Ideology represents the imaginary relationship of individuals to their real conditions of existence
Each of the central characters in “Open Secrets” by Alice Munro and “Paradise Lost” by John Milton are driven and sustained by the relationship between the realities of their existence and their personal ideologies. The conflict between ideology and reality is an important theme in the work of Munro and Milton and both the obvious discrepancies and the more subtle references to this define many aspects of the plot and characterisation.
An examination of the reactions of characters to the restrictions placed on them by the reality in which they exist, and their perception of this reality is fundamental to understanding the ideologies which they possess. Their ideologies are the crucial influence on the experiences and eventual fates of each character. Ultimately the question of whether or not these relationships and conflicts are resolved or overcome is the key to gaining a deeper insight into the texts, and simultaneously provides the reader with evidence of the authors’ own beliefs and ideologies.
In Paradise Lost, Milton makes use of the ideas of contrast and opposition in order to create a text which is highly significant of his own personal ideology and, at the same time, a beautiful and intricate piece of epic poetry. The first character which the reader is able to engage with on a relatively profound level is Satan. This is not as ironic as it may seem as the title should ensure that the reader is forewarned of the fact that the main concern of the poem is going to be the story of the brief but significant triumph of evil over good (Satan’s success in the temptation of Eve).
From the outset Milton establishes to his readers that Satan is a colossal antagonist, with the realisation that his potential for evil and his success as a tempter are unquestionable. Milton’s approach in the characterisation of Satan was definitely unorthodox at the time of writing, however, his methods are essential if the plot and characterisation is to be meaningful and believable. By rendering Satan as an attractive and awesome character, he immediately invites his readers to engage with the, as yet, only briefly mentioned characters of Adam and Eve.
If the readers can find themselves taken in by Satan’s attractive and inspiring rhetoric, then the successful temptation of Eve becomes not only more believable to the reader, but an inevitable outcome of the plot. Milton’s characterisation, not only of Satan, but of the characters of Adam and Eve is extremely important and worthy of study. The story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, which is the main source for the poem’s subject matter, is so well known as to be almost indelibly stamped upon the consciousness of Christian and, more importantly, Western Civilisation as a whole.
This added depth of characterisation which permits the readers to engage with the main protagonists is essential to the greatness of this text and without it the poem would not be regarded as such an important milestone in English literature. Desmond M. Hamlet writes that in Paradise Lost “Satan’s sin is terrible because it is a rebellion against God’s love, actualised in the Son who functions in the entire poem as the indispensable creative and restorative agency for the dissemination of that love in practical and exemplary ways. “
In “Sudden Apprehension”, Lee A. Jacobus asserts that one of the driving forces behind Milton’s personal ideology was the importance he placed on having true self knowledge. Satan is known in Christian Mythology as the great deceiver, and as the embodiment of evil in Paradise Lost. Milton ironically undercuts Satan’s seemingly powerful and beautiful speeches but showing undoubtedly that Satan has succeeded unconsciously in deceiving himself.
This contrasts with Adam who was born “self knowing” and whose natural impulse is to give thanks to god: Tell me, how may I know him, how adore, / From whom I have that thus I move and live, / And feel that I am happier than I know” (Book 8, 250-282) The reality of Adam’s existence in Paradise demands obedience to God’s will, however, his behaviour is influenced by his fixation on Eve’s beauty. This flaw in his ideology leads him to permit Eve to work in the garden alone, and also to co-operate with her in what leads to their fall from Paradise.
Her ear leads her to the pool which deceives her on two counts, it is not “a liquid plain” nor “another skie” Aristotle wrote that the ear was the principal source of wisdom so in book 4 the reader is already being warned that eves thirst for knowledge will lead her astray. footnote *sudden apprehension by jacobus chapter 2 pg 33-34* “In Paradise Lost, the reader is repeatedly forced to acknowledge the unworthiness of values and ideals he had previously admired” (Stanley E. Fish in surprised by sin; the reader in paradise lost Berkeley university of California press 1973) In “Poet of Exile”, Louis L. Martz writes that, in the beginning, “Adam and Eve… have all our basic psychological qualities”, in short, they are made frail by their God given right to choose and their possession of free will.
