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Samuel Roy
Ellen Perry
ENG 232-YD1
26 September 2018
Black Privilege: Respectability Politics of Booker T. Washington

Despite the United States’ relatively brief time as a nation, its entire history concerning its African-American population is sordid. After slavery was abolished, it was the job of all Americans to come together to address the atrocious means by which this country procured its wealth, and that task has yet to be rectified in a meaningful way. The nation looked to distinguished and educated men to help navigate what an equitable country could look like, and in 1901, Booker T. Washington fit the bill. In his book Up from Slavery, Washington uses point of view, tone, and setting to highlight how privileges afforded to him as a young boy informed his work as a revolutionary figure later in his life—perhaps to the detriment of his own people.

Booker T. Washington’s first-person account brings the reader into his early life on a Southern plantation. Filled with anecdotes of his early childhood, the first chapter of his book chronicles his childhood as a slave, his family life, and being oddly fond of his masters. Washington recounts anecdotally that his owners were not “especially cruel, for they were not, as compared with others” (1). His writing reflects this point of view in an almost positive reimagining of abject oppression. Knowing his experience is one of exception, Washington doesn’t attempt to make light of slavery, but does, however, reflect that positivity could be found in a deplorable institution. This is also not to say that Washington didn’t endure hardship, but his merciful owners are the exception and not the rule—not to mention inherently paradoxical.

Setting also plays a crucial role in Washington’s accommodations to his Southern white peers. Washington makes mention of the desolate and bleak conditions he and his family were forced to live in, which was very common for slaves in the 19th century. What’s not as common, however, is the merciful treatment bestowed upon Washington and his family. While acknowledging the pain and suffering of his family, he glosses over any physical or emotional trauma he might have faced himself. This is primarily due to his family’s standing with the masters; his family cooked and prepared meals for the owner’s family, which was a privileged position on the plantation. Washington’s privilege at a young age defines how he sees slavery:

The whole machinery of slavery was so constructed as to cause labour, as a rule, to be looked upon as a badge of degradation, of inferiority. Hence labour was something that both races on the slave plantation sought to escape. The slave system on our place, in a large measure, took the spirit of self-reliance and self-help out of the white people. (17)

While this statement isn’t completely inaccurate, it’s only half of the story. Slavery was borne of the need for cheap labor, but its maintenance relied on the continued dehumanization and degradation of black bodies by any means necessary. The historical context in which his story was framed seems to ignore the importance of slavery to the American economy. It also minimizes the experiences of slaves who weren’t lucky enough to work near the home of the master, or worse, the slaves whose primary function was for breeding a generation of workers for sale.

Washington’s tone complements both his narration and setting. When speaking of slavery, he doesn’t hesitate to condemn the institution, but his experience with merciful masters extended to other Southern whites in a way that suggests that they too were victims of chattel slavery:

I have long since ceased to cherish any spirit of bitterness against the Southern white people on account of the enslavement of my race. No one section of our country was wholly responsible for its introduction, and, besides, it was recognized and protected for years by the General Government. Having once got its tentacles fastened on to the economic and social life of the Republic, it was no easy matter for the country to relieve itself of the institution. (16)

His tone portrays an optimistic, albeit misplaced view on how slavery operated for and by Southern whites—positing that it is a system in which the subjugation of Africans for profit is merely a byproduct of American government-sanctioned industry. His sentiments aren’t completely wrong, but glossing over the more insidious realities of slavery appears to be a practice in word choice rather than ignorance. He chooses his phrases with precision, and in doing so, sets the stage to play both sides for his multi-racial audience. It appears Washington was more interested in rehabilitating the image of Southern whites than he was in empowering freed black people.

In his Atlanta Exposition speech, Washington exhibits his ideals: that African-Americans deserve the respect that was prohibited in the past, so long as they prove their worth. Specifically, he states, “The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing” (223). In hindsight, it’s difficult to imagine a world in which African-Americans employed a work ethic worthy enough for acceptance and assimilation, a world where a black man could succeed purely on the merits of his character with no societal prejudices holding him back—where this success was guaranteed to end in respect instead of competition. Booker T. Washington had a positive outlook on his circumstances and wished to extend his wisdom to the rest of his people. But his experiences did not mirror the realities of many freed slaves after the Civil War. His convictions don’t apply to those freed slaves who wanted more than just job security after their freedom. They needed assurance of safety from those that wished them harm, and vocational training or paid manual labor couldn’t facilitate that need for African-Americans. The country continued to change with and without Washington; his people saw both vast growth and traumatizing losses.

Washington’s ideals were revolutionary, and for the time, dangerously ambitious. Theoretically, the idea of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps could have worked for any African-American, especially since they had a distinct advantage over the Southern whites regarding manual labor. But historically speaking, even in Washington’s early adult life, the animosity toward African-Americans was part and parcel to the fabric of the Southern states. Even after the slaves were freed from bondage, the prejudices against black men didn’t change. White supremacist ideology was so entrenched in the fabric of the country that it became a common thought even among African-Americans. Being aware that freedmen would have to rely on white landowners that monopolized the land, his tactic was passive assimilation rather than radical action. Booker T. Washington—although educated and hard-working—fell victim to the same “lost cause” mentality that gave the South the power to enact the Black Codes and Jim Crow legislation following the collapse of Reconstruction.

Since Washington’s time, many black leaders have challenged his judgment. Instead of keeping their heads down, they forged a path forward for justice and equality; they demanded respect with their voices instead of waiting for permission. Martin Luther King, Jr., would have never led thousands across the Edmund Pettis Bridge if he was beholden to his pulpit. Without Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem, this country might not have acknowledged the epidemic of police brutality against people of color. Perhaps LeBron James would have never built a school for under-privileged children had he listened to people who told him to keep his beliefs on the court. Their power comes from a similar privilege to that of Washington’s, but building a ladder yields more freedom than constructing a wheel to enact the same disparities. While Booker T. Washington offered a way for African-Americans to educate themselves, his reliance on respectability as a pathway for African-American freedom discounts the important need for active resistance to oppressive ideologies.

