La belle dame sans merci

In the poem La Belle Dame sans Merci, a knight tells the story of how he becomes obsessed with, and then gets abandoned by, a spirit known as “The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy.” Though seemingly aware she’s an illusion, the knight lingers in his memory of the Lady, and it’s implied he will do so until he dies. In this relationship, the knight’s love turns from enchantment into an obsession.


Through his example, the poem expresses two linked warnings about the dangers of intense romantic love which may transform into an obsession. When the object of obsession disappears, the lover left behind undergoes a spiritual death, losing the ability to appreciate the beauty in anything but the memory of what is lost. These warnings suggest that love, though wonderful, can quickly shift into a kind of metaphorical death if it becomes obsessive. The knight first describes falling in love with the Lady as a kind of enchantment that consumes him completely. The Lady he finds in the meadow is “Full beautiful, a faery’s child.” The Lady’s perfect beauty captures the knight’s attention. By describing her as the child of a magical creature, he emphasizes that her ability to charm him is a supernatural force. Enchanted further by the mysterious wildness in her eyes, the knight begins serving the Lady and devoting all his emotional energy to her. He weaves the Lady “bracelets” and “a garland,” and in reward receives her “love” and “sweet moan.”


However, the line between enchantment and obsession is dangerously thin. The Lady soon becomes the knight’s single focus, seemingly his single source of life. Besides the Lady, the knight sees “nothing else … all day.” This may sound like hyperbole, but the knight means it: the Lady creates a private world for herself and the knight.


Soon, the knight sees her in everything as he is obsessed. The flowers transform into suitable material for the Lady to wear. The hillside cave, a feature of the natural landscape, becomes the Lady’s “Elfin grot.” As the knight’s obsession deepens, he grows to depend on the Lady even for basic nutrition. The Lady feeds the knight “roots of relish sweet, / And honey wild, and manna-dew.”


Having devoted so much emotional energy to the Lady and put himself completely under her control, the knight undergoes a spiritual death when she disappears. In his dream the knight sees the Lady’s former victims: “pale kings,” “princes,” and “warriors”—”death-pale were they all.” In their faces, he sees the man he will become: someone deathly, starved, and captivated by memories of the Lady to the point of enslavement. Like them, he will wake up “death-pale,” or, as the speaker first describes him, “Alone and palely loitering”—physically alive, yet condemned to replay his memory of an obsessive love for the rest of his days. The Lady is finally revealed to be La Belle Dame sans Merci—literally, The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy.

Strangely, the Lady’s merciless behaviour actually consists of the love and joy she provides; her sudden disappearance is what makes the knight’s experience so painful exactly because she was previously so kind. The shape of the Lady’s cruelty suggests that anything one falls in love with or obsesses over can cause such pain since anything can disappear in an instant. The poem thus cautions against such intense, obsessive love, arguing that it’s ultimately not worth the agony it can cause.


The Great Gatsby Motifs and Symbols

Time and Obsession: F. Scott Fitzgerald uses the symbolism of relationships frequently to elaborate on how love, desire and sex are major motives for almost every character in The Great Gatsby. However, all the relationships mentioned are never depicted as healthy or stable. Focusing specifically on the relationship between Gatsby and Daisy, it is evident in the very first chapter that Daisy (without Gatsby’s character being revealed to the audience) perks up at the sound of his name, noticeably remembering him after many years. However, when the pair reunite in Chapter 5,  “We haven’t met for many years,” said Daisy, her voice as matter-of-fact as it could ever be. “Five years next November.”(Gatsby) (5.69-70) it is apparent that Daisy’s memories of Gatsby are more abstract and clouded, while Gatsby has been so infatuated with her that he knows the exact month they parted and has clearly been counting down the days until their reunion. There is another moment in the scene when Nick returns after the initial awkward re-introduction, he comes back to find them talking emotionally. However, Gatsby has transformed, as he is radiant and glowing, “He literally glowed; without a word or a gesture” (5.87). In contrast, Daisy is not so thoroughly transformed, except for her overflowing tears. Although the narrator, Nick pays closer attention to Gatsby than Daisy, it is apparent that Gatsby is more intensely engaged in the relationship. Their relationship also reflects the idea of change as much as Gatsby wants to repeat the past, he can’t. In the present, Daisy has moved on and he can never return to that beautiful, perfect moment when he kissed her for the first time and wedded all her hopes and dreams to her. Thus proving that over time, Gatsby’s affection for Daisy has transformed into obsession while Daisy has learned to move past and maintains her relationship with Tom, her husband. 


