Compare the ways in which the theme of insanity is presented in the novels “the Wasp Factory” and “the Collector”. Miles Cooper Iain Banks and John Fowles have successfully written books portraying insanity, with the effective use of many techniques. Language, in the books, “The Collector” and “The Wasp Factory” has been used to great effect as well as enthralling plots and the development of characters exhibiting strange behaviour to achieve realistically insane characters.
Misogyny is an apparent issue in each novel, and the cruelty shown to women is a large part of the narrative.
Both main characters Frank and Frederick Clegg have different reasons for their actions, however both of their stories are dark and thrilling. It can be argued, that the absence of women in Frank’s life, has fundamentally scarred his conscience and he shows his extreme contempt for women regularly and often in disturbing ways.
For example, Frank murders his younger cousin, whom he believed to be ‘perfectly likeable’, just to remove the ‘statistical favour’ he had given women by killing his younger brother.
Esmerelda is described by Frank as a purely innocent child, and the fact that he can see this, worries the reader further as you begin to see how twisted his mind is. “The wind blew her blond hair in front of her face as she walked, squatted, crawled and talked,” Page 116 To the reader, Esmerelda is an innocent girl, who has no reason to be hurt, however to Frank she is just the ‘easiest and most obvious target’.
The questionable state of Frank’s mind is exposed here, we see frank witness the childlike actions that Esmerelda performs, particularly ‘crawled’, but due to his insanity and hatred of women he still carries out his malicious and rehearsed plan. Frederick Clegg’s actions, on the other hand are too complex to be defined solely as misogynistic, but they are just as terrifying. Clegg carefully develops every step of his plan, in a cold and mathematical language. “One problem of course was doors and noise” page 23
The extent to which Clegg has gone to, to ensure safety is extreme, and although he says he loves Miranda, he only wants to make a possession of her; and factors such as her ‘noise’ are just a problem that he needs to overcome. His inability to share intimacy and to take other people’s values seriously shows that he is incompetent at relating to other human beings and unable to see his actions as wrong. He also dehumanises Miranda,,, suggesting his inability to see women as fully human. His extreme actions and behaviour, like Frank’s, may stem from the lack of a normal up bringing.
It is often said that humans acquire all or almost all their behavioral traits from “nurture”. Both Frank and Clegg’s upbringing have been irregular and each author makes a point of noting it. Frank’s childhood is specifically disturbing and it can be seen that at least part of the blame can be placed upon the poor rearing from his father. “When old Saul savaged me, my father saw it as an ideal opportunity for a little experiment, and a way of lessening – perhaps removing entirely – the influence of the female around him as I grew up. ” Page 240
The horrifying conduct shown from Frank’s father obviously would have a crippling affect on Frank’s state of mind, and there is no doubt that the denial of female role models encouraged him to behave in such a misogynist fashion. We also see the affect that circumstance has on mental health with the example of Frank’s brother, Eric. Frank constantly reminds the reader about Eric’s state of mind in every chapter: “satanically reversed”, and “the conflagration in his head”. Eric becomes insane due to a terrifying spectacle, seen while working at a hospital. What he saw with all that weight of human suffering above, with all that mighty spread of closed-in, heat-struck darkened city all around… was a slowly writhing nest of fat maggots, swimming in their combined digestive juices as they consumed the brain of the child. ” Page 188 Such a grotesque and monstrous image is arguably enough to alter a person’s state of mind, however Banks maybe talking of a deeper reason for insanity – the evil of humanity. The ‘darkened city’ represents humanity, while the maggots suggest the decaying of it.
But in the end, it is Eric’s experience of the world, not his childhood that helped him lose his sanity. Clegg’s upbringing was particularly miserable and the death of two sets of “fathers” can be considered as a source of his very bizarre behaviour. His father had died when he was two, yet it is probably the deterioration of his uncle’s mind when he was 15 that has had a larger effect on his behaviour. “We went up to Tring Reservoir to fish… I thought he’d caught a whopper. But he’d had a stroke… he never said another word or properly recognized any of us again. ” Page 11
The loss of his last male role model would of no doubt been devastating, principally as it appears that they were close and both had a shared interest in nature. Clegg sounds rather blunt here, because of the finality of a full stop in the middle of ‘he’d caught a whopper. But he’d had a stroke’. However we later find out that these were the best days of his life, so there is no doubt that his devastating childhood has had some effect on his mentality. The strict routines followed by each main character of the novels provide the reader an insight to a psychopathic mind.
Frank owns a number of routines, ranging from strange sacrificial tasks to what he believes, everyday habits. “Like when I walk along a pavement in Porteneil and I accidentally scuff one heel on a paving stone. I have to scuff the other foot as well” Page 113 Frank describes this is in a matter of fact way, as though it is normal, but the emphasis on ‘have’ encourages the audience to believe it is not just a quirk, but more like a ritual like Frank’s more disturbing customs. We first find out about these habits on the very first page, where Banks has pushed the reader deep into an intense strangeness.
