The anthropocentric vision: aesthetics of effect and terror in Poe's "Hop-Frog".
Herbert Grabes points out that "[t]he growing interest in culture, or rather cultures, speaks for ... cultural anthropology," and "in this case, literature will be considered mainly as a cultural product providing evidence of the particular features of the culture within which it is produced." (2) What Grabes observes about "cultural anthropology" is traceable in Poe's fiction because it generally projects narrators into extreme conditions/states of being in the context of their immediate socio-cultural surroundings. Poe engaged in probing the essentials of mind-body dichotomy pointing to larger concerns affecting the human psyche. Whether satires, hoaxes, "arabesques," or "grotesques," Poe envisioned and revealed the minds of men possessing various degrees of sanity, intelligence, physical characteristics, and the like to highlight Man's existential crisis. As readers, we can understand and appreciate Poe's anthropocentrism by re-evaluating his fiction with respect to his essential ideas of the human being, both as a social animal and a cultural trope.
Gabriele Rippl uses four tales from Poe's oeuvre--"Ligeia" (1838), "The Fall of the House of Usher" (1839), "The Pit and the Pendulum" (1842), and "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" (1845)--to demonstrate how Poe exploited his readers' anthropology to generate meaning and achieve his aesthetic of unity and terror. Graves' concept of the reader-centric anthropology is particularly suitable for Poe's fiction. "The anthropology of the reader" in Poe's fiction would mean that the readers' reactions and attitudes towards specific tropes of horror or cruelty are directly proportional to and built upon their inherent tolerance or repugnance towards such visions of atrocity. This concept is similar to the reader-response theory of criticism, but with more emphasis on the readers' emotional constitution; their preconceived and deep-seated reactions to terror and violence impute significance to the goings-on in a particular tale and accordingly render it terrifying/grotesque. In these tales, Rippl sees various dichotomies (ideal-real, mind-body, natural-supernatural) that work their way through the respective narratives to reveal, at every turn, disturbing images of potential violence, terror, and grotesquerie aimed to shock and surprise the readers. This essay demonstrates how Poe's "Hop-Frog" (1849) not only fruitfully yields an anthropological examination of the aforesaid aspects of the author's fiction, but also fittingly generates a heightened texture of horror, violence, and aesthetics of terror by literally visualizing the psycho-social evolution of a semi-anthropoid figure, which encapsulates in itself the extremities of physical deformity and mental acuity, a combination that was both popular and feared in nineteenth-century America. How Poe exploited visual images of the physical body to elicit horror and why he combined four creatures--frog, dwarf, ape, and man--into a single entity could be further understood from the viewpoint of an anthropological reading of the tale. Through exploration of the human(ist) element, Poe turns his anthropocentric enquiry on its head by generating sub-human terror that reflects his readers' anthropology. As the narrative progresses, through an escalating intensity of visual tropes, the emphasis shifts from the bodily limitations of characters to de-limiting the body whereby, paradoxically, the body controls the mind and not vice-versa. Gabriel Rippl points out that "referring to the human body and its language is indispensable exactly because it helps to increase the identification of the reader with the protagonist and therefore allows Poe to augment the effect of terror." (3) In other words, deformed, grotesque, and later, charred bodies control the readers' imagination in such a way that the author's aesthetics of terror becomes the readers' own.
Anthropology and the Literary Text
Anthropology as a discipline of study is quite extensive and subject to various interpretations. While noted anthropologist Eric Wolf described anthropology as "the most scientific of the humanities, and the most humanistic of the sciences," (4) according to Jean-Jacques Lecercle, "[a]nthropology deals with the constitution of identity through the separation between the collective self and various others." (5) While discussing anthropology, Sir Edward Taylor in 1871 defined culture as "that complex whole, which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as member of society." (6) If we consider this "holistic" aspect of culture, most ethical and philosophical concepts come under its umbrellaic purview, according to which everything is held together by an overarching ideology. As Stephen Greenblatt points out, "the semiotic ideology, represented by Barthes' notion of myth, Foucault's concept of episteme, and Clifford Geertz's 'ensemble of texts' become accessible in the form of shared code." (7) In other words, because these and other similar codes and concepts (devised by scholars engaged in epistemological and ontological truths) have come to define human existence and lend significance to its meaning, they derive their significance only from being a part of that cultural whole. Even the "four-field" theory of anthropology--physical anthropology, linguistics, archaeology, social/cultural anthropology--can be seen as subsumed in the concept of culture in the sense that human beings are social animals and their behavioral and living patterns assume significance only in the context of the immediate culture that they inhabit. Whether it is an exploration of humans' speech patterns or the physical remnants of their hoary ancestors, anthropological research reveals factual analysis of their type that is not independent of their culture.
