The irrepressible Lilith in Angela Carter and Toni Morrison.
Lilith is mentioned in the Sumerian king list from 2,500 BCE, the Talmud of around 400 CE, and described in the Alphabet of Ben Sira of between the eighth and tenth centuries CE, as the original wife of Adam. Like him she was created from the earth in God's image, before his second wife, Eve, called in Genesis 3, 20 "the mother of all living", was putatively made from Adam's rib. Adam and Lilith fought immediately, as she insisted: "Why should I lie beneath you [...] when I am your equal, since both of us were created from dust" (Patai 223). Lilith then called on the Ineffable Name of God, like Isis who controlled the name of the Egyptian god Ra in curing him. In thus "snatching liberty" (2004, xv), Lilith flew from this diminishing position to the Red Sea. Adam begged God to restore her, and He sent three angels after her, threatening drowning if she didn't return. In retaliation, she threatened to use her force over infant mortality, for the first eight days for a boy, and twenty days for girls, only desisting if they wore a protective amulet inscribed with her name. Consenting to the death of a hundred of her demon children every day, she was finally left in peace. This primeval outrageous female demon who became an "undoubted goddess in Sumer and the very consort of God in Kabbalism" (Patai 250), leaves the disobedience of Eve in eating the apple and curiously initiating the discoveries of subsequent history far behind her, morally in the shade.
Thus Lilith, the first rebellious wife of Adam, is a transgressive woman and destructive mother. Her real or putative crimes as scapegoat are castigated, while her powers as succubus or witch are lauded, the imaginative existence of such a woman positing an amazingly ancient equality between men and women. She became connected with the snake of paradise, as the "serpent and Lilith were equated" (Baring and Cashford 512), also with Eve, and became demonic with the fall. Pagan myths reflect the snake and the tree of life as divine female sources of fertility within the garden of Eden; such beliefs, together with the sacred groves of the goddess Asherah or Ashtoreth, were crushed under Judaism. The image of the Sumerian Ninhursag or Inanna, also called Queen of the Night or Lady of Heaven, has been commonly viewed as Lilith, while the snake woman with Adam and Eve on the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michaelangelo is undisputedly Lillith. (3)
Judaism traditionally suppressed such images, in monotheistic abhorrence of a goddess sharing God's role. In the Old Testament, Lilith is dubiously mentioned in Isaiah 34, 14, appearing as a screech owl or night hag. For Augustine, Eve was the universal scapegoat, her guilt tainting all women. Yet the more pernicious Lilith survived, as seen in various winged or snake tailed creatures beside Eve in the garden, an avatar of the devil, tempting a look-alike Eve to eat from the tree (Baring and Cashford 523). Such theriomorphic metaphors proliferated in the nineteenth century, with Lilith as a projection of men's psychic fears and sexual desires, seen in writers and artists like Dante Gabriel Rossetti and George MacDonald.
Contemporary women increasingly turn to the defiantly presumptious Lilith as one who "has become a chiffre for a certain aspect of female power" (Stuckrad 5). The Lilith myth is what Cynthia Davis calls in Morrison a "search for a myth adequate to experience" (323). Judith Plaskow, in her version of this myth, describes the male bonding of Adam and God, as Lilith rejects her ascribed helpmate function and leaves Eden, whereupon this role is turned over to Eve. From outside the garden, Lilith's demonic reputation grows through her struggle against Adam. Meanwhile, from within, Eve comes to appreciate what a "beautiful and strong", brave woman she appears (Plaskow 32). Finally escaping from the garden through the branches of an apple tree, Eve finds outside a sister in Lilith with whom she can relate, leaving Eden polarized between male and female forces. Cinda Thompson in her poem "The Tree" turns the tables against putative male creativity in an amazingly suggestive few lines, conferring God's creativity onto Eve, "the mother of all living:"
my belly swells, the moon rises genesis-full Cursed, he swore, I say I am Eve. Be aware. I am Your mother. (in Cornell 7)
These lines forcefully restore God's creativity to the original female life- force or mother goddess, as understood before being crushed by monotheism (Dexter 47). Female divinity, and Lilith's claim to equality, with her insubordination and relationship issues, make her an inspirational role model today, her disruptive influence enabling women to discard stultifying female roles. Central to Lilith lore is her independent sexuality, making her an houri and a temptation to men. She posits a primal equality of women and men, giving women a sovereignty which dangles a Damoclean sword between them and their mates. Breaking free of authority and imposed wifely and motherly roles, she exercises a dubiously amoral force over mortality, implying the regenerative life and death force of the triple goddess.
