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Anne Sexton and Alfred Hitchcock
Briar Rose and Blood in the Shower
Introduction to Both Texts
Sexton's Sleeping Beauty goes from an initial anti-feminist slumber of childhood but grows to a later, mature feminist awakening. Hitchcock's Marion Crane goes from an initial feminist empowerment and sexual awakening to anti-feminist slumber and death as the film "Psycho" is more interested in the masculine conflict and journey of the self.
Both "Briar Rose: Sleeping Beauty" by Anne Sexton and Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 film "Psycho" were constructed during relatively similar times in American history. Yet in terms of their theoretical construction in regards to feminism, these two works of art seem to come from completely different eras. The country or time of Sexton's imagination takes the myth of Briar Rose, the name of Sleeping Beauty and creates an articulation of initial subjugated childhood female silence that must be resolved through active female empowerment in marital adulthood. "Psycho" begins with a journey of female empowerment that ends with the female's demise. The heroine of Hitchcock's film is brought under subjugation and control with a knife wielded by a kind of phallic mother figure, a man named Norman Bates wearing an elderly, desexualized women's guise holding a sharp and thrusting weapon.
Text 1: "Briar Rose: Sleeping Beauty" by Anne Sexton
The narrative and thematic 'arc' poem tells the tale of a young girl's awakening from the slumber of feminine subjugation, learned on the knee of the girl's father. The initial image of the poem is striking, given that it is one of castration as well as silence.
Consider girl who keeps slipping off, arms limp as old carrots, into the hypnotist's trance, into a spirit world speaking with the gift of tongues.
She is stuck in the time machine, suddenly two years old sucking her thumb, as inward as a snail, learning to talk again.
She's on a voyage.
She is swimming further and further back, up like a salmon, struggling into her mother's pocketbook.
Little doll child, come here to Papa.
Sit on my knee.
I have kisses for the back of your neck.
A penny for your thoughts, Princess.
I will hunt them like an emerald.
Like Marion Crane's final image lying silent and prostrate in the shower, this girl is reduced to the sum of her body parts -- but from the beginning of the poem, not at the end of the film like Marion. Marion Crane, in the viewer's imagination is last seen as an eye and a swirl of blood. But Marion Crane begins in terms of her identity in the film's context, as a fully depicted woman. She is not merely a body or a child like Briar Rose, rather the is seen engaging actively in her job (albeit unethically) and engaging sexually and physically with the world. At the end of her journey in Hitchcock's film, Crane reduced to a camera shot, a series of body parts.
Sexton's heroine, in contrast, begins as a passive child, on her father's knee, a sum of her childlike body parts in arms and necks. Briar Rose is a child of silence, sucking a thumb rather than engaged in acts of speech. Sexually, Sleeping Beauty does not act, she is merely acted upon, as she is kissed on her neck by her father and lives in the world of her father's desires.
Come be my snooky and I will give you a root.
The father speaks to the child in baby talk. Even the kisses upon the neck of the girl, have a phallic gloss to them, and the root refers both to the girl's splayed arms referred to at the beginning of the poem, as well as to the sexual innuendo in the father's infantile banter with the daughter on his lap.
The young woman begins, thus, in a world of the father, where sexuality is thrusting, pointed, and like carrots and the needles of spinning wheels, a world where she is a princess of silence and thumb sucking.
Text 2: Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho"
Marion Crane, in contrast, begins in a world of speech. Only after she leaves the world of the bank, which is cloaked in the feminine images of secrecy and vaults, does silence come to the forefront of the picture. Crane steals money to help her lover and herself begin a new life. But even though this is a bad decision on her part, at least is an active decision, an expression of female sexual empowerment. Even after entering the Bates motel, unlike the sleeping child of Sexton's poem, Crane engages in the sexual act of showering, rather than merely and passively going to sleep or taking doctor's draughts like Briar Rose when the latter heroine gets married.
This desire to expiate herself of Crane's guilt, of course, renders her unintentionally naked and vulnerable. Crane unintentionally lays herself open to being first watched by the voyeuristic eye of Norman Bates through a peephole, which the viewer involuntarily participates in. Crane becomes the target of his hidden, sexual rage. Then, she enters the final sleep of death at the end of her journey in the film, while Briar Rose ends Sexton's poem with the desire to awaken from the limits of her feminine existence, the curtailing influence of marriage and home life..
Comparison of Texts 1 and 2
Briar Rose or Sleeping Beauty, as she is also known in Sexton's discourse, however eventually loses sleep rather than gains it, after she enters the sexual and marital economy. Marriage irritates rather than pacifies, encouraging restlessness with one's fate rather than stimulating slumber. Rather than sexuality bringing death as in "Psycho," Rose's marriage and removal from her father's lap to the lap of her husband makes it clear to the woman that current cultural modalities of female sexuality are not helpful to her establish a true sense of self.
Briar Rose was an insomniac
She could not nap or lie in sleep without the court chemist mixing her some knock-out drops and never in the prince's presence.
The heroine of Sexton's poem cannot sleep when she is watched, unlike Marion Crane who falls into a slumber of death because Norman Bates cannot keep his eyes off of her. The constant sense of observation that Marion is unaware of, however, Briar Rose is supremely aware of. Rose realizes that to be a woman in today's society is constantly to be curtailed, constrained, and monitored. She realizes all too well that to be loved by a man is to simply be watched by a man
There was a theft.
That much I am told.
I was abandoned.
That much I know.
I was forced backward.
I was forced forward.
I was passed hand to hand like a bowl of fruit.
Each night I am nailed into place and forget who I am.
That's another kind of prison.
It's not the prince at all, but my father drunkeningly bends over my bed, circling the abyss like a shark, my father thick upon me like some sleeping jellyfish.
What voyage is this, little girl?
This coming out of prison?
God help this life after death?
Marion Crane does not know that because she is a woman, she will be forced to sleep for all eternity once she is subject to the male gaze. Once she is subject to Norman's eye, she will literally become an eye in the eye of the viewer, a female body rather than a female mind, voice, or speaking soul. She is unaware of this, assuming she has control in her world and that her theft will go unrecognized, and in the anonymous hotel room she can find a new economic and personal identity and freedom.
But instead, the image of the mother, and a mother wielding a father-like sword,…[continue]
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