Images of Women: Major Barbara, A Passage to India, and the poetry of T.S. EliotThe Victorian Era was a difficult and confusing time for women, and their trialsare reflected in the literature of the time. Although the three pieces ofliterature being discussed are not entirely about women, they shed light on theVictorian ideal of women and the ideals of the authors who created these womencharacters.
In contrasting and comparing women in Major Barbara, A Passage toIndia, and T.S. Eliots poetry, two key points will be discussed: distinctarchetypes of women, and how the “absence” of women is used to signify theirimportance. There are four different archetypes of women present in the threeworks 1, the first being the heroines.
The heroines are characterized by theirsuccess in dealing with the limitations of spiritual and physical matters,eventually accepting these limitations or reconciling their differences intotheir lives. Mrs. Moore is the heroine of A Passage to India. She is depicted asa heroine because of a small event that does not concern her personally.
Shecomes to India just to further the happiness of her children, and due to thecircumstances, sacrifices the integrity of her own self. She is at first verycompassionate, with a love that extends over all creation, religion, and everyliving 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 relationshipswith family and friends.
(Shahane 87) Everything has lost its meaning. Mrs.Moore finally sees all the troubles in the world, and how insignificant theworld is.
Despite her negative outlook after the Marabar Caves incident, Mrs.Moore accepts these realizations into her life. She breaks off relationshipswith her family and friends because she can no longer pretend that theserelationships can exist with no meaning. She concerns herself with only trivialthings, such as playing cards. In Major Barbara, the heroine is Major Barbaraherself.
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 isunashamed of her salvation and willingly spreads its message. Similarly, herfather Undershaft is unashamed of his work in war and death.
When Undershaftarrives in England, Barbara is unwillingly drawn into his ammunitions businessaffairs. She objects to this type of business, but through their sharing ofideas, her values and morals are thrown into question. She realizes that allreligions glorify death and passivity and denial of the self. She begins tobelieve that Undershafts “religion” and hers are no different. Based onthis new belief, she chooses to leave the Salvation Army and to stay with Cusinsworking in her fathers business.
The second archetype of women is thesocialite group. This is the group most criticized by their creators. Thesewomen have lives with no real meaning. They are devoted entirely to theiroutside activities, and cannot think apart from the rules of the society towhich they belong. They will not hesitate to criticize the women who do notadhere to societys strict rules. Mrs. Turton in A Passage to India belongs tothis Collier 3 archetype of women.
She is a cruel, selfish woman because ofabsorption in herself and in the Anglo-Indian society. She even tries toconvince Mrs. Moore and Adela of her ideas about Indians: “Youre superiorto them, dont forget that.
” 3 Lady Britomart is the socialite of MajorBarbara. Her socialite manner begins in the home, and extends outward. Sheorders her children more than she mothers them. She is only concerned withfamily affairs if money is involved. She is enraged that Undershaft will notchange his traditions of successorship to include her son Steven, and even moreenraged at the immoral ideas that Undershaft shares with his children.
Thecriticism brought upon these types of women by their author-creators seems toindicate the rules and standards of society mean nothing. It is the inside livesof men and women that make them heroines or heroes. These women have noinitiative to change, and would be shunned from their societies if they were todo so. The idealistic archetype describes the women who pursue something idealwhich they have little knowledge about. They exclude the “real” aspects ofwhat they are pursuing.
Sooner or later they realize how inadequate their questand their lives are, but by this point they are so committed to their idealdream they cannot change. Adela in A Passage to India is a perfect example ofthis archetype. She travels to see the “real India”, to meet the “realpeople” of India, and to meet her perfect husband. She pursues this questavidly, asking to visit with the Bhattacharyas, visiting with Aziz and Fielding,and travelling to the Marabar Caves. It is here in the caves that Adelasdreams are also shattered. She is entranced by the reflection of thematch-flames on the wall.
She notices that if the match touches its reflection,it is immediately snuffed out. “The flames touch Collier 4 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, butis always shut out from by the barriers of flesh.
Adela tries to rekindle herrelationship with Ronny, but realizes they are too involved in their externallives to be involved in anything deeper. The flame expires. Adela also tries tochange her life after the trial against Aziz. Her downfall comes from wantingtwo incompatible things: to truly understand people, yet still stick to herstandards of honesty and justice. The last archetype describes the “ideal”woman. T.
S. Eliots poetry is full of images of perfect, unreachable women. LaFiglia che Piange is the best example of his ideal-woman images. He envisionsthe woman as his model.
He instructs her to pose for him, to hold flowers in herarms, and to “weave the sunlight” in her hair. The narrator seems to admirethe 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. Thereason why she left is alluded to in the second stanza, most likely amisunderstanding between the two parties.