Works Cited

Booker, Washington T. Up from Slavery: An Autobiography. 1901. Documenting the American South, 1997, docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/washington/menu.html.

Hellbender Samuel Roy ENG 232-YD1

The Results of Gram Stain Reactions for E. coli, S. epidermidis and B. subtilis (Word)


Benjamin Lemke

Biology 112





Escherichia coli, Bacillus subtilis and Staphylococcus epidermidis were analyzed for this lab activity to determine their Gram Stain. After the multi-layered Gram Stain procedure each bacteria were classified as Gram-positive or Gram-negative depending on their cell walls staining color. The results showed that E. coli stained pink and classified as Gram-negative. Both B. subtilis and S. epidermidis stained purple and were classified as Gram-positive. It was determined that E.coli likely stained pink due to having it’s cell walls composed of less peptidoglycan than B. subtilis and S. epidermidis.



Biologists use several methods to classify bacteria. One method, which was used in this lab activity, is called Gram Stain. Gram Stain is a method that uses several staining solutions to interact and bind to the bacteria’s cell wall, which contains a complex polymer made up of glycan strands of repeating disaccharide residues, cross-lined via peptide side chains called peptidoglycan (Hayhurst 2008). It has been determined that the bacterial cell walls will stain purple (Gram positive) or pink (Gram negative) depending on the thickness of the peptidoglycan layer (www.cdc.gov) and (Hoefnagels 2015).

In this lab activity, Escherichia coli (E. coli), Bacillus subtilis (B. subtilis) and Staphylococcus epidermidis (S. epidermidis) were Gram Stained. It was predicted that only E. coli would be Gram-negative, and both B. Subtilis and S. epidermidis would be Gram-positive.




In order to Gram Stain the bacteria, the following method was used and replicated for each bacterial sample. First, a drop of distilled water was placed onto a glass microscope slide. Next an inoculating loop was flamed for 1-2 seconds using a Bunsen burner, and then allowed to briefly cool in the time it took to pick up a small amount of bacteria culture. The culture was then mixed into the distilled water and let to air dry. This took several minutes. Once dry, the glass slide was heat fixed over Bunsen burner for 5-6 passes.

Five drops of the first stain – crystal violet – was added next to the slide. After allowing the slide to sit undisturbed for one minute, the crystal violet was rinsed using tap water that was trickled over the hand onto the slide for a slow, careful rinse. Bibulous paper was then used to blot dry any excess water so the slide could quickly air dry.

Five to ten drops of the second staining solution – iodine – was added to the slide. After allowing the slide to sit for two minutes, the slide was rinsed again in the same manner as before. Next, ethanol was dripped over the slide held at a downward tipping angle until all the purple dye was no longer visible from the sample. Again, the slide was rinsed with water.

For the final staining solution – safranin – five drops were added to the sample. After letting the sample sit for one minute, the sample was rinsed again with water and dried using bibulous paper and until it was completely air dried.

Lastly, a drop of oil was added to the slide so the sample could be viewed under the microscope using the oil immersion lens.




The E. coli had a Gram Stain reaction color of pink and classified as Gram-negative. Both the S. epidermidis and B. subtilis had a Gram Stain reaction color of purple and then classified as Gram-positive (Table 1).


Table 1: The Outcome of Gram Stain on Three Species of Bacteria

Bacteria Gram (Positive/Negative) Gram Stain Color
E. coli Pink Negative
S. epidermidis Purple Positive
B. subtilis Purple Positive





The results of the Gram Stain for each bacteria sample supported the hypothesis and were consistent with previous laboratory experiments (Wientjes 1991), (Namvar 2014) and (Silhavy 2010). The thickness of the peptidoglycan layer within the cell wall is a major factor in the staining solutions’ ability to bind to the cell wall and thus the color it stains. It has been shown that the thickness of the peptidoglycan layer in E. coli is near 2.0 nm and up to 5.0 nm (Gumbart 2014). Whereas, in the S. epidermidis and B. subtilis, their peptidoglycan layer are from 50 nm to 5 micrometers (Hayhurst 2008) and about 20 to 40 nm (Dmitriev 2004), respectively. Thus, it was expected that E. coli would Gram Stain pink (Gram-negative) and both the other bacteria would Gram Stain purple (Gram-positive).

One factor that may have influenced the Gram Stain is the time a bacterial cell needs for the stain to bind. First, because cell wall structures and components are variable from bacteria to bacteria, the amount of time needed for a staining solution to bind to the cell wall may be different. Thus, a bacterium that is classically classified as Gram-negative may actually be Gram-positive if allowed the stain to bind longer (Silhavy 2010). A future lab activity that could determine if binding time as a limiting factor would be to vary the binding time of each staining solution.



Biology – Concepts and Investigations. Third Edition. Hoefnagels, Marielle, 2015, McGraw=Hill Education.


Dmitriev, Boris A., 2004. Tertiary Structure of Staphylococcus aureus Cell Wall Murein. J of Bacteriology. 186(21): 7141-7148.


Gumbart, James C., 2014. Escherichia coli Peptidoglycan Structure and Mechanics as Predicted by Atomic-Scale Simulations. PLoS Compt Biol. 10(4): e1003475.


Hayhurst, Emma J., 2008. Cell Wall Peptidoglycan Architecture in Bacillus subtilis. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 105(38): 14603-14608.


Jones, Gilda L., Dever, Stanley M., CDC 1984. The Gram Stain; a new look at an old tool https://stacks.cdc.gov/view/cdc/7646.


Namvar, Amirmorteza E., 2014. Clinical Characteristics of Staphylococcus epidermidis: A Systematic Review. GMS Hyg Infect Control. 9(3): Doc23.


Silhavy, Thomas J., 2010. The Bacterial Cell Envelope. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2(5).


Wientjes, F.B., 1991. Amount of Peptidoglycan in Cell Walls of Gram-negative Bacteria. J of Bacteriology. Vol. 173 no 23: 7684-7691.