“We – the readers – were made to feel ashamed of our naive affection for the father of lies” (Sharon Achinstein) Satan as representative of the false heroic image that does not stand up against the weapons and strength of true Christianity. od as an allegory for the tyrants which Milton raged against and Satan as an allegorical representation of those who kept the tyrants in power by fighting unsuccessfully against them due to the fact that they wanted only to replace the tyrant not work for a better world. “Open Secrets” the title tale of Alice Munro’s collection recounts the reactions of the local population to the mysterious disappearance of one of a group of local girls, Heather Bell, which took place on a hiking trip a few years prior to the story’s beginning.
One of the first and most poignant facts the reader learns is the lyric to the song sung by the girl hikers: “For the Beauty of the Earth, /For the Beauty of the Skies,? For the Love that from our Birth/ Over and around us lies… ” The ambiguous meaning of the word “lies” is highly significant as in this story the relationships between reality and ideology are extremely difficult to define.
In this short story, Munro never enlightens her readers as to what the actual reality of the situation is. By withholding the crucial details of the events surrounding Heather Bell’s disappearance, Munro manipulates the reader into assuming the position and viewpoint of a character within the text, much like Milton’s seductive characterisation of Satan. The reader is forced to join with the characters in the story by coming up with theories and opinion as to what actually happened.
This fact, when juxtaposed with the lack of concrete evidence or proof, leads the reader to view all the theories as “lies” and the hikers’ optimistic song becomes a symbol of the fact that no matter how innocent or horrible the reality is, its dimensions will never be known. CONCLUSION…. Jackson I. Cope, in his book, “The Metaphoric Structure of Paradise Lost” writes, “The immediate and intuitive language, which frustrates the religious polemicist in discursive argument is precisely the “corporeal” world out of which the poet shapes reality”.
I feel this is an important point when reading the texts of Munro and Milton. In my opinion, as a reader, the ideology of the author is not of supreme importance. Readers are often drawn to attempt to work out the author’s personal ideology through the characterisation, use of metaphor and allegory and other literary devices present in the text, however, this can arguably obscure evidence of the author’s true aim – to create beautiful and engaging works of fiction.
Paradise Lost and Open Secrets are representative of the work of Milton and Munro and are texts peopled with strong engaging characters which demand that the readers examine their own consciences, personal ideologies and perceptions of reality. In this sense, the greatest achievement of Munro is to engage and entertain her readers, without satisfying them with stereotypical and unremarkable romances and mysteries.
Lucy Hughes-Hallett writes about Open Secrets – “In story after story there is an intricate layered richness as one narrative is braided into another, not by dint of coincidences or revelations, but simply by Munro’s insistence that every life is important”. While Munro’s ideology is somewhat revealed through her choice of plots and protagonists, the point which seems to pervade her writing is that the ideologies of the characters are the most important and it is with their personal realities and perceptions with which we should be engaging, and not hers.
Critics have argued for centuries over the significance of Paradise Lost in relation to Milton’s own political and religious ideologies, and while I accept that the poem does reflect Milton’s views of organised religion in general, I think the allegorical function and perceived polemic is less important than his efforts to engage his readers with the characters and moral implications of the text. Milton is similar to Munro in this sense, she deals with ordinary lives and in Paradise Lost Milton deals with a familiar age old tale.
Through use of characterisation and by contrasting reality with ideology, Milton gives the questions and arguments raised by this age old story a personal slant and turns the poem into a voyage of discovery for his readers. Neither Milton nor Munro set out to make their fiction easy or superficially satisfactory to their readers, however, they both deal extensively with the conflict between the realities of existence and false ideologies which is a universal theme and one which each reader can achieve some level of personal identification with. (1677)
Open Secrets – “Carried Away” “… had been in love once, with a doctor she had known in the sanatorium. ” Her love was returned, eventually, costing the doctor his job. There was some harsh doubt in her mind about whether he had been told to leave the sanatorium or had left of his own accord, being weary of the entanglement. He was married, he had children. Letters had played a part that time, too. After he left, they were still writing to one another. And once or twice after she was released. “Then she asked him not to write anymore and he didn’t.
