the plumed serpent -- chapter I part III

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Even before the bullfight begins, Kate feels "a chill of disgust."

It's ironic that both The Plumed Serpent and the other big bullfight novel, The Sun Also Rises were published in 1926; but whereas Hemingway's bullfights were honorable and manly-ish, Lawrence's is base savagery.

For one, "there was no glamour, no charm" to the audience; the Mexican plebs and patricians are contemptible little rotters, as are the protagonists, and the fight itself descends from confusion into utter brutality.

The bull is simply looking for a way out of the arena; ignoring the handlers until he makes his way over to one of the picador riding a veiled, "lean old" horse "that would never move till Doomsday, unless someone shoved it."

The picador pokes at the bull with his lance and the bull reacts by stabbing the horse in the abdomen, spilling his entrails.

Kate almost passes out from the horrific scene while a Bolshevik Pole nudges her, insisting that, "Now you are seeing life!"

Owen gets a bit nauseated, but Villiers eats it up, and Kate finds herself equally repelled by him. She asks why the horse doesn't simply run away, and Owen explains that the horses are intentionally blinded and feeble because that makes them better bull fodder.

Kate once saw bulls as fearful creatures and treated them with reverence, but now, within the cowardice and silliness of the fight, that illusion is shattered. She shouts at the bull to take out some of the picadors, but Villiers tells her that that's hardly ever the case.

'They say no toreador will face a cow, because a cow always goes for him instead of the cloak. If a bull did that there'd be no bull-fights. Imagine it!'

The whole scene seems like a pretty Marxian metaphor--with the picadors representing the bourgeois and the bull and horses the proletariat. The animals just want to escape while the humans make them kill each other for their own amusement. But so far it seems like the narrator has a pretty dim view of Marxists/socialists/Bolsheviks, so I'm not quite sure what to make of the analogy.

It's not really analogous with the characters--the bull and horses being the Mexican people and the picadors being Kate, Owen, and Villiers--because the three haven't done anything abusive to the Mexicans, or at least haven't done anything abusive that the reader knows of.

In any case, the bull gores another horse and Kate has enough. She leaves, and the audience gets pissed--leaving a bullfight, even one as pathetic as this, is a national insult.