Cultural signs and codes are the immediate tools for defining culture itself, thereby reflecting its essential principles. A literary artist then has to embrace both the cultural whole and impute meaning to the "texts" within in ways that his/her readers can imagine, idea-lize, and interpret (my italics). In other words, the readers themselves become subjects of anthropology because in perusing and exploring these cultural byproducts of the artist, the readers read about themselves--a cultural meta-narrative of sorts. (8) The ideal (the artist's text) becomes the real (the actual world outside) for the reader because the text reflects what the existent culture demands, and an anthropocentric enquiry of that text revolves around its aesthetic quality and the effect generated upon its readers. Herbert Grabes posits that "if there is an anthropological turn in literary studies, literary scholars can make up for it, provided they pay sufficient attention to the anthropological function of the aesthetic." (9) Considering the aesthetic effect as the core principle of a work of art, the effect generated by the work ideally reflects its culture's preferences.
"I now see distinctly:" De-limiting the Body in "Hop-Frog"
Apes signify the primal stage of human evolution and intelligence, primates who blur the boundary between human beings and the animal kingdom. Klara O'Neill observes that "the ape figure itself has signaled a crisis in identity that questions the distinction between civilized and uncivilized animal and disputes the privileged characteristics of the human. (10) According to H.W. Janson, Christian zoology during the fourth or the fifth century established a connection between ape and devil based on physical attributes: he writes, "[the Devil] had a beginning, but he has no end; at the outset, he was one of the archangels, but his end is not in view. Now the ape, not having a tail, is without species, and his rear, without a tail, is vile; like the devil, he does not have a good end." (11) What the "ape" was considered (in a generalized sense) back then is what we now know as the chimpanzees, the orangutans, the baboons, and other tailless apes. Due to the conceptual fluidity of their physical identities, these creatures could be easily lumped together with other classic mythical beasts. The foremost concern then of the historical inquiry into the ape's evolution had been how the creature could imitate and closely anticipate its supposedly superior counterpart, Man. These anthropological inquisitions into the ape's characteristics yielded many ethical and philosophical debates about Man's purported privileges and superiority, and as O'Neill points out, "the uncanny status of the apes force a deeper questioning of the privileged position of man as the rational beast and points to the role of imitation as a means of constructing the self." (12)
When Edgar Allan Poe wrote "Hop-Frog" (1849), he was not coming to the figure of the ape for the first time in his oeuvre; most notably, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841) and "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" (1844) explicitly made use of the ape figure to challenge the epistemological certitude that existed in society about the distinction between ape and man. In doing so, he was exploiting the classical fascination with the creature's capabilities. However, what makes "Hop-Frog" unique in his tales and fit for a study in anthropology is his combining the figures of the dwarf, man, frog, and ape in a single entity. Keeping the promise of the sub-title intact, the narrative features men dressed up as orangutans, and the titular character is revealed to us as a remarkably fluid entity, both physically and mentally, and exhibits the characteristics of the four creatures mentioned above in such a way that his identity is not stable in the narrative. Challenging the notion of a stable identity, Poe gives us a unique creature who is both psychologically complex and yet frightfully in control when he is least sane.
Apart from being symbolic of the usual Poesque preoccupation with psychology and abnormality, Hop-Frog had both real and fictional precedents. In Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts 1830-1890, we can find an account of a nineteenth-century psychologist's recounting of a case that reveals the disturbing side of a boy named Louis V. (13) The dwarf-jester figure employed by Poe in "Hop-Frog" is nowhere else to be found in Poe's corpus and thus assumes an added significance in the context of the author's anthropological enquiry. Poe's possible awareness of cross-cultural and trans-national cultural practices can be inferred through his role as editor of and contributor to popular journals of his era; these might have possibly provided him with the raw materials (of a similar kind to those mentioned above) required for writing "Hop-Frog." (14) In addition, in nineteenth-century America, the dwarf-jester figure was quite popular. Tom Thumb was produced on several occasions during these years; performing apes were very popular, and so were clowns and magicians.
