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Tutor profile: Caitlin H.

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Caitlin H.
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Subject: Writing

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Question:

How can the rhetorical framework popularized by Antonin Scalia be applied to legal arguments supported by liberal scholars?

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Caitlin H.
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On February 13th, 2016, Justice Antonin Scalia’s death prompted thousands of lamentations and remembrances. However, tributes to Scalia’s virtues were met with scathing attacks on his character and his rulings. While fellow supreme court justices, academics, and public figures alike remembered his intelligence and wit, others deemed Scalia “a whackjob who became a bellwether,” “a terrible man,” and a “bigot” (@froomkin, @citysqwirl, Chotiner). These hostilities often evolved into hostilities towards one of his judicial philosophies: statutory construction, or more commonly, textualism. Since Scalia, notorious for his conservative views, was the modern champion of textualism, it is understandable that so many, particularly on the left, sought to attack this philosophy. However, this was misguided. While Scalia’s textualism often led to a right-wing, restrictive take on rights, particularly for women and the LGBTQ+ community, there is nothing inherent to textualism that necessitates this outcome. Alternatively, textualism relies heavily on one’s working definition of liberty, and, as seen by the breadth of definitions outlined by Scalia, Mill, Minnow, and Marcuse, this means that the philosophy has the potential to advance a typically left-wing agenda of expansive rights. Over the course of his lectures and writings, Scalia outlines a definition of textualism that is quite clear. First, and foremost, he argues that a “text should not be construed strictly, and it should not be construed leniently; it should be construed reasonably, to contain all that it fairly means” (Scalia 98). If not already clear from this statement, textualism is neither strict constructionism nor literalism. The first clause of this statement may be shocking to those who consider themselves casually familiar with Scalia’s beliefs. He is not unequivocally in support of strictly interpreting a text. In fact, Scalia writes that “he is not a strict constructionist and no one ought to be” (98). Nonetheless, Scalia believes that “when the text of a statute is clear, that is the end of the matter,” and when the text is unclear, “the intent that a reasonable person would gather from the text of the law” should be used to determine its meaning, as opposed to legislative intent, legislative history, or some combination of the two (91, 92). In sum “the text is the law, and it is the text that that must be observed” (97). Given this outline of textualism, the ninth amendment acts as a vessel by which a judge with a textualist philosophy could expand legally recognized rights. This amendment states, in no uncertain terms, that “the enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people” (amend. IX). This wording is clear. “Others retained by the people” refers unambiguously to rights held by citizens of the United States, but not explicitly listed in the Constitution. As such, it would seem at odds with the above outline of textualism to argue that a court should not find a textual, legal basis for a right to sexual freedom in the confines of one’s home, a right to an abortion, a right to access to contraception, or a right to privacy, all of which have been contested in supreme court cases over the past seventy years. If the Constitution acknowledges unenumerated rights, then surely textualists could as well. While the ninth amendment could have major implications for the potential of textualism to expand rights championed by the American left, the fourteenth is most central to a discussion of this philosophy. This amendment states that the government shall not deny anyone “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” (amend. XIV, sec. 1). Scalia’s textualism encourages one to consider the meaning a reasonable person would assign to this amendment. For two of the above precepts, this is possible, with some debate. What does an ordinary, reasonable person mean by “life”? Well, surely there has been discussion over the moment that life begins, as is the center of many abortion debates, but beyond this, the meaning of the word “life” is fairly clear. Similarly, aside from fringe cases, and historical debates surrounding a husband’s ownership of his wife, or ownership of slaves, the meaning of the word “property” is fairly clear. However, when turning to the word “liberty,” the situation shifts drastically. It seems near impossible to pinpoint a single meaning of “liberty,” and consequently, those actions or inactions that can be considered deprivations of liberty, that a generalizable, reasonable person would agree