Angela Carter, whose works were published between 1966 and 1991, explicitly rejects other-worldly goddess charters, calling herself an old-fashioned feminist and materialist, asserting: "I'm a socialist, damn it! How can you expect me to be interested in fairies?" (in Day 11). Nevertheless, her writing remains super-saturated with symbols and archetypes, including those of Eve, Lilith, Mary and Nike, amongst others. She suggests that while writing Heroes and Villains, "she did indeed regard myth as potentially liberating" (in Gamble 2001, 66), although she became increasingly wary of myths and symbols. One of Donally's aphorisms in Heroes and Villains is the Barthean: "MISTRUST APPEARANCES, THEY NEVER CONCEAL ANYTHING" (60); everything has mythic significance for those who can read it. Carter incorporates a plethora of symbolic allusions in The Passion of New Eve, where she affirms that "our external symbols must always express the life within us with absolute precision; how could they do otherwise, since that life has generated them?" (6). She conceived this novel "as a feminist tract about the social creation of femininity" (in Tucker 25), using it to expose the inconsistent and unrealistic extremes of the "consolatory nonsense" (Carter 1979, 5) of goddess myth, while still retaining its elaborate mythic allusions. Gina Wisker suggests that Carter and others "use the forms and images of myth and magic in order to both expose their hitherto constrictive nature, and, to revitalise positive myths and images for women" (Wisker 118). She is "rewriting the old myths and reclaiming the women of power, devalued and demoted in a patriarchal world, and [...] asserting as real, valid and celebratory the powers of alternative vision" (126).
Notorious for her non-conformist feminism, Carter rejects any polemic role or straightjacket in her works. Her characters flex their muscles, or with Fevvers, the New Woman of Nights of the Circus, their wings, regardless of moral ambiguity or the discomfort of those around them. They demonstrate the binaries of de Sade's passive Justine and outrageous Juliette of Carter's The Sadeian Woman (1979). Justine is a naive Eve figure, whose repressive morality prevents her from initiating any action for fear of its consequences, while her moribund passivity actually becomes a death trap for those around her, victimizing herself and others. However, Juliette is a Lilith-like libertine who masters the current situation to her own advantage through whatever means available to her, whether ruthlessly exploiting her sexual allure, or savagely murdering her father and child. Carter states that "her work of destruction complete, she will, with her own death, have removed a repressive and authoritarian superstructure" which hinders change (1979, 111).
The Nobel prize winning writer Morrison, whose first novel appeared in 1970, creates an African American world with its own rich symbolism. Grieving the absence of parents telling "their children those classical, mythological archetypal stories that we heard years ago" (2008, 58), while investigating the limits of female power, she suggests that "archetypes created by women about themselves are rare" (22). Yet her works suggest several mythic archetypes; she states concerning Sula that the wildness in such characters is "pre-Christ in the best sense. It's Eve" (in Taylor-Guthrie 165). She insists on her readers interpreting her novels in teasing out their significances personally. Barbara Hill Rigney states that "[i]t is clear that Morrison's protagonist, significantly named Sula Peace, is a composite of archetypal scapegoats: Christ, Cain, even Lilith" (17). Jacqueline Fulmer develops her view of Lilith in Morrison through the angel and monster or witch/goddess binary tropes as developed by Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar in The Madwoman in the Attic (Fulmer 3). Cedric Gael Bryant also starts from Gilbert and Gubar's Lilith ideas in finding Sula "linked to the tradition of female monsters who, in the act of defining-that is, "authoring" -themselves, usurp male power" (737). In Patricia Hunt's words, Sula is "witch or a devil, a supernatural being", rejecting all categorizations (448). Morrison's characters achieve experimental status as "outlaw women" (2004, xiv). All women, especially those of colour, need to stretch the boundaries of possibility in fighting the restraints of patriarchal society, where so many know that they are "neither white nor male, and that all freedom and triumph was forbidden to them" (2004, 52). Clearly the Lilith figure has significance in Morrison's writings.
Lilith is a universal figure, however rooted in Jewish tradition; she has been connected with the African Queen of Sheba, whose reputation as demonic is implied in her hairy goatish legs or "ass's hooves" (Warner 1994, 112). The African or Middle Eastern aspect of such diasporic peoples of colour is affirmed in both these writers as Carter, like Morrison, describes her Leilah/Lilith as black. This paper combines these two amazing writers' independently unorthodox feminist use of the Lilith myth, from different sides of the Atlantic, as reflecting women's need for freedom and self-definition against social repressions. Their women combine in breaking all the rules and surviving against the odds. Lilith uses her powers of body and mind to her own advantage, whether, as Helene Cixous says in using the word "voler", (in DeShazer 400-1), "flying" from perils on her wings, or "stealing" her own advantage from her oppressors, while worming out of her troubles with a snake's cunning or wisdom. Bryant describes Sula's "evilness" as deriving from her role as thief; an outsider who robs the community of its sense of identity, she also robs men of masculinity while giving them pleasure. He then picks up on the French homonym of flight, which for Sula is temporary, since she returns home. This writing demonstrates Lilith's sexual and personal self-assertion, her pariah, morally dubious, witchlike or Medusan qualities, and her life and death qualities as embodied in the primeval snake symbolism of Eden, as both goddess and devil. Both Carter and Morrison illuminate Lilith's outrageous qualities while creating a powerful model for contemporary women in these works.