The figure of the Orangutan enjoyed a vogue among theater-goers of the 1840s and 1850's America, and one of the more popular "spectacles" of the New York stage was Jocko! The Brazilian. Joe Marzetti played the role of the ape so convincingly that he became identified with the role, and surely Poe knew of Marzetti's performance. (15) Moreover, according to a popular version of Buffon's Natural History (1749-88), "modernized" for Poe's generation, the Ourang-Outang or "Jocko" is "exactly like that of a man in all his proportions." (16) Thus, various American cultural tropes along with other oriental and European accounts of strange creatures and dwarfs could have filtered through the popular journals and British periodicals that did brisk business during Poe's time. Attuned as he was to what was "sensational," it is conceivable that Poe used these accounts in his work. As Mary Lucas points out, "[a]lthough Poe unlikely had seen them all, through his acquaintances, his reading, his responsibilities as an editor ..., he must have been thoroughly aware of what was going on" and "Poe is using [in "Hop-Frog"] not only the tradition of the dwarf-fool, but also those of the masque and revenge tragedy, together with the melodrama and spectacle which were popular in the nineteenth century." (17) However, Poe does more than use stock conventions and traditional devices: an anthropocentric enquiry of "Hop-Frog" not only highlights various socio-cultural motifs encapsulated by such a figure, but by accentuating the essential humanism of a semi-anthropoid figure through pictorial word-play, Poe underscores the dualism inherent in human beings--only a thin line divides a rational man and an irrational beast and the crossover can be effected quite easily.
The Anthropological Hop
Poe's tale of the dwarf-jester begins with an uncanny observation on the relation between corpulence and enjoyment of a joke. The king and his ministers are "large, corpulent, oily men, as well as inimitable jokers." (18) Very early in the tale, Poe introduces a visual, physiognomic element that forms the narrative's core component. This emphasis on being "fat" is repeated throughout; in addition, a particular emphasis on the physicality (that includes the characters' unwieldiness) underscores and enhances the mind-body dichotomy later in the narrative. By drawing a comparison between corpulence and enjoyment of a "joke," the narrator reveals his inherent anthropological bent. In other words, by declaring that the king seemed to live only for jesting and pointing out that a lean joker is hard to find, the narrator dismisses his own ability to ascertain the king's real motives and instead bases his judgment on a self-generated knowledge of physiognomy, on only what can be seen.
Curiously, the narrator states that "certain it is that a lean joker is a rara avis in terris" (899); cultural anthropology locates the crossroad between man and his surroundings as its epicenter and the signs and codes that form the crux of the society are directly related to the subjects that invent such codes. Interestingly, the narrator is anything but disinterested; he can be seen as distanced at best from the goings-on in the tale. Not only does he pass firm judgment on the king's propensity to appreciate jocularity, but he couches his observations in language of physical stature: "He had an especial admiration for breadth in a jest, and would often put up with length, for the sake of it." (19) Poe through his narrator emphasizes the expressly bodily experience about to unfold in the tale, and since the tale is about a jester who depends on the interplay between the mind and body for his effectiveness, it is only suitable that the narrator adds that "practical jokes suited his [the king's] taste far better than verbal ones." (20)
Cultural anthropology comes to the fore when the narrator comments, "at the date of my narrative, professing jesters had not altogether gone out of fashion at court" and that "several of the great continental 'powers' still retained their 'fools,' who wore motley, with caps and bells, and who were expected to be always ready with sharp witticisms...." (21) It is an important cultural token that the narrator offers us because, as mentioned earlier in this essay, the professional jesters at court were last reported around the mid-1830s, the same time that Poe was an editor of The Southern Literary Messenger. It is actually possible that Poe was drawing on the current tradition of dwarfs and fools for his tale. In addition, "[t]he deformed dwarfed fool was prized in Rome and the tradition continued into the medieval period," and when "the narrator confirms a point made earlier concerning the popularity of dwarfed fools and their being the 'fashion at court,' ... [he] attests [to] Poe's awareness of the tradition." (22) Through the figure of the dwarf-fool, the narrator satirically contrasts the idea of wisdom and folly through the ministers and Hop-Frog respectively and, in essence, points to the higher contrast between ideality and normative tendencies. Looking at the history of contemporary dwarfs and jesters and comparing them with Poe's Hop-Frog, we come away with a clear understanding of how explorations of cultural icons can sometimes ring in sundry moral ramifications. The human beneath this sub-human (or super-human) jocular figure was often ignored or overlooked because jesters were not supposed to know anything other than to provide entertainment. "Hop-Frog" satirizes such cultural mores and denial of humanity as far as a dwarf-jester figure is concerned.