with. Thus, for those interested in the rights extended to the American people, the most central debate is not one between conservative textualism and liberal judicial philosophies, but one between the competing conceptions of liberty that textualism turns on. The fourteenth amendment, and its mention of liberty, play a central role in a discussion of textualism due to its prominence in the cases on which Scalia ruled, channeling the textualist philosophy. These cases give insight into Scalia’s particular definition of liberty. Take, for instance, Lawrence v. Texas. In this case, Scalia develops a stratified view of liberty. Liberty is not a totalizing concept, but one that can be divided into a category of “fundamental” liberties and a category of other, presumably “non-fundamental,” liberties. This delineation is important because Scalia believes that the fourteenth amendment “prohibits States from infringing fundamental liberty interests, unless the infringement is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest” (539 U.S. 593). These fundamental liberties, he argues, can be identified by the longevity and unanimity of their protection. That is, liberties which are deeply rooted in society’s collective consciousness, and which have traditionally been protected, are fundamental; all others, are not. This has essential implications for the rights extended to Americans. If fundamental liberties must precede fundamental rights, but the only fundamental liberties are those “deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition,” then attempts to depart from rights as they were conceived of and protected in the 18th century will face intense scrutiny (539 U.S. 588). However, it is notable that the majority opinion with which Scalia dissents in Lawrence v. Texas does not attempt to establish sodomy as a fundamental right, derived from the right to liberty outlined in the Constitution. Instead, the majority justices argue that there is simply no rational basis for the Texas statute under debate. However, given the ninth amendment and the wide range of meanings a reasonable person could interpret from the word “liberty,” the justices in the majority would have been able to evoke a textualist philosophy, and deem sodomy a fundamental right, without being self-contradictory. In Planned Parenthood of Southeastern PA v. Casey, Scalia reveals an additional belief about his version of liberty: liberty can be partially protected, due to the differences between absolute liberty and individual liberties. In his dissent to this case, Scalia argues that a liberty may exist in the “absolute sense,” and be “of great importance,” but if the “Constitution says absolutely nothing about it, and [...] the longstanding traditions of American society have permitted it to be legally proscribed,” then it is not a protected liberty, and can be infringed upon by state laws (505 U.S. 980). Scalia’s conception of liberty in the “absolute sense” appears to be nearly synonymous with total freedom. Alternatively, Scalia’s individual liberties are more closely akin to rights. Given his arguments, one can deduce that Scalia believes that liberty in the absolute sense does not need to be protected, as total freedom is neither possible in a governed society, nor desirable. Additionally, as discussed above, only certain individual liberties are deemed worthy of protection from government intrusion, thus not all rights should be protected. Lastly, Scalia believes that liberty is best protected through debate and legislation, and is most jeopardized by judiciaries that take on super-legislative powers. Scalia is willing to accept the fact that “a State's choice between two positions on which reasonable people can disagree is constitutional even when (as is often the case) it intrudes upon a "liberty" in the absolute sense” (505 U.S. 980). He even acknowledges that this could lead to outcomes such as a law against bigamy, since “bigamy happens not to be a liberty specially "protected" by the Constitution” (505 U.S. 980). However, “the Court’s claimed power to create “liberties” that the Constitution and its Amendments neglect to mention [...] robs the People of [their] most important liberty: [...] the freedom to govern themselves” (576 U.S.). In a number of ways, Scalia’s understanding of liberty is similar to that advanced by Mill in his seminal On Liberty. First and foremost, Mill and Scalia agree that debate and discussion of all opinions is essential to the preservation of liberty. In his dissent in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, Scalia wrote that “until the courts put a stop to it, public debate over same-sex marriage displayed American democracy at its best” (576 U.S.). This, of course, follows seamlessly from Mill’s belief that “silencing the expression of an opinion [...] is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it” (10). Mill also seems to sympathize with Scalia’s concerns about overreaches of power. In fact, he denies “the right of the people to exercise [...] coercion, either by themselves