Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Symbolism in George Eliot's "The Lifted Veil"

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George Eliot’s “The Lifted Veil”

“The Lord G-d called out to man and said to him, ‘where are you?’ He replied, ‘I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid (Genesis 10).” A common interpretation of the story of Adam and Eve, is that their story is the beginning of man’s self-centered nature and hence the inner dwellings of the subconscious. In The Lifted Veil, Eliot explores how a knowingness of someone else’s inner thoughts brings about fear. Every person has thoughts that they want no one to see. When one senses that someone else has recognized the true thoughts of the subconscious, the natural reaction since the time of Adam is to “hide” because now they feel completely vulnerable. The implications of the very title of The Lifted Veil, is associated with disclosure and secrecy. When this concealment of the soul and subconscious is lifted than secrecy and guilt set in. The significance of the title of this story is symbolic of the hidden meanings in this book; moreover, the hidden meaning of our minds and the spirit world.

Latimer, with his power of insight knows more than anybody does the danger in revealing too much about ones self. He mentions in his “last hours,” how he has “never fully unbosomed myself to any human being” (Eliot 4). Latimer is all too aware of the dangers of someone peering in upon your most secretive thoughts. Latimer becomes obsessed with secrecy of his own “veil’ being lifted. He is well aware that when he can read anothers thoughts than they are completely vulnerable to him. This is also the reason why Latimer is so mesmerized by Bertha before he can finally read into her thoughts.

The title suggests the lifting of the veil ritual at bridal ceremonies. The woman wears a white gown to symbolize virginity. Virginity suggests innocence, sensitivity, and ignorance of the ways of the world. Hence, vulnerability of the virgin bride who puts trust in the groom who will take her virginity away. Hence Latimer’s obsession with Bertha. Latimer becomes a virgin in her mist, for he is vulnerable because he does not know what reigns in her thoughts. In this sense Latimer is the veiled virgin at Bertha’s mercy. Latimer describes this power of Bertha over him as such “there is no tyranny more complete than that which a self-centered negative nature exercises over a morbidly sensitive nature perpetually craving sympathy and support” (Eliot 15). Thus secrecy pervades the consciousness of Latimer for fear of his own “veil” being lifted. Latimer says that he “never allowed my diseased condition to betray itself…except once” (Eliot 18). Astonishingly enough this one slip was with his brother whom he felt complete power over. Yet when Latimer slipped he became a virgin trying to protect his own sacred chastity or secret. Latimer describes that when this happened that

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“the words had no sooner escaped my lips than I felt a shock of alarm lest

such an anticipation of words-very far from being words of course, easy to

divine-should have betrayed me as an exceptional being, a sort of quiet

energumen, whom every one, Bertha above all, would shudder at and

avoid” (Eliot 18).

Eliot further illustrates Latimer’s veil of secrecy and fear of vulnerability of being exposed when Latimer describes his condition as a “suspicion which of all things I dreaded” (7).

Latimer characterizes his relationship with the vulnerability that he sees in everyone else with his own secrecy. Latimer theorizes that

“breaking in on the privacy of another soul, made me, by an irrational

instinct, draw the shroud of concealment more closely around my own,

as we automatically perform the gesture we feel to be wanting in another”

(Eliot 8).

Latimer now sees the importance of secrecy in one’s deepest thoughts. Thus when this veil of secrecy is lifted one is left at the mercy of others. For this, Latimer feels a deep sense of guilt.

Latimer’s preoccupation with Bertha is filled with a desirous passion. Latimer’s mental capacities aside, people are sometimes fall in love with someone else who does not love them back, and so have an obsession to get this person to love them. Soon though, one begins to fall for the idea of this person, as opposed to the actual person himself or herself. Even Latimer with his unique insight cannot escape this feeling. For when Latimer gains some insight into her thoughts he still cannot quite yet escape his longing for her. When he finally can see into her thoughts than the sense of mystery becomes veiled and Latimer begins to lose his passion and obsession towards Bertha, and knowingness becomes contempt.

Latimer’s largest sense of guilt in the novel comes from his own discoveries of the human soul, and in particular his own. When Latimer has the premonition of his brother’s death he still cannot escape the dark feelings of his own soul, he laments

“In after-days I thought with bitter regret that if I had foreseen something

more or something different-if instead of that hideous vision which

poisoned the passion it could not destroy” (Eliot 1).

Latimer feels a sense of guilt at the own recognition of his own thoughts, but can do nothing to escape them. Latimer than discovers that his thoughts are no different or less dark than the others that he felt contempt for.

The same relationship of that Latimer shares with Bertha is parallel to her relationship with Mrs. Archer. Latimer notes that “there had arisen in Bertha’s mind towards this woman a mingled feeling of fear and dependence” (Eliot 5). Latimer knows that their relationship dealt with insight and secrets. He knows this for sure when he remarks that “the dark veil had completely fallen,” between these two women. When Mrs. Archer reveals her secret, with her last reviving breath than once again human nature is revealed.

Human nature is at the heart of this novel. The title suggests the consequences of acute awareness. Like Adam, Latimer knows the vulnerability of being naked before someone. Eliot further demonstrates the darkness that lies in the human soul, that is shrouded in secrecy and guilt. After the last confession of Mrs. Archer, Latimer exclaims “Great G-d! Is this what it is to live again…to wake up with our unstilted thirst upon us, with our unuttered curses rising to our lips, with our muscles ready to act their half-committed sins?” (Eliot 4). Eliot, like Latimer through The Lifted Veil, gives us insight into our own soul and the consequences of having our veils lifted.

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