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Conflict And Opposition In The Works: Dr Faustus And Solid Geometry

2311 words - 10 pages

When conflict arises in literature it is normally evident both externally and internally. Opposition is an important drive in both Marlowe’s play and McEwan’s short story. The male protagonists are both engaged in an inner life, disregarding everything else without concern for what this might mean. The presence of an external opposing voice in both texts serves to highlight and question this kind of existence. The sheer contrast of protagonist and antagonist is enough to remind the audience how extreme both men’s behaviour is. The path Faustus and the protagonist in Solid Geometry follow is that of intellectual commitment, a solitary path fraught with danger.

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Dr Faustus is perhaps the most famous example of an internal conflict, while Solid Geometry has a more obvious external antagonist in the form of Maisie. When exploring Faustus’ struggle, the imagery of the Good and Bad Angel is extremely helpful, replicated countless times in other literature since the creation of Chaucer’s play, it serves to embody the divided human mind and identity crises of all kinds. Initially, and most clearly, the angels are an extension of Faustus’ own conscience and we can tell a lot about his character from his reaction to the distinct voices. Ruth Lunney in her essay Faustus and the Angels suggests that ‘the words of the Bad Angel echo and confirm Faustus’ aspirations’ (Lunney, 2011: 124). The Bad Angel is most closely aligned to the version of Faustus the audience bears witness to in the performance; the Good Angel instead offers a steady reminder of the consequences these actions will create, and makes the audience believe there is a constant possibility of repentance. Faustus pays greater attention to the Bad Angel recognising that the voice is more suited to his state of mind. The purpose of the Angels is fundamental to an audiences understanding of the character; the audience is influenced by the use of this device, especially when a production presents the angels as separate and external figures on the stage. McEwan’s story doesn’t have such a clear divide of two separate voices, one good and one bad, instead we have an internal life pestered by an external reminder. Whereas Faustus’ battle is won or lost internally, the narrator in Solid Geometry is using his gained knowledge to affect external life.

A more apparent divide in Solid Geometry is the opposition between ‘female emotionalism and chilly male rationality’ (Malcolm, 2002: 24). The protagonist and narrator demonstrates hostility towards his wife throughout the story, their respective characters could be said to represent exaggerated versions of the stereotypical perceptions of gender as the quote above suggests. The short story form, it seems, suits this extreme polarity; the fact that the characters are so much in opposition to one another means the plot can move along with intensity and speed. Although science is a major theme in the story there is a definite lack of rationality, if the narrator is too cold and scientific and Maisie is too unbalanced and histrionic then a compromise between the two may be where true rationality lies. Similarly, Faustus engages in very little rational behaviour, he demonstrates overreaching ambition and boundless aspiration stopping at nothing to achieve what he falsely believes is attainable. This belief is false because true satisfaction is not possible for a man who has to walk a path of damnation in search of fulfilment. Considering Faustus’ alternative choice under different circumstances, the audience may ask what the Good Angel really represents. If the Good Angel stands for piety and religious conformity...

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