Research Project on Fringe of Leaves
Throughout these three passages is the progression of Ellen Roxburgh, from the civilized to the primitive with Paul White expressing his opinion on the need for a compromise between both these extremes. White also repeatedly demolishes typical stereotypes of black and white society, exploring the faults and benefits of both. Sensuality is another theme encountered within "A Fridge of Leaves", while White disagrees with its oppression, neither does he idealize it. White puts emphasis on his rejection of idealized representations, he prefers to work in the more realistic shade of gray rather than plain black and white.
To Ellen white society is a "settlement in which it seemed at times she might remain permanently imprisoned." She is very conscious of the restrictive nature of this society and senses within herself a need to escape even for a short amount of time. Thus readers get the impression that Ellen is oppressing part of her true persona and only when she is alone with nature can she relax, "when the orderly streets she had abandoned." White re enforces this point by describing Ellen's present home as a "speckless dolls house," these words have negative connotations, a dolls house is sterile in its very perfection, it is but a imaginative plaything, a imitation of life for a child's entertainment, perhaps this is the point that White is trying to make about civilized white society of the time. That it is cold and void of sincere strong emotions, a world of facades, and false images. This idea is further broadened through Ellen, herself. Though Ellen appears in the eyes of others "Lacking entirely in human warmth, and prickly with moral principals...morality itself," readers are aware of her other side, her passionate nature such as her affair with Garnet. In these instances White refers to Ellen by her maiden name, as a symbol of her link with the land as a farmers daughter and the emotional freedom of her former status.
From this restrictive society, Ellen continues her journey to the other extreme, primitive aboriginal society. Within this elemental civilization Ellen experiences a freedom of sorts, when naked "she was entirely liberated." However this extreme is almost too much for her, reminded by her ring, she fashions herself coverings, "until the consequent fringe hanging from the vine allowed her to feel to some extent clothed." This is a continuing theme, in this society she encounters lack of restrictions found in white society, "however in the end she makes a decision to return to civilization." But White does not portray this community as perfect, nor does he endorse the noble savage stereotype. The aboriginals have fleas; they scrounge in the dirt with snouted face(s) and tumid bod(ies) covered with pustular sores. While in history there are many reported incidences of whites maltreating blacks, child stealing, here we see the capture of a woman, manipulated into near slavery. Through these occurrences White demonstrates the similarities between both the societies and thus the lack of a superior.
In the end Ellen reaches a compromise within herself, though she strictly adheres to the conventions of neither society. After re- entering white society Ellen visits a chapel, there was a "communion table, on it none of the conventional ornaments or trappings, but an empty bird's nest." In this symbol is the primitive and the civilized intertwined, it mimics the implication evoked by Ellen's Garnet dress. Though following bare convention within society, she is still expressing her sensuality through the dress of her lover's namesake and the colour of passion. Through this journey, White has demonstrated his opinion that neither extreme is appropriate, that a balance is required. He does this by portraying each society as possessing imperfections and neither being idealized.
White also clarifies sexuality, while still needing an outlet, is not always ideal, and not in all circumstances to be glorified. For example, the pervert with "the gap toothed smile," who chases Ellen, he is an example of her own sensuality, inescapable and yet crude and base. The fact that it is Garnet that rescues her can be interpreted in several ways. The first being that Ellen was trapped by her own sexuality and that Garnet has freed her, or that in these circumstances, the situation between Garnet and Ellen, is merely lust, nothing ideal, not sentimentalized, simply lust.
Paul White conveys his opinions on moderation through the character Ellen Roxburgh and her journey, he shows the middle road as the preferable one through her evident happiness compared to that in both extreme environments. He displays the similarities and faults in both societies to show neither as the more desirable option. White avoids stereotypical clich's wherever possibly to more honestly represent certain emotions or circumstances.
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