On Everyman (was:Re: Mordion/Tess - Christian Imagery in Hexwood (long))

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue Mar 14 18:03:08 EST 2000


On Tue, 14 Mar 2000 21:38:46 +0100, Hallie O'Donovan wrote:

>Melissa:
>
>>(After re-reading the
>>book, I'm leaning more toward the idea of Tess as Everyman, torn between
>>Satan (as represented by Alec d'Urberville) and Angel (the angel, and did
>>Hardy HAVE to be so obvious? :)
>
>Philip:
>
>>I think I said this on the list once before, but I see in Mordion an analogue
>>of Everyman.
>
>and lots of snipping later:
>
>>I like this.  This enriches Mordion both as Christ and as Everyman.
>
>I think I've achieved about as much understanding on this as I'm going to
>for the moment, because I really don't know anything about the Everyman -
>concept? Image?  Character?  See how much I don't know?

Well, it's not like any of us were born knowing these things...

It's been SO long since college.  What we're talking about here is the idea
of "every-man"--that which is common to all humankind.  Sort of.  More
specifically, "Everyman" is a term for a character who within a story
represents that commonality of humankind.  Now I'm cribbing from my old
Norton Anthology of English Lit:  _Everyman_ is a morality play from the
Middle English period.  Morality plays were a form of entertaining religious
instruction that dramatized the moral struggle of Christians in a fallen
world, caught between the promises of Heaven and the temptations of Hell.
So "Everyman" (the character) represents, literally, that which is common to
all humans.  _Everyman_ (the play) has characters representing the virtues
and vices, all of which "tempt" Everyman to follow them and thus get closer
to either Heaven or Hell.

In this case, referring to either Tess or Mordion as Everyman means a
specific kind of reading; we take the sufferings and struggles of these
characters as representative of the kind of struggles we all face.  (For
Mordion to stand, in Philip's reading, as both Christ and Everyman makes
sense because in Christian theology, Christ is *the* Man--the exemplar for
all humans, and hence can be a sort of super-Everyman.)  It's a way of
generalizing a story or plot, ignoring the specifics (like, the Bannus as
near-magical technology, or the universe as controlled by Reigners) to pick
out the elements which are general and meaningful to *everyone*.  

I'm trying desperately to avoid saying something like "it becomes an
allegory for Life" or "you can really learn something from it" but I think
that's really what it comes down to.  It's been my contention for years that
the *good* modern fantasy is allegory for our time, and even though
moralizing has gone out of style, I don't think allegory ever will or
should.  _Hexwood_ is one of my favorite DWJ novels because I have the
sense, every time I read it, that I still haven't mined it for every ounce
of possible meaning.  This Everyman/allegorical reading is one of those
things.

>So, Melissa, have you done a Proffitt Notes version of Everyman yet?  Not,
>you understand, so that I could seek to avoid reading the original.  Never
>that.

This would mean that I would have to re-read the original myself.  I think
I'd rather eat a live toad.  (My degree required me to take three literary
survey courses, one of which was Early English Lit, and aside from the
_Canterbury Tales_ I think I've managed to nearly forget all of it by now.
I'm reading a book called _Our Marvelous Native Tongue_, which is about the
development of the English language, and the section on Old English is
giving me _Beowulf_ flashbacks.)

>To share a completely useless bit of trivia, The Guardian today published a
>report of research which showed that London taxi-drivers, who have The
>Knowledge, actually have larger brains - and the longer they'd been at it,
>the larger their brains.  So next time someone says that this list expands
>the brain - it may be literally true!

I wonder if this has anything to do with the amount of time I spend
chauffeuring kids around town....

Melissa Proffitt
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