The Setting Sun!

In chapter XXV of She, Holly describes the pillar of fire: “Nearer it came, and nearer yet, till it was close upon us, rolling down like all the thunder-wheels of heaven behind the horses of lightening. On it came, and with it came the glorious blinding cloud of many-couloured light, and stood before us for a space, turning, as it seemed to us, slowly round and round, and then, accompanied by its attendant pomp of sound, passed away I know not whither” (253). In this passage, Holly emphasizes the circular motion of the pillar, a force of supernatural energy and agency in the presence of a human being.

This powerful imagery of light, heat, and circular motion reminded me of the end of chapter IV, “The Squall”: “It was a wonderfully beautiful sight, and yet sad, perhaps from the very excess of its beauty. The arising sun; the setting sun! There we have the symbol and the type of humanity, and all things with which humanity has to do. The symbol and the type, yes, and the earthly beginning, and the end also…The sun that rose to-day for us had set last night for eighteen of our fellow-voyagers!–had set for ever for eighteen whom we knew!…But one day a sunrise will come when we shall be among those who are lost, and then others will watch those glorious rays, and grow sad in the midst of beauty, and dream of Death in the full flow of arising Life!” (59) These moments of splendor, both divulged by Holly, occur at opposite ends of the book yet are hardly distant from one another; they create a frame through similar and contrasting imagery. The “excess of beauty” of the sun foreshadows the demise of Ayesha as she steps in the pillar for the second time; she does not recognize the possibility that her immense beauty, which is already an artificial quality, may have a natural limit. According to Holly, whereas the sun is the “symbol…of humanity,” the cycle of the rising and setting of human life, the pillar of fire is supernatural; he describes the pillar as an element of heaven. On the other hand, both the pillar of fire and the sun are directly associated with Death in the novel; beauty and death are inextricably linked. While the “like a rainbow many-coloured” (251) pillar is the direct cause of Ayesha’s death, the sun sets as it always does on the eve of the tragedy on Holly’s boat. The sun reaffirms Holly’s awareness of the harmonizing nature of life as a cycle, of which both life and death are a part. By defying this natural cycle of time, at the end of the novel, Ayesha dies in an unnatural and backwards manner. Yet unlike the sun and the pillar of fire, she is ultimately a mortal human being.

 

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