or by their government” (10). This is a more extreme view than Scalia’s, in that it allows Mill to resist coercion via congressional or state legislation, just as much as coercion via judicial legislation. Nevertheless, the two appear to agree that liberty is best protected when public debate and conversation are maximized, and when totalizing rulings by those in power are minimized. Both men also present depictions of liberty that are stratified. For Mill, this stratification occurs not between fundamental and non-fundamental liberties, but between “the most unquestionably legitimate liberty of the individual” and liberty as it pertains to actions that affect society (50). Mill asserts that there should be no question as to the “liberty of private life,” or the “rightful liberty of the individual” (52, 53). With regards to the parts of life “in which it is chiefly the individual that is interested,” liberty is total, and cannot be encroached upon at all (44). Parts of life that “chiefly” interest society are not subject to this same rigorous standard. For one thing, this appears to be a view of liberty that is more consistent with the textualist approach. It is far simpler for an ordinary person to delineate the parts of life that primarily interest society, and the parts that primarily interest the individual, than it is for the ordinary person to interpret which liberties are “deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition,” and which are not. This is not to say that Mill’s system for differentiating rights would be without contestation. As seen in many of the aforementioned supreme court cases, the question of what comprises “legitimate state interest” has been central to monumental decisions regarding rights. However, Mill is quite clear on this question. When an individual causes “contingent” or “constructive injury” to society, “the inconvenience is one which society can afford to bear, for the sake of the greater good of human freedom” (46). As such, while Scalia and Mill agree that liberty should neither be totally under the jurisdiction of the government nor left totally to the devices of the individual, Mill implies that, unless an individual exercising his or her liberty causes explicit harm to society, his or her liberty may not be restricted. For this reason, one could imagine that Mill would not be convinced by the arguments made for state interest in preventing abortion, access to contraception, or homosexual marriage. Beyond their shared beliefs in the power of debate, and the differentiability of types of liberty, Mill and Scalia diverge on the topic of liberty. On a semantic level, it is worth noting that Mill rarely uses the word “liberties” in the plural. Outside of discussion of religious and political liberties, the singular “liberty” is far more central to his argument. Like Scalia, Mill uses liberties, in the plural, as nearly interchangeable with “rights,” whereas liberty, in the singular, is used as a near-synonym for “freedom.” Mill’s belief that liberty is essentially equivalent to freedom leads him to more radical conclusions than those reached by Scalia. For instance, since liberty and freedom are so nearly intertwined, Mill asserts that discipline is the exact opposite of liberty. In his discussion on the legitimacy of individual liberty, Mill flatly interchanges liberty and freedom when he writes that “there should be perfect freedom, legal and social, to do the action and stand the consequences” when conduct affects only the individual (44). Perhaps most radically, Mill writes that when there is “damage, either to an individual or to the public, the case is taken out of the province of liberty, and placed in that of morality or law” (46). Mill’s precise wording here is striking. Once a matter is taken out of the hands of the individual, it is removed from the realm of liberty. That is to say, once a matter is subsumed under law, there is no longer liberty. This would lead to a very different reading of the Constitution than that advanced by Scalia. If the fourteenth amendment requires that no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” then any individual liberty which is limited in any way by law violates this code, according to Mill. Thus, the state does not, as Scalia believes, have a right to choose between two positions on which reasonable people could disagree. In Mill’s view, as soon as the State chooses a position, liberty is lost to the realm of morality or law, which is unacceptable given the constitutional edict to protect this liberty in certain cases. Both Scalia and Mill discuss the relationship between liberty and power in part, with Scalia arguing that judge-made law poses an excessive danger to liberty, and Mill arguing more aggressively that, with regards to individual liberty, people can only be motivated to change their conduct via “conviction and persuasion,” but never “compulsion” by anybody who holds power, be it society or the government (44). These viewpoints tend to focus on a somewhat negative relationship between