Poe's Hop-Frog is thrice removed from the conventional idea of a human being: "his value was trebled in the eyes of the king by the fact of his being also a dwarf and a cripple." (23) Interestingly, the narrator uses the term "jester" to denote the king's ministers as well as Hop-Frog, thereby rendering a fluidity of conception to the idea of a human being. We are never told if Hop-Frog is non-human; at the same time, by suggesting the ministers as jesters (the monarch had to have both a jester to laugh with and a dwarf to laugh at), Poe equates them to Hop-Frog. He doesn't explicitly mention that the Hop-Frog is fat (we know that he is unwieldy), but we know that the ministers are fat. The narrator observes that "it was no small source of self-gratulation with our king that he possessed a triplicate treasure in one person." (24) This "treasure" of Hop-Frog is nothing but a more uncouth manifestation of the king and his ministers' physical oddities; since Hop-Frog's gait and physical features stand in contrast to the purportedly able-bodied King and his ministers, the titular character provides "jest" through his physique as well as his antics. In addition, the uncertainty over Hop-Frog's origins or even his appellation points to the ontological complexity of the titular character. He derives his identity in so far as the narrator is willing to provide him with one. By pointing out that Hop-Frog is from a far-off civilization, the narrator projects himself as someone privy to all types of possible information (in the narrative, it is undecipherable whether he is a courtier, minister, or even an outsider). But the narrator's knowledge of Hop-Frog's identity is of less importance here than Hop-Frog himself. Before providing us with the information that the dwarf and his associate came as gifts from some other place, the narrator informs us that the name "Hop-Frog" was not given "by his sponsors at baptism," (25) but by general consent of the seven ministers, on account of his inability to walk as other men do. This also implies that he is uncivilized because he is non-Christian--in the view of court and the king. Interestingly then, the dwarf literally has been living off "the crumb that fell from the royal table," because his existence and appellation are couched in metaphors of commerce and salability. (26)
Through the uncertainty of origin and existence of Hop-Frog, Poe points to an essential aspect of humanity; in cultural anthropology, the human being is a product of his socio-cultural surroundings and derives his essential meaning and entity from the same. By denying Hop-Frog this essential element (he is neither in nor out of the human society), Poe points to a greater anthropological truth--Hop-Frog is partly human only to the extent that "other men" are willing to concede. In a society that functions on the duality of normative/bohemian, man/beast, able/disabled, his elemental core of humanity will forever remain subject to his efficiency and commercial value. It is of little surprise then that Hop-Frog (and, indirectly, Trippetta) yields mixed reactions from Poe's readers, and this is precisely the effect that Poe wanted to create because initial stress upon the comic elements would later result in a maximum realization of horror.
Poe plays upon the duality of appearance and reality in his exercise of anthropocentrism: his narrator comments that Hop-Frog's "interjectional gait" afforded immense pleasure to the ministers, but "consolation" to the king because of the latter's "protuberance ... of stomach and a constitutional swelling of the head." (27) This physiognomic defect almost anticipates Hop-Frog's deformity, and the narrator in a subtle way equates the king with Hop-Frog because both are in a sense "capital figure[s]" to the ministers and other people in the court. Poe's concept of Hop-Frog reminds one of those classical goblins with elongated faces, long pointed aquiline noses, crooked teeth, wicked grins, and green hooded caps to go along with them. (28) By invoking such images of dwarfs and goblins popular during this period, Poe underscores his anthropocentric motif. We recognize Hop-Frog's violent behavior because he is acting human. Premeditated cruelty for cruelty's sake, the sort humans are capable of, verifies that people behave worse than either supernatural dwarfs or animals do. The beast then that lurks within the subconscious demands a combination of bestial savagery and the human ability to conceptualize.
Joan Dayan observes that "Poe's ability to complicate the issues of human servitude lies not in any narrow delineation of slavery, which was broad and variously applied in the nineteenth century, but in his portrayal of the slippage between degrees of color, gradations of personhood, and the bounds of civility and savagery." (29) The idea of slavery and ownership is writ large in the narrative and hence it can subsume most of the tale's critical receptions. Gottesman observes that "He [Poe] was able sympathetically, yet with a shock of horror, to project this nightmare inspired by Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner and other African-American leaders of slave rebellions, and this reflects the measure, in his last desperate year, both of Poe's endorsement of slavery and of his half-conscious sense of a fate shared with these slaves." (30) However, there are other more important anthropocentric issues at stake in this tale: the idea of what constitutes humanity, how to perceive "gradations of personhood," and how to explore the boundaries of being metaphorically "visible" and "invisible." Evidently, Hop-Frog's status is dubious because while he suffers from a physical "defect" (in comparison with the King and his court's normative standards), he enjoys certain privileges by virtue of this very abnormality. Although in the narrative Hop-Frog and Trippetta are from a distant place and sent as gifts, they still retain their dignity and prestige because it is the king who is dependent on them for diversion and pleasure. Poe builds up the narrative in "Hop-Frog," first by generating sympathy and affection for the grotesque figures and then distancing his narrator from Hop-Frog's actions so as to be relieved of any moral/ethical commentary on the ghoulish goings-on by the end of the tale.