Manipulation and Materialism: The characters in The Great Gatsby are enraptured by materialism and manipulate their surroundings to satiate their needs and maintain their social status. This elaborates the hollowness of the upper class which is one of the most important and more explored themes in the novel. It emphasizes the sociology of wealth and specifically how the characters manipulate their position in society to move up the social ladder. In The Great Gatsby, the West Egg represents the newly rich (such as Gatsby) whereas the East Egg represents the old aristocrats (The Buchanan Family). The significance of these two ends represents the difference in lifestyle and consumerism. The author portrays those in West Egg to be vulgar, pretentious, gaudy and lacking in social grace and constantly. This is evident in the novel as Gatsby himself lives in a monstrously adorned mansion, hosts extravagant parties every weekend, drives expensive cars and intentionally rejects invitations from upper-class families just to appear to have more important engagements. “And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties, there isn’t any privacy.” (Jordan, Chapter 3) Gatsby throws his parties in honour of Daisy, they also represent the life the pair could have had together, in a big house with lots of money and friends and luxuries. By inviting all the wealthy people from the area, Gatsby aims to manipulate Daisy into leaving her wealthy husband Tom and start a new life with him. He even makes a point of inviting some of Daisy’s best friends, but due to her aristocratical lifestyle, Daisy never comes. Gatsby’s rapid consumerism and manipulating tendencies eventually lead him to his demise in the last chapter where George Wilson shoots him as he believes that Gatsby killed his wife Myrtle. Gatsby in his willingness to manipulate every situation to his own benefit took the blame for Myrtle’s death so that Daisy was not held responsible.


Weather: The author also utilizes the weather as an affective backdrop in The Great Gatsby to match the emotional narrative tone of the story. Gatsby and Daisy’s genuine relationship starts in the pouring rain, proving the awkwardness of their refound affection. Their love reawakens just as the sun beings to come out and Nick returns to the scene. To contrast, Gatsby’s climactic confrontation with Tom occurs on the hottest day of the summer, under a scorching sun, “The next day was broiling, almost the last, certainly the warmest day of the summer” (pg 114). Daisy exclaims, “But it’s so hot,”, on the verge of tears, “And everything’s so confused. Let’s all go to town!” as an excuse for them to make their ill-fated journey into the city. Here, the heat operates and oppresses on both a literal and a symbolic level. It causes irritability and fractiousness in the characters. The weather also symbolizes Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship. It is when the weather is at it’s hottest that Gatsby’s and Daisy’s relationship reaches a climax where Daisy decides to chose Tom (who has a better social status) over Gatsby. What started on a rainy day with a great promise of romance comes to an end on this hot day on an abrupt note.


English Reflection Great Gatsby Unseen

Today in English, we had the first page of our new text The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald as an unseen practice paper. It was difficult to adjust to the sudden change, as we had to analyse the text academically (as we would have to in the exam). My mind felt fragmented as I was able to explain my points verbally to my classmate, but was unable to write the ideas down in a (proper) paragraph form. My point was that the use of point of view has a large impact on the audience’s understanding of the story. As The Great Gatsby is written in the third person, it is in the perspective of Nick, who (although portrayed to be as the protagonist) is simply a bystander in the story which is actually about Gatsby and Daisy. The perspective of Nick (the narrator) is essentially flawed, as it exposes his personal opinions, thoughts and experiences to the reader, which influences their perception of the conflict (However, the same could have been said for all of the characters assuming the that book was written from the other characters’ perspectives as well). For example, in this text, Nick mentions something his father said, “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” – this line makes the reader self-conscious about the way they perceive people. This also conveys that Nick is going to maintain an impartial stance in his narration of the story. Yet, as the passage progresses, this perspective changes as Nick first claims “I’m inclined to reserve all judgments” but later says, “I come to the admission that it has a limit”. This change in opinion as the narrator is unsettling as the audiences’ opinion changes in accordance with Nick’s. The use of point of view has a large impact on audiences as, if there is only one point of view, the audience is forced to follow the narrator’s thoughts and look through a single lens. Whereas, if there are multiple perspectives, the audience is allowed to witness the same scene through various standpoints. Hence to improve my writing skills in structured timed essay forms, I will have to practice more regularly with the texts I have now.