Restraint Of Feminine Power In Kubla Kahn, Heart Of Darkness, And Death Constant Beyond Love

1656 words - 7 pages

Feminine power has long struck awe into the very heart of humanity. From modern believers in a single female God to the early Pagan religions, which considered every woman a goddess due to the mysterious and god-like power of the “sacred feminine” to create life, people of various faiths and time periods have revered the powers of womanhood. In traditional American culture, however, women are supposedly powerless and fragile, and men supposedly have both physical and political power. Is this true for modern society? Are our gender roles such that women are fragile and powerless, despite the historical prevalence of faith in the mysterious and creative powers of the female? Or are men fragile, and is modern feminine power not diminished but disguised? Dialogue surrounding gender in more recent periods of literature and thought, such as Romanticism, Modernism, and Post-Modernism, gravitate toward the latter argument. To understand their thinking, the following three works are instrumental: Romantic Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, “Kubla Kahn” (1797), Modernist Joseph Conrad’s novella, Heart of Darkness (1899), and Post-Modernist Gabriel García Márquez’s short story, “Death Constant Beyond Love” (1970). In these works, an increasing tendency to contain rather than exploit feminine power reveals the fragility of the male personality.

The male speaker’s attempt in Coleridge’s “Kubla Kahn” to appropriate feminine mystery and creativity into his own generative capacity – that is, to exploit it – reveals his very fragility. The speaker bestows feeling and color upon the complicated and ambiguous natural scenery by describing female figures: first, a setting “as holy and enchanted As e’er … was haunted By woman wailing for her demon lover!” (738-739.II 14-16); second, “A damsel with a dulcimer” the speaker saw in a vision whose “symphony and song”, if he could remember them, would inspire him to “build that [pleasure-dome]” (739.II 37, 43, 46). The poetic depiction of the first woman emanates a feeling of mystery, because she exists within the poem but not the setting – that is, she appears only for the effect of comparison – and because of her mysterious circumstances: why would she feel so pained as to be “wailing”? Who, and what, is her “demon-lover”? The speaker’s illustration of the second woman also exudes mystery, for she too exists but not in the scene, and because she originates from an unexplained vision and sings of the non-existent “Mount Abora” (739.I 41). This musical woman also appears to embody creativity, both as a creator of music and as the inspiration for the speaker to build a vast dome. Through such inspiration, the male speaker directs the creativity of this woman toward his own, thereby deriving from her his own generative impulse; thus, the speaker attempts to, in a word, appropriate her creativity for his own use. He deepens this appropriative effect by admitting that his power stems from “[drinking] the milk of...

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