Friday, October 21, 2011

Sibling Rivalry

Throughout R. Crumb’s Genesis, the audience is presented with an explicit depiction of sexuality, to the point of being ostentatious. This depiction manifests itself not only in Crumb’s panels which blatantly portray intercourse, but in adjacent images through characters’ demeanors and physical appearance. In one respect, this could be an attempt by Crumb to juxtapose his visual interpretations with the sanctity of the original text of Genesis, reflecting his greater sentiment about religion. However, considering that not all scenes involving sex in Crumb’s version are illustrated with such vulgarity as others, I believe he portrayed each one deliberately to symbolize the meaning of the sexual act in relation to the overarching themes of Genesis. In the case of the three-panel sequence in chapter thirty which depicts Rachel trading Jacob to Leah for a night in return for mandrakes, Crumb’s presentation of Leah is a part of a larger theme of sibling rivalry and maltreatment in Genesis; a theme which Crumb portrays with continuity throughout his version.

Beginning with the visuals, the first panel of the three atop the page (which begins with “And Rachel said…”) shows Leah’s reaction to Rachel’s proposition of allowing her to sleep with Jacob. Leah’s demeanor in this first panel can be described as lustful, maniacal, and even demonic as she finds out she has permission to be with Jacob. The next image, where Leah is telling Jacob that he has to sleep with her, we see Leah portrayed in a flirtatious manner with her breasts and erect nipples emphasized. To me, this is Crumb showing his audience the way he interprets this portion of Genesis by adding to the original, intended notion that Leah desires Jacob to get pregnant with the idea that she lusts for her sister’s husband; a feeling which carried over from their first sexual encounter. Additionally, Crumb deviates from Alter’s interpretation here as he uses the phrase “You must come in unto me…” instead of “With me you will come to bed…” (Alter: 160). By doing so, Crumb is taking the raunchier and more explicitly sexual phrase of the two to complement the similar visual portrayal of Leah in this panel. Finally, the third panel shows Jacob and Leah’s sexual encounter in a manner than that contrasts with Jacob and Rachel’s sexual encounter a few pages earlier. The image is predominantly dark and Leah’s face shows an expression of discomfort or displeasure to emphasize the transgression taking place of Leah taking advantage of her sister’s guilt to sleep with her husband. The guilt I am referring to is represented in the panel immediately preceding the series of focus, where Leah asks Rachel, “Is it a small matter that you’ve taken my husband and you’d take away my son’s mandrakes also?!?”

In sum, the three panels deliberately portray the sequence of events with an aura of perversion and vulgarity. This is done to highlight the wrongdoing taking place between the siblings Rachel and Leah. Rachel is taking advantage of her husband so that she may increase her chances of conceiving a child and Leah is taking advantage of her sister to satisfy her lust, in addition to desiring more children. The presentation of this sequence is done so in such a manner in order to associate it with the other, more obvious sequences in Genesis that are involved the overarching theme of sibling rivalry and maltreatment. We can see that Crumb considers this a central theme of Genesis through the following two examples. First, the extreme case of Cain murdering his brother Abel is graphically depicted along with an intense physical contrast between the two brothers. The explicitness of the murder and demonic look upon his face two panels before are not unlike the sexual explicitness of Leah in our main sequence and her demonic look in it as well. The other example of Crumb’s consideration of sibling rivalry and maltreatment as a central theme in Genesis is the case of Jacob and his brother Esau. The look upon Rebekah’s face when she commands Jacob to impersonate Esau and get their father’s blessing is maniacal in a similar manner to Leah’s countenance, as we discussed. This is obviously a tougher comparison to make considering this sequence lacks sex and violence, however, Esau’s expressions in the series when he’s informed that he has lost his blessing and convinces himself he will kill Jacob are also demonic and maniacal.

In conclusion, through his interpretation of the events leading up to and including Leah sleeping with Jacob, we begin to see what sticks out to Crumb in Genesis. The explicitness of the imagery and his choice to deviate from Alter’s text serve to associate the sequence with the greater theme of ill will between siblings in Genesis. To answer why this is of such importance to Crumb is, well, a whole different prompt altogether.


  1. Overall, I really like the topic that you decided to discuss in this paper.

    I think the first paragraph is very interesting but it may have been helpful to split it into 2. I only say this because you bring up very interesting points about the explicit sexuality but it almost overshadows your thesis. So maybe just reorganizing it in such a manner that your first paragraph is explicitly stating your thesis and then having a separate paragraph discussing the sexuality.

    I think you do a really great job of discussing some complicated images in detail in the second paragraph and then taking a step back to explain the big picture in the 3rd paragraph. If you hadn't done such a good job in the third paragraph, the second could easily overwhelm the reader. I also thought it was very interesting to discuss the other sibling rivalries and for the revision this could be an interesting one to focus on so that you could go into more detail with each sibling rivalry (but considering the word count for this assignment, this was really good).

    The conclusion is really strong and i really like the last makes your reader want to know more about what you are discussing.

  2. As a side note, I'm not sure why you find his portrayal of sex in Genesis "ostentatious." After all, he's not (that I can think of) *inventing* any sexual encounters. When he sees one, he illustrates it. That may be neither here nor there, though, since you quickly move to the whys and hows of how he illustrates a particular encounter.

    I had a lot of things I was tempted to nitpick about in your 2nd paragraph. After reading the whole thing a couple times, though, most of it is clicking for me. For my part, I do find your claim of "perversion" a little strong. I'd argue, rather, that gut-wrenching jealousy, including explicitly sexual jealousy, is liable to be part of a marriage that involves 5 people. I won't argue about the vulgarity, though - Jacob is, after all, being bought and sold (the joke, presumably, is that he's a prostitute - and note that Mandrake is supposedly useful both for impotence and for infertility, with each sister needing hal fo the equation).

    So I liked some things early, and liked others more on meditation. I think your early claims about Leah's deranged and lustful look would have worked better if you'd moved to parallel looks *then*, instead of waiting for a later paragraph.

    What did work, ultimately, is that even though I found some of your wording a little strong, etc., it's hard to argue with you that Crumb is making this into an even more bitter and emotionally fraught rivalry than we'd get from the text. Putting that in your first paragraph, instead of some of the more general observations, would have been a good idea.

    Short version: I think reorganization around an earlier, clarified statement of your argument would have been great. But this succeeds pretty well, and is ripe for a revision which would incorporate the intense rivalry among the Crumb brothers.

    p.s. I'm not at all convinced that there's anything painful or guilty about Leah's demeanor in the 3rd panel; incidentally, the darkness of this panel mirrors the darkness of the panel from the Jacob & Leah's wedding night.