We are immersed in Frank’s personal language immediately, providing the reader not only an example of what’s to come, but involving them into his life straight away. “’I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped. ‘ Page 1 Frank is so caught up within his rituals he talks about them as if the reader knew what they were. Banks encourages the idea that these ‘Sacrifice Poles’ are just as important to Frank as a job due to the fact that it has been capitalised.
The phrase, ‘making the rounds’ can actually be heard by people whom work and it is as if Frank is at work when he is performing these activities. Clegg’s routines are more sadistic than Frank’s. He follows the same morning routine when attending to Miranda. He sees them as everyday habits, however in reality they are scheduled objectives to keep Miranda his. “Well, every day it was the same: I went down between eight and nine, I got her breakfast, emptied the buckets,” Page 63 The tasks that Clegg undertakes differ, from some being somewhat ordinary, like making breakfast.
However this is greatly contrasted next to ‘emptied the buckets’ as this is a duty only necessary due to the fact he has her contained as his possession. Throughout Clegg’s narrative we see his obsession to justify his reprehensible behaviour. It is hard to decide whether he validates his actions for whom he addresses or for himself. “ I didn’t want her to read about all the police were doing, because it would do only upset her. It was almost a kindness, as you might say. ” Page 43 Here we see Clegg justify himself yet again, which is surprising as he tells the reader that the techniques he performs were learnt from ‘Secrets of the Gestapo’.
Although he has openly linked himself with the fascist ideology of power, the need to defend his actions conquers this yet again. The language of the neurotic characters, are fairly similar, both sharing a certain systematic and mathematical impression to their speech. However, surprisingly Clegg manages to make his actions seem genuine and honest to the reader, and until the reader hears Miranda’s diary, he is very believable. “She held out her hand. I shook it. I don’t know how I got out of the room. She had me all at sixes and sevens that evening. ” Page 63
Clegg talks as if it was a friendly conversation, whereas the handshake was an agreement that Clegg would not rape Miranda. The phrase, ‘sixes and sevens’ sounds like everyday innocent language and is completely out of the ordinary for the situation. The strange behaviour shown is often more revealing than the language we read, as the reader witnesses the gruesome damage caused. “She was mine, I felt suddenly very excited, I knew I’d done it. I put the gag on first, then strapped her down. ” Page 28 Clegg’s dark and psychopathic side is shown in detail and confronts the reader.
His craving to not only kidnap, but to acquire Miranda is explicitly demonstrated, when he says, ‘she was mine’. He then goes on to explain how he suppressed her in a matter of fact way, listing his pre-planned actions. Fowles’ has achieved this by using sequential words, ‘first, then’. The short sentences broken up by commas, creates the effect of Clegg sounding very animated, which combined with the chronological language results almost in him sounding like a frantic child speaking quickly. Fowles creates a more realistic insane character by making Clegg say the ompletely wrong things, in the wrong way at a very wrong time. ‘She was dead. Well I shut her mouth and got the eyelids down. I didn’t know what to do then, I went and made myself a cup of tea. ” Page 274 This horrific moment is described in a matter-of-fact way and then suddenly linked with an everyday activity, a sure sign of insanity. His language and his reaction show no emotion, especially for the significance of this event. For someone whom he apparently loved and wanted to wed he manages to take the news very well.
The readers response to this is probably to assume he is in a lot of need of psychiatric help. Both authors present insanity along side reality. In The Wasp Factory, it is hard for Frank to socialize, and as a result he has created his own reality in his secluded island, complete with his own rules and religion. Whereas Clegg seems to live in a world where it is acceptable to kidnap and imprison women of his fancy. A technique Fowles has used to blur the lines of reality is the fact that Clegg’s speech is never speech marked.
This runs throughout the book making it difficult for the reader to distinguish his thoughts and his words, in effect this could mirror the difficulty Clegg has distinguishing what he is actually saying and what’s in his imagination. “That’s the last time I leave you alone for so long, I said. I can’t trust you any more. ” Page 72 It is hard to tell if Clegg converses the last sentence aloud, or if it is just another mental note. Miranda’s opinion of Clegg is fully revealed in her diary. Fowles has provided the reader with another viewpoint, which is an effective technique as it allows Clegg to be examined in more detail.
Although sympathetic at first, Miranda soon learns that Clegg is impervious to empathy and cannot develop anymore personally, hence her hatred develops further into the novel. “The pity Shakespeare feels for his Caliban, I feel (beneath the hate and disgust) for my Caliban. Half-creatures. ” Page 245 Miranda has linked Clegg with ‘Caliban’ a monsterous figure from the ’The Tempest’ who is often, in critical theory, referred to as a manifestation of the Id; a character ruled primarily by instincts without regard for social constraints.
