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Images Of Women: Major Barbara, A Passage To India, And The Poetry Of T.S. Eliot Essay, Research Paper

Images of Women: Major Barbara, A Passage to India, and the poetry of T.S. Eliot

The Victorian Era was a difficult and confusing time for women, and their trials are reflected in the literature of the time. Although the three pieces of literature being discussed are not entirely about women, they shed light on the Victorian ideal of women and the ideals of the authors who created these women characters. In contrasting and comparing women in Major Barbara, A Passage to India, and T.S. Eliot?s poetry, two key points will be discussed: distinct archetypes of women, and how the ?absence? of women is used to signify their importance.

There are four different archetypes of women present in the three works [1], the first being the heroines. The heroines are characterized by their success in dealing with the limitations of spiritual and physical matters, eventually accepting these limitations or reconciling their differences into their lives. Mrs. Moore is the heroine of A Passage to India. She is depicted as a heroine because of a small event that does not concern her personally. She comes to India just to further the happiness of her children, and due to the circumstances, sacrifices the integrity of her own self. She is at first very compassionate, with a love that extends over all creation, religion, and every living thing. (Shahane 29) She lives in a world where everything is in harmony, until her perfect vision is shattered by her experience in the Marabar Caves. After she enters the cave,

Mrs. Moore hears an echo, which seems to whisper, ?Everything exists, nothing has value.? [2]

Collier 2 This seems to rob Mrs. Moore of everything she holds valuable; her spiritual life and her relationships with family and friends. (Shahane 87) Everything has lost its meaning. Mrs. Moore finally sees all the troubles in the world, and how insignificant the world is. Despite her negative outlook after the Marabar Caves incident, Mrs. Moore accepts these realizations into her life. She breaks off relationships with her family and friends because she can no longer pretend that these relationships can exist with no meaning. She concerns herself with only trivial things, such as playing cards.

In Major Barbara, the heroine is Major Barbara herself. She has more typical characteristics of a heroine than does Mrs. Moore. Shaw presents Barbara to us as a strong-willed, compassionate young girl. She is unashamed of her salvation and willingly spreads its message. Similarly, her father Undershaft is unashamed of his work in war and death. When Undershaft arrives in England, Barbara is unwillingly drawn into his ammunitions business affairs. She objects to this type of business, but through their sharing of ideas, her values and morals are thrown into question. She realizes that all religions glorify death and passivity and denial of the self. She begins to believe that Undershaft?s ?religion? and hers are no different. Based on this new belief, she chooses to leave the Salvation Army and to stay with Cusins working in her father?s business.

The second archetype of women is the socialite group. This is the group most criticized by their creators. These women have lives with no real meaning. They are devoted entirely to their outside activities, and cannot think apart from the rules of the society to which they belong. They will not hesitate to criticize the women who do not adhere to society?s strict rules. Mrs. Turton in A Passage to India belongs to this

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archetype of women. She is a cruel, selfish woman because of absorption in herself and in the Anglo-Indian society. She even tries to convince Mrs. Moore and Adela of her ideas about Indians: ?You?re superior to them, don?t forget that.? [3]

Lady Britomart is the socialite of Major Barbara. Her socialite manner begins in the home, and extends outward. She orders her children more than she mothers them. She is only concerned with family affairs if money is involved. She is enraged that Undershaft will not change his traditions of successorship to include her son Steven, and even more enraged at the immoral ideas that Undershaft shares with his children. The criticism brought upon these types of women by their author-creators seems to indicate the rules and standards of society mean nothing. It is the inside lives of men and women that make them heroines or heroes. These women have no initiative to change, and would be shunned from their societies if they were to do so.

The idealistic archetype describes the women who pursue something ideal which they have little knowledge about. They exclude the ?real? aspects of what they are pursuing. Sooner or later they realize how inadequate their quest and their lives are, but by this point they are so committed to their ideal dream they cannot change. Adela in A Passage to India is a perfect example of this archetype. She travels to see the ?real India?, to meet the ?real people? of India, and to meet her perfect husband. She pursues this quest avidly, asking to visit with the Bhattacharyas, visiting with Aziz and Fielding, and travelling to the Marabar Caves. It is here in the caves that Adela?s dreams are also shattered. She is entranced by the reflection of the match-flames on the wall. She notices that if the match touches its reflection, it is immediately snuffed out. ?The flames touch

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one another, kiss, expire.? [4] To Adela, this is a reflection of her life and her relationships. (Shahane 87) It is a glimpse of a spirit that she would like to unite with, but is always shut out from by the barriers of flesh. Adela tries to rekindle her relationship with Ronny, but realizes they are too involved in their external lives to be involved in anything deeper. The flame expires. Adela also tries to change her life after the trial against Aziz. Her downfall comes from wanting two incompatible things: to truly understand people, yet still stick to her standards of honesty and justice.

The last archetype describes the ?ideal? woman. T.S. Eliot?s poetry is full of images of perfect, unreachable women. La Figlia che Piange is the best example of his ideal-woman images. He envisions the woman as his model. He instructs her to pose for him, to hold flowers in her arms, and to ?weave the sunlight? in her hair. The narrator seems to admire the woman he is painting a picture of, but he does not trust her. He sees a ?fugitive resentment? in her eyes, and she ?turned away? from him. The reason why she left is alluded to in the second stanza, most likely a misunderstanding between the two parties. Even though the woman is now again out of reach, the narrator still idealizes her. He remembers her at her perfection, with flowers in her arms and in her hair. Even the quote above the poem indicates his admiration: ?O quam te memorem virgo…?, O remember the maiden. [5]

In Rhapsody on a Windy Night, Eliot evokes images and sounds that describe his consummate woman. The moon ?winks?, ?smiles?, and ?smooths the hair? of the grass, actions similar to the actions of a woman. The moon also represents a symbol of chastity

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and purity of woman. Again, the narrator idealizes this woman, but does not trust her. ?…female smells in shuttered rooms,? indicates he is afraid of women because they can hide their sexuality, and men cannot. [6] Eliot wants a woman of perfection, but realizes that no such woman exists.

In all three works, there are scenes when women are not present, but even in their absence they still have great impact. The women characters in A Passage to India, Major Barbara, and T.S. Eliot?s poetry are all dignified in their absence. Ironically, their absence makes them more real to the authors who create them, and the characters with which these women interact.

In A Passage to India, no woman?s impact in her absence is as great as Aziz?s dead wife. Aziz admits that he did not love her when they were first married, and shortly after he grew to love her she passed on. Only when she dies does Aziz truly appreciate her love, and her sacrifice to bring Aziz?s son into the world. The more time passes after her death, the more sincerely he mourns her. In Forster?s own words, Aziz fails to realize ?..the very fact that we have loved the dead increases their unreality…the more passionately we invoke [them] the further they recede.?

Adela?s absence after the Marabar Caves incident in Passage because of her illness throws the whole Anglo-Indian society into turmoil. The English men and women are thrown against one another and against the Indians. Even in her absence, Adela ?brought out all that was fine in [the English] character.? [8] Socialite women appear to show compassion, and the English men are more protective towards their wives. To the English, Adela?s experience is a violation of all they hold dear.

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However, when Adela shows up at the trial and recants her statement, she is no longer dignified. Mrs. Turton, who once stood by Adela, screams insults at her.

Mrs. Moore?s absence (leaving for England) in Passage has the same amount of impact on Aziz?s trial as does Adela?s recanted statement. Mahmoud Ali charges Ronny with smuggling Mrs. Moore out of state, so that she could not prove Aziz?s innocence on the stand. The idea that one lady could change the innocence or guilt of Aziz amazes the Indians in the audience. They chant ?Esmiss Esmoor? and she is made into an Indian goddess, the heroine of a people she has never even met.

Mrs. Moore?s always absent daughter Stella drastically impacts the friendship of Fielding and Aziz in Passage. Stella is never shown to the reader, she is always described but always in the other boat. (Shahane 17) Aziz assumes that Fielding has gone back to England and married Adela. Rather than admit to his blunder, Aziz retaliates by accusing Fielding of marrying into his enemy?s family. Because neither is willing to apologize for their mistakes, a friendship is destroyed.

In T.S. Eliot?s poetry, without absence, women have no meaning. In Portrait of a Lady, the narrator has trouble forming a friendship with or writing to the ?lady?.. He thinks she could be dead by the time his letters reach her. After his absence from her, his feelings change. In the first stanza of the poem, the woman remarks that ?…I think his soul / Should be resurrected only among friends?.. [9] In the last stanza, the narrator reflects back on her statement: ?This music is successful with a ?dying fall??.. [10] The narrator only seems to be able to form a friendship with his ?lady? after her

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death. He can now resurrect her soul, and relive the memories they shared.

In Aunt Helen, Eliot makes it obvious again that without absence, women have no meaning. Eliot describes his aunt living in a ?fashionable square? and servants cared for her. These society symbols mean nothing to Eliot. Only after Aunt Helen?s death does any action take place. The dogs are cared for, but the parrot dies; time continues to go on without her; and the footman and Aunt Helen?s maid continue their affair. Her death is seen as a dignified service. The dogs are ?handsomely provided for?, and the maid and footman can now continue their affair publicly. [11]

In Major Barbara, Barbara?s occasional absence is used for Cusins and Undershaft to discuss Barbara?s future. There is talk of her controlling the Undershaft business and fortune, how much a year she is to live on, and eventually her marriage to the cunning Cusins. It is also decided in her absence that Cusins will eventually take over the Undershaft business, leaving Barbara to decide alone what path she will take.

Society?s standards for women have changed since the Victorian era, and the way men relate to women has changed. The ?ideal? woman still does not exist, although a vision of the Victorian-era woman is present in these three works. Women are the most misunderstood characters in literature. Authors used archetypes, absences, and characterization to try and unravel the mysteries of the woman. What does it take to figure women out? Perhaps T.S. Eliot said it best: ?Some way incomparably light and deft, / Some way we both should understand, / Simple and faithless as a smile and shake of the hand.? [12]


References in Text

[1] Not all four archetypes are present in all three works.

[2] A Passage to India page 147

[3] A Passage to India page 42

[4] A Passage to India page 162

[5] All quotes in this section from T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems; La Figlia che Piange

page 26

[6] T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems; Rhapsody on a Windy Night page 18

[7] A Passage to India page 57 and 58

[8] A Passage to India page 199

[9] T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems; Portrait of a Lady page 8

[10] T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems; Portrait of a Lady page 12

[11] All quotes in this section from T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems; Aunt Helen page 21

[12] T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems; La Figlia che Piange page 26

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