Monday, March 31, 2014

Erasmus Darwin Wells

Throughout this semester, we have read many stories of men "overcoming" mountains and being thought of and painted as heroes. From Herzog and his French team finding glory in a post WWII world to Joe Simpson surviving a should-have-been-fatal (as he described it) leg injury and then that great fall, the theme of heroism, at least, the theme of the books painting these men as heroes, has been pretty constant throughout these adventure narratives. Hemlock in The Eiger Sanction was our first introduction to a not-so-heroic hero. Of course, given the satirical nature of The Eiger Sanction, the fact that Hemlock was not much of a hero was not surprising. We then came to The Voyage of the Narwhal, with its narration "through the eyes of the ship's scholar-naturalist, Erasmus Darwin Wells" (as the back cover explains). Erasmus' job already does not sound very heroic, and throughout the novel so far he has not done much to prove his heroism. As readers privy to Erasmus' thoughts and secret conversations with Dr. Boerhaave, we know how strongly Erasmus disagrees with Zeke's impulsive decisions that keep on landing the crew in worse and worse situations. And yet, when the moments arise for Erasmus to stand up to Zeke, he recoils from it. While Ned becomes the voice of the crew when Zeke tries to push them again to go explore farther north, Erasmus votes no but not cofidently, saying "'I'm staying here,' Erasmus said, hoping he sounded as firm as Ned had" (210). Mostly, Erasmus' father's description of him seems pretty fitting: "Erasmus, he'd said, was like a walking embodiment of Newton's Third Law of Motion. Set moving, he moved until someone stopped him; stopped, he was stuck until pushed again" (74). Basically, Erasmus doesn't seem like the "typical" hero, as he is quite passive; he needs others to interfere for him to do anything. So my question is this: what effect does Erasmus being not-so heroic have on our reading? Or, if you disagree that he isn't very heroic, where do you see his heroism? Finally, on a related note, do you think that adventure narratives must be told by a "hero" (or that at least the narrator/main character must be painted as a hero)?

1 comment:

  1. Erasmus' role as a not so heroic hero humbles him in the eyes of the reader. He is positioned as all knowing and superior for not flying off the handle when faced with conflict. He is positioned as Zeke's polar opposite. Erasmus' heroism lies in his ability to remain true to himself and find the natural beauty in a journey afflicted by chaos and conflict like all adventures appear to be. I do not think that adventure stories must be told by a hero or someone painted as a hero. It is up to the author to tell the story in a way that he or she sees fit and for the reader to determine whether or not the narrator acts as a hero or not.