Even though the woman is now again outof 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 poemindicates his admiration: “O quam te memorem virgo..
.” , O remember themaiden. 5 In Rhapsody on a Windy Night, Eliot evokes images and sounds thatdescribe 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 Collier 5 and purity of woman.
Again, the narrator idealizes this woman, but does not trust her. “…femalesmells in shuttered rooms,” indicates he is afraid of women because they canhide their sexuality, and men cannot.
6 Eliot wants a woman of perfection, butrealizes that no such woman exists. In all three works, there are scenes whenwomen 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. Eliotspoetry are all dignified in their absence. Ironically, their absence makes themmore real to the authors who create them, and the characters with which thesewomen interact. In A Passage to India, no womans impact in her absence is asgreat as Azizs dead wife.
Aziz admits that he did not love her when they werefirst married, and shortly after he grew to love her she passed on. Only whenshe dies does Aziz truly appreciate her love, and her sacrifice to bringAzizs son into the world. The more time passes after her death, the moresincerely he mourns her. In Forsters own words, Aziz fails to realize”.
.the very fact that we have loved the dead increases their unreality…themore passionately we invoke them the further they recede.” Adelas absenceafter the Marabar Caves incident in Passage because of her illness throws thewhole Anglo-Indian society into turmoil. The English men and women are thrownagainst one another and against the Indians.
Even in her absence, Adela”brought out all that was fine in the English character.” 8 Socialitewomen appear to show compassion, and the English men are more protective towardstheir wives. To the English, Adelas experience is a violation of all theyhold dear.
Collier 6 However, when Adela shows up at the trial and recants herstatement, she is no longer dignified. Mrs. Turton, who once stood by Adela,screams insults at her. Mrs. Moores absence (leaving for England) in Passagehas the same amount of impact on Azizs trial as does Adelas recantedstatement. Mahmoud Ali charges Ronny with smuggling Mrs.
Moore out of state, sothat she could not prove Azizs innocence on the stand. The idea that one ladycould 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, theheroine of a people she has never even met. Mrs. Moores always absentdaughter Stella drastically impacts the friendship of Fielding and Aziz inPassage.
Stella is never shown to the reader, she is always described but alwaysin the other boat. (Shahane 17) Aziz assumes that Fielding has gone back toEngland and married Adela. Rather than admit to his blunder, Aziz retaliates byaccusing Fielding of marrying into his enemys family. Because neither iswilling to apologize for their mistakes, a friendship is destroyed. In T.S.Eliots 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 absencefrom her, his feelings change. In the first stanza of the poem, the womanremarks that “…
I think his soul / Should be resurrected only amongfriends”. 9 In the last stanza, the narrator reflects back on her statement:”This music is successful with a dying fall”. 10 The narrator onlyseems to be able to form a friendship with his “lady” after her Collier 7death.
He can now resurrect her soul, and relive the memories they shared. InAunt Helen, Eliot makes it obvious again that without absence, women have nomeaning. Eliot describes his aunt living in a “fashionable square” andservants cared for her. These society symbols mean nothing to Eliot.
Only afterAunt Helens death does any action take place. The dogs are cared for, but theparrot dies; time continues to go on without her; and the footman and AuntHelens maid continue their affair. Her death is seen as a dignified service.The dogs are “handsomely provided for”, and the maid and footman can nowcontinue their affair publicly.
11 In Major Barbara, Barbaras occasionalabsence is used for Cusins and Undershaft to discuss Barbaras future. Thereis talk of her controlling the Undershaft business and fortune, how much a yearshe is to live on, and eventually her marriage to the cunning Cusins. It is alsodecided in her absence that Cusins will eventually take over the Undershaftbusiness, leaving Barbara to decide alone what path she will take. Societysstandards for women have changed since the Victorian era, and the way men relateto women has changed.
The “ideal” woman still does not exist, although avision of the Victorian-era woman is present in these three works. Women are themost misunderstood characters in literature. Authors used archetypes, absences,and characterization to try and unravel the mysteries of the woman. What does ittake to figure women out? Perhaps T.S. Eliot said it best: “Some wayincomparably light and deft, / Some way we both should understand, / Simple andfaithless as a smile and shake of the hand.” 12Bibliography1 Not all four archetypes are present in all three works.
2 A Passage toIndia page 147 3 A Passage to India page 42 4 A Passage to India page 1625 All quotes in this section from T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems; La Figlia chePiange page 26 6 T.S. Eliot: Collected Poems; Rhapsody on a Windy Night page18 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: CollectedPoems; 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; LaFiglia che Piange page 26