Anatomy Of Criticism By Northrop Frye

2626 words - 11 pages

Anatomy of Criticism by Northrop Frye

In Anatomy of Criticism, author Northrop Frye writes of the low mimetic tragic hero and the society in which this hero is a victim. He introduces the concept of pathos saying it “is the study of the isolated mind, the story of how someone recognizably like ourselves is broken by a conflict between the inner and outer world, between imaginative reality and the sort of reality that is established by a social consensus” (Frye 39). The hero of Hannah W. Foster’s novel, The Coquette undoubtedly suffers the fate of these afore mentioned opposing ideals. In her inability to confine her imagination to the acceptable definitions of early American female social behavior, Eliza Wharton falls victim to the ambiguity of her society’s sentiments of women’s roles. Because she attempts to claim the freedom her society superficially advocates, she is condemned as a coquette and suffers the consequences of exercising an independent mind. Yet, Eliza does not stand alone in her position as a pathetic figure. Her lover, Major Sanford -- who is often considered the villain of the novel -- also is constrained by societal expectations and definitions of American men and their ambition. Though Sanford conveys an honest desire to make Eliza his wife, society encourages marriage as a connection in order to advance socially and to secure a fortune. Sanford, in contrast to Eliza, suffers as a result of adhering to social expectations of a male’s role. While Eliza suffers because she lives her life outside of her social categorization and Sanford falls because he attempts to maneuver and manipulate the system in which he lives, both are victims of an imperfect, developing, American society.

Though Eliza’s ambivalence and indecision is often attributed to her coquettish nature, she is only a reflection of society’s inability to adapt to the evolving nature of the female role in the development of a uniquely American culture. Eliza’s opinion of marriage and individual identity differs substantially from that of the previous generation. Mrs. Wharton, Eliza’s mother, exemplifies the female character who lacks her own self- definition and relies on her husband and children for identification. In a letter to her daughter she writes, “Your father’s death deprived me, for a while, of every enjoyment,” until her children took his place and now, “They are the axis on which revolves the temporal felicity of their mother” (Foster 40). Mrs. Wharton conveys a more traditional female role of a wife and mother, yet lives completely void of any unique substance that would define her outside of these occupations. She seems too easily contented to be an actor with her role already scripted rather than directing her own self-definition. While it seems as though a modern audience would view this lack of substance as a downfall where this woman suffers, Mrs. Wharton appears content in adhering to her culture designating her to a life of...

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