It is interesting to see how a reader's previous knowledge of apes as characters in "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" and "The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether" might orient his/her knowledge of Poe's usage of the ape figure in "Hop-Frog." As readers, we might sense something diabolic in Hop-Frog owing to his substitution of strength in arms for his legs, but we can easily overlook the primacy of physiognomic law that governs human beings on earth. The essential artistry and talent of Hop-Frog is further enhanced when the narrator declares that "Hop-Frog ... was inventive in the way of getting up pageants, suggesting novel characters and arranging costumes, for masked balls ..." (901). Since this is the last tale written by Poe, it is easily readable as a manifestation of Poe's creativity stifled by his mass audience and "the magazine prison-house." However, what we ignore in such readings is the subtle anthropocentric debate that Poe here engages in. Are human beings worse than animals? Do bestial instincts germinate out of psycho-social pressures or are they inherent and capable of bursting forth any moment when a person chooses to release them? This particular beast fable deals with the metamorphosis of mind and transposition of the roles of the normative and the exceptional. The narrator reveals that an able mind is not always complemented with an able body and vice-versa. The king and his ministers are shown to be hesitant and delaying with their masquerade plans: "why they hesitated I never could tell, unless they did it by a way of joke" or more probably due to their obesity." (31) On the other hand, despite being deformed, Hop-Frog is said to have come up with constructive ideas of diversion and entertainment on numerous occasions. The romantic notions of intoxication and artistic creativity go hand in hand in the tale as the king reiterates that belief by forcing Hop-Frog to drink wine despite knowing that "it excited the poor cripple almost to madness." (32) He insists that unless Hop-Frog drinks, he won't be able to generate "characters--characters man--something novel--out of the way" (902). In a way then, the crime perpetrated in the tale is indirectly generated by the king himself because the "novel" idea of Hop-Frog is too horrific for us to bear.
About mid-way through the tale, complete reversal of roles takes place. It is the corpulent king and his ministers who love practical jokes and make Hop-Frog the butt of their transports. Now, it is Hop-Frog who becomes the king and will dictate the extent and direction of a joke that will be "an excellent sport if well enacted." (33) Hop-Frog's first explanation of his capital diversion seems to start from the point where "The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether" left off: the idea of eight chained orangutans bursting onto the scene, "imagined to be real ones by the most of the company," is exactly what happens in the other tale. Poe here seems to be playing upon the notion of interchangeability of the governing principles of humans and apes. Such an attempt is not surprising given the rise of interest in mankind's evolution and his social origins: Lamarck's heredity principle, the "inheritance of acquired traits" and Malthus' research on population growth raised questions about received notions of existence in the 1830s. The curiosity surrounding such ideas was rampant during the mid 1840s and reached its apex with the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859. Dovetailing into this ontological curiosity is the idea of slavery, slaves and possible tyrannical revolt. However, such incidents also simultaneously point to the humanitarian concerns associated with imprisonment and torture. Extending the parallelism associated with the caged parrot, we can see that Hop-Frog is trying to surface the insecurity and helplessness associated with such forced incarceration.
