Barbarism vs. Civilization

This section of She was graphically violent, much more so than the first part that we read. The battle in which Job, Leo, and Holly fight off the Amahagger is nothing short of vicious, and we are forced to endure the splitting of skulls and fierce stabbing of knives as they attempt to fight off the relentless deluge of attacks. This is a far cry from the safe haven of the university, and as his fight-or-flight adrenaline rush hits, Holly suddenly becomes “mad with rage, and that awful lust for slaughter which will creep into the hearts of the most civilised of us when blows are flying, and life and death tremble on the turn” (97). In the heat of this battle, Holly completely loses his hold on reason and rationality, and he reverts to his primordial instincts in order to defend himself. Holly considers himself an intelligent man, and therefore this fiery anger as “awful lust for slaughter” that overtakes him, despite his best attempts to fend it off. The description of this scene reveals how much it horrifies him, and Holly is both revolted that it took place and also that he took part in it. In order to shift the blame to the Amahagger, Holly uses words such as “demons”, “snakes”, and “wolves” (97), dehumanizing them and thus elevating him above their base nature and behavior. In this way, Holly rationalizes his behavior, because he is not nearly as bad as the demonic creatures that forced him to reach to the depths of his inner, uncivilized being and turn into the very spawn that he, Leo, and Job fight off.

Furthermore, this passage not only contrasts culture and civilization with bestiality and barbarism, but also is heavily reminiscent of ancient epics, particularly The Aeneid. At the very end of the entire poem, Aeneas faces Turnus, who killed Pallas, a boy who was like a son to Aeneas. Throughout the epic, Aeneas follows his path set down by fate, and behaves honorably both for himself and for his men, but his fury overtakes him when he prepares to deliver the final blow to end Turnus’ life once and for all, and is “furiis accensus et ira terribilis,” which means, incensed by madness and terrible with anger. Just like Holly, the fervor of the moment overtakes Aeneas, and his ability to cling to his civilized nature completely abandons him. The base emotion of anger is powerful enough to overcome rationality, and the battle lust is impossible to resist in the heat of the moment. Aeneas and Holly thus experience the same inherent need for revenge and retribution; and although Holly may not seem like the hero of She, especially because of his unbecoming appearance and nickname “Baboon,” he shares many qualities with Aeneas. Aeneas and Holly strive to follow the path set down for them, by the gods or by Vincey, respectively, and they use their sheer strength to honor the memory of their fallen comrades. Haggard may or may not have been thinking of The Aeneid while writing She, but the similarities are apparent when one gives the text a closer look. It will be interesting to see if the parallel extends throughout the novel, or if Haggard intends for Leo to fill the role of the hero of the story, and triumph at the end.

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1 Response to Barbarism vs. Civilization

  1. Lyell says:

    “Holly completely loses his hold on reason and rationality, and he reverts to his primordial instincts in order to defend himself” – but given the context, this seems totally reasonable yes?

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