Policy Memo Murray_finalrevision

Submitted by Max Murray, Soc. 220, Spring 2018:


Sex Offender Registry Reformation


U.S. Senator Richard Burr


Max Murray


Sex Offender Registry



executive summary

This memo seeks to expose the current implementation of the sex offender registry, both national and state-based, as an outdated and potentially dangerous social policy that was born of an irrational and reactionary fear to criminal acts against children. You should take every step within your power to adjust this policy through limiting access to the registry to law enforcement, adjusting the content that is displayed within the registry, and eliminating the biased and extrajudicial punishment mechanisms that the sex offender registries use to propagate the prison industrial complex that currently fuel the American justice system. It is incumbent on you, North Carolina’s representative in the federal legislature, to enact or help enact policy that benefits your constituents; and your duty and obligation to consider the consequences of leaving this broken system running and draining humanity away from thousands of North Carolina residents and U.S. citizens.

introduction and problem definition

Despite its core focus on protecting innocent members of the population the sex offender registry has developed into a social problem that effects people on an individual, social, physical, and environmental level. This is an issue that effects every aspect of society: from the individuals on the registry to the communities in which they reside. Registrant lives are forever altered because of their experiences running afoul of the law. These people are placed on a national list for life that can be referenced via the internet at any time, and as a result can be treated completely differently than their non-registrant counterparts in areas like employment, housing, education, socializing, and child rearing. These issues are serious and extend far beyond the prescribed prosecution handed down by the judicial system that these individuals went through.

The march toward a more open and available sex offender registry was sparked by the highly media profiled disappearances of a few children in the ‘80s and ‘90s. The public’s reaction to these high-profile cases was, understandably, anger and frustration with a system that did not sufficiently discourage or punish these crimes against the most vulnerable members of the populace. This anger and frustration manifested into policy that was reactionary and punitive in its design: now convicted or non-acquitted individuals are placed onto a database that is accessible to any person with an internet connection. Depending on the state as well as the crime their name may be later expunged from the list: but in the information technology age that social stain becomes very difficult to wash out. This was originally designed to be a database accessible to law enforcement exclusively, but this plan gained such momentum because of the anger and frustration with these social problems that the result is a system that swung too far in the opposite direction.

This memo will examine the history and problems associated with this policy: its reactionary and emotional genesis, the extrajudicial and punitive nature of the registry, and the severe impact that this has on every registrant regardless of their committed crime. My interest in this subject was sparked by the reporting done by APM for the podcast “In the Dark.’ This true-crime serial examines the case surrounding Jacob Wetterling’s disappearance in 1989. Following Jacob’s disappearance his mother, Patty Wetterling, became heavily involved in sculpting sex offender legislation. Patty Wetterling has expressed regret at the course that legislation has taken: she believes that the policy has created problems for both people on and off the list. Policy on this matter needs to be revised because of the misplacement of justice against people who are registered sex offenders: vindictive revenge has taken the place of rehabilitation and measured punishment. This flies in the face of the original intent of the U.S. judicial system; that crimes should be met with punishment that fits that crime and from there the individual can be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society. This arguable injustice is an issue that needs to be addressed and you can make a positive, incremental, change to these policies and social misconceptions. As you make your way through this memo, please exercise an empathetic approach to these issues: there is no question that premeditated and calculated sexual assault is an abhorrent crime that should be punished. The legislature must decide whether punishment for sexually based offenses should merit extrajudicial and overly punitive, for lack of a better term, “bonus” punishment. Should the mistakes an individual make, sometimes before they are old enough to be considered an adult, follow them around like a chain around their ankles for the rest of their days or do we have room in our society to trust in a rehabilitation approach rather than a simply punitive one? Do we seek revenge or justice? This memo will follow an analysis of my methodology and source material with an examination of the validity of those sources, a deep dive on the issue as the research presents it, a list of recommended potential solutions and their perceived viability, and finally another call to action to encourage you to make an effective impact on the legislative landscape surrounding this issue now that you have a clearer picture of the facts surrounding it.


My research was conducted by analyzing a variety of articles and sources; these ranged from the APM podcast “In the Dark” to scholarly and peer-reviewed journals. I have attempted to show each side within this debate respect and scholarly understanding without letting emotional reaction dictate my opinion. Most of my research was gathered through the online journal database EBSCO but information on both state and national sex offender registry databases was taken from each of their respective websites.

issue analysis

Patty Wetterling’s son Jacob was abducted, raped, and murdered in an extremely high- profile case in 1989: despite this tragedy and her subsequent role in shaping legislation related to sex offenders she is one of the sex offender registry’s most vocal critics and openly recognizes the panic and fervor that led to the formation of these lists. In an interview with APM surrounding the recording of the podcast In the Dark Patty says that there is, “a false sense of ‘These are the bad guys’, when the reality is most sexual abuse happens within the family…and those don’t end up on a sex offender registry.” Patty also mentions that the original intent behind these sex offender registries was to provide law enforcement with identification database tools (Thompson, 2016). That toolset was given over to the public after some iterative legislation; Wetterling believes it has become too easy for people to view those on the registry as the boogeyman out to attack their loved ones and that some individuals that do not necessarily belong on this list have had their lives permanently impacted by their inclusion on it. This mutated version of the legislation has largely been the result of sensationalism and a frightened public seeking to act: the original intent to require sex offender registry on a law enforcement list, the Jacob Wetterling Act, was adjusted at the last minute because of another high-profile case: Megan Kanka. After her kidnapping and murder Kanka’s parents reached out to the team putting together the legislation, which included Patty Wetterling, and asked if they may include a caveat in the bill that law enforcement “may notify community upon the release of a violent offender” (Baran, 2016).  Patty Wetterling admits that she believed, even at the time, that this addendum may be abused by law makers in the future but that she did not have the heart to deny another victimized family something that may help bring them peace (Baran, 2016). This admission shows that even the genesis of the legislation concerning sex offender registries was colored by an emotional response that overrode legal concern. One tiny change made to the policy set the tone for how the legislature would handle the issue from then on: sex offender-based policy would be more about notifying the public of these offenders rather than providing them rehabilitation help and reintegration into society.