But the failure of his letters to arrive drove her out of Toronto… ” and made her take the travelling job. Then there would be only the one disappointment of the week, when she got back on Friday or Saturday night. Her last letter had been firm and stoical, and some consciousness of herself as a heroine of love’s tragedy went with her around the country as she hauled her display cases up and down the stairs of small hotels and talked about Paris styles and said that her sample hats were bewitching, and drank her solitary glass of wine.
If she’d had anybody to tell, though, she would have laughed at just that notion. She would have said love was all hocus-pocus, a deception, and she believed that. But at the prospect she felt a hush, a flutter along the nerves, a bowing down of sense, a flagrant prostration” “I am glad to hear you do not have a sweetheart though I know that is selfish of me. I do not think you and I will ever meet again. I don’t say that because I’ve had a dream what will happen or am a gloomy person always looking for the worst.
It just seems to me it is the most probable thing to happen, though I don’t dwell on it and go along every day doing the best I can to stay alive. I am not trying to worry you or get your sympathy either but just explain how the idea I won’t ever see Carstairs again makes me think I can say anything I want. I guess it’s like being sick with a fever. So I will say I love you. I think of you up on a stool at the Library reaching to put a book away and I come up and put my hands on your waist and lift you down, and you turning around inside my arms as if we agreed on everything. “
Alice Munro – “What is remembered” It was the women, then, who could slip back–during the daytime hours, and always allowing for the stunning responsibility that had been landed on them, in the matter of the children–into a kind of second adolescence. A lightening of spirits when the husbands departed. Dreamy rebellion, subversive get-togethers, laughing fits that were a throwback to high school, mushrooming between the walls that the husband was paying for, in the hours when he wasn’t there. In a more recent short fiction – “What is remembered”, Munro writes another abortive love story, quite similarly in structure to “Carried Away”.
The protagonist in this story is a young wife named Meriel who has a brief fling with a doctor she meets at a funeral. Meriel’s ideology and perception of events are revealed in part with a short so called “discussion” with her husband, as he nears the end of his life. Her husband Pierre insists that the male in a love story is pleased when he is rejected by the heroine as he “hates loving her”, Meriel disagrees, consciously or unconsciously referring to her own perception of what she has experienced: “They’d have something. Their experience. “
He would pretty well forget it, and she’d die of shame and rejection. She’s intelligent. She knows that. ” “Well,” said Meriel, pausing for a bit, because she felt cornered. “Well, Turgenev doesn’t say that. He says she’s totally taken aback. He says she’s cold. ” “Intelligence makes her cold. Intelligent means cold, for a woman. ” “No. ” “I mean in the nineteenth century. In the nineteenth century it does. ” This exchange is symbolic as it shows that, through her experience, Meriel is able to engage with the heroine in the novel and reject the author’s control of events.
I think this is a pertinent point to take into consideration when searching for the ideological basis of Munro’s work. She writes about normal people, who have strange experiences but react in ways that the reader can empathise with. Louisa in “Carried Away” is described as having a rather nondescript personality and leading a life which is for the most part without high drama. The characterisation is subtle and understated. “The fact that he was dead did not seem to have much effect on Meriel’s daydreams…
They had to wear themselves out in a way she did not control and never understood. ” If she’d had anybody to tell, though, she would have laughed at just that notion. She would have said love was all hocus-pocus, a deception, and she believed that. But at the prospect she felt a hush, a flutter along the nerves, a bowing down of sense, a flagrant prostration” “He wrote that he did not expect to come home… When the war ended, it was a while since she had heard from him. She went on expecting a letter every day and nothing came.
