Thursday, September 22, 2011


Through the textual description of Mahometan, the Turkish merchant, it is apparent that Mary Shelley was incorporating aspects of the cultural clash between Muslims and Christians. A moment such as, “…the merchant commanded his daughter to think no more of her lover” (139) illustrates the power that a Muslim man maintained over women. However, it is important to note that Shelley maintained her focus on the relationship between Sadie and her father and the sad mistreatment that was assumed of women in the Muslim culture. Although Shelley never explicitly criticized the role of women, she implied her disgust. On the other hand, Shelley never really addresses other negative stereotypes of Muslim culture.

Sadie was used as a bartering tool in order to be freed from the prison. For a moment, it seemed as though Mahometan would allow Sadie to marry a Christian but then reality sets in—he only complied because he knew that his life was in the hands of Felix. Unlike the expectations of family in modern society Mahometan could not set aside culture for the sake of his daughter’s happiness. Due to Shelley’s exposure to feminism, it is no wonder that she preferred to emphasize the treatment of women in Muslim society but Lynd Ward’s illustration takes the other critical side—that of Muslim stereotypes outside of sexism.

The most obvious aspects of this drawing that portray an adverse message are his eyes and hands. His small, dark, piercing eyes exude an undeniable evil as his skeletal hands intentionally hide the rest of his face. Each finger comes to a sharp point, like that of a monster as to reduce his humanity and represent this man as some sort of wild animal. By shielding part of his face, Ward presents a suspicious figure that appears to be plotting something that he wishes to keep away from the viewer. Outside of his bodily characteristics, Ward continued to emphasize undesirable traits in a less obvious way.

Ward’s placement of a small beam of light behind the man serves to reiterate the deceitful nature of this man. By drawing Mahometan hunched over in front of the only source of light, Ward is showing that Mahometan is attempting to hide his true intentions. Light is often symbolic of insight or knowledge so by deliberately avoiding it, it appears that Mahometan is hoping to keep his scheme away from this source of discovery.

Following with the theme of deceit, Ward drew the stairs in such a way that disorients or distracts the viewer. Instead of them simply being a backdrop to the scene, they begin to engulf Mahometan. The pattern of the staircase is faintly reflected on the wall behind Mahometan as to form some sort of labyrinth. With his body curled up in a dark cove of the cold staircases, Mahometan begins to transform into a mad man hiding in his home to plot his evil plan of selfish betrayal.

Although one would generally expect a wrongfully condemned man to be seen as the victim, Ward reverses the roles with his depiction of Felix in the window. With his head hung and his right arm positioned in such a defeated manner, Felix becomes the victim in the illustration. While Mahometan is slyly brewing up his plan, Felix’s naivety fools him into disappointment and grief. The weakness of his body language contrasted with the power of every detail in Mahometan, Felix becomes a toy in Mahometan’s game.

By analyzing specific elements of the image we can see that Ward very deliberately portrayed Mahometan in a negative light. If he had only focused on the textual descriptions given by Shelley, this image likely would’ve included Safie and the struggle of her role as a Muslim woman. Ward decided to instead devote this image to the stereotypes that society had assaulted Muslim culture with. Then, by combining these traits with the obviously Muslim details of a turban and Oriental rug draped over his shoulders, Ward wishes to tie the negativity to the man’s culture.

1 comment:

  1. When you're in the situation of talking about a section/image/whatever which has been discussed in class, I think it's usually correct to explicitly draw connections between what you're doing and what the class as a whole did. Usually I say this because people are just repeating what was done in class. You aren't actually doing that - you're going in some pretty interesting directions - but your argument is a little unfocused, and starting out with the question of whether Ward is simply emphasizing a negative stereotype or doing something more , which *was* raised in class, might have helped you focus more quickly.

    I like your analysis of the use of light, and of the apparent power of Safie's father (incidentally, Mahomotten is simply an old-fashioned and generally offensive term used to describe muslims - it's not a proper name).

    The idea of Felix as paradoxical victim and plaything is very relevant, because the idea of the plaything ("I was their plaything and their idol") is so pervasive in the text.

    You are doing a good "reading" of the image, but it's a little unfocused, and you stop short of doing an important part of the prompt - to then *evaluate* or respond to Ward's reading of Shelley. Your take on his reading is very good, if not fully focused, but the evaluation is missing.