The current state of sex offender registries across the country allow for any citizen with an internet connection to see whoever is on that list regardless of crime committed: the crimes range from serious cases like the rape and murder of Jacob Wetterling to consenting teenage partners in states with outdated and overly rigid statutory rape laws. North Carolina’s own policy requiring registration ranges from convictions for first degree rape to incestual but consensual sex between “near” relatives. (Stein, 4, 2014). This is a wide brush with which to paint sexual offenders: there is certainly a differing degree of malice between rape and consensual incest. Lumping criminals from this wide of a background together to be judged by the court of public opinion has been the result of a steady march away from the original intent behind the legislation meant to help police enforce the law. That original intent has been distorted through the culmination of fear and anger that has manifested itself in some socially problematic ways.

In 2006 President Obama signed a new piece of legislation regarding the sex offender registry that required individuals’ passports to be marked if they were on the list as serious offenders. This legislation was a result of the International Megan’s Law, an effort to curb child sex tourism and abuse throughout the world, and stem directly from national legislation written in response the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Megan Kanka in 1994 (Meiners, 34, 2009). While this more open transparency was lauded by some it served as the final straw in a system seemingly designed around extrajudicial punishment to others. These marks were emblematic of the policy approach toward sexual offenses as a whole: the attitude that the time spent within jail as mandated by the court system was not enough and society should be punishing these offenders even after they have served their time and reintegrated. There are no other crimes that require such stringent and public marking within the United States (Baran, 2016). The national sex offender registry not only allows access to their database via their website, but they now also have a smart phone application that allows you to see in real time the sexual offenders in “close proximity to the mobile device” (U.S. Department of Justice Website). Meiners argues on page 32 that this tendency toward extrajudicial punitive action is not an accidental injustice performed against these people but a result of the prison industrial complex and an intentional means of keeping people trapped in the for-profit prison system. This perspective is firmly rooted in both conflict and feminist sociological perspectives, and while the origins of this social policy did originally stem from good intention it is unquestionably being abused by those in power today. Meiners also points to the potentially flawed authority that the government has in judging what constitutes as a sex offense, mentioning that the retroactive nature of the sex offender registries means people can be placed on these lists for crimes that we no longer consider crimes like sodomy (Meiners, 2009, 38). Many states had laws on the books outlawing sodomy until a supreme court decision in 2003 banning those types of laws (Meiners, 2009, 39). If the government has so recently displayed vestiges of homophobia then how are they to be trusted with the disclosure of such a registry that has severe negative impact on those placed on it? This policy needs to be reexamined and reformed to remove some of these glaring gaps that can be used to marginalize groups and maintain negative social systems like the prison industrial complex.

The violations against personal privacy through the constant and immediate accessibility that the internet provides are not the only means of marginalizing the entire population of widely defined sexual offenders. The severity of the impact on sex offender registrants cannot be understated: in the age of the internet their placement on one of these lists, even if it is temporary, will be a stain upon their name for the rest of their lives. There is no erasing that history from the prying eyes of finance institutions, work places, potential housing, and their communities.  Some may see this as a punishment that fits the crime, but it can sometimes take a more vindictive and vengeful route that goes beyond justice. According to Meiners the rules surrounding placement on the sex offender registry can often lead to problems attaining employment and housing based on the proximity of these things to children (Meiners, 2009, 36). These restrictions can lead to a more difficult path toward reintegration into society after their sentencing: registered sex offenders often have such a hard time finding a standard place to live that they must stay in areas highly concentrated with other sex offenders. Communities like this that are highly homogenized with shared negative experiences like prison time, registration on the sex offender list, and social ostracism all of which could lead to a feedback loop of negative emotions and resentment. In “The List” Stillman highlights the effects of the sex offender registry on a couple of individuals; though this is not necessarily the experience that every registrant will have it does point to some extremely problematic individual experiences that are certainly not unique. According to Stillman youths are often prosecuted as adults, regardless of actual age, when a sexually based offense has occurred (Stillman, 52, 2016). As a counterpoint to this tendency of over punishment Stillman points toward the recidivism rate for these youths convicted of sexual offenses: 95% of youth that are charged with sex crimes do not re-offend. Most child offenders are uninformed and curious children who expressed that curiosity in a way that, while certainly unacceptable, should not be dealt with through lifelong punishment. This misguided and heavy-handed implementation of justice can lead to some seriously concerning social and policy-based outcomes. North Carolina’s own policy on child registration demands that they semi-annually renew their registration until the day they turn 18: imagine the social impact a policy like this must have on youth within your state that made a poor decision out of natural sexual curiosity and ignorance (Stein, 10, 2014). Powell notes that regularly conducted interviews between well trained police officers and reintegrated sex offenders serve as an effective means of keeping offenders from re-offending: the problem with this comes from a lack of training and competency on the part of police officers. Police are often undertrained for these interviews and therefore not able to conduct them effectively (Powell, 256, 2014). While less common PPGs, penile plethysmographs, are still implemented as a tool for designing treatment plans for sex offenses in the United States. This process tracks the rigidity and circumference of the patient’s penis while they are shown inappropriate images. Though the motivation for the implementation of this process is to aid in the rehabilitation of the convicted, in cases like Anthony Metts’ it served only to humiliate, drain money from the offender, and serve as an obtuse requirement imposed by the state (Stillman, 55, 2016). These life changing impositions on convicted offenders are an ineffective means of imposing vengeful and extrajudicial punishment on a certain subset of convicted criminals because of the emotional, fear-based, reactions society has to the audacity of their crimes. If these punishments are how society feel these crimes deserve, we need to become more transparent with that punishment or change our approach immediately.

