It’s Just a Matter of Perspective

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I actually liked The Bloody Chamber, not only was Carter’s language evocative, but it was also very interesting how her style could shift from fine and sophisticated to vulgar and obscene within the matter of a single word.  As I happen to be on the topic of language and words, I will take this time to say that I was rather confused by the tense Carter sometimes used throughout the stories featured in this collection.  In “The Courtship of Mr Lyon”, Carter begins the story using the third-person perspective.  However, at the end of the first paragraph she suddenly writes: “The roads are bad.  I hope that he’ll be safe” (41), only to return to the third-person perspective in the next line.  Thus, it appears as though Carter may want this line to stand out.  After all, it is not only an abrupt change in tense, but she also puts it in a paragraph of its own right before a break in the story.  The narrative then forges on, never returning to this first person point of view again.  Because this line is the only line to be told from the first person perspective in this story, I am wondering about its significance to the story and why Carter may have chosen to express this thought in this way, especially as the thought being expressed does not seem to be all that profound. After all, if she wanted to express the girl’s thoughts, she could have easily accomplished this using the third-person perspective.  So, what is the significance of this line and what is the purpose of writing it in this perspective?

Other stories in The Bloody Chamber also feature this combination of the first person and third person perspectives, such as “Puss-in-Boots” and “The Lady of the House of Love”.  When reading “Puss-in-Boots”the narrator’s choice to frequently change perspective (sometimes even in the same sentence!–take the following sentence, for instance: “So Puss got his post at the same time as his boots and I dare say the Master and I have much in common for he’s proud as the devil… (70).) caused me a lot of confusion; it even made the story hard to read at times.  Yet despite this, Carter insistently sticks to this method of switching perspective throughout the story.  Then, in “The Lady of the House of Love”, the perspective changes from third-person to first-person perspective in short stanzas, in which she refers to lines from Jack and the Beanstalk (96, 97), as well as a few phrases in French (102, 104, 105)–wherein the Countess tells the solider to follow her; that she was waiting for him; and that he is her prey.  The tense also changes on page 103, in which the Countess describes what she is planning to do to the solider. But, immediately after this tense change, the Countess is described as a “haunted house.  She does not possess her self; her ancestors sometimes come and peer out of the windows of her eyes and that is very frightening” (103).  So, these words–in combination with the lines from Jack and the Beanstalk on pages 96 and 97–seem to suggest that, despite her appearance, which gives her the “fragility of the skeleton of a moth” (100), she is struggling against some kind of ferocious monster-like being (her natural vampire instincts ?) inside her.  However, I do feel that, perhaps, there are other ways in which one can interpret this change in tense; so, if you have a different interpretation that you think makes sense, feel free to add a comment.  In seminar today, someone also pointed out that there is a tense change at the very end of “The Earl-King” (91), as well.  However, the tense goes from first person to third person in this story.  Honestly, I have no idea what to make of this.  Thus, one may wonder: what does Carter hope to accomplish by changing the tense so frequently, especially if this changing perspective only complicates the story even further?

While reading The Bloody Chamber, I also noticed that Carter used a lot of reoccurring symbols throughout the collection.  One instance of this occurs with flowers, as they appear in nearly every story.  In “The Bloody Chamber”, the protagonist compares her husband to a lily , saying “sometimes he seemed to me like a lily.  Yes.  A lily.  Possessed of that strange, ominous calm of a sentient vegetable, like one of those cobra-headed, funeral lilies whose white sheaths are ruled out of flesh a think and tensely yielding to the touch as vellum” (9).  “Puss-in Boots”, also features this symbol of a white lily, as the virginity of the master’s lover is likened to that of a pure, white lily (72).  I found this very interesting since, although both stories feature a white lily, they use it to represent two totally different things; “The Bloody Chamber” compares the lily to death and funerals, whereas “Puss-in-Boots” uses the lily to represent purity.  The “The Courtship of Mr Lyon”also features a white flower, for Beauty only wants a white rose for her birthday.  Because the winter season makes roses hard to find, Beauty’s birthday wish causes her father to steal from the garden of the Beast (44). Later, when Beauty returns from the Beast’s castle and immerses herself in a life of luxury, she sends the Beast a bunch of white roses, in exchange for the flower that he had gave her (48), only to find that, when she has returned to the castle the, all the flowers are dead (50).  Interestingly enough, in “The Tiger’s Bride”–which, like “The Courtship of Mr Lyon”, is also based on Beauty and the Beast–the female protagonist doesn’t seem to be the least interested in the flowers that the Beast gifts to her.  Instead of accepting the white roses from the Beast, this girl thinks that these white roses are “unnatural, out of season” and, as a result, her “nervous fingers ripped [them], petal by petal, apart” (53).  Later, when she receives bouquet of flowers from the Beast, she “[tosses] the defunct bouquet into the rucked, frost stiff mud of the road” (57).  I have no idea what to make of the two female protagonist’s different reactions to the same white roses, especially because both stories are based on the same fairy tale.  Although they are red, roses are also present in “The Snow Child” (92) and “The Lady of the House of Love” (107).  From what I have seen, the first story not to have a flower in it is “The Werewolf”.  Yet, in this story, Carter explicitly states that, in this land of werewolves, “no flowers grow” (108).  From this point onward, the stories all feature werewolves and, also, contain no standout images or symbols of flowers.  Although I am well aware that these images and symbols of flowers can take on a multitude of meanings, which differs from story to story, this reoccurring image of the flower makes me think if there is, perhaps, some kind of connection between the flowers in each story.  Maybe, by looking at the image of a flower in one story, we can determine what Carter is trying to portray in other stories.  Or maybe we can determine what “flowers” mean to Carter as a whole and come up with a specific symbolic meaning for the flowers in each story.  But, even if we can’t, it’s just a thought that would be interesting to explore.

1 thought on “It’s Just a Matter of Perspective”

  1. These are, indeed, very interesting topics to explore! I had a couple of thoughts on the tense and voice changes as I thought about them more today.

    At the end of “Erl-King,” the tense changes abruptly to future. It has been past and present throughout before that. I have some thoughts on the changing between past and present, but I may write a blog post on that for later. For now I want to focus on the future at the end. What stands out to me about that is that she says she “will” strangle him with his hair, free the birds, etc. Which leaves things up in the air. It is what she plans to do, but does she actually do it? Maybe she just hopes to do it, thinks about doing it, but it’s never actually done within the story. Perhaps I’m thinking too pessimistically, but it feels to me like she could be ending up trapped herself and just planning for an escape that never happens. That the voice moves from “I” to “she” is difficult to make sense of, but it could indicate something like a splitting of herself, a standing outside herself, as if she doesn’t fully inhabit this intention to kill him and free the others. Maybe she doesn’t think herself capable of it and thus thrusts the intention onto a third person. This is just speculation at this point on my part.

    As for the future tense in “The Lady of the House of Love” on p. 103, I interpret that differently than I do in the previous example. There, the story seems heavily focused on the question of whether or not she can change, whether her future will always be the same as her past has been, as her ancestors have been. So when she speaks in the future tense about what “will” happen, it’s like her anticipating that repetition, that sameness, that destiny. She wishes it wouldn’t be the case but it’s perhaps hard to believe that this time, things will be different. And yet, of course, they are. So there’s something ironic in that future tense in this story, I think.

    I’ve got to think more about the other tense changes, and also about the flowers!

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