The controversial Lilith figure of these current women writers contrasts strongly with MacDonald's eponymous fantasy of a century ago. He describes Lilith as an alluring succubus who enthralls Mr Vane even after he learns about her murdering children, including her own daughter, since she had been warned her child would cause her own downfall. In this novel a simplistic struggle between good and evil shows Adam and Eve as entirely good and aligned with God, while Lilith intransigently insists on her independent right to commit evil while maintaining her integrity. She is only offered redemption through the childbearing under which Eve in Genesis was condemned to suffer (MacDonald 148). Adam says that in spite of her angelic splendour: "her first thought was power; she counted it slavery to be one with me, and bear children for Him who gave her being" (147), thus stating the insufferable affront against patriarchy as her claim to power. After her child is born and Adam agrees only to "love and honour, never obey and worship her, she poured out her blood to escape me" (148); he asserts women's duty to obey, which is assumed unsuitable for men. When captured, she is subjected to a barrage of persistent persuasion to force her to repent of her wickedness. Her assertion is that she will be herself "and not another! [...] I am what I am; no one can take from me myself! [...] No one ever made me. I defy that Power to unmake me from a free woman!" (199-200). Regardless of any evil deeds she has committed, she here claims her very integrity. Subjected to considerable pressure to reform, the change in her which is insisted on and finally achieved occurs against her own volition. Thus, this nineteenth century example of the undoubtedly destructive and insubordinate succubus Lilith is blamed above all else for daring to be her own person, castigated as an intolerable presumption against patriarchy.
"I'll take the top [...] Lilith refused to take the inferior position. So Adam sent her away and she roamed the Arabian deserts and the dark beyond the pale" (Byatt 332-333)
In both her Lilith/Eve figures, Carter embodies them in defiantly strong or highly sensual women. Sarah Gamble suggests that Lilith, as a figure on the margins of Biblical myth, potentially offers a "more potent symbol of female transgression" (1997, 81), enabling Marianne of Heroes and Villains to rewrite her own story. These novels show Lilith as on top sexually and psychically, asserting her qualities as powerful succubus.
In Carter's apocalyptic Heroes and Villains, Marianne has been warned that rape will be inevitable if she leaves her secluded tower with the Barbarian Jewel. Sure enough, after her attempt to escape from him, he rapes her after a struggle which she actually initiates by throwing herself defiantly on top of him. She watches him coldly and berates him while maintaining "her superior status" throughout this scene (1969, 55). Marianne never surrenders her independence or self-assertion, in her fury against Jewel as he follows this brutal rape with the social legitimization of marriage. A tough sixteen- year-old girl, even when physically overwhelmed, she shows great defiance in forging her own personality against the oppression of her primitive captors. She had previously escaped rape by Jewel's brothers, her fury increasing as they close in on her, but she pre- empts their thrill of the hunt by closing her eyes in self-oblivion. This tactic effectively succeeds, and Doctor Donally explains the men's fear of Professor women's vagina dentata, rumoured to "sprout sharp teeth in their private parts" (49). She enjoys the sexual jubilance of Lilith in their love making, as the gliding "planes of flesh within her" bring unexpected and extreme intimations of "pleasure or despair" (83). Thus, while her relationship with Jewel remains hostile, they share an electric "river of fire" in their love making (88), without this erotic intensity bringing psychic empathy. Outsiders gather the false impression that she will be subject to him; however, even as she creams for him, she declares she'll leave him, while he on the contrary claims he'll cut his "heart out for [his daughter] to play with" (125).
In Carter's anti-mythic novel, The Passion of New Eve, which Natalie Rosinsky describes as "a lampooning of feminist gynocentric essentialism" (in Gamble 2001, 124), it is the black goddess Mother who rapes Evelyn. She overcomes him like a female mantis, her gaping vagina appearing like an erupting volcano, as he is thrown onto her heaving flesh. He ends up helplessly ejaculating the sperm with which she intends "him" to fertilize "herself" when physically carved into the New Eve, in this dystopia through which Carter parodies extreme feminism. Meanwhile the playgirl or "Tigerish Leilah" (Gamble 2001, 123) starts off as an exaggeratedly seductive warbling canary, mermaid or lorelei to Evelyn's bird of prey or cock. She reminds him of "the succubus, the devils in female form who come by night to seduce the saints" (1977, 27). While she appears to him as sexually voracious, she is in fact "driven by a drier, more cerebral need" (18), implied in the graffiti: "INTROITE ET HIC DII SUNT": "ENTER, FOR HERE THE GODS ARE" (25, 48). He misses this clue to the cult of Mothers that will later transform him into a woman; while he seems to be a bird of prey, it is she who plays the hunter throughout their chase. Demonstrating a total difference from Evelyn, as Heather Johnson states, in embodying "maternity, blackness and the feminine" (Bristow and Broughton 171), this bird- like ghetto nymph appears entirely subsumed by her sexual style as woman dressed as meat.