power and liberty. For Scalia, the absence of judge-made law is necessary for the thriving of liberty. For Mill, the absence of exercises of power in individual life is necessary for the thriving of liberty. In her “Words and the Door to the Land of Change,” Martha Minnow argues against these depictions of liberty. Through her discussion of the Deshaney v. Winnebago County case, Minnow illustrates her conception of liberty. In this case, Minnow writes, Chief Justice Rehnquist determined that the fourteenth amendment applies only to “governmental acts that interfere with an individual’s life, liberty, or property,” and, as such, there is “no entitlement to governmental aid that may be needed by individuals to realize the advantages of freedom” (1667). Textualism demands that one turn to the exact wording of the amendment in order to evaluate the Chief Justice’s statement. The fourteenth amendment holds that no State shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” (amend. XIV, sec. 1). It is entirely unclear whether deprivation requires action. In fact, deprivation typically insinuates a denial or lack of some necessity, rather than its active, forced removal. Additionally, there is little confusion over the relationship between government action and deprivation in other regards. Few would argue that a government that allowed for theft or let breaches of contract go unprosecuted was depriving its citizens of property, through inaction. Thus, despite the Chief Justice’s ruling, the very functioning of the United States government suggests that government aid is often needed to realize the freedom guaranteed under the “life, liberty, and property” clause of the 14th amendment. The Chief Justice also argues that “judicial decisions mandating care for individuals who are institutionalized by the government in prisons and hospitals are exceptions because, under those circumstances, the government has deprived the individuals of liberty” (1668). However, one could easily argue that individuals beyond the incarcerated and institutionalized are deprived of liberty by the government, and should thus be accounted for. Most notably for Minnow, children are deprived of liberty. Individuals under the age of eighteen are unable to exercise completely any form of liberty because the government acknowledges the rights of parents to make decisions for their children and to control their conduct. The fact that the adult leaders of a household are legally able to limit the liberties of children in that same household implies a role for the government in actively protecting individuals outside of prisons and hospitals. Minow crafts a nuanced argument about liberty that pushes back against other elements of Scalia and Mills’ depictions of the concept as well. First, Minnow believes that distinguishing between individual life and society, or as she would call it “private” and “public” life, as Mill suggests, does not expand, but rather contracts liberty. This practice allows the perpetuation of beliefs that inhibit liberty for some. For instance, this division allows many to believe that violence “is private and that the distinction between public and private action makes violence, on occasions like this one, beyond public control” (1668). Thus an action that involves chiefly the individual is not, and should not be, beyond the reaches of the law. Especially given the existence of vulnerable individuals in American society, Minnow believes that definitions of liberty like Mill’s and Scalia’s actually serve to expand the power and liberty of the advantaged, while significantly limiting the liberty of the vulnerable. Minnow also challenges the idea that any movement of conduct from the hands of the individual to the rule of law implies a loss of liberty. Instead, she argues that there should be “minimum norms” regarding deprivations of life, liberty, and property, that automatically warrant legal intervention (1693). She believes that “a right to be protected against physical harm” should be instated, regardless of “competing demands [...] concerning tolerance for cultural differences,” with relation to the amount of liberty that a child, for instance, is entitled to (1693). Marcuse, and other theorists deemed “Marcuseans” by Kors and Silverglate in their The Shadow University, offer yet another definition of liberty, one that is vastly different from those outlined by the three individuals discussed above. Marcuse’s conception of liberty seems to follow most closely from Minnow’s but is more radical. Where Minnow asserts that government action on behalf of the vulnerable and deprived might be necessary for certain individuals to realize the liberty to which they are entitled, Marcuse, asserts that government action to counter powerful, dominant groups in a society is always necessary. He argues that the liberty of historically dominant groups must be limited in order to expand that of historically subordinate groups, composed largely of those who Minnow discusses as being vulnerable or deprived. Marcuse firmly believes that