Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

Demiurges in the Short Fiction of Pee Wee Herman

Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

Demiurges in the Short Fiction of Pee Wee Herman

Article excerpt

What the ghost really needs is not echoing passages and hidden doors behind tapestry, but only continuity and silence" (Ghost Stories 3). This passage in the author's Preface to The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton refers ostensibly to the physical silence that she found increasingly unavailable in her lifetime, to the "silent hours when at last the wireless has ceased to jazz" (3). In some of the stories in the collection, however, we find evidence of her ongoing concern with a different kind of silence, the emotional silence of those condemned to the condition of non-communication with their fellow creatures. Wharton articulates this concern in her autobiography, A Backward Glance, and dates it from the "owning of [her] first dog," which "woke in [her] that long ache of pity for animals, and for all inarticulate beings, which nothing has ever stilled" (4). 1 believe that this pity "for all inarticulate beings" extended to a concern for the absence of communication among women and that it surfaces in her ghost stories, wherein manifestations of the supernatural, the normally hidden and silent world, figure the suppression and silence of women that Wharton found in her society.

Several of her ghost stories illustrate this notion with terrifying effects, and one in particular deals specifically with the virtual silence between the woman writer and her female reader. "Pomegranate Seed" tells the sinister tale of the recently married Kenneth and Charlotte Ashby--she for the first time and he a widower--and the "shadowy third"(1) between them, his dead wife, Elsie, who continues to communicate with him by way of letters after her death. At the story's end, Kenneth has disappeared--presumably gone to join Elsie--and Charlotte and her mother-in-law are left with only a final, barely legible letter as a clue to where he may have gone. The emphasis oil the letters and on the characters in their roles as sender and receivers clearly identifies this as a story about writing and reading, and the few recent critics who have taken up "Pomegranate Seed" wisely focus on its nature as such. Most, however, concentrate on examining the story's clues to Wharton's ambivalence toward her writing and toward female authorship in general. Such ambivalence indeed abounds, but my approach to the story, while acknowledging the ambivalence, reveals a parallel but more decisive strain, at least in the text if not in the author. I read "Pomegranate Seed" as Wharton's indictment of the woman writer who perpetuates the state of noncommunication among women--who embraces the power of writing but can only do so at the cost of repudiating both her own gender identity and the responsibility of sisterhood, of keeping faith with other women through her writing. Wharton thus looks forward in this story to later feminist theorists, like Luce Irigaray, who have raised and continue to grapple with questions of women's language in a world dominated by masculine subjectivity and discourse.

Recent critics who offer explications of "Pomegranate Seed" focus oil its ambivalence or the evidence of struggle with an inner dilemma. Carol J. Singley and Susan Elizabeth Sweeney read the story as a "parable about women's ambivalence toward the power of reading and writing" (178). Candace Waid, in Letters from the Underworld, finds in "Pomegranate Seed" evidence of Wharton's inner "conflict between the realm of an invisible God who is associated with truth and reading and the domain ruled by her mother that was devoted to social appearances" (199). Annette Zilversmit in her essay "Edith Wharton's Last Ghosts" focuses on indications of Wharton's attempts to come to terms with "her most potent fears, the phantoms, not of men or society, but of other women, seemingly more attractive or deserving than herself or her heroines" (298). Margaret McDowell, concentrating on the later ghost stories for a "fuller understanding of [Wharton's] life and thought in the last years of her career" (292), finds increasing ambiguity toward the end of Wharton's life and career. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.