Apparently a visitor in her own flesh, dancing naked for her reflection in the mirror and for Evelyn, she masturbates and tears his orgasm from him like a Lily-in-the-mirror in his domestic brothel. Both seem trapped in the solipsistic world of the woman watching herself being watched in the mirror, in the infinite regress of an image where she only reflects his essential lack or hollowness. Carter describes her as the "perfect woman; like the moon, she only gave reflected light" (1977, 34) in a sharp indictment of female slavery to physical appearance. Yet, this black Leilah, Lilith, mud Lily, is deceiving Evelyn utterly while bewitching him nightly. He rapidly bores of the palpitations of the flesh as an irritation only to be scratched, and loses all desire for her as she announces her pregnancy, abandoning her to the city after a botched and bloody abortion. She later effects a Lilith revenge on him in his sexual metamorphosis into Eve in Beulah.
Morrison's triple deity of Eva, Hannah and Sula in Sula are all succubii, personifying irresponsible sexuality, whether enjoying or spoiling men. The Peace women love all men, bequeathing each other "manlove" (2004, 41). Eva has her own flock of gentleman callers, engaging in a good amount of "teasing and pecking and laughter" (41) even without making love. Rippling with sex, Hannah needs some sensual touching every day, which leaves her daughter Sula a legacy of sexual irresponsibility more common in men, learning from her mother that sex was "pleasant and frequent, but otherwise unremarkable" (44). Sula is assumed by her neighbours to be guilty of the outrage of sleeping with white men, which is presumed only to occur in rape, yet men frequently make love across race. Made pariah by the community, she loses her earlier sense of lawlessness and joy in lovemaking, retaining only its lonely sorrow. After sleeping with her best friend's husband, she is saddened to learn that Jude was assumed off limits for her, although they had always shared their affections before, and her home had taught her no such possessiveness. She defiantly asserts while dying that she took him since "he just filled up the space" (144). This extreme insouciance exemplifies her defiant lack of empathy, even regarding her best friend.
While lying on top of Ajax, Sula becomes Lilith, towering over and through him in her blissful "jouissance", prolonging the orgasm that would break through her, considering scraping him down to his constituent elements, lazily rocking above his body. Ajax had spotted the two friends in puberty as "pig meat" (50), but later saw Nel as the cliche female victim or Eve: "Ax em to die for you and they yours for life" (83). Ajax later returns to enjoy Sula, drawn by his maternal concept of an independent and lawless woman. While his free conjure mother loves her sons and leaves them alone, she teaches them to evade amorous commitment. Thus when Sula herself experiences the feeling of possession she had been oblivious to and destroyed in Nel and Jude's marriage, she remains selfishly wrapped in her own perceptions, unable to appreciate how dangerous she would appear to Ajax, as her love making turns to nest making. Lacking empathy with Ajax' susceptibilities, she is unaware even of his name, A. Jacks, it being Adam who had named the creatures in Eden. He responds according to his carefree upbringing, and shies away from Sula like a sensitive untamed horse. Her domestic behaviour spells death to his freedom; this culture cannot keep the man in the home, or as Johnson says, home "is where the phallus isn't" (79). He treats her in the masculine fashion she had treated all her previous lovers, simply there for the ride. Jerking against the implied bridle of cloth on the table or ribbon in her hair, he flies from all attachments, whether to woman's heart strings or apron strings. Pulling her beneath him into the missionary position of Eve, he thus ends her Lilith supremacy. Meanwhile he fantasizes his next carefree trip to the airfield, where imagination is unbound by reality. This leaves no outlet for Sula but self- destruction.
"So they laid broomsticks across their doors at night and sprinkled salt on porch steps". (Sula 113)
These novels present life-threatening, petrifying and witchlike Lilith behaviour. In Heroes and Villains it is emphasized throughout that Jewel fears Marianne even as he bullies her, convinced that she will be the death of him (79, 80), although she saves his life three times. Their first encounter is when she objectifyingly looks out from the tower of the effete Professors, survivors of a civilized world, onto a world under chaotic attack by the Barbarians, who have reverted to a primitive life style after nuclear destruction. She watches her brother, the preferred male of her mother, being killed by Jewel on his first attack. Neither she nor Jewel ever forget his "expression of blind terror" and "vague, terrified gestures with his hands" (6). (4) Carter emphasizes his fear of her icey eyes and her cool surveillance of her brother's death on that first encounter, with her looking down as if it were "all an entertainment laid on for her benefit" (80). Throughout this novel the destructive Medusan evil eye of Marianne is iterated. She only later realizes that the enemy killing her brother who turns out to be Jewel had been attempting to ward off her own penetrating evil eye even while murdering her brother. This action demonstrates a curious interplay of power, with the aggressor fearful of his young observer. Jewel is a prince of darkness, a devil incarnate and "created, not begotten, a fantastic dandy of the void" (72), suggesting an inverse divinity parallel to hers, and yet he greatly fears her, calling her the firing squad (120). On their wedding night he reminds her of that old encounter, sharing his insight "that this child who looked so severe would be the death of me" (79), saying he hates her, and baring his chest for her to kill him then as well as subsequently.