liberty is a “zero-sum game,” so “giving it simultaneously to ‘dominant’ and ‘subordinated’ groups inevitably reinforces the power of the dominant group” (76). Marcuse also ties the idea of liberty more directly to rights, when arguing that liberty is a zero-sum game because “the exercise of civil rights by those who don’t have them presupposes the withdrawal of civil rights from those who prevent their exercise” (70). This active intervention is eventually worthwhile because it will lead to “true freedom “ (70). In addition to his radical notion of zero-sum liberty, Marcuse is unique in his description of the relationship between liberty, freedom, and rights. Where Scalia and Mill agree about the congruity between “liberties” and “rights,” and “liberty,” and “freedom,” Marcuse insinuates that liberty and freedom, in particular, are distinct. Marcuse writes that at this historical and social moment, liberty is a zero-sum game, so only withdrawing liberty from the dominant, and granting more liberty to the subordinate will lead to “true freedom.” This clearly illustrates that manipulating liberty can lead to freedom, but liberty in itself is not equivalent to freedom. This follows closely from Marcuse’s description of liberty, in that his description does not emphasize the role of freedom, and absence of power in liberty, in the way that Mill’s and Scalia’s do, but rather the active role of power in liberty, and the failings that arise in access to liberty when false freedom arises. Alternatively, he seems to tie liberty more closely to rights. When there exists a group of people who wish to prevent some from exercising their civil rights, these individuals must cede some of their rights in order for the target group to exercise theirs. Evidently, for Marcuse, a single set of liberties or rights cannot be established for all people, because members of a dominant or subordinate social group should inform these liberties and rights. Tracing the outcome, and possible outcomes of a notable supreme court case, Bowers v. Hardwick, will best illustrate the practical differences between Scalia, Mill, Minnow, and Marcuse’s depictions of liberty, and the consequences of these different depictions for rights. In Bowers v. Hardwick, which reached the Supreme Court just months before Scalia began his tenure, the court was asked to consider whether the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits state legislation from outlawing sodomy. Scalia, as made apparent by his vote against overturning Bowers v. Hardwick in the Lawrence v. Texas case, believes that there is no such prohibition in the constitution. He agrees that the “petitioners’ conduct,” that is, sexual intercourse between two individuals of the same sex, in private, is an “exercise of their liberty” (539 U.S. 585). However, since he believes that the broad concept of liberty is comprised of both fundamental and non-fundamental liberties, and homosexual intercourse is not a “fundamental liberty,” it is a liberty that may be infringed upon with due process of the law. As such, Scalia advances a typically conservative agenda and finds no basis for a right to homosexual intercourse. Alternatively, there can be little doubt that Mill would rule in favor of Hardwick, and of a right to homosexual intercourse, without departing from a textualist philosophy. The reader can be sure of this given a specific example from Mill’s text. In his chapter on “Limits to the Authority of Society,” Mill writes that it would be “tyranny” to prevent the practice of polygamy, despite his personal “disapprobation” for it, so long as those practicing polygamy “commit no aggression on other nations, and allow perfect freedom of departure to those who are dissatisfied with their ways” (54). This fits within Mill’s broader framework, in suggesting that conduct that mostly involves the individual is the basis of individual liberty, which is beyond government reach. While polygamy and homosexuality are not analogous, this implies that Mill would consider homosexual intercourse a form of individual liberty, thus protected under the fourteenth amendment. Given this, Hardwick and his partner surely have a right to private, non-procreative sexual conduct. Minnow’s writings in “Words and the Door to the Land of Change” make it unclear whether she would find that liberty, as written in the fourteenth amendment, encompasses homosexual intercourse, and thus allows for the expansion of rights under a textualist framework. However, she still offers an important perspective on Bowers v. Hardwick. Suppose that Minnow believed that homosexual intercourse was a constitutionally protected exercise of liberty. If so, she would assert that government action might be required to make this liberty accessible to those who are entitled to it. For instance, if workplace discrimination against those who were known to participate in homosexual intercourse occurred, and the government did not actively prosecute employers, then the liberty of individuals engaged in this conduct would be eroded. Similarly, if