Nothing came. She was afraid that he might have been one of those unluckiest of soldiers in the whole war – one of those killed in the last week, or on the last day, or even in the last hour… When she entered the town hall she always felt he might be there before her, leaning up against the wall awaiting her arrival. Sometimes she felt it so strongly she saw a shadow that she mistook for a man. She understood now how people believed they had seen ghosts. Whenever the door opened she expected to look up into his face.
Sometimes she made a pact with herself not to look up until she had counted to ten… She had to be forgiven, didn’t she, she had to be forgiven for thinking, after such letters, that the one thing that could never happen was that he wouldn’t approach her, wouldn’t get in touch with her at all? Never cross her threshold after such avowals?… She read a short notice of his marriage to a Miss Grace Horne. Not a girl she knew. Not a library user. There was no picture. Brown and cream piping. Such was the end, and had to be, to her romance? “
Throughout “Carried Away” Louisa is unlucky in her pursuit of love. She is not doomed to be a spinster throughout her life, and in fact, marries well, giving her a comfortable lifestyle and a degree of happiness. This occurs despite her previous two encounters with love which left her not overtly broken-hearted but on a subtle level, wounded. The poignant and bittersweet way in which Munro recounts the tale of Louisa’s doomed romance with the Doctor from the sanatorium draws the reader still further in as it mirrors Louisa’s stoical tone in breaking off the romance.
And yet her belief that the mysterious soldier will one day declare his love in person is not inconsistent as despite her previous disappointment, Louisa is still eager to succumb to love: “If she’d had anybody to tell, though, she would have laughed at just that notion. She would have said love was all hocus-pocus, a deception, and she believed that. But at the prospect she felt a hush, a flutter along the nerves, a bowing down of sense, a flagrant prostration” In a sense this is Louisa’s “open secret”, as she informs the soldier, Jack Agnew, early on in their correspondence that she was once in love but that it had to be broken off.
By opening herself up to him (because as the reader knows, Louisa is not generally outgoing with information) she sets herself up for an even deeper wound when she receives both the short note and the returned photograph. This is a truly upsetting moment in this unconventional love story as Louisa’s thoughts, indecisions and insecurities are clearly stated. To have it returned in such a cowardly manner seems to add insult to injury. Louisa, however, remains firm in the face of adversity, even joking with an acquaintance and gently reprimanding herself for daring to believe that the soldier could have loved her :
Ah, that’s so, that’s so! ” Louisa said. “And what was it in my case but vanity, which deserves to get slapped down! ” Her eyes were glassy and her expression roguish. “You don’t think he’d had a good look at me any one time and thought the original was even worse than the poor picture, so he backed off? ” Her gentle self mocking is not meant to induce sympathy from the reader, in the same way that Jack’s belief that he would never see Carstairs again was not an attempt by him “to gain (her) sympathy” instead, just a simple statement of what he perceived to be a fact.
His perception however, is utterly wrong, and his false ideology leads him to tell Louisa that he is in love with her. Jack clearly believes in his pessimistic ideology, as the consequences of toying with Louisa’s emotions are brutally cruel otherwise, and Jack is not perceived by the reader as a cruel man. However Munro does avenge her protagonist slightly by serving Jack with one of the most ridiculous deaths and a funeral which was one of the best attended in years, not because he was so popular or well liked but because the people “wished to pay tribute to the sensational and tragic manner of his death” Open Secrets” the title tale of Alice Munro’s collection recounts the reactions of the local population to the mysterious disappearance of one of a group of local girls, Heather Bell, which took place on a hiking trip a few years prior to the story’s beginning. One of the first and most poignant facts the reader learns is the lyric to the song sung by the girl hikers: “For the Beauty of the Earth, /For the Beauty of the Skies,? For the Love that from our Birth/ Over and around us lies… “
The ambiguous meaning of the word “lies” is highly significant as in this story the relationships between reality and ideology are extremely difficult to define. In this short story, Munro never enlightens her readers as to what the actual reality of the situation is. By withholding the crucial details of the events surrounding Heather Bell’s disappearance, Munro manipulates the reader into assuming the position and viewpoint of a character within the text, much like Milton’s seductive characterisation of Satan. The reader is forced to join with the characters in the story by coming up with theories and opinion as to what actually happened.