proposed solutions

The solution to this problem is found in re-evaluating the entire sex offender registry, and specifically the public’s access to it. Once again, the example of Patty Wetterling must be examined: her story is a micro-level view of the trajectory our social policy needs to take to address this problem. Like any emotional and empathetic human being, Patty Wetterling’s reaction to the disappearance of her son at the hands of a child predator was fearful, angry, and reactionary. This reaction led to her entering the policy making field and designing legislation tailored around sexual offenders: a pursuit where she has undeniably accomplished some fantastic work. But as mentioned earlier even Patty recognizes that some of the results of her legislation and the legislation that was build upon its foundation is both ineffective and implements morally questionable elements. Besides the already discussed problems with the reactionary motivation, it also targets the completely incorrect population. Stillman, Meiners, Baran, and Thompson’s pieces all point to the fact that stranger adults are the exceptions to the rule of who commits sexual offenses: primarily these offenses are committed by close family members or friends. This means that the primary purpose of the sex offender registry as it currently exists is inherently flawed in that it provides information about individuals who are the least likely to commit crimes against random people in the community. The solution to this problem is to enact legislation, legislation that you can have a hand in crafting, that reverts the sex offender registry back towards Patty Wetterling’s original intention: as a resource for police forces to reference and track to help identify potentially dangerous subjects and it needs to move away from an extrajudicial tool for the community to impose social punitive action.

strategic recommendations

Your position as a U.S. senator enables you to make changes from a top down perspective while simultaneously influencing other policy makers and, as a result, the social consciousness. This unique positioning allows you to tackle the issue head-on and your status as an establishment Republican figure allows you to change the opinions of a base that may be more firmly entrenched in a family values mentality that could contribute to the irrational fear of stranger danger associated with the registry. Broadly you should be discussing these issues with your constituency and fielding questions from them about the registry: open dialogue like this is a key aspect of changing social opinion on a firmly entrenched fear. More specifically legislation should be drafted that either restricts current access, a practice which I think might fly in the face of your base’s political beliefs or rescinds certain aspects of previous legislation. Again, I am aware that this may not appeal to the traditional values of you and your base, but the problem is pervasive enough and impacts citizens on a far-reaching level and so putting aside politically selfish motivations will be necessary moving forward. A bi-partisan effort is required here and reaching across the aisle, as I am doing in this memo to appeal to you, will be necessary to accomplish what needs to be done regarding this policy. While changing the policy may have some political consequences for you or any one else who decides to aid in this change, maintaining the status quo will not only allow the current problems with this policy to go on; it will continue the slow and steady march towards more extrajudicial and punitive action and imposition that has been ongoing since the ‘80s.


I am fully aware that a bi-partisan effort to relax the restrictions on sex offenders carries with it the possibility of ruffling some feathers on both ends of the political spectrum. If you solidly come down in support of reshaping legislation surrounding sex offender registries, then you should expect to lose support from your base and face heavy opposition from the democratic party as well. This is a divisive issue and will not be resolved without upsetting people at both ends of the political spectrum. A unilateral and committed approach on this issue is extremely important and that dialogue must start by placing our personal political differences aside and examining this issue logically and thoughtfully. Our social beliefs and fears in this situation have created some extremely entrenched opinions that will be difficult to sway: the way we affect change here is through a unified, systematic, and patient approach focused on the ideas of rehabilitation rather than punishment and by selling new policy as an equally stringent alternative that is limited to the purview of law enforcement.

Closing Summary

The current state of sex offender registry legislation in the U.S. is mired in a history of reactionary and fear-based decision making, a motivation to maintain this policy tied to the prison industrial complex, and has severe and life long consequences for those placed on the list for any amount of time. It is incumbent upon you to do everything that you can to adjust policy to be less about extrajudicial punitive action and more about maintaining the safety of your constituency. I implore you to either introduce legislation to work towards that goal or to support legislation from your fellow law makers that seeks to do that. We can come together on this issue to adjust some serious misconceptions that have colored policy for decades: allowing this misconception to further influence policy would be a dire mistake and action must begin on this issue as soon as possible if these social views are going to change any time soon. I have included a list of the sources I consulted in drafting this memo, I hope you will consider them as well as others in your decision. Thank you for your time.

Sources Consulted

Baran, Madelaine. (Producer) (2016, October 4th). In the Dark [Audio Podcast] Retrieved from https://www.apmreports.org/story/2016/10/04/in-the-dark-6

Meiners, E. R. (2009). “Never Innocent: Feminist Trouble with Sex Offender Registries and Protection in a Prison Nation”. Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, 9(2), 31-62.

Olivia Lowenberg, S. (2015, October 30). “’Senior Salute’ Earns Labrie One Year in Jail and Lifetime on Sex Offender Registry”. Christian Science Monitor.

Patty Wetterling on Sex Offender Registries [Interview by J. Thompson]. (2016, October 3). Retrieved March 28, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXUSjY6DIhw

Powell, M., Day, A., Benson, M., Vess, J., & Graffam, J. (2014). “Police Officers’ Perceptions of Interviewing Offenders on Sex Offender Registries”. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 16(4), 255-266. doi:10.1350/ijps.2014.16.4.344

United States Department of Justice National Sex Offender Public Website. Retrieved from https://www.nsopw.gov/en-US/Home/Mobile

Stein, J. (2014). The North Carolina Sex Offender and Public Protection Registration Programs (United States, North Carolina Department of Justice, Attorney General’s Office). Retrieved May 5, 2018, from http://docs.ncsbi.gov/Sex-Offender/SexOffenderRegPrograms.aspx

Stillman, S. (2016). “The List”. New Yorker, 92(5), 50-63

A Pond Between Ideals Caleb Parsley essay for Hellbender


A Pond Between Ideals: Thoreau’s Walden and Shelley’s “The Mask of Anarchy”

Writers of the Romantic era, a period that extended from the late 1700s into the mid-1800s, produced many works of art that praised God, nature, and humankind. The Romantic Movement was popular in much of the western world, particularly the United States and the United Kingdom. In general, the two countries approached Romanticism in similar ways in terms of their focuses on humanity, emotion, and the call to return to nature. However, beneath the flowery poetics, two significant disparities reveal the intended reaction and the intended change that the two nations aspired to. American author Henry David Thoreau in his book Walden; or, Life in the Woods (1854) suggests that people ought to make a social change and return to nature in the countryside. He does this by expounding the benefits of living life in a purposeful way and, in doing so, seeks to inspire change among the people. In contrast, Percy Bysshe Shelley in his poem “The Mask of Anarchy” (written 1819) seeks to attack the currently standing political order of early 1800s Britain. Shelley does this by turning the government and those who serve it into symbols of evil and despotism; by doing so, he hopes to inspire change on the political level. Despite coming from the same yearning Romanticism, both American and British writers arrive at two very different conclusions. American writers hope to entice people to a social change by begging for a return to the agrarian countryside, while across the Atlantic, the British Romantics hope for a release from an overbearing, tyrannical rule that stifles the natural self. This divide is perhaps most obvious in Thoreau’s Walden and Shelley’s “The Mask of Anarchy.” By closely analyzing the two works and comparing them to one another, readers can see the defining characteristics not only of the literature but also the cultures from which the two originated.