Meanwhile, she holds the tribe under the aura of her evil eye, from which dubious magic they attempt to protect themselves with what turns out to be the gesture of the old Christian cross, always occurring in response to her petrifying Medusan gaze. The Barbarians think of Professor women as "terrible angels with fiery swords to keep them out" of their civilized Eden (107); children scatter before Marianne's glare, and Jewel's brothers complain that she is bewitching him. When she laughs in the presence of a mother and her sick child, this laughter is interpreted as deadly, and the child dies that night. Terrifying to the entire tribe, who fear her enigmatic otherness, she is particularly fearful to Jewel, in spite of his savage ability to whip one brother and take another's death in his stride. Alone and physically powerless as she is, they superstitiously fear her uncanny eyes, as she becomes aware of the strength in her glare. While Jewel is already dying of consumption, he actually squanders his life by ousting his mentor Donally and then reneging on this decision and attempting to recover him the next day, thereby falling into a posse of soldiers. His fatal indecisiveness weakens him in the eyes of his brothers and proves him unequal to Marianne's calculating, spiteful nature. This teenage girl proves her strength while rejecting the wifely role they assign her, developing her indomitable psyche in spite of her youth and straightened conditions, through her sharp cultivation of practical and mental acumen. Whether she actually causes Jewel's or others' deaths is dubious; she certainly threatens and appears to cause death, like Lilith.
Carter mockingly deconstructs the machinations of the surgeon Mother of Beulah in The Passion of New Eve, with her Medusan "hair like a nest of petrified snakes" (190). She recreates Evelyn's body into a beautiful Eve, a "Playboy center fold" dream of a woman" (75), intended to be used in the creation of parthenogenetic births. Carter also transforms the seductive Leilah, left haemorraging after an abortion, who later shrugs off all her Leilah passivity. She becomes Mother's monomamiliar assistant Sophia, and then transforms into the storm trooper Lilith, directing the reformed Women's forces, just as Marianne emerges to lead the Barbarians. Rather than indulging in goddess myths and archetypes, these women become engaged in the chaotic struggle to gain control of this world torn between ethnic, gender, religious and political forces. Thus, emerging from the training ground of sexual liberation to embrace the more strident realities of history, Lilith metamorphoses into a gunslinging Amazon guerilla, fighting to enable women a more significant identity than forced sex changes and goddess pipe dreams. While abhorring the consolations of goddess belief, Carter cannot resist using its apt symbols. She describes the succubus Leilah becoming Lilith as one of the Priestesses of Cybele, self-healing, with rape refreshing her virginity, in a parody of the goddesses Hera and Mary with their perpetual virginity. Thus, Carter states that the once useful "Divine Virgins, Sacred Harlots and Virgin Mothers" are now all dead (175), or as she affirms elsewhere: "The goddess is dead" (1979, 110). Meanwhile, these Women struggle for the birth of a new world in apocalyptic America.
In Sula, Eva expresses "benevolent tyranny" (Munro 150) towards her children whom she nurtures without expressing emotional attachment. She saves Plum by "unplugging" him to prevent internal poisoning, and then deserts all three children, leaving them to a neighbour for eighteen months, returning with her left leg metonymously replaced by the pocket book of an insurance policy. This traumatic act removes them forever from the fear of hunger, but scarcely justifies her autocratic rule, as in her decision to terminate her son Plum's life. Defending this action to Hannah, she implies the terrible choice of a mother faced with such a ruthless decision, asserting a Lilith force of destiny over her own child, refusing him the infantization brought about by his helpless drug dependency. Projecting onto him her fears of his threatened return to the womb, she decides he will "die like a man not all scrunched up inside my womb, but like a man" (2004, 72). At what point may one decide that a son trapped in a cycle of thieving to maintain a narcotic fix has a life so undignified and unworthy of living that he must be incinerated? Eva plays God by giving him an irrevocable, hot death. Morrison is an expert on the terrible Medean choice of infanticide, as seen in Sethe's decision to kill her children rather than have them suffer slavery in Beloved. Nonetheless, Morrison does assert that Eva's love may have been destructively closer to owning, as she states: "Too frequently love has to do with owning that other person" (in Taylor-Guthrie 42). In placing Plum's helplessness alongside Shadrack's shell-shocked madness, Morrison shows the latter veteran emerging from his drunken lunacy to begin missing people, starting with Sula, and to appreciate his own life which he has independently if outrageously maintained throughout. Eva casts off her emotional bonding with Plum after a last embrace, convinced that her duty is to swiftly free him from dependency. But when Hannah's conflagration follows this savage act, "Eva mused over the perfection of the judgment against her" (2004, 78), in questioning whether she had acted rightly to her son. In addition, her maternal irresponsibility in fostering and then utterly confusing the personalities of the three Deweys, keeping them in a state of permanent childhood until they die in the tunnel accident, is also autocratic. This contrasts with her behavior towards Plum; while she removes him from endless infantization, they are encouraged to remain in such a state. Eva is actually a loving mother, throwing herself from her window in attempting to save Hannah when she catches fire, but she is undoubtedly destructive with Plum and the Deweys.
