“At Night He Imagined Unspeakable Things”: Grotesques and Misinterpretations in “Hands”

Essay completed 22 November 2016

Sherwood Anderson shifts the grotesque from the realm of the supernatural to the world of everyday human life in his 1919 short story cycle Winesburg, Ohio. Characters in the work encounter the grotesque through attempts to conform to ideas and societal pressures. Anderson portrays the grotesque as a human creation, born of the conflict between ideas and failures to communicate. In his book A New Book of the Grotesques: Contemporary Approaches to Anderson’s Early Fiction, Robert Dunne analyzes this relationship between the grotesque and failures to communicate in Winesburg, Ohio, arguing that Anderson expresses “language is an indeterminate source of meaning and is in fact a contributing factor in how individuals become grotesque” (Dunne 11). Continue reading ““At Night He Imagined Unspeakable Things”: Grotesques and Misinterpretations in “Hands””

Heaven’s Gaze: Interpretive Vision and Medusa in Dante’s Inferno

Essay completed 26 April 2016

In canto IX lines 34-60 of Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno, travelers Virgil and Dante come across a tower at the Gate of Dis. Three Furies of classical Greek mythology emerge and call for the gorgon Medusa to petrify the men. Virgil commands Dante to turn and cover his eyes until the threat has passed. Dante the author then breaks from the narrative to invite the reader to “weigh with good understanding” the meaning behind this allegorical episode (Dante 9.58-60). The Medusa episode represents the obstacle that the physical world poses to Dante’s allegory of a quest for understanding. Continue reading “Heaven’s Gaze: Interpretive Vision and Medusa in Dante’s Inferno”

Engendering Confusion: Hermaphroditus, Bacchus, and Male Identity

Image by Grady Pearson

Essay completed 22 January 2016

The story of Hermaphroditus and Salmacis seems to upend the motif of male-on-female rape that runs through Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the story told in lines 4.392-424, the nymph Salmacis falls in love with Hermaphroditus, the son of Mercury and Venus. After the boy rejects her offer of marriage, Salmacis attempts to rape him in a spring. She refuses to let go despite his struggling and asks the gods to never separate her from him (4.409). The gods answer her prayers and she and Hermaphroditus become “blended” into one body (4.410). Ovid’s exploration of role reversal and identity make this story unique from all the preceding rape narratives he tells in Metamorphoses. The motifs of violence, transformation, and gender fluidity in the story demonstrate the power of Bacchus in the epic, even though the god does not appear in this story. Continue reading “Engendering Confusion: Hermaphroditus, Bacchus, and Male Identity”