Henry David Thoreau, as well as many of his American contemporaries, was focused on affecting change on the social level, specifically reminding people of the power of nature. In 1845, Thoreau retreated to Walden Pond for two years to better connect with nature. While on this adventure, Thoreau discovered some aspects of his character that are captured when, after returning from his adventure, he wrote Walden. In the book Thoreau captures the beauty of nature and suggests changes that society must make if there is ever to be hope of living purposefully, just as Thoreau himself models. One such change is famously remembered: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” (976). Here Thoreau condemns those who lead lives that they themselves hate, lives that are not devoted to something greater and lead simply to being miserable and resigned. Thoreau thought that this must change through both work and reflection in nature. This obsession with work manifested in Thoreau’s real life as well. As Robert Gross notes in his essay “Thoreau and the Laborers of Concord,” Thoreau “liked to present himself as labourer” (1), which is to say that Thoreau found in labourers something to admire and respect. This shows up often in Walden as several characters that Thoreau meets can be classified as rough workers, such as the French-Canadian woodchopper and a local Irish farmer. This close tie to the American worker was powerful, so much so that Thoreau would occasionally make visits to local workers. Gross documents an instance when Thoreau said to a group of mechanics, “A man should have a farm or a mechanical craft for his culture” (6). By working and developing a culture, mankind could at last live purposefully and escape the suffocating quiet desperation. Secondly, by describing nature in the way that so many American Romantics were known to do, Thoreau is able to transform a return to nature into a religious experience. Not only does it allow for relaxation, but venturing into nature fosters ethical development, personal realization, and a deeper understanding of the world. These are concepts that cannot be achieved without a return to nature, and society as a whole will suffer for it.

In contrast, Percy Bysshe Shelley wanted to inflict change upon the larger political structure that loomed above the United Kingdom. He did so primarily through scathing attacks such as the one featured in his poem “The Mask of Anarchy.” Here Shelley tells the story of an assault on England carried out by the personification of Murder, Fraud, Hypocrisy, Destructions, and Anarchy. It is worth noting that the various destructions appear “Like Bishops, lawyers, peers, or spies” (29). As Anarchy arrives, he declares himself by saying, “I AM GOD, AND KING, AND LAW!” (37). Within the first 40 lines, Shelley defines the evils themselves. Not only are the truly horrific concepts in this world made evil such as murder and hypocrisy, so too are bishops and lawyers who, in a booming industrial nation such as the United Kingdom, would exist at a high rung on the social ladder. Additionally, Anarchy declaring himself to be God, King, and Law very closely resembles the makeup of the British hierarchy at the time: first, the Church of England, then the Monarchy, which then still retained some power, and lastly the Parliament. Furthermore, during Anarchy’s seize of London, Shelley implies that Anarchy already ruled London before arriving. He writes, “So he sent his slaves before / To seize upon the Bank and Tower, / And was proceeding with intent / To meet his pensioned Parliament” (81-85). Here, Anarchy has taken control of the Bank of England as well as the Tower of London. After seizing these two key monuments, Anarchy then meets his “pensioned Parliament,” meaning he has been paying them or they have been in his service. Interpreting the reading as such, Anarchy is directly related to the political spectrum of the United Kingdom, making the criticisms of Anarchy relatable to the foundations of British democracy as well.

The rest of the poem describes Hope becoming discouraged initially but later reinvigorated by the spirit of England itself. After this, Hope gives a speech which feels like a revolutionary oration, encouraging the men of England to action. However, Marc Redfield in his paper “Masks of Anarchy: Shelley’s Political Poetics” disagrees. Instead of the poem’s speech being a call to action and revolution, Redfield proposes the idea that Shelley was calling for a return to a law of an older England. In explanation, Redfield writes, “…the ‘Men of England’ speech has seemed to many twentieth-century readers a blend of revolutionary, reformist, and even at times agrarian-reactionary advice: the speech’s most famous stanza, the twice-repeated refrain ‘Rise like Lions after slumber . . . / Ye are many, they are few,’ seems a call to revolutionary action; yet the Men of England are also told to ‘Let the Laws of your own land, / Good or ill, between ye stand . . . The old laws of England – they / Whose reverend heads with age are grey,’ and to avoid retaliatory violence at all costs” (8). However, this interpretation fails to take into account the kind of person Shelley was. He wanted more power for the average citizen and likely would not hold the feudal age of English history in high regard. Instead, Shelley was likely referring to a new age of English ideals. The poem ends with the stanza, “Rise like Lions after slumber / In unvanquishable number – / Shake your chains to earth like dew / Which in sleep had fallen on you – / Ye are many – they are few” (368-372). While the citizens of England had fallen silent, Shelley argues that they had been slowly confined by chains set in place by the three aspects of Anarchy. Hope, instead of supporting a return to the old, calls for a revolution in England. She believes that tyrants and oppressors are dangerous and calls the men and women of England to arms to ward away this evil.