Living beings in chains highlight the idea of primates under restriction, but also bring out the idea of potential revolt, not out of any particular social compulsion, but merely the instinct to survive. Hop-Frog's idea to enchain the king and his councilors is built more out of an urge to turn the tables because of how they have had deprived Trippetta and Hop-Frog the elemental right to live with dignity and freedom. This "diversion" is meant not so much as a joke, but as a lesson to be taught. If read from the point of view of slavery and revolt, Hop-Frog resembles Babo of Melville's "Benito Cereno" in his cool, calculating rational method of overturning authority. However, what differentiates Hop-Frog and Babo is the former's immediate reason for revolt--Trippetta's insult. Hop-Frog apparently doesn't intend to revolt until he suffers from a vicarious torture: "but just after your majesty had struck the girl and thrown the wine in her face--just after your majesty had done this ..." then Hop-Frog comes up with this idea of capital diversion." (34)
The anthropological curiosity of the mid-1840s about the interchangeability between human beings and primates is clearly manifest in "Hop-Frog" because the titular character is shown to possess the only available knowledge about primates and passes on the same to the humans, supposedly beings of superior perception and knowledge. Accordingly, we see a tripartite dynamic of anthropocentric information: Hop-Frog (himself an anthropological anomaly) passes the knowledge of primates like orangutans (anthropological creatures of fascination) on to the king and his councilors (the supposedly highest form of intelligence). Hop-Frog's intelligence and creativity comes to the fore when he convinces the party involved that "the orangutan was much more efficiently represented by flax" than by "feathers" (904), and the mathematical precision with which he arranges for the chains to be passed around the king and his seven ministers. The potential for violence, chaos and unruly behavior is writ large in the narrative as the guests are locked up inside the chamber in order to prevent them from escaping the "ferocious-looking creatures" and "at the dwarf's suggestion, the keys had been deposited with him." (35)
The tale's final paragraphs reveal the fullest extent of Hop-Frog's scheming perception of the state of affairs, but it should be remembered that he doesn't act, but reacts. Once the king and his men are drawn upwards with the chain and left suspended in the air, Hop-Frog declares, "I fancy I know them. If I can only get a good look at them, I can soon tell who they are." (36) It is important to note that Hop-Frog positions himself above the king and his men who are huddled together on the chain to take a good look at them. Both literally and figuratively then, their positions have changed in the narrative. Hop-Frog not only "leapt, with the agility of a monkey, upon the king's head--and thence clambered a few feet up the chain," he also sets them on fire by pretending "to scrutinize the king more closely." Even the narrator moves from a gradual identification of the king and his councilors with apes to a thorough name calling: "the whole assembly (apes included) was convulsed with laughter ..." (37) Images of burnt and charred bodies highlight Poe's aesthetics of terror, and this effect is generated by the narration of the masqueraders' reactions. After seeing the King and his ministers set on fire, their hearts sink and the same thing happens when Hop-Frog climbs a few notches up the chain. They again fall silent when Hop-Frog opens his mouth; interestingly, Hop-Frog's reason for doing this is that he is angry for with the ministers for "striking a defenceless girl" and nothing more. It apparently doesn't have anything to do either with their personal treatment of him or his bondage. By declaring "--and this is my last jest," (38) Hop-Frog implies that he is done with catering to demands for "novelty" and he's had enough.
Sutrop explains that "[w]e find within the aesthetic dimension 'codes' which, more often than not, are in disagreement with the common view and are therefore more likely to promote change and thus to have a destabilizing effect on a given cultural formation ... this may well be considered the most important anthropological function of that dimension. It lies in the breaking up of the established distribution of functions via the seemingly functionless." (39) Through the grotesque vision of violence and treachery, Poe veers his artistic lens towards an examination of his readers' anthropocentrism because in his portrayal of Hop-Frog (and Trippetta), Poe challenges the contemporary readers to accept his most radical, final aesthetic of terror that pushes the ontological limits of the mind-body dialectic. In doing so, Poe devises an anthropocentric text that derives significance both from the paradoxical treatment of the human-beast figure and an ancillary reaction of the readers to that figure's grotesquerie.
As an elaborate masque-like ritual, "Hop-Frog" plays out the same anthropocentric complexities that confront twenty-first century denizens who engage themselves in exploration of what is quintessentially human. Bryant points out that "[i]n 'Hop-Frog,' Poe plays a ritual of satire that rejects society's loathsome autocracy and embraces the higher universal values of broader and sentimentally unattainable transcendental community." (40) In the current state of Poe scholarship, it is important that readers' recognition of mutually comprehensible symbols bridge the author's worldview and his cultural ethos. In the larger current socio-cultural climate, an anthropocentric reading of Poe's "Hop Frog" facilitates a self-analysis and re-evaluation of the readers' own world view. The effect of terror is also generated by the readers' possible response to Hop-Frog's heinousness because Poe successfully sustains that effect in the reader due to the incertitude of the protagonist's identity as either man or beast. While resembling the king and his ministers in his elemental identity as a man, Hop-Frog mimics the actions of apes and uses this mimicry to dehumanize his supposedly intellectual superiors. Anthropologically, at the end, the connection between Hop-Frog's self and his socio-cultural origin is ruptured by the necessity to survive and, in response to the heinous and unsympathetic surrounding world, Hop-Frog becomes heinous too until till there is nothing left of his "original" self.