This fact, when juxtaposed with the lack of concrete evidence or proof, leads the reader to view all the theories as “lies” and the hikers’ optimistic song becomes a symbol of the fact that no matter how innocent or horrible the reality is, its dimensions will never be known. “They will try to make out she was some poor innocent, but the facts are dead different” says one of the schoolgirl acquaintances of Heather Bell. “… the undefined nature of evil should be seen as the ideological context of Satan’s notorious inconsistency as a character” “Satan defines his evil goal… strictly in oppositional terms”
Milton was writing at the time of the emergence of a relatively new ideological situation in which ethical codes of good and evil are being reshuffled and centred, in which evil reappears with revitalised force as a… placeless agent that can find its definition not positively or inherently but only in reacting against some similarly abstract and unified concept or agent of virtue or reason. “On the one hand, Satan is a meta-epic character” “Satan is cast… as a stock figure of evil”
“The dominant form of drama in the Satan figures as the fragmentary subject of constitutively unsatisfied desire” Some versions of Pastoral” William Empson – “Empson argues that there is a coherent Satan, but that this coherence is only an impressive fai??ade upon which two different and quite inconsistent viewpoint are constantly superimposed” Milton characterises Satan as a creature at once attractive and evil, appealing and destructive. Satan has the accoutrements of the great leader, the attractiveness of an epic adventurer. Books 1 and 2 reveal an heroic self assertion, self reliance and self deification that we find not only exciting but with which we identify to varying degrees.
Temptation does not come in an unattractive form. Milton ironically undercuts Satan’s magnificence by linking him repeatedly to tyranny, deceit and destruction. Lucifer’s fall comes because he refuses to accept his subordinate position. Satan’s goal is “to equal God in power” (5. 343) so that in effect he becomes a parody of god and especially of the son to whom he is consistently placed as a foil throughout Paradise Lost. He lies with superb skill and persuasiveness. Impressive and attractive leader. Bold military leader, resolute, resourceful, capable of inspiring a large and devoted following.
Satan represents the style of life which is most attractive to mankind but that was also the root cause of human evil and misery. The magnificent pretence of Satan is both defeated and exposed when he loses the battle on the third day. God and Satan – both references to church and organised religion????? Satan hates God and sunlight (4. 37) and living things (4. 197) and the organisation of the cosmos (2. 938-84) in the garden of Eden he sees “saw undelighted all delight” (4. 286) he is determined to bring man pain instead of joy, woes instead of pleasure (4. 68-9,535) at first he expresses pity for Adam and Eve but soon recovers with a rationalisation, putting the blame on god. “Hell shall unfold/To entertain you two, her widest Gates” (4. 381-3) “… stronger hate,/Hate stronger, under shew of love, well feign’d /The way which to her run now I tend” (9. 491-93) Satan’s approach to Eve is specious and deceptive, but is also moving and persuasive. He leads Eve to accept a flattering view of himself as a serpent and herself as a goddess. Satan urges them to “be as Gods” (9. 708-14) which was the same sin by which he himself had fallen.
Bridge from hell to earth “a passage broad, / Smooth, easie, inoffensive down to hell” (10. 304-5) this fulfils Satan’s plan for “Earth with Hell / To mingle and involve” (2. 383-84) Satan re-enters hell triumphantly with a call to the demonic hosts to rise and enter “into full bliss” (10. 502-3) instead of ascending however they fall and are converted into serpents. This is our last direct vision of Satan in the epic, as the greatest triumph of the great perverter is itself ironically perverted. Satan’s perversion of created god is itself reversed and creation renewed.
