Narrative Voice and Point of View in D. H. Lawrence's 'Samson and Delilah'

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Editor: Joseph Palmisano
Date: 2005
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 73)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 4,939 words

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[(essay date spring 1995) In the following essay, Diez-Medrano examines the function of the narrative voice and point of view in "Samson and Delilah," which she perceives to be a story about male violence against women.]

Each of us has two selves. First is this body which is vulnerable and never quite within our control. The body with its irrational sympathies and desires and passions, its peculiar direct communication, defying the mind. And second is the conscious ego, the self I KNOW I am.The self that lives in my body ... has such strange attractions, and revulsions, and it lets me in for so much irrational suffering, real torment, and occasional frightening delight.--D. H. Lawrence, "On Being a Man"

The theme of male violence against women runs through many Lawrentian fictions. Among his novels it is present in Sons and Lovers, Women in Love, The Lost Girl, and The Plumed Serpent. It also runs through some of Lawrence's shorter works: "A Sick Collier" (1913), "The White Stocking" (1913), "The Primrose Path" (1913), "The Princess" (1925), "The Blue Moccasins" (1928), "None of That" (1928), The Escaped Cock ["The Man Who Died"] (1928); all these are tales in which women are either said or shown to be the target of male bullying, physical violence, and even rape. One ought to add to the list the story which this essay will examine: "Samson and Delilah" (1917).1

When dealing with those Lawrence texts in which male violence against women is thematized, some critics have not paid sufficient attention to how the subject of women and sexual violence is represented. This paper aims to fill in this lacuna by examining "Samson and Delilah," a story which constitutes an appropriate fictional terrain for the exploration of characteristically Lawrentian narrative techniques of representation. In what follows, the main emphasis will fall upon two particularly difficult narrative functions in Lawrence's fiction: point of view and narrative voice.2 What I intend to demonstrate is that in order to understand the ideological implications of the story, one needs to be especially aware of the shifting modes of representation which characterize it.

"Samson and Delilah" is not just a psychological narrative; it is also a twofold domestico-political story. On the one hand, there is the institutional narrative of a wife's resistance to her husband's matrimonial rights; on the other, the suprainstitutional story about female opposition to male claims within a dominant patriarchal order. These narrative strands complicate further in the light of the Biblical title that frames them.

Like the earlier "Delilah and Mr. Bircumshaw" (written in 1912; published in 1940), "Samson and Delilah" borrows from the Samson narrative in the Bible. However, in contrast with Mr. Bircumshaw's mock incarnation of the defeated Biblical Samson, Willie Nankervis in "Samson and Delilah" remains the powerful Samson, even after being temporarily defeated; Willie--like Samson in Christian typology--triumphs in defeat.

Willie Nankervis, however, does not merely stand out as Christian type. Actually, as Virginia Hyde remarks, Lawrence very often "[taps] into the archetype through the...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420059280