Satwik Dasgupta, Victoria College
(1) Gabriele Rippl, "E.A. Poe and the Anthropological Turn in Literary Studies," The Anthropological Turn in Literary Studies, Jurgen Schaleger (ed.), REAL. vol. 12, (Tubigen, Germany: Gunter Narr Velag, 1996), p. 228, pp. 223-40.
(2) Herbert Grabes, "The Aesthetic Dimension: Bliss and/or Scandal," The Anthropological Turn in Literary Studies, Jurgen Schaleger(ed.), REAL. vol. 12 (Tubigen, Germany: Gunter Narr Velag, 1996), p. 17, pp. 17-30.
(3) Rippl, "E.A. Poe and the Anthropological Turn in Literary Studies," p. 231.
(4) Eric Wolf, Anthropology, Humanistic Scholarship in America, The Princeton Studies (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1964), p.88.
(5) Jean-Jacques Lecercle, "The 'Turn' in Literary Studies: Anthropology, or Pragmatics, Or Both,"
The Anthropological Turn in Literary Studies. Jurgen Schaleger (ed.,) vol.12 (Tubigen, Germany: Gunter Narr Velag, 1996), p.1.
(6) Qtd. in John Beattie, Other Cultures: Aims, Methods, and Achievements in Social Anthropology (London: Routledge, 1993), p.20.
(7) Stephen Greenblatt, "Fiction and Friction," Reconstructing Individualism: Autonomy, Individuality, and the Self in Western Thought (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1986), p.33, pp. 30-56.
(8) W.H. Murdy, "Anthropocentrism: A Modern Version," Science 187 (1975), pp.1168-72. According to Murdy, "to be anthropocentric is to affirm that mankind is to be valued more highly than other things in nature--by man," and also "the recognition that an individual's well being depends on the well being of ... its social group" (1168, 1169). This particular emphasis on Man and his primordial place in the socio-cultural ladder might seem overwrought with humanism, but a given literary text can always yield itself to an anthropological enquiry because of its general preoccupation with issues concerning mankind.
(9) Grabes, "The Aesthetic Dimension: Bliss and/or Scandal," p.18.
(10) "The Unfinished Ape: Mediation and Modern Greek Identity in Iakovos Pitsipois's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] " Journal of Modern Greek Studies 21 (2003), pp. 67-111. p.69.
(11) H.W. Janson, Apes and Ape Lore in the Middle Age and the Renaissance (New York: Periodical Service Company, 1987), p.17.
(12) O'Neill, "The Unfinished Ape: Mediation and Modern Greek Identity in Iakovos Pitsipois's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]," p.78.
(13) Ronald Gottesman, "'Hop-Frog and the American Nightmare," Masques, Mysteries, and Mastodons: A Poe Miscellany, Benjamin F. Fisher (ed.,) (Baltimore: Edgar Allan Poe Society, 2006), pp. 133-44, p.136. A normal, yet neglected boy, Louis was sent to a reformatory at an early age. When he was fourteen, he came across a viper and since then he had hallucinations and psychological turbulence that channeled into greediness, violence, and a quarrelsome nature. He became monkey-like and his unconscious self--darker bestial side--overtook his rational side. In addition, various scholars including Kenneth Silverman and Arthur Hobson Quinn consider that the idea for the story was arguably from two sources. The first came from the "Chronicles of Froissart" printed in the Broadway Journal for February 1, 1845 (shortly before Poe purchased one-third interest in that periodical and translated from the French by Lord Berner). It relates an incident that occurred at the court of Charles VI of France where a Norman squire suggested King Charles and five others dress as satyrs with pitch and flax covering their clothes. Accidentally set aflame, the King barely escaped with his life by leaping into a pool of water. The second source is thought to be a story titled "Frogere and the Emperor Paul" printed in the New Monthly Magazine, XXVIII in 1830 and signed "P". It is the story of a court jester exiled by the Emperor of Russia to Siberia. Tricked by a long ride in the countryside, the jester is ultimately returned to the Emperor's court and later becomes a participant in the death of the Emperor. The characters in these sources, while having some similarity, do not exhibit the cunning and ruthlessness of Hop-Frog.