Satan declares in book 1 that he intended “out of good still to find means of evil” (1. 165) but in the concluding book the restored and instructed Adam celebrates the providential deliverance to come by the son “That all this good of evil shall produce ? And evil turn to good” (12. 470-471) The degeneration of Satan’s character in paradise lost is brilliantly conceived and executed. Instead of becoming the king of heaven he becomes the king of hell, and on earth he passes through the even lower forms of vulture, cormorant, lion, tiger, toad and serpent.
When he finally enters into the serpent “with bestial slime / This essence to incarnate and imbrute” (9. 165-66) – he stands at the farthest remove from his pretensions and in his harshest parody of god the son whose incarnation was to redeem and not to destroy man. Satan’s revolt against God was freely committed however once in revolt he is no longer free but as the faithful Angel Abdiel taunts him “to thyself enthralled” (6. 181), enslaved to his own identification of himself with an impossible and irrational self image. As a result of this chosen enslavement he finds himself at odds not only with god but with himself and other creatures.
He curse God and himself (4. 69-71) By attempting to exalt himself he repudiates his only viable mode of being, cannot fulfil himself and so “still unfulfilled with pain of longing pines” (4. 511). As he admits, even while he is adored on the throne of infernal divinity “the lower still I fall, only supreme / In misery” (4. 91-92). Seeking power apart from love, he declares that “only in destroying I find ease” and that even from the destruction that he pursues “worse to me redounds” and “torment within me, as from the hateful siege / Of contraries” (9. 128-9, 120-22)
After asserting his hatred of god and himself he recognises that “which way I fly is hell; myself am hell” (4. 75) All good becomes bane to him but he refuse to repudiate his pride and so repentance is out of the question for him (4. 98 – 101). He is entirely consistent in his dedication “to waste (god’s) whole creation or possess” it, and since he cannot possess it, he commits himself to its destruction (2. 365). The one promise he keeps is his bond to sin and death that “all things shall be your prey” (2. 844) “… torment within me, as from the hateful siege / Of contraries”
By his self deification and by his persistent strategy of domination and destruction, Satan creates the essential conditions of hell ; what god provides in hell itself is an abode suitable to Satan’s free choice. It is not a question of real fire but the anguish and torment of a self chosen alienation from god (Calvinist theory) “… from hell / One step no more than from himself” could Satan fly, and that hell “… always in him burnes / Though in mid Heav’n” (4. 21-2, 9. 467-8) “We – the readers – were made to feel ashamed of our naive affection for the father of lies” (Sharon Achinstein)
Satan as complete contradiction in terms. 200 Satan as representative of Milton’s ideology – contrast with the son. 200 Satan as a character is doomed to fail in his quest to become ruler of heaven. On the third day of his battle with The Son, he is defeated. If the reader assumes that Milton was illuminating his own ideology through the character of Satan then there are a few interesting points to note. The Son is willing to sacrifice his life in order to improve the conditions humanity must endure after their fall from grace. This ideology contrasts directly with that of Satan, who states in Book 9 “only in destroying I find ease”.
The Son is the embodiment of goodness and self-sacrificing virtue in Paradise Lost (Divine compassion, visibly appear’d/ Love without end, and without measure grace”) and his ideology triumphs over the false ideology of Satan. Satan and God are both aspects of the tyrannical power that Milton raged against throughout his lifetime. The false heroism of Satan is seen by some critics as an allegorical representation of the hypocrisy of those who fought against tyranny with no alternative world order in mind, those who wished to depose tyrants in order to assume this position for themselves.
While the Son is unequivocally moral and good, God is depicted in a less human way, as tyrannical though not in an overtly bad way, I think this is symbolic of Milton’s ideology, he did not believe that ideological theory by itself was worthy of praise, but that physical action should accompany any ideology which wished to be taken seriously – “I cannot praise a fugitive and uncloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed” (Milton, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce).
Therefore the Son functions not only as a symbol of divine good, but also as an example that possession of a compassionate and virtuous ideology are only worthy if teamed with real sacrifice and meaningful action. Louisa – the reality of her situation, the reality of Maureen’s situation, the reality or Meriel’s situation. Their perceptions of these realities the significance of these perceptions on their fates and their experiences.