A character therefore in our modern society who would be labelled as psychopathic or insane. Miranda obviously shows a lot of contempt towards Clegg due to this nickname and her default emotions, ‘hate and disgust’, yet she seems somewhat sorry of him, ‘my Caliban’ suggests this. The reader like Miranda is enticed to pity him as Fowles has presented him as having a troubled childhood. The Wasp Factory’s gruesome depictions of death and crude language were extreme for the times in which it was released, thus the book has received a variety of differing criticisms.
Some critics believe the book to be groundbreaking, whilst others deeming it only to be crass. However, the book did later appear in the Independents Top 100 Books of the 20th Century even though it received heavy criticisms when it was first published. “The Wasp Factory soars to a level of mediocrity. Maybe the crassly explicit language, the obscenity of the plot, were thought to strike an agreeably avant-garde note. Perhaps it is all a joke, meant to fool literary London into respect for rubbish” The Times
The Times, however is particularly harsh, noting if it is a forward thinking novel it is of such poor quality, it may actually be a farce to fool readers. It is no surprise that The Times condemn the ‘crassly explicit language’, as their target audience are upper middle class conservatives, but they fail to contemplate that the crass language may be necessary to show how unstructured and twisted insane people are along with the attempt by Banks to reveal the mind of a emotionally fragile teenager. “You little bastard—Aargh! Fuck! Shit. Come back, you little—“ Page 131
We meet Frank’s brother reasonably late into the novel, however we do hear shreds of conversation on the phone that increase the reader’s anticipation of meeting this mystery person. It is the explicit language that brings this novel far above mediocrity, by assaulting the senses and reeling the reader into the shocking situation it helps us feel what Frank is experiencing. The ‘obscenity’ of plot is also a feature they completely dismissed, as it can be easily debated to mirror the state of Frank’s mind. Many other critics agree it is a distasteful novel, however the Mail on Sunday takes a different approach than The Times. If a nastier, more vicious novel appears this spring, I shall be surprised. But there is unlikely to be a better one either… Infinitely painful to read, grotesque but human, these pages have a total reality rare in fiction. ” Mail on Sunday In my opinion, this critical approach is far fairer, even though it states it is ‘painful’ to read, yet it is truthful as we can see in Frank’s description of a burning dog. “The dog lay in the stream… It was still alive, but most of its black coat was gone, and the skin underneath was livid and seeping.
It quivered in the water, making me shiver too. ” Page 202 Banks’ choices of words, ‘livid and seeping’ are indeed effective, and not only make Frank shiver, but the reader too. Banks is successful in creating a read that affects the reader, and in effect a relationship is created between the reader and Frank as we both share this monstrous experience caused by the insanity of his brother. The Collector, the first of John Fowles published books, has received many praising reviews and was heralded as one of the first modern psychological thrillers. The Collector works by stealth, its creepiness slowly crowding you, until the experience of reading the novel becomes almost as claustrophobic as the captivity in which one of the protagonists is held. ” Garan Holcombe, Cambridge, England Fowles’ ability to create an eerie atmosphere is a main factor of the novel’s success and (as stated above) this helps the reader to become emotionally involved with the narrative. Through Miranda’s diary, one can learn of the utter terror that her captivity presents.
It can be noted that as we see Miranda change and become progressively more terrified in her speech we start to experience Clegg’s claustrophobic nature as well. This enables the reader to fully empathise her situation. “Oh. God, this is horrible… He’s not human. Oh God I’m so lonely so utterly alone. I can’t write. ” Page 256 The punctuation and intense short lines not only demonstrate Miranda’s dying panic, but it also helps the reader visualise her fragile state. The broken punctuation within the line, ‘Oh. God, this is horrible. ’ appears to mirror her broken speech and lack of breath.
As we read these lines we can hear how petrified and weak Miranda is at this stage and combined with the repetition of ‘so’ and ‘lone’ only accentuates her despair. Through a combination of techniques both authors manage to portray insanity efficiently, especially as mental illness is an incredibly complex subject and difficult to define. Banks portrays Frank’s brother Eric as insane through his actions and language, perhaps more blatantly than Frank and Clegg. However it is the fact that both Frank and Clegg appear reasonably sane at first glance, that makes them significantly more curious to the reader.
However one cannot help to notice how both authors seem to highlight how society, the absence of both male and female role models and the way that someone is brought up heavily affects their state of mind. It is a serious and multifaceted issue that both Banks and Fowles address. Bibliography The Wasp Factory The Collector Postmodernist narrative strategies in the novels of John Fowles (Prof. Dr. Manfred Smuda) (http://deposit. ddb. de/cgi-bin/dokserv? idn=978606957&dok_var=d1&dok_ext=pdf&filename=978606957. pdf) California Literary Review Hamish Hamilton – Literary Consequences
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