(14) Beatrice K. Otto, Fools Are Everywhere: The Court Jester Around the World (Illinois: U of Chicago P, 2001), p.29. Nineteenth-century European high-society dwarfs enjoyed great popularity because of their diminutive size and gait, and the immense popularity of dwarfs among Russian nobles suggested that they were doted upon like pets. Most importantly, dwarfs were sent from a certain district as annual tribute to the court, and in Chinese culture, this district or country was probably referred to as Jiaoyao, and "the dwarfs were unquestionably foreigners" (here, Otto cites David Knechtges as her source for this information. Otto also cites an example from a French Travelogue by Tournefort's Voyage du Levant that revealed Turkish jesters in all their glory:
The dwarfs are real little monkeys pulling a thousand grimaces between them or together with the mutes to make the Sultan laugh, this prince often honouring them with a kick (26). The dwarf s deformity may have been a reminder to the king of his own not so apparent shortcomings. In Europe, jesters were occasionally sent by their masters to another court, either as a mark of friendship or if somebody was ill or sorrowful and needed cheering up. For example, a noble of Britain sent his favorite dwarf-jester from Paris to Lyons to delight a cousin of his who was ill (Otto 93).
(15) George C. Odell. Annals of the New York Stage 15 vols (New York: Columbia UP, 1927-49), Vol 5, p.240. Marzetti performed the play as early as 1836 when Poe was editing The Broadway Journal. O'Neill on the other hand points out that the first picture of an anthropoid ape "appears in Gesner's Historias Animalium in 1587 and earliest known description of what were probably gorillas and chimpanzees, based on the testimony of one Andrew Battell after his 1607 return from a journey to West Africa, appears in a 1625 collection of explorer's narratives assembled by Samuel Purchas" (84). Also, in Greece, four articles about apes appear in the Apothiki ton Ophelimon Gnoseon between November 1839 and August 1842, and in the article of July 1840, "The Chimpanzee and the Orangutan," it was reported that native African women were being abducted and kept by chimpanzees in Europe. The article goes on to contrast the apparent inferiority of the orangutan based on its relative melancholy and morose attitude in captivity when compared to the more attentive and amusing chimpanzee.
(16) Georges Lpuis LeClerc Buffon, Buffons's Natural History, Modernized from the Most Recent Authorities (New York: Scribner, 1980), p.126.
(17) "Poe's Theatre: 'King Pest' and 'Hop-Frog,'" Journal of the Short Story in English 14 (1990), p.24, pp. 25-40.
(18) "Hop-Frog," Edgar Allan Poe: Poetry and Tales. Patrick F. Quinn (ed.,) New York: Library of America, 1984, p.899, pp. 899-908. This and other future textual references will be from this edition.
(19) Ibid., p.899.
(20) Ibid., p.899.
(21) Ibid., p.899.
(22) See Lucas, p.35.
(23) Poe, "Hop-Frog," p.899.
(24) Ibid., p.899.
(25) Ibid., p.900.
(26) See Gottesman, p.142. The tale projects the fear of slave revolts that openly gripped Virginia and the rest of the South during the first half of the 1800s. Similar fears gripped the North in Poe's lifetime and continue to do so in our time, "though most Americans bring these anxieties to full consciousness mainly when they erupt as 'racial' tensions in the form of 'disturbances' and 'riots,' most specially when such 'disturbances' threaten to interfere with Superbowl games, or the building of the Chamber of Commerce building or inter-racial harmony in Los Angeles (and other American cities)."
(28) Leslie Atzmon, "Arthur Rackman's Phrenological Landscape: In-Betweens, Goblins, and Femme Fatales," Design Issues 18 (2002), p.67, pp. 64-82. Here, the author observes that Herbert Spencer, the nineteenth-century psychologist, in his essay "Personal Beauty" compared ugly people to "inferior races," and correlated extremely sharp-angled features with low intelligence:
"If the recession of the forehead, protuberance of the jaws, and largeness of the cheekbones, three leading elements of ugliness, are demonstrably indicative of mental inferiority ... is it not a fair inference that all such faulty trials of feature signify deficiencies of mind?" (356).
(29) "Poe, Persons, and Property," American Literary History 11 (1999), p. 407, pp. 405-25.
(30) Gottesman, p.142
(31) Poe, "Hop Frog," p. 900.
(32) Ibid., p.901
(33) Ibid., p.903.
(34) Ibid., p.903.
(35) Ibid., p.906.
(36) Ibid., p.907.
(37) Ibid., p.906.
(38) Ibid., p.908.
(39) Margaret Sutrop, "The Anthropological Turn in the Theory of Fiction," The Anthropological Turn in Literary Studies, ed. Jurgen Schaleger, vol. 12 (Tubigen, Germany: Gunter Narr Velag, 1996), p.87, pp. 81-96.
(40) Ibid., p50.
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|Title Annotation:||Edgar Allan Poe|
|Publication:||Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2011|
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