Thus employing the next question: ‘how far does a man (i.e. Henry Cricks) travel for what he believes in?’
By discussing the role of father we have to assess the role of the son; for without a son would we have a father? As previously explained, Tom’s life is an existence excused because he doesn’t have a child: the children he teaches become his children. All thirty-two years of them. The money and possessions owned by the present day Cricks materialistically show that there is no substitute for a child. Swift adds a touch of ironic humour when he describes where Mary snatched the baby from:
“I got the baby from Safeways”.11
A competitive leader amongst the English giants of the retail chain in the eighties, the author ensures the impact that corporate industries had and indeed have – how they were beginning to sell anything and everything. The consequential redundancy on Tom’s part allows the reader to interpret Tom losing his job to feel like a man losing his son.
On the other hand, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, we feel that the title character has made no attempt to grow up into the father figure, for the first scene is about the dead King’s visitation to Hamlet’s physical friends. Where Tom has lost a son with regards to his job in ‘Waterland’, Hamlet has lost a father. Not only does he miss his father dreadfully, he returns home to find his mother is banishing her grief by starting a love affair and; therefore, a new life with his paternal uncle, Claudius. This is very similar to the thought process of love in ‘Waterland’ where Tom says: “you recover life by forgetting…and falling in love”.12 Love is being displayed here as an eternal medicine for the soul; therefore, perhaps grief is a punishment for loving too much?
“Doubt thou the stars are fire!
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love”.13
Hamlet’s loss places him in a sense of depression, despair and desperation to avenge his father’s killer. Although we don’t see Tom behaving in this manner it is intriguing to compare him to Hamlet. They are both sons of fathers whom they respect and have a deep love for, they are both men with philosophical minds and they both fall in love with women who were born to mothers who died and fathers who reigned their homes with authority and tyranny. The fathers placed their daughters on puritan pedestals with oppression, which we can only assume, is part reason towards their mental downfall; tragic down fall in the case of Ophelia. One can imagine Swift basing his creation of Mary on Ophelia. Hamlet says to Ophelia: “Get thee to a nunnery”14- which is Mary’s want until she learns the electricity of sexual love. And it is god she returns to during her demise. The father-daughter relationship she has with Farmer Metcalf mirrors that of Polonius and Ophelia with extraordinary accuracy.
These heavy comparisons are also met with analytical contrasts; for example, although the tyrannous fathers compare with those of Swift’s novel the character of Gertrude in ‘Hamlet’ allows the Oedipus perspective of the play to manifest itself. We don’t view mothers with authority or importance in ‘Waterland’, it is lightly touched upon what the lack of a mother can do to a child but in Hamlet, Gertrude presents her son with an inwardly corrupt and what could possibly be interpreted as a sumptuous incest through language:
“Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul,
And there I see such black and grained spots
As will not leave their tinct”. 15 Thus suggesting a sexual love as well as a natural mother/son one. Therefore, this leads us to question is it only his father’s death his avenges or his rival for his mother’s affections? Why does his tone become so harsh towards Ophelia when she is there to offer with his replacement love, the next stage in his life, the chance to forget. His rejection of her spurns thoughts that sexual frustration over the mother figure is apparent.
The fathers in both of these texts allow different parent-child relationships to be explored. Both authors present us with more than one duality, perpetuating realism through loud and quiet flaws of character; creating the impact of the father from start to finish in their texts. It is interesting to note the lack of mother- daughter relationships. Is this because of the masculine gender of the writers or simply because an insight into mother-daughter relationships would distance us from the powerful, thought provoking patriarchy at play. Both texts survive in comparison of the dominating male and subversive female where all prominent female characters are mentally tragically flawed, and indeed, fated in Hamlet. This strengthens the importance of “authority, to fatalism, to phglm”16 when discussing father and son relationships.
1-12, 16; Waterland, Swift, G; Pan Books; 1984; New York / 1983, London.
13; Act 2 Scene 2, Hamlet, Shakespeare, W; eds: Wells, S; Taylor, G; Jowett, J; Montgomery, W Schoenbaum,S: ‘Hamlet’ taken from ‘The Oxford Shakespeare, The Complete Works” Oxford University Press, 1988
14; Act 3 Scene 1, Hamlet, Shakespeare, W; eds: Wells, S; Taylor, G; Jowett, J; Montgomery, W Schoenbaum,S: ‘Hamlet’ taken from ‘The Oxford Shakespeare, The Complete Works” Oxford University Press, 1988
15; Act 3 Scene 4, Hamlet, Shakespeare, W; eds: Wells, S; Taylor, G; Jowett, J; Montgomery, W Schoenbaum,S: ‘Hamlet’ taken from ‘The Oxford Shakespeare, The Complete Works” Oxford University Press, 1988
Waterland; Swift, G; Pan Books, 1984, New York / 1983, London.
Hamlet; Shakespeare, W; eds: Wells, S; Taylor, G; Jowett, J; Montgomery, W Schoenbaum,S: ‘The Oxford Shakespeare, The Complete Works” Oxford University Press, 1988
COMPARE AND CONTRAST THE FLAWED AND TRAGIC FATHERS / FATHER FIGURES IN ‘WATERLAND’ AND ‘HAMLET’.