While Shelley’s poem certainly contrasts with Thoreau’s Walden, vast similarities exist as well. The great bonding element of Romantic art is, in a sense, minimalism. In Walden, Thoreau excitedly describes how frugal he was when building his house while those in the cities must spend 15 years’ worth of their salaries (1001). This theme continues as he goes on to describe his furniture, which is only a few chairs, a table, and a bed (1018). Thoreau imagines a world where one has as few worldly possessions as possible and instead finds contentment in the natural world. Nature has all that one needs to sustain humanity. Shelley echoes this sentiment in “The Mask of Anarchy” in his own way by writing, “On wealth, and war, and / fraud – whence they / Drew the power which is their prey” (252-253). Instead of claiming that less material makes us happier, he instead decries wealth as akin to war. Those that seek to oppress the masses do so through outrageous wealth. In this sense, not only does being materialistic make us unhappy, it is also the weapon that those who are evil and powerful use against others. Another similarity springs from the shared joy of companionship and camaraderie. In Thoreau’s Walden, several outside characters make appearances such as farmers, neighbours, and hunters. Thoreau at one point describes himself as a man who loves to talk, and he does so at times through the story (970). This conversation is simply neighbourly and Thoreau uses it to find himself in the wilderness. Shelley’s camaraderie is much more severe and extreme. Instead of having simple friendly conversations, camaraderie refers to revolution. Still, the core idea is much the same. People must come together for the sake of rejoining nature and retaining the individuality that comes with it.

With an ocean dividing the two expressions of Romanticism, the difference in their use becomes apparent. Thoreau’s Romanticism is presented in a way that beckons the reader into a more natural lifestyle – not because it will fix the world but instead because it will be a solution to dissatisfaction with one’s life. This solution can be found in both nature and work, shown in how closely Thoreau places himself both in the natural wilds and in the world of the common American worker. Across the Atlantic, Shelley uses Romanticism as a tool for political protest. He begins by using simple allegory to label the government as an evil entity. After denouncing the church, monarchy, and Parliament, Shelley then promotes revolution from the current tyranny and calls for a progression of the Englishman. Instead of calling for a social change and blaming the common man for this injustice, Shelley targets the wealthy and powerful. Despite the intended effect of their works, both American and British Romanticism hold similarities. Both advocate for minimalism and denounce any form of materialism. Wealth holds the capacity for evil, as the villains in Shelley’s poem show, and being frugal is something to take pride in. Also, the only way to be truly close to nature and to stand up for the natural self is through camaraderie. Thoreau saw companionship as an enriching experience and believed that by seeking meaningful relationships, one could become a moral person. Shelley saw camaraderie as the vessel by which natural freedoms are maintained; only by caring for one another will we ever have true equality.

Romantic tenets and the work of Shelley and Thoreau still hold tremendous value today, both socially and politically. Socially, the relevance comes through in how we treat the world. Junhong Ma explains in her article “Life and Love: Thoreau’s Life Philosophy on Man and Nature in the Age of Industrialization” the way that Thoreau’s philosophy on nature and how mankind can be closer to it can influence Chinese policy (2). Politically, Mark Bevir in his essay “British Socialism and American Romanticism” details how Romantic writers, on both sides of the ocean, have influenced British politics, especially in the Labour party. Bevir recounts a study performed by William Stead in which Stead “sent a questionnaire to prominent members of the Labour party asking what books had influenced them (1). The most frequently cited authors were Carlyle and Ruskin, but Emerson and Thoreau came not far behind. Much has been written about the influence of British romanticism on the British socialist movement, and perhaps the obvious impact of Carlyle and Ruskin has obscured that of Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman” (1). While this study was carried out in 1906, the fact is that the idea still rings true today. In much of the world, there is currently political upheaval evidenced in the military coup in Turkey, the widely disapproved “Brexit” in the United Kingdom, and various political scandals in the United States. The words of Shelley remind us that one day the anger will grow to be too much, and a revolution will take place. At the same time Thoreau notes that in light of the disappointment we feel today, we would be better served to escape the life we currently lead and instead find ourselves in the natural world we left behind so long ago. Ultimately, these works provide a balance between extremism and active passivity. Shelley sought to cure his and his fellow countrymen’s plight through violent revolution, while Thoreau wished to escape the chains of urban life. However, when the two works are read together, they advocate for a singular idea: only by embracing nature, both internal and external, will humankind ever be free.



Works Cited

Bevir, Mark. “British Socialism and American Romanticism.” The English Historical Review, vol. 110, no. 438, 1995, p. 878+. Literature Resource Center.

Gross, Robert A. “Thoreau and the Laborers of Concord.” Raritan, vol. 33, no. 1, 2013, pp. 50-66,148, ProQuest Central.

Ma, Junhong. “Life and Love: Thoreau’s Life Philosophy on Man and Nature in the Age of Industrialization.” Neohelicon, vol. 36, no. 2, 2009, pp. 381-396, ProQuest Central.

Redfield, Marc. “Masks of Anarchy: Shelley’s Political Poetics.” Bucknell Review, vol. 45, no. 2, 2002, pp. 100-126,9, ProQuest Central.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “The Mask of Anarchy.” University of Pennsylvania.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. The Norton Anthology: American Literature, 9th ed., B, New York, 2016, pp. 969–1144.

ENG 241 Sara Wheeler The Alchemist for Hellbender

Sara Wheeler

Ellen Perry

English 241

28 November 2016

False Purity: Alchemical Warning in Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist

Ben Jonson, a lesser-known contemporary of William Shakespeare, became a rather controversial yet successful figure during the course of his life. Raised from “humble beginnings,” Jonson began as a small-time actor and playwright, ending up on trial or in prison on multiple occasions because of his controversial first plays such as The Isle of Dogs, Sejanus, and Eastward Ho (Greenblatt 1441). He gained more respect and success with his plays, however, eventually becoming “England’s unofficial poet laureate, with a pension from the king and honorary degrees from both Oxford and Cambridge” (Greenblatt 1441). Regardless of his tough, outgoing, and somewhat controversial personality, Jonson was very concerned about the notion of “protocapitalist economic order,” which seemed to feed into the later ideas and materialistic values of consumerism that were gaining traction in London at the time (Greenblatt 1442).