The behaviour of both grandmother and granddaughter in this novel is dubiously amoral. Whether perceived as witches or devils, murderers or mean, they wound others and carry the wounds of their self-assertion in this tough society. Jacqueline de Weever evaluates the three generations as "fierce and independent grandmother, compliant daughter, rebellious granddaughter" (141). After Hannah is burned to death over a yard fire under Sula's fascinated eyes, Eva and Sula remain matched as sparring partners. Sula incarcerates Eva in a nursing home, lying to Nel about her motive, and Eva endlessly survives there after Sula's early death. These Lilith avatars are assertive and destructive toward both their own and other's children, necessarily savage in the world Morrison describes where the doubly disinherited, "neither white nor male", require super strength for sheer survival (2004, 52).
Hannah is impaled on the imperfections of motherhood facing both generations. She challenges her mother as to why she didn't played with them, with Eva asserting there was never time for play in the struggle to survive, her duty to keep them alive absorbing all her energies. Then Hannah is caught reflecting on maternity with her friends, unaware that her daughter Sula is eavesdropping. She states that children are a qualified blessing whom you love but may not like, which all mothers know is simply the truth; while you love your child, he's a pain, these mothers agree. Hannah's Lilith-like shedding of the emotional bonds of mothering leaves her free to enjoy her own sexual pleasures, and Sula's immediate shock at her mother's flippant statement she would probably soon learn to take in her stride. However, coming as it does immediately before her drowning of Chicken Little, it causes a traumatic maturation in one day, as she becomes an accidental murderer at the age of thirteen. Initially terrified of the consequences, this termination of life causes her to exorcise her morality and frees her from moral restraints, indeed empties her of ego, making her dangerously unaccountable in her actions (118-19).
This action beyond the pale gives her an odd unity with the other demon of this society, Shadrack, who greets her reassuringly with the open promise of "always", and years later tips his hat to her on the street. Dessie, a big Daughter Elk who knew things, witnesses the greeting of these "two devils" (117) as proof positive of their complicit ability to exercise their evil eye over townspeople. While Sula escapes from him, Dessie gains a sty over one eye, reflecting Sula's birthmark, further proof of Sula and Shadrack's devilish influence. As the narrator states, the neighbors' "evidence against Sula was contrived, but their conclusions about her were not" (118). They certainly regard Sula as a witch, able to harm or kill any of them, in addition to her ability to lure men of whatever colour to her bed as succubus, walking about as she does without underwear and a cruelly mocking attitude. It is scarcely surprising that her petrifying gaze can break Teapot's bones and choke Mr. Finley to death; she has hardly arrived back in town wearing black crepe and foxtails before mothers are grabbing their sons away from her pernicious proximity. So the town joins forces against her, making her pariah and scapegoat for their own sins in activating their righteousness through her while they "laid broomsticks across their doors at night and sprinkle salt on porch steps" (113) for this Medusan witch.
Sula maintains utter indifference to relationships within the social order or assumed gender roles, and is too busy making herself to make children (92). "Flout[ing] convention and received morality" (Matus 60), she bypasses the helpmeet Eve role which Nel embraces with Jude, although this very role impales Sula in the end. Her early uncanny charisma had made her fend off the attack of Irish boys by slicing off the end of her own finger to defend Nel under attack, the closest she gets to Eva's leg amputation. This proves her courageous ruthlessness, giving her the only scar she carries to her death. Sula eventually finds herself deserted, defiantly going to death in her own intransigent way. Left alone since she had been careless of others, she is destroyed by receiving a taste of her own indifferent medicine. Sula, the "artist with no art form" (2004, 121), had been tough enough to watch her mother's death throes with thrill rather than pain. She wanted her "to keep on jerking like that, to keep on dancing" (147). But she lives to suffer that pain in dreams that pursue her to death, as the Baking Powder Lady disintegrates into the dust and ashes her own birthmark suggests. Finally falling victim to possessive emotions for Ajax, she is destroyed without appreciating how she lost both friend and lover. While dying she longs to share her thoughts on death with Nel, with whom she had shared girlhood, and whether djinns, demons or angels, Lilith or Eve, the pure experience of being two hearty sexy girls together was a text they were never able to better. Morrison thus exemplifies such courageous "outlaw women" (xiv). In a complex interplay of power and its lack she shows Lilith using her witchlike savage force to punish others, while often being punished as scapegoat herself, in a frequently lose-lose situation.
