The Mysteries Of The WASP Factory Essay
The first novel by Ian Banks, The Wasp Factory (1984) generated a deluge of response, with comments ranging from enthusiastic to angry. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a reader indifferently reviewing this book, as the plot of the novel is outright shocking. It is a macabre story of a sixteen-year boy torturing animals, as his divination machine (the Factory) dictates. Frank lives with his father on a small island, indulges in games and fantasies of a lonely teenager, but gradually the reader learns that Frank intentionally committed three murders with devilish dexterity and artistry. He has some ghastly skeletons in his closet, of some of which he is unaware.
It should be noted from the start that thanks to the remarkable talent of a narrator and psychologist, Banks does not let his novel turn into a mediocre thriller.
Deep, even philosophical intention of the author is revealed gradually, little by little, which is made possible by the detective form of the novel. There are many mysteries for a reader to ponder over, the most persistent of them being the following: what is the Wasp Factory, why Frank’s older brother Eric hates all the dogs, whether the police will be able to catch Eric, a psychiatric ward escapist, why did Frank’s father decide to have an unregistered child, what does his father hide in the heavily guarded office, and so on All these familiar detective mysteries fade into the background when the reader realizes that it is necessary to solve the real mystery, the one of the relationship between Frank, Eric and their father ("ambivalent attitude" of father and son to each other, which is defined by the protagonist Frank as true mystery), the reasons of Eric’s madness and Frank’s psychotic crimes.
The urge to identify any creature or object with their selves becomes the main task for the Banks’ heroes. Through this identification the characters are painfully moving towards self-identification. That is why in telephone conversations between the brothers we constantly hear the questions like "Where are you?” and "How are you?” The similarities between the heroes help them learn about their own mind (sounds of Frank’s painful nausea are so like the sound that Eric makes on the phone, the two brothers kill innocents, those who trusted them. But even more clues are in the differences between them. All these details are necessary to identify the nature of Eric and Frank’s madness and to identify the fundamental difference in circumstances, which led to both winding up mentally ill.
Frank’s father experiences identity problem as well. In his learning method he paradoxically combines meticulous scientific approach (“My father is a doctor of chemistry, or perhaps biochemistry - I'm not sure.”) and deliberate creation of nonsense and absurd situations (for example, virtually everything in the house is measured in pounds, inches, pints, is labeled; father is obviously fooling around when he starts talking about it at a party and at the same time, under a threat of punishment, he persistently makes Frank memorize all these measurements). “My father once had me believing that the earth was a Mobius strip, not a sphere. He still maintains that he believes this, and makes a great show of sending off a manuscript to publishers down in London and gets most of his pleasure.” The danger of this paternal game is not that the father is fooling Frank, as the boy figured out the “rubbish” answers with the help of the library, but the fact that his father still claimed absolute power over his son.
Father’s unrest is explained by his disbelief in the existence of mysteries, as he himself created the main secret of Frank’s life, more precisely, he created the deception that tragically affected the fate of several innocent children. Unlike his father, Frank believes in the existence of secrets, as well as in the fact that one can penetrate the mystery. Frank’s method of learning about things consists in combining rational and irrational, he considers the smallest details in advance and at the same time behaves like a shaman in a trance. Using homemade psychedelic, Frank sees himself as he might have been; even for a moment he changes his nature and becomes Eric. " I was sure I had had Eric in my grasp, had his mind there under my hand and been part of him, seen the world through his eyes, heard his blood pump in his head, felt the ground beneath his feet, smelled his body and tasted his last meal. But he had been too much for me. The conflagration in his head was just too strong for anybody sane to cope with. It had a lunatic strength of total commitment".
The hero blurts out that he is capable of only an "imitation" of reality, albeit with a considerable share of "creative imagination", which (imagination), he is convinced, is the basis of everything. Therefore, like the demiurge, Frank creates his own world, the Wasp Factory, an analogue of the real world. He tunes the mechanisms of its devices, building a system of cause and effect, crime and imminent punishment, the supreme grace, bestowed on the perpetrator ("Most of the deaths the Factory has to offer are automatic, but some do require my intervention for the _coup de grace_, and that, of course, has some bearing on what the Factory might be trying to tell me." The omnipotence of Frank in his little world (island, loft) is manifested in the fact that the hero names all the objects (it’s an archaic belief that by giving the name to the object, it is given a life).
