Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Turk: Nefarious or Weak?

The Lynd Ward illustrated edition of Frankenstein is a very interesting text due to the fact that, while it is presented as one singular book, it is actually the concatenation of two separate texts composed by two separate authors; the written words are by Shelly and the images are by Ward. It is this structure of dual authors occupying the same page-space that lead us to see some interesting differences in the story that they are telling. One place where this difference is apparent is in the telling of the story of the Turk who ruined the De Lacey’s. With regards to this story I feel that Ward interprets and retells in a way that paints the Turk as nefarious, whereas, on the other hand, I feel Shelly paints him in a much more ambiguous light.

Referring to the image opposite of page 136 we can analyze Ward’s portrayal of the story of the Turk. The first thing that stands out when glancing over this picture is the sunken, inhumanly beady, glowing eyes of the Turk. The glowing quality compounded with the overly lined areas around the eyes themselves gives the viewer the impression of creepiness and untrustworthiness. The body positioning, with the Turk sitting crouched plotting and scheming, along with the claw-like boney hand show again Ward’s interpretation that Safie’s father is wicked and devious. Finally notice that ward choose to depict the Turk as having both legs and arms crossed. Having body language with crossed legs or arms is usually interpreted as closing oneself off to the world, i.e. hiding or concealing something. All these things together give the viewer a clear feeling that we cannot trust the Turk because he is treacherous or nefarious.

While Ward’s depiction of the Turk is very clear, Shelly’s is much more ambiguous. When I first read through Shelly’s telling of the story, my impression was the same as the impression I got from looking at the image opposite of page 136, mainly that the Turk was a villain. On a second reading, I now think that Shelly does not make Safie’s father evil, but rather she makes him weak. For example, she describes him first as “the unfortunate Mahometan; who, loaded with chains, waited in despair the execution” (Shelly 135). In this description, there isn’t any connotation of corruptness, instead we see the Turk as defeated and hopeless. Later When he finds out that Felix plans on aiding him in his escape, he is overjoyed for he knows he wouldn’t have the means to do this alone. The Turk is so dependent and incapable by himself that he offers up his daughter’s hand as a way to ensure his escape. This isn’t a calculated manipulative move but rather a move of desperation. It is only after escaping that the Turk begins to regret his decision to allow Safie to marry Felix and so he begins trying to find a way out of the arrangement. I feel that it is not out of viciousness that Safie’s father tries to back out of the deal, but rather it is just his weakness of moral character compounded by having to make a desperate move at a desperate time. These motives and emotions behind the Turks terrible actions make it much more difficult to simply cast him as the villain and be done with it as Ward has.

So while Ward’s images add much to the text, I feel that in this one particular instance he is oversimplifying the complex character of the Turk. Ward’s depiction of the Turk as simply being a villain is correct on one level, but loses out on all the subtleties and complexities that drive his actions. Without picturing these motives behind the Turks actions, we lose the ambiguity of character that Shelly so carefully built into the original text.


  1. The beginning paragraph felt a little unneeded to me. You did a good job on embellishing your argument in the third paragraph. I thought maybe if you expanded a little bit more on why YOU think Ward would exaggerate such a character in relation to the story, it could have tied in the bigger picture better.

  2. In your first two paragraphs, I'm not sure exactly where you're going, or what you're trying to do - but as a reader, I am certainly engaged. My first thought re: the idea of him being closed is that one thing he's very invested in is closing his *daughter* away from the world, particularly the Christian world (one thing that's going on, after all, is that the cultures are pretty incompatible).

    The weakness vs. ambiguity argument is very good *as far as it goes*. You're only citing a single passage, but that passage is, of course, extremely effective. But the story of the Turk (just like his character) is more elaborate than that: his behavior toward Felix is, in fact, at least *interpreted* by Felix as being deeply malevolent.

    So I'm onboard 100% with the Turk being more complicated than this image, and I'm on board 100% with this being a caricature - but I'd also argue that this image shows the Turk as he is understood by Felix *after* the fact - the image is arguably leaping forward in the text.

    To put it another way: you are surely correct that this is an oversimplification. But is it a deliberate caricature meant to show us something else (Felix's close-minded intolerance) or does it reflect on Ward himself?

    Maybe research on Ward would answer that question.

    Anyway, this is quite good, but a little short and underdeveloped itself.