"The snake on his back flicked its tongue in and out with the play of muscle [...] and the tattooed Adam appeared to flinch again and again from the apple which Eve again and again leaned forward to offer him [...] the moving picture of an endless temptation". (Heroes and Villains 113)
The snake theme of Eden appears in Sula's birthmark as a stemmed rose of sexual love, readily available in her household. This then incriminatingly becomes the ashes of her mother Hannah's burning, when Sula had curiously watched her body twitching in agony, simply asserting that her indifferent voyeurism had intended no harm (147). Finally to Jude who, together with his marriage, falls prey to her, it becomes a copperhead or rattlesnake, the snake of Lilith, offering the apple to Adam in the garden, implying temptation and death. Its association for Shadrack with the tadpole also suggests the snake's life force. Thus, the snake viewed as evil is juxtaposed with the flower of innocence in this intertwined image, illustrated on the Penguin cover of Carter's Heroes and Villains by James Marsh. Shakespeare juxtaposes these same contrasting images of love and evil in Macbeth 1, 5, 65-66: "look like th' innocent flower,/But be the serpent under't". Just as Marianne exercises the destructive Medusan evil eye, so Sula's odd birthmark stares out from above her eye with its similarly demonic and alluring power. She wooes Jude with her defiantly insouciant attitude to his problems, stating that all the world is after "a nigger's privates" (103). While dying, she suggests that Nel is wrong to stigmatize her, claiming to be better. Sula knows that "[y]ou don't get nothing for being good to somebody" (144-5). She anticipates an outrageous carnival when all the world will come to love and vindicate her as every possible expectation is reversed.
Meanwhile Nel as the wronged wife rejecting Sula turns her eyes from the ball of fur which persistently sticks in the corner of her sight. She is sucked up as a spider clinging onto her own spittle of rights against the victimizing snake's breath below, her child love dried out like syrup and her thighs left empty. She only finally comes to understand her own imperfections and her friend's value at the very end, as the ball of fur bursts epiphanously into dandelion spores. Sula lives with her own dangeously experimental life without heeding the worth of others, freely falling as the snake beneath in her "surrender to the downward flight" (120), cre(m)ating herself defiantly even to death rather than allowing Eva to cre(m)ate her. She smiles while planning to share her painless release into death with Nel, while Nel is finally left with a reverberating lonely cry of longing for her old friend: "girl, girl, girlgirlgirl" (174).
Heroes and Villains is narrated through the cold eyes of Mari/anne, whose name combines that of Jesus' mother Mary, also called the second Eve, as well as Mary's mother Anne. Thus combined, this becomes the name of the allegorical figure of the French Republic, Marianne, sculpted by Aime Dalou and "representative of Liberty" in post-revolutionary France (Warner 1985, 27). While Marianne takes her wedding dress from its "Pandora box", she recalls the French Revolution "where they had briefly worshipped the goddess Reason" (1969, 68). After the death of her father, Marianne cuts off her hair in an attempt at uglification and then proceeds to burn his books. Refusing marriage within the community since it would offer her no significant role, she risks leaving with Jewel, but defiantly resists him to the end. The novel opens with the frozen clock of civilization in the hands of Marianne's professor father. This symbol recurs at the end as a clock on the breast of an ecstatically erotic female plaster figure rising out of the sea next to a lighthouse resembling the tower Marianne had left long before. She is reminded by these symbols to "abhor shipwreck [...] go in fear of unreason. Use your wits" (139) just before her ultimate struggle with Jewel, and however isolated, she maintains her reasoning powers against Jewel throughout.
This novel is saturated with the founding myth of Adam and Eve's fall, which Donally tattooed onto Jewel's back and from which the snake's tongue flickers throughout, as the Barbarians re-live the fall of humanity after atomic destruction. Marianne and Jewel are a lost Adam and Eve or Lilith; he is also an illiterate Yahoo, while Marianne is more Laputian in her savagery, as well as being an untouchable angel or demon with Medusan power in her evil eye. A snake bite bloodily anticipates her rape, but she survives both initiations and learns serpent wisdom, directing Jewel as the snake's tongue on his back flickers through the "perfect circle" of the uroborus (30) as he finally accepts "the tattoed apple" from her (146). Jewel struggles against her superior intelligence, while himself at home in his own tribe, submerged as prince of darkness in a murky night of ignorance, as she flexes her Lilith muscles in calling on the name of her own goddess of the republic, Reason.