Over the course of the narrative Banks reveals a seductive but deadly idea of human transformation from "creature" into the "creator" in a world devoid of God. Banks’ artistically interprets the idea of Friedrich Nietzsche about the possibility the man’s transformation of himself. Nietzsche "removes" the romantic two-world concept along with the transcendental movement of the human to the divine, offering self-transcending from the human to superhuman (Brobjer 25). Only the process of this transformation of a man to a superman is unimaginable in the absence of a third force, divine grace in Christianity. In fact the idea that art can replace a religion and become a great integrating and sense-making force pervades many of the twentieth century’s works. After the death of religion art should assume the function of metaphysical consolation (Brobjer 27). Another Nietzsche’s idea of ethical and aesthetic breeding has found its place in the novel.
Depth and significance of the book Banks lies in sequential development and deepening of the Christological metaphor. Themes of guilt, retribution, father and son, suffering and compassion permeate the narrative; the motif of purity first shines through the details described with naturalistic nuances (in a scene of taking shower the hero explores his physical nature), and the next chapter explores his spiritual origin and mother's name is mentioned for the first time. Her name is Agnes (Gr. - pure, chaste; Lat. - lamb), the name of the father is Angus (lat. - snake). Snake and snake-like kite are tools for murders committed by Frank. There are obvious allusions to "The Possessed" by Dostoevsky: the relationship between Agnes and Angus is reminiscent of unusual life of spouses Shatovy, but without Dostoevsky's enlightenment of the heroes. Both Banks’ characters are explicit "demons" representatives hippy-anarchist “fathers” are criminally responsible for the tragedy of the “sons”. "Unclean" father and mother gave birth to "unclean" Paul (Frank finds himself almost righteous, a "lamb"), Frank’s sick head gets the idea Big Saul’s criminal soul moved to Paul (Saul was a dog, which, according to his father, castrated baby Frank, forever making him a cripple). The names of Paul and Saul are an allusion to the Bible, to the circumstances of the conversation of Saul, the Jew, and a Christian Paul on the road to Damascus, when God appeared him as a dazzling lightning. Frank, like Saul, also sees a blinding light at the time of the death of little Paul (from the explosion of bombs), but, unlike Saul, he remains what he was before a criminal-minded boy, a creature who imagines himself a creator. Self-blinding of the hero comes to the point that lying at the site of his crime (the place of Paul’s death), he compares himself to Christ (I'd lain down inside them like some Christ or something, opened to the sky, dreaming of death.)
It seems to Frank that he has reached the limit of deepening, openness, purification, but the purification motif is not yet exhausted.
The idea of a world perishing in the heinous crimes of the "fathers" leads the reader to Shakespeare's "Hamlet." Banks builds a whole system of reminiscences, quotes from "Hamlet" (Esmeralda with her mumbling and a bunch of flowers, a mad Ophelia carried by the wind towards Denmark and Norway; and his father’s shadow that Frank notices during his conversation with Eric.
The protagonist of the novel, like Hamlet, "prays for death", but the hero of the Gospel also prayed for death. The ethical for Banks is as important as the aesthetic, so at first glance there is an unexpected union of the images. The union of Christ and Hamlet is not accidental: Hamlet and Christ fulfil their fathers’ will, Hamlet must avenge his father, and Christ shall give his life for the Father and all people.
Frank only imagines himself to be like Christ, according to the author, the other hero does not become like the Savior; Banks paints an apocalyptic picture: Christ our time, beautiful Eric went mad at the sight of human suffering, the last straw was a meeting with terminally ill baby who lost the remnants of human identity, or was a "plant", in the hospital jargon. Pain he feels for the mutilated brother makes the distraught Eric’s soul desire vengeance on innocent dogs, repeating Frank’s sins (father insisted that Frank was born under the star of Sirius, the sign of the Dog). Eric’s soul is lost in hell, and so he turns the whole world into hell as he burns down the barn. Dispossessed Eric seeks help from his destitute brother.
The light from the fire, arranged by Eric must have been akin to the light that awakened Saul. Frank discovered the truth only when he discovered compassion, pity, and remorse. He's not going to take revenge on the guilty father, he now does not understand how could have committed all the murders, finally accepts Eric as he is, crazy, dirty, scary, and sees his childish traits, becomes aware of the inferiority of the Factory, refusing artificiality of "Death”.
Banks novel teaches us humility, clearly showing that a mystery cannot be created artificially, by human endeavors, because there has to be an element of a miracle, accident, and fate. Mysteries are good in a detective story; all other man-made mysteries just do not turn out right.
Banks, I. The Wasp Factory. 1984.
Brobjer, T. Nietzsche's philosophical context: an intellectual biography. University of Illinois Press, 2008.
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