Subject First journal, binary
Posted by sarita
Posted on Sun Mar 19 00:56:16 2000
From IP  

Literary Criticism II
Sarita Chuang
Binaries in E. M. Forster・s The Road from Colonus

To understand and analyze narrative structure, we can try to find out binary oppositions in the story. Propp and Greimas have developed certain patterns of structuralist analysis. Greimas refined Propp・s work, and according to Greimas, there are three pairs of actants: subject/object, helper/opponent and sender/receiver.
  In E. M. Forster・s The Road from Colonus, the protagonist, Mr. Lucas, traveled to Greece with his daughter, Ethel, and two other English travelers, Mrs. Forman and Mr. Graham. They passed through a small village and Mr. Lucas was attracted to the environment and a family who ran a country inn there. Mr. Lucas decided to stay at the country inn, but was forced to leave by Ethel. The result was a spiritual degeneration for the protagonist.
  According to Greimas・ theory, we find that Mr. Lucas is the subject and the object is the moment of escape he was searching for. I think escape here means an escape from social conventions; in Mr. Lucas・ case, the convention that he ought to be taken care of by Ethel and abide by what Ethel said. This convention was solidified after Mrs. Forman constantly compared Lucas to Oedipus and Ethel to Antigone. The idea of escape didn・t just start during their trip to Greece, but started forty years ago, when Mr. Lucas :caught the fever of Hellenism,; and he thought his life would not be in vain if he had a chance to visit Greece. In a broader sense, Mr. Lucas also wanted to escape from the social convention that an old person couldn・t be independent from his caretaker and would be considered absurd and unreasonable if he tried to act independently.
  Mr. Lucas・ daughter, Ethel, seems to be his helper, but actually she is not. Ethel, along with Mr. Graham and Mrs. Forman, are all opponents to the protagonist・s search for escape. Ethel hindered Mr. Lucas from acting independently by treating him like a child. She was praised that she could manage her father well and once she even complained to others that her father was :absolutely unmanageable.; When Mr. Lucas was :unmanageable,; Mr. Graham would give a hand to Ethel, e.g., when Mr. Lucas refused to continue the trip with them, Mr. Graham forced him to sit on the mule and to leave.
Seemingly, Graham is the hero in this story because he solved the problems Ethel couldn・t handle alone. But I think he is a false hero, because his intervention makes Lucas・ escape impossible. Seemingly, Graham saved the protagonist from the Greeks, but because of his intervention, Lucas failed to seize the moment of escape and that led to his spiritual degeneration eventually.
  Another pattern of binary opposition evolves around two groups of people. One group is the Greek family who ran the country inn; the other group consists of the English travelers. The image of Greek family changed dramatically. When Lucas, alone, discovered the Greek country inn, the Greek family presented a harmonious, peaceful image to him. He found a meaning in every move of every member in the inn. But later, as Lucas left the inn with his companions, the Greeks tried to attack them violently. These two images of the same group of Greeks form a vivid binary opposition.
  As for the English travelers, they were the most familiar people to Mr. Lucas during this trip, compared to the Greeks in the inn whom Mr. Lucas actually didn・t talk with. After Lucas formed the gracious picture of the Greek family, he felt that his English companions suddenly became unfamiliar. This is another binary opposition: the opposition between familiarity and unfamiliarity.
  Several binaries could be found in Mr. Lucas・ attitude toward the Greek family and his intimate relations. Throughout his visit to the country inn, he never spoke to anyone there, but he :loved them as he loved everything that moved or breathed K; However, when he thought of his relations in England, for instance, his sister and his children, he felt indifference, fear, and even hatred. Mr. Lucas・ love toward the Greeks and his indifference toward his English relations might be one more binary, but I still have doubts how he could love a group of people whom he never spoke to. In fact, I think his love toward the Greek family was owing to an illusion he made up in his mind about the beauty around the country inn.
  An important symbol in the story is :water.; In the Greek village, Mr. Lucas was attracted to the running water from a tree in a shrine. After he returned to England, he complained about the noise of the running water in the pipe. Water from a tree and water in a pipe could also be a set of binary because they convey contrary meanings. Water from a tree symbolizes the source of mystery and the power of nature. Water in a pipe reminds us of some industrial, unnatural invention. This binary indicates that Mr. Lucas still had a zest for life when he was in Greece, but back in England, his zest was lost.
  In conclusion, the protagonist in The Road from Colonus is quite a helpless character, especially with the helper also being the opponent (Ethel), and the hero who turned out to be a false hero (Mr. Graham). When Mr. Graham saved Mr. Lucas from the Greeks, he actually pushed Mr. Lucas into degeneration. At the end of the story, Ethel informed Mr. Lucas that if he had stayed in the Greek country inn, he would have been killed by the same accident that killed the Greek family. But Mr. Lucas reacted indifferently to this piece of news. What Ethel said was true; by preventing her father from staying with the Greeks, she saved his life, but is Mr. Lucas spiritually alive? I don・t think so. It・s more likely that Mr. Lucas had become a living dead.

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