Thursday, January 28, 2010

Week 11 Edgar Sawtelle

With this amazing complex book coming to an end, I couldn’t help but think back to previous chapters, the use of strong images that repeat and transform as they are used throughout the book to form a theme.
I keep returning to the role played by the basic elements in explaining or supporting the events and characters: earth water wind fire. I think DW is making the point that when Edgar is one with these forces he is complete.
Earth. Edgar finally accepts that Almondine is gone. P. 471 “He lay with his forehead pressed to the ground, the scent of iron and loam filling his nostrils and he clutched the dirt and poured it out of his hands. An oceanic roar filled his head. All his memory, all his past rose up to engulf him.”
This earth image incorporates water as well, and there are others, in particular rivers. In the previous section on p.483 Claude takes Trudy to the falls of the Bad River. He quotes a poem about a “sacred river that sinks in tumult to a lifeless ocean.” This is an image of death from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. As the poem continues it states, “and mid this tumult Kubla heard from far, ancestral voices prophesying war.” As we have all mentioned, Claude is the one causing this prophesy to come true. In contrast, when Edgar is dying he sees the smoke swirling above him and he is in the river of Herodotus, the river of life, p. 551, “the image of a river, broad and placid, beginning nowhere and ending nowhere, flowing on and on.”
In the episode about the whirlwind, we see the dog Essay choosing to face down the storm instead of taking shelter. On p. 472 Edgar describes his father looking out at thunderstorms in the same terms. “You put yourself in front of the thing and waited for whatever was going to happen and that was all. It scared you and it didn’t matter. You stood and faced it. There was no outwitting anything.” (Unlike Claude, the master manipulator.)
As Edgar returns to the farm he seems to have made the same choice. On p. 543 he reflects, “He had never had much of a plan for when he returned except to say what he knew was true and keep saying it.” Now I may be getting silly here but this makes me think of Edgar’s actual name and his pivotal role in this narrative: saw… tell.
As for fire, the most thought-provoking thing I have discovered is that looking back at the crossword scene, Edgar holds back the answer “empyreal,” the word-meaning for the clue “formed of light or fire.” Yet today when I looked this word up in the dictionary, I see that the given definition is, “highest part of the heavens, of sky, heavenly, sublime.” Although Edgar’s fate is sealed by the poison administered by the murderer Claude, his soul is both formed by fire and moving skyward, heavenly, sublime.

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