Jonson’s concern about materialism over morals is related to the themes and messages explored in his 1610 work The Alchemist, a play about a group of London con artists who attempt to lure people into giving them their money and possessions in exchange for services (including the creation of the elixir of life, otherwise known as the philosopher’s stone). By using the basic principles of alchemy as a structural guide for the themes of his play, Jonson meant for The Alchemist to serve as a philosophical warning against the dangers of pursuing human perfection too quickly through inexpensive and easily obtainable means.

Alchemy is the process of accelerating the purification of nature, especially in regards to natural metals (Flachmann 262). The experts in alchemy, according to Michael Flachmann, believed in the central idea that “all elements in nature were slowly and incessantly being pushed to perfection by ‘pneuma’ or ‘spiritus,’ the divine breath of the universe” (262). In its most literal sense, the process turns even the most base and earthly metal – lead – into gold, the intended possession of which is the main drive for many of the characters in The Alchemist. The acceleration of the natural purification process happens when the alchemist creates the proper mixture of mercury and sulfur – representing the body and soul – and isolates it, thereby containing and controlling the breath of the universe, or “pneuma.” This isolation of “pneuma,” or the purifying force, would theoretically produce “the philosopher’s stone” (Flachmann 262). If one did not achieve the creation of the philosopher’s stone, however, there was thought to be a seven-step process used by the alchemist to ultimately reach a state of metallic purity: Distillation, Congelation, Solucion, Decension, Sublimination, Calcination, and, eventually, Fixation (Flachmann 262). This process, when taken literally, could easily draw the attention of many people looking to apply a quick, economical fix to whatever ills they find themselves facing.

Arlene Oseman, however, takes this definition of alchemy a step further by interpreting it as a humanistic metaphor. According to Oseman, the complicated and somewhat fantastical process of alchemy is a simple metaphor for the process towards human perfection (73). Oseman states that “alchemy . . . can be understood as an analogy for the process of knowing, or, more specifically, for the development of self-knowledge” (73). In this case, the characters in The Alchemist that have been fooled by con artists Subtle, Face, and Dol have truly been fooled by the pseudo-science itself, for they neglect to look past the thought of potential gold to see the offering of personal growth that the concept of alchemy metaphorically provides. Jonson himself even spoke of the merits of knowledge, as he is quoted in Oseman’s article:

I know of no disease of the soul but ignorance: not of the arts and sciences, but of itself;                       yet relating to those, it is a pernicious evil, the darkener of man’s life, the disturber of his reason, and common confounder of truth, with which a man goes groping in the dark no otherwise than if he were blind . . . Think then what an evil it is, and what good the contrary. (74)

With the addition of Jonson’s own opinion on knowledge, the warning that can be seen behind the foreground of comedic dialogue becomes clearer: the pursuit of worldly elevation through the accruement of gold or status can in no way substitute for the genuine pursuit of wisdom and knowledge of both self and world.

One character who helps to exemplify the warning embedded in Jonson’s The Alchemist is Surly, the “gamester” who attempts to foil the plot of Subtle, Face, and Dol but ultimately becomes even more fooled and humiliated than the rest of the victims (Jonson 43). Surly is the only one of the “dupes” to see through the falseness of Subtle, Face, and Dol’s cons, declaring to Sir Epicure Mammon that “[Subtle] I will prove, by a third person, to find / The subtleties of this dark labyrinth” (Jonson 131). Surly does not appear again until he puts his plan to expose the deceptions of the con artists into action nearly 87 pages later, when he disguises himself as a Spanish count looking to marry the widowed Dame Pliant, evidently the “third person” unknowingly chosen to help Surly succeed in his plans (Jonson 218). While Surly’s actions might seem to be noble and just, placing him in the perfect position to serve as the hero of the story, his motives, when examined further, become questionable. David Finnigan argues that “Surly is much like Subtle and Face, although he allies himself with the gulls in the conflict which constitutes the action of the play,” although he is not nearly as effective a con man as the seasoned “cozeners” Subtle, Dol, and Face (102). Finnigan continues in his analysis of Surly’s character by discussing moments of dialogue, such as when Sir Epicure lists the exciting possibilities of the “elixir of life” with Surly and happens to provide a glimpse into how Surly makes a living: “[Surly] shall no more deal with the hollow dye, / Or the frail card. No more be at charge of keeping the livery-punk for the young heir” (Jonson 93). Finnigan interprets this to mean that Surly “deals in loaded dice, marked cards, whores, and the commodity racket” (101). In addition to Finnigan’s citations of specific moments of dialogue that showcase Surly’s questionable motives, an obvious point of evidence lies in Jonson’s own description of the part of Surly; his title is clearly marked “Gamester” (Jonson 43). This complexity of Surly’s character, and his attempts to do good on some level that ultimately fail, make for an intriguing point of analysis in relation to Jonson’s warning against the dangers of cheap, too-quick human improvement or transformation.

Surly is a prime example of a character who attempts to elevate himself but fails in a manner that is quite unique and, arguably, very complex. The character presents a unique opportunity to explore Jonson’s moralistic warning by leaving it open for the reader to discern exactly why this potentially heroic character fails. Although his character initially presents as a perfectly obvious budding hero, he ends up without a victory of any kind; further, he is more pointedly humiliated than the rest of the victims of the con (Jonson 308). While Surly begins as one who does not live the most honest of lives, enough character growth could very well have allowed him to succeed in his potential role as hero. However, he does not grow as a character in the least. Not only does he use Dame Pliant as the “third person” with whom he attempts to ally himself to end Subtle, Face, and Dol’s success, but he asks the widow to marry him in exchange for having rescued her from Subtle and Face: “And where I might have wrong’d your honour, and have not, / I claim some interest in your love. You are, / They say, a widow, rich: and I’m a bachelor, / Worth nought: your fortunes make me a man, / as mine have preserv’d you a woman. Think upon it, / and whether I have deserv’d you or no” (Jonson 249). Mentioned in Oseman’s article, the concept of character transformation into a state of self-knowledge is evident in the way that Surly is set up to succeed but remains in his deceptive, “base” state, never evolving to reach the “gold” and “purity” of self-knowledge (Oseman 72). Through Surly’s example, Jonson warns the audience specifically of the dangers of attempting to flourish in status