Marianne is called Lilith while indulging in erotic tenderness towards Jewel, describing her demon lover as "the furious invention of my virgin nights" (137). He suggests that she embrace her destiny with style and pretend to be "Eve at the end of the world"; as Day suggests, "at the end of the patriarchal world" (54). Donally prefers the name Lilith for her. When Jewel quibbles whether it may imply a negative heritage, they agree that she is at least a little Lilith (1969, 124). Feistily defiant, she is deeply concerned for her own and her unborn child's future, sunk in the tribe's abject poverty- stricken conditions. However, Jewel remains in the grip of a death-wish and obsession that she will cause his death, and already coughing blood, he strips himself of his jewelled talismans before attempting to drown himself after a lion yawns over him. He is furious when she insists on rescuing and reviving him by lying on top of him as the Lilith she is, hitting her with fury at her appropriation of his life. His brothers believe she has bewitched and unmanned him as they try to make him resist her influence. They fight over his decision first to reject Donally and then foolishly to attempt his old mentor's rescue. She threatens to leave Jewel while returning his savage blows, telling him that his mask has slipped so far she can no longer respect him, and urging him to survive in order to father his own child. He leaves nonetheless, after nihilistically hoping the brothers will "all together make a beautiful dive into nothing" (144). She scorns his senseless walking into his own death trap, bowed under both his death wish and her verbal curse, reiterating his persistent "fatal, fear of death" through her (29). She demonstrates her power over him by capriciously recalling him only to callously assert her lack of affection for the brother whom he had killed and long since replaced in her mind in an incestuous interchangeability. As Day states, "in Marianne's case reason may order, like an iron rod, the inchoate energies of the id, while the energies of the id-the energies of the 'tiger lady'-may enrich reason" (53), combining both her erotic and cerebral Lilith power. As husband and wife circle each other suspiciously from their alien worlds, she proves her ruthlessness to the tribe while outflanking him at every step. He dies, as Gerardine Meaney implies, as "Messiah, Arthur or hero, [his] blood sacrifice demanded by the Mother Goddess and the socio- symbolic contract" (100). Upon his death she inherits his mantle, using the tribe's fear and her own powers of self-assertion. Thus with Jewel's death the young Marianne comes into her own power, affirming she will be Queen, "tiger lady and rule them with a rod of iron" (1969, 150); MacDonald's Lilith teams Lilith with a spotted leopard; big cats frequently accompany goddesses. With the words "No more" uttered by Donally's son at the end of the novel, a reverberating silence similar to that at the end of Hamlet descends. As their prince, Jewel, dies, Marianne at the tender age of sixteen assumes his rule. This defiant Lilith exercises her witchy, snakelike force against her oppressors as she "absolutely refused to be party to the contract and whom the Law of the Father turned into a most Medusa-like monster instead. Lilith with a little knowledge would be a dangerous woman indeed" (Meaney 120). Marianne as Lilith is an early exemplar of Carter's various super women bestriding their small worlds defiantly.
The insubordinate force of the irresistible demon or goddess Lilith clearly lives on in these works of Carter and Morrison. This sexually independent woman who leapt from the hand of God in Her image fully formed is ancient proof of the strength of women despite her restricted circumstances. She is defiantly indifferent to divine or male requests of her, whether concerning her freedom, behaviour, or her sexual position. She obdurately forges her personality against the expectations of those around her, using all her resources in tempting others while realizing her own desires, whether calling on the name of God or sweeping aside the rights or the very lives of those around her. She resists the restraints of relationship and community, and even causes the death of children. Not a comfortable woman to live with, these ultimate actions may need to be called on in extremity, since such outrageous women blaze open a trail for those who are to follow.
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(1) Stave's evaluation of Lilith in Beloved is a fascinating account drawing out varied allusions to the myth and related Biblical elements; my reading of Sula is more precisely focused on the archetype of the Lilith character.
(2) The cover illustration by Alev Ersan is an imaginative representation of this same bird woman image, with her creatures, lion and owl.
(3) The plaque which both Patai and Neumann call Lilith shows a beautiful bird woman with talons and wings; Baring and Cashford call her Inanna-Ishtar, and Collon considers she may also be Ereshkigal. Uncertain of Lilith's goddess status, although Patai asserts "she became an undoubted goddess in Sumer and the consort of God in Kabbalism" (252), while the rod-andring of this icon clearly indicate its goddess status, the British Museum displays it as "Queen of the Night" (Collon 40).
(4) Carter's "vague terrified gestures with his hands" echoes the "terrified vague fingers push" of Yeats' poem "Leda and the Swan", which myth Carter exemplifies in The Magic Toyshop, with Melanie as a timid Eve figure pitted against her rapacious uncle. Yeats' poem has Leda respond sensitively to rape, while Carter uses this action to show the rapist, Jewel's, response to his future victim, who will ultimately be "the death of" him (Heroes and Villains 79-80).
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|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2014|
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