Monday, October 24, 2011

Crumb's Modification of Alter's Text: Imprisonment or Free Will?

When reading both Robert Crumb's "The Book of Genesis" and Robert Alter's "Genesis: Translation and Commentary," it is evident that there are moments in which Crumb is interpreting Alter's translations in a different way than what Alter originally intended for. This is somewhat expected, given the fact that Crumb is known for his exaggerated and satirical images; however, it is essential to depict Crumb's interpretations of Alter's text in order to understand the different viewpoints of both Crumb and Alter. In Chapter 34 of "The Book of Genesis," Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, is raped by Shechem,who then falls love with her and orders that she be his wife. The chapter concludes with Dinah's brothers leading her from the house of Shechem, after massacring all the males of the town. This scene reveals similarities and differences between Alter's text and Crumb's illustrations. Specifically, Crumb's illustrations at the end of the chapter demonstrate a strong interpretation of Alter's text of which Alter himself did not intend to imply. It is first necessary to examine Alter's text and Crumb's similar interpretations of this particular moment. Once this is accomplished, Crumb's altered interpretation that occurs at the end of the chapter will be easier to identify.
The moment when Shechem desires Dinah to be his wife occurs in Genesis 34:3. Prior to raping her, he, "saw her and took her and lay with her" (Alter 34:3). He did not give any options to Dinah at this point in time. From the moment of laying eyes on her, he decided she was his. After raping her, he apparently falls in love with her and decides she is to be his wife. His exact declaration, according to Alter, states, "Take me this girl as wife. 'Take' indicates force, power and violence. It is apparent that Shechem does not allow Dinah to have the option as to marry him or not. Instead, he is stating that she should be 'taken' as his. 'Take' also implies that Dinah is a possession, not an individual with rights. Furthermore, Shechem refers to Dinah as a "girl," which Alter describes as referring to her as a child. This, again, implies a sense of power. Shechem does not view Dinah as an equally strong individual but rather a young, innocent girl who he can take advantage of.
In Crumb's "The Book of Genesis," this scene corresponds well with Alter's interpretative footnotes. Prior to the rape Shechem is pictured forcefully holding Dinah with his arms tightly secured around Dinah's chest. One would imagine that he is resisting her from escaping his grip. Dinah's facial expressions reveal fear and uncertainty. Crumb's text for this panel reads, "...and take her...". This corresponds with Alter's interpretation in the sense that Shechem is objectifying Dinah and uses force in order to take her with him. The panel in which Shechem orders Hamor to, "Get me this girl as wife," interprets Shechem as possessive and evil, which once again corresponds with Alter's interpretation of him as well. He is pictured with large, evil-looking eyes. The positioning of his mouth suggests anger and impatience. It is evident that he is not going to accept no for an answer because he feels as Dinah belongs to him.
Although the beginning of Chapter 34 demonstrates similarities in interpretations between Crumb and Alter, the end of the chapter reveals an alteration in Crumb's interpretations. Given the nature of Shechem and Dinah's relationship, it is not hard to imagine that Dinah would feel imprisoned by such a man. When Dinah's brothers massacre all the males of the town, they then go to the house of Schechem, killing Hamor and Schechem with, "the edge of the sword, and they took Dinah...and went out" (Alter 34:23). According to Alter, this reveals that Schechem was holding Dinah in captivity, and she was essentially a prisoner against her own free will. Although it was believed Schechem had fallen in love with Dinah after the rape, Alter's interpretation confirms that Schechem was in fact a violent and aggressive possessor who saw Dinah as an object. She belonged to him, and he kept her imprisoned in the house of Schechem. It was only until Dinah's brothers murdered Hamor and Schechem that Dinah was able to leave.
Crumb, however, depicts this moment from a different perspective. The panel, which reads, "And they took Dinah from the house of Shechem and went out," shows Dinah's brothers leading her from the house, pulling her by the hand; however, she is hysterically weeping with her feet dragging on the ground. Here, Crumb is interpreting Dinah to be mourning over the loss of Shechem. It appears as if she is reluctant to leave the house and is attempting to resist. This is not the depiction of an imprisoned woman. Crumb is instead suggesting that she was in the house of Schechem on her own free will. Her body positioning, sobbing tears, and the fact that she is being pulled away from the house by her brothers suggest that she was not afraid of Shechem but loved him instead. It is essential to note that this illustration does not relate to Crumb's initial image of Schechem and Dinah when he is forcefully holding her and then takes her away. The sexual aggression Crumb initially revealed is no longer apparent, nor is the fear in Dinah. Crumb's overall interpretation of Dinah leaving the house of Schechem with her brother's suggests that Dinah has developed feelings for the man who used sexual aggression in order to draw her to him. She in deed developed a belief that Schechem's devotion to her was true, regardless of the fact that he treated her as a possession.
Crumb's interpretation here modifies Alter's text. While Alter suggests Schechem to be a power-hungry possessor who keeps Dinah against her own free will, Crumb interprets the text to suggest that Dinah has developed a love for Schechem. She is reluctant to leave his house after the murders, and it seems as if she is resisting all together. This is interesting because Crumb, at this moment, demonstrates the differences between words and images. Images allow stories to have a sense of narration. Alter, for example, specifically translates "The Book of Genesis" and incorporates footnotes of basic interpretations. Crumb, as scene here, interprets the text in a way that narration does not. Dinah's feelings or emotions are not disclosed in the text but are visible in Crumb's illustrations. This suggests that "The Book of Genesis" is based merely only on actions. When Crumb's interpretative images are added to the text, one is able to witness possible characteristics and personalities that otherwise would be unknown to readers.

Works Cited:

Alter, Robert. "Genesis: Translation and Commentary." Norton: 1997.
Crumb, Robert. "The Book of Genesis." Norton: 2009.

1 comment:

  1. Short response (late essay), but I did want to say something.

    You lay out the situation and the differences well - but laying it out isn't the final or even primary goal here. What does this difference *mean*? Crumb is taking a controversy and flattening it into a simple, straighforward (and common) interpretation, one which tends to cut against the grain of Alter's intepretation. What do we do with that?