This month’s theme is ‘Wrath’ or ‘Anger.’ A useful dramatic emotion used by writers for centuries, there were quite a few examples to choose from here! However, this month we have an eclectic mix of literature, something for everyone, not matter your reading tastes. The first one is actually a Greek play called ‘Medea.’
Medea by Euripides
Is there a more wrathful figure in literature than Medea? Medea and Other Plays : Medea; Hecabe; Electra; Heracles (Penguin Classics) is a play but we can learn a lot about the sin of wrath or anger from her behaviour. I recently re-read this short play again and was once more taken aback at how modern some of the Greek plays actually are, certainly in language and in the strong female roles:
Jason: “You thought that it reason enough to murder them,
No longer slept with you?”
Medea: “And is that injury
A Slight one, do you imagine, to a woman?” pg 59
In Medea we see the literal re-enactment of ‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ As Medea ex-wife of Jason (of the Argonauts fame) feels she has to punish her husband because he has run off with a younger royal woman. She does this by killing those that he holds dear to him, his new wife and (her father) but also their two sons. This is where the play becomes controversial in that the Chorus pleads with her not to do this as it is so wrong. At the start of the play though, she does not seem to have much affection for her sons as they remind her too much of her husband. We are warned repeatedly by the Chorus and other characters such as the Nurse about the dreadful rage that Medea has for she is described as being:
Nurse: “A frightening woman; no one who makes an enemy
Of her will carry off an easy victory…Her mood is cruel, her nature dangerous,
Her will fierce and intractable
…It is no trifling matter
That can end a rage like hers.” pg 18-22
One other thing that struck me re-reading the play is that Medea says she worships the Goddess Hecate who is associated with magic and witchcraft. Thus painting the picture of Medea as an evil witch.
At the start of the play we do have some sympathy with Medea in that Jason has treated her badly by abandoning her for another woman and not stopping her exile from her home. He comes across as being arrogant, and not particularly sharp in that he underestimates Medea’s rage. However, we see that at first Medea is destroyed with grief but turns this in to incessant rage which causes her to go so far as to murder her own two innocent boys which is of course an unforgivable act (not that killing the new wife was ok of course!).
In a nutshell this play shows the all-consuming power of rage caused by anger and the dangerous actions that can be caused by being obsessed by it.
Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly
Another title that I’ve recently read that utilises the theme of anger is called Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly. The story concerns the friendship of Natasha Wainwright and Eve Dalladay who have been closest friends since childhood. Natasha has become a successful hotelier (with OCD) and has two daughters with her husband Sean who has been with her since she was a teenager. Though they have a good relationship things have been quiet on the sensual front recently. Eve has had a successful career in America as a Psychotherapist. When an incident happens with one of her children which pulls Natasha away from the family home then Eve moves in to mind her children, her home and her husband. Of course you can guess what happens next.
What becomes really interesting though is Natasha’s reassessment of her life so far in that she realises that her friendship with Eve was based on a lie and that she is dealing with all intents and purposes; a narcissistic psychopath. Eve is consumed with rage and anger towards Natasha and has been for years, she sees her having a successful life and wants to takeover this like a cuckoo in a nest. This book is clever in that it contrasts the different expressions of anger, Natasha’s more instant rage versus Eve’s more controlled but possibly more dangerous form of anger. How to defeat an angry psychopath who does not have empathy or compassion? Read this book and find out!
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
Purple Hibiscus (P.S.)is a novel set in Nigeria. The story is narrated from the point of view of Kambili Achike a fifteen year old girl living in a wealthy but very oppressive household. Her father Eugene is a devout Catholic and makes much of his public good acts such as donating to charity but runs his house with an iron fist subjecting family members to regular physical and mental abuse. His beatings are so severe that they cause his wife to have two miscarriages. Eugene is a man obsessed and overrun with anger which clouds his judgement, he is also a hypocrite in that his public actions do not mirror those at home. Through this story we see the consequences of his behaviour caused by living a life consumed by anger.
Kamibili experiences this unhealthy family dynamic and contrasts it with that of her more liberal Auntie Ifeoma’s household, which though unconventional and poorer is much more relaxed. This is an excellent book and one that shows that a life lived in anger especially if it affects people you love is no way to live.
This month has been quite a mixed bag of titles. One from ancient times, another from another country and one contemporary novel. What they all have in common though is the universal theme of anger expressed largely through one or more characters and the consequences of their actions. If you can think of any other examples then feel free to get in touch at the usual places.