hate crimes were committed against these individuals, and the government failed to act, the individuals’ liberty would be jeopardized, despite the fact that there was no government intrusion into their affairs. Following from her discussion about what truly constitutes government action, Minnow would find that if the government “established a system,” whether it be the police force (generally charged with dealing with harassment and violence), or the system of law itself (which mandates equal protection for all people), and encouraged people to rely on it, then failing to act can jeopardize a citizen’s liberty (1669). Like Minnow, Marcuse’s perspective is more valuable in evaluating the way in which this ruling would be implemented and practically applied. For Marcuse, in order to extend the liberty of the LGBTQ+ individuals who were being prosecuted under acts such as the Georgia statute in question, the liberty of heterosexual individuals must be limited. Perhaps those who identify as LGBTQ+ deserve special protections in legislation, or by government bodies such as police forces. Perhaps new limits should be placed on the non-procreative sexual activity of those who are heterosexual. More concretely, to return to the above example, perhaps limits to heterosexual individuals’ liberty in employment practices or in speech are needed to acknowledge the zero-sum game at hand, and move towards true freedom. It is notable that the dissenting justices in Bowers v. Hardwick actually relied on textualism to make their case in support of Hardwick. They wrote that a “burden” is placed on the state when a “statute cannot be enforced as it is written” (478 U.S. 217). Statutes that can’t be enforced textually require the state to justify “a selective application of its law” (478 U.S. 217). In the particular case at hand, this selective application implies that “the persons to whom Georgia seeks to apply its statute do not have the same interest in ‘liberty’ that others have” (478 U.S. 217). The dissenting justices do not find this convincing. If the text of the statute were to be interpreted using a textualist philosophy, it would lead to the eradication of the right to all non-procreative sexual activity. Since the statute simply defines sodomy as “any sexual act involving the sex organs of one person and the mouth or anus of another,” an ordinary person would read the text as applying to all sexual acts, committed by people of all sexual orientations. Furthermore, if the justices’ working definition of liberty includes the idea that “every free citizen has the same interest in ‘liberty’ that the members of the majority share,” then under the fourteenth amendment, states cannot simply choose between two positions that reasonable people would disagree on if one of those positions assumes that all people are not entitled to the same liberties (478 U.S. 217). The concept of rights is so deeply contested, at least in part, because of the seemingly unenumerable nature of rights. The Constitution acknowledges this lack of numerability in the ninth amendment. Consequently, in order to understand the ways in which rights are protected, created, discussed, and wielded in any society, one cannot evaluate “rights” alone, since any compilation of rights is contested, and potentially incomplete. Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which attempted to provide a comprehensive listing of rights, was subject to criticism surrounding its incompleteness. For example, some claim that the UDHR fails to fully distinguish the rights that people hold during emergencies, and that it fails to outline the rights people have to certain goods, services, and protections from their families, which many non- American societies would see as indubitable. As such, it is essential to discern outside concepts that inform actions surrounding “rights.” In American society, rights are often affirmed or denied by the Supreme Court. As such, evaluating concepts like “liberty,” which underlie many of the court’s most noteworthy debates surrounding rights, is essential to understanding them. Given its tremendous power to influence rights, whether through producing them in unofficial judicial legislation or through restricting them due to particular readings of legislative texts, it is logical that the Supreme Court receives such attention from the American people. In recent history, few Justices of the Supreme Court have received more attention than Antonin Scalia. Scalia incited scholarly debate with his textualist philosophy and interested laypeople in the workings of the Supreme Court with his often-controversial rulings. However, the textualist philosophy and Scalia’s rulings are not one and the same. Given the existence of the ninth and fourteenth amendments, theorists including John Stuart Mill, Martha Minnow, and Herbert Marcuse produce arguments about liberty that would lead a Justice who utilizes the textualist philosophy to rule in a far more liberal manner than Scalia, often expanding and bolstering rights that he contested.

Subject: Literature

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Question:

What does James M. Cain's Double Indemnity reveal about portrayals of women in literature in the 1940s?

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Caitlin H.
Answer:

Juxtaposing lines of cut-and-dry insurance jargon with pages of emotion-ridden suspense, James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity weaves a tale of murder, love, and fixation between the fibers of an achingly normal 1920s Los Angeles. When insurance investigator Walter Huff arrives at the door of a client’s home, he expects a routine visit, in which he will convince the client, Mr. Nirdlinger, to spend more on insurance. However, when he enters the home and becomes infatuated with Mr. Nirdlinger’s wife, Walter is sucked into the deadly whirlwind that is Mrs. Phyllis Nirdlinger. Before a week passes, Walter agrees to help Phyllis purchase life insurance for her husband, murder the man, and claim the aforementioned insurance money. All the while, he shows minimal signs of moral direction. That is until he meets Phyllis’s step-daughter, Lola. Walter, who previously had few qualms about murdering an innocent man “for money and a woman,” is sent into a tailspin when he realizes he will be killing Lola’s father (Cain 80). By the novel’s close, Walter finds himself confessing to the murder in order to spare Lola from false incarceration. He wasn’t willing to confess to save his own conscious or to prevent further murders at Phyllis’ hands, but the mere thought of putting Lola in harm’s way leads him to turn himself in. Why is it that Walter can ignore his innate sense of right and wrong so fully at some moments, particularly when Phyllis is involved, and yet, be controlled by sympathy and self-proclaimed moral standards when Lola enters the picture? The range of moral direction, or lack thereof, that Walter displays is far more than inconsistency in characterization, but is evidence of the powerful influence of the women in his life. According to Janey Place in her “Women in Film Noir,” at the forefront of works of literature in the noir genre is often a sexual, violent woman who Place dubs the “spider woman,” contrasted with an innocent, virginal figure who she dubs the “redeemer” (Place 53, 60). Phyllis, the dangerously seductive murderous, clearly embodies the femme fatale, while Lola, the naive, kind-hearted woman adheres to the redeemer archetype. By recognizing the influence of Lola and Phyllis on Walter, his character quirks throughout the novel begin to take on a new meaning. His sudden feelings of guilt about the murder are not just random reversals of opinion, but highlight the influence of Lola, the redeemer. On the other hand, his quick agreement to the murderous plan suggests the workings of Phyllis, the femme fatale. Cain’s development of a femme fatale and a redeemer follows a paradigm that, according to Place, is common among similar works. However, Cain complicates this paradigm with the unconventional relationship between his Fatale and redeemer, namely that Phyllis is Lola’s stepmother. Typically, Place’s paradigm would suggest that the redeemer is far more maternal than the Fatale, as she often offers the male protagonist nurturing, love, understanding, and security (60-61). However, Phyllis’s role as a mother-figure alters this pattern. If, as Place suggests, femme fatales are “psychological expression(s)” of male fears about sexuality, power, and control, Phyllis still represents these anxieties, but now from a position within the family, making her all the more dangerous (53). So, while Phyllis fulfills the Fatale archetype by personifying Walter’s fears about his sexuality, and Lola fulfills the redeemer archetype by posing as a nurturing alternative, their relationship depicts the rising male fear of losing control over the family. Within the opening pages of Cain’s novel, Phyllis begins using her sexuality to lead Walter astray. At first, Walter is unaware of the consciousness of Phyllis’ actions. He “got in the car bawling [himself] out for being a fool” after one of their first conversations, since she had only given him a “sidelong look” and yet, he was completely enthralled with her (Cain 7). A glance, the mere suggestion that something more could happen between them, was enough to leave Walter trivializing over Phyllis for days. By bringing Walter’s sexual desires to the foreground, Phyllis highlights his need to repress these desires in order to maintain control over his life. Walter vocalizes this need for repression by stating that he was “bawling himself out,” or reminding himself to keep his sexual urges in check (7). At this moment, he is able to do so. Walter sees that his sexual desires are clouding his judgment, admits the absurdity and unfoundedness of his infatuation, and removes himself from the situation. For a brief moment, it seems Phyllis has fulfilled the femme fatale archetype in drawing attention to her sexuality but has been unsuccessful in gaining control over the male protagonist. Very rapidly, however, Walter loses his ability to repress his sexual desires, and his loss of control over his sexuality is reflected in a loss of control over his life. In Phyllis and Walter’s second meeting, Walter states that “the white sailor suit did it” (Cain 11). Seeing Phyllis’ figure in a seductive outfit causes Walter’s sexual impulses to overpower his sense of morals and reason. He can’t help but acknowledge that he is being actively manipulated by the Fatale, aware that he isn’t the only one who knows how good she looks in the sailor suit, as “she knew about it herself, plenty” (11). In just two conversations, Phyllis has convinced Walter to commit murder and fraud, all because he expects some elusive kind of love or sexual fulfillment. Clearly, she fits seamlessly with the archetype outlined in Place. On the other hand, Lola begins to take on her role as redeemer beginning with her early interactions with Walter. When Lola wants to be driven to the movies, Walter claims, “there was nothing [he] could do but offer” (27). When Lola comes to Walter’s office, asking him to give her boyfriend a loan on his car, Walter claims he “had to come through” for her (30). Even when Lola tells Walter that she suspects Phyllis was involved with past murders, he feels as though he can’t turn this information over to the authorities, because “this girl had asked [him] not to tell anybody, and [he] had promised” (75). In his time with Lola, Walter’s actions and words emphasize obligation. He feels obligated to drive her around, get her a loan, and keep her secrets, because, in conforming with the redeemer type, she “offers the possibility of reintegration for the alienated” (Place 60). Being with Lola doesn’t encourage him to give in to his darkest sexual desires, ignoring the repercussions. Her presence encourages him to do the “right” thing and to let himself be guided by conventional standards of morality. In a way, it would seem that Phyllis ‘wins’ in the battle between femme fatale and redeemer. She convinces Walter to go through with the murder, and throughout the novel, it seems that his violent, sexual side is increasingly present, while moments of goodness and righteousness are sparsely spread over the chapters. In fact, his violent side becomes so present that he murders Mr. Nirdlinger and later decides that he must murder Phyllis as well. Typically, one would expect the femme fatale and redeemer to be more evenly matched. But, Phyllis is so influential because she has an additional weapon on her side. As Lola’s step-mother, she embodies more than just Walter’s fear of losing control over his sexuality, she embodies his fear, as a man, of losing control of other aspects of his life. Seeing Phyllis at the helm of a family, in a position where she can manipulate and control people from the role of ‘mother’ alarms Walter. Normally those occupying the ‘mother’ role, the redeemer-types, are expected to be “passive and static” (Place 60). Phyllis is no such thing. She is active and dynamic, in unexpected and shocking ways. She has no qualms about setting-up her own step-daughter, Lola, as a witness in an early part of the murder plot. Walter, who expressed few concerns about the actual murder, states that “having to sit with her there, knowing all the time what we were going to do to her father” upsets him greatly (26). The control Phyllis asserts over the previously male-dominated home and family creates an uneasiness in Walter that he cannot shake. This uneasiness only further prevents Walter from overcoming Phyllis’ layers of deception, as it creates a cloud of confusion and emotion surrounding the whole affair. Consequently, during this time of moral and emotional uncertainty, Walter follows the lead of the strong, unwavering Fatale. In the year 2018, many would argue that the belief that a woman would be expected to be a stable, passive homemaker is outdated and offensive. After all, women have so much more to offer the world than clean homes and children. The years explored in Double Indemnity were at the cusp of the shift between housewives and career women. These were years during which women had held jobs and made change, but when the world wasn’t prepared for the evolution of the mother and homemaker. Many had accepted that women could, and even should, join the workforce, but few had thought about who should take over her role at home. Society at large surely did not wish for home-wreckers turned homemakers like Phyllis, and men yearned for a way to keep their wives in an easily-controlled position. Regardless of the hyper-sexualization and misogyny inherent to the femme fatale character, she represents a sharp break with the home-making expectation. This is beneficial in that the femme fatale began to broaden the number and type of depictions of women seen in popular cinema and literature. The femme fatale is hardly perfect, and hardly offers a fair alternative to women who would rather be active than passive, to those who would rather be defined by their own achievements than by the men in their lives. However, at the very least, she does offer an alternative.

Subject: English

TutorMe
Question:

How can the work of renowned poet Seamus Heaney be better understood through the historical context and body of literature that his poems respond to?

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Caitlin H.
Answer:

“Granite Chip” features the musing of Seamus Heaney as he reaches maturity as a poet and an individual. In it, Heaney masterfully establishes the solidity of the title-sake stone and provides extensive layers of contrasts, ranging from those between religions to those between Heaney and James Joyce. Evolving from his earliest works in Eleven Poems and Death of a Naturalist, Heaney also turns to tackle, in greater depth, themes like complacency, legacy, and human frailty in “Granite Chip.” In fact, throughout Station Island, the collection in which “Granite Chip” is housed, Heaney explores his connection to the Troubles, which transformed his homeland of Northern Ireland. While “Granite Chip” doesn’t explicitly feature the Troubles, Heaney’s emphasis on his own softness and deferential nature in many of the previously examined contrasts is, at least in part, due to his fear of being complacent and inactive in the face of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland. In total, “Granite Chip” is as multifaceted as a flecked piece of granite itself.

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