Wednesday, October 11, 2006

From Hell - Chapters 5-7

Chapter five opens with a scene that at first mystified me, a German couple having sex, which is interrupted by visions of a Jewish temple gushing blood. The dialogue's all in German, so I was just going to move on, confounded. But, then I remembered the annotations and flipped back to find out that this scene depicts Hitler's conception! Knowing this makes the scene a great addition. The whole work is about how Gull ushers in the twentieth century, so featuring the conception of one of that century's key figures is a good thematic element. One of the things that makes me love the work so much is the fact that it's not just about a series of murders, it's about chronicling a specific turning point in the history of human society.

From there, we got to an effective, if slightly obvious, contrasting of Gull's upper class life with the difficult situations for the poor. One thing the work consistently does is make clear how difficult it is for poorer people living in Whitechapel. All these women are murdered because they couldn't make enough money to pay for lodging, so they wound up on the street alone, late at night. The tragic irony of the scenes where Gull meets them in the coach is that they think they've just hit the jackpot, found a wealthy client who can give them food and protection. That is not the case.

The murder of Polly Nichols is a masterfully executed sequence. The bottom of page 5.23 where Polly walks across a sea of fire is an incredible image, leading into the tense scene with Polly in Gull's coach. In both this scene and the later scene with Anne, Gull equates the act of murder with marriage. According to him, the institution of marriage has been warped into a way for men to keep women down, the patriarchal rule replacing their previous dominance of social worlds. This makes literal the idea that marriage is killing women.

I like the way that Gull positions Polly as a sacrifice to Ganesa. He believes that his duty to murder these women is a god-given one, the essential act to close out an age. After cutting her up, Gull declares "She was full of light." This could refer to her life, her creative essence that he has now snuffed out. Gull is continually caught between his left brain scientific patriarchal side and his fascination with the older gods.

From here, we move in to an exploration of the way that the killing affects the world of Whitechapel. It creates an instant mania among the people, and is a level of brutality that the police force seems totally incapable of dealing with. They are old, upper class people who have no way of relating to the world these women come from. Abberline is someone who's trying to leave that world behind, but finds his only chance for advacement comes from exploiting his origins and serving as a "Whitechapel expert" for the people in the case.

Class issues are clearly a major concern. There were the overt juxtapositions of chapter five, and here, we see Abberline comparing the life of Whitechapel to the staid upper class world he now inhabits. His talks with Emma have a vitality that he doesn't have in the relationship with his wife.

Much of the work is concerned with showing the seeds of our current world, and that's where the media stuff comes in. Abberline's meeting with Mexico Joe provides some foreshadowing about the rise of Russia and America, and gives Moore a chance to give another nod to Crowley, one of his idols. America's style of adventurous individualism has come to England in the form of a Wild West show, and it will soon come in more deeply influential ways. As he wanders out, Abberline finds that the crime scene has become an amusement for people, the killing a commodified event turned into entertainment. People reenact the murder for their own entertainment, unaware of the actual harm that's been done. Here lie the roots of our current scandal obsessed media culture, which turns real life tragedy into entertainment for the masses. Polly's funeral turns into a spectacle for people to watch and enjoy.

Later, we see the O Star editor realize that the killer himself is beside the point, it's the media image of the killer that matters. So, he creates 'Jack the Ripper,' and in the letter he sends to the police, he casts a spell that makes what he wrote about into reality for the populace as a whole. He does as much to create Jack the Ripper as Gull did. Gull claimed that the irrational, female side is in decline, but the fact that this Jack the Ripper character becomes so powerful, despite not existing like they think he did, would indicate that he functions as a representative of the old gods. Jack is a god who incarnates the deepest fears of all these women, the fact that he actually exists is nearly irrelevant to that. And that may be Gull's greatest fear, the idea that what he actually does is less significant than the legend built up around 'Jack the Ripper,' a figure whose power greatly outweighs his own.

Creating a 'god' could be interpreted as simply creating a fictional being who begins to effect reality. So, Bob Kane loosed Batman onto the world, a figure whose power greatly outweighs his own, and has lived on long after his creator's death. Gull has done the same for Jack the Ripper, creating a figure who casts a shadow deep in the twentieth century. I think that's the significance of Gull's visions of the future, which begin during the killing of Anne. He is looking at the world that his actions will ultimately bring about, a world where reality is malleable by leaders who can control the media.

The murder scene is once again deeply powerful, and the final moments show the Jack the Ripper figure beginning to assert his power. At this point, Gull has lost control, his actions have begun to inspire others to worship this deity he has conjured. Gull himself may be a left brained patriarchal man, seeking to preserve traditional societal order, but the deity he has conjured is inspiring irrational fear. Science is rendering the old gods obsolete, but in Jack he creates a new incarnation of those old figures. People do not believe in Jack as a god, but that doesn't matter. He still exerts the same fear that the old gods did, he creates an archetypal figure, the serial killer, who will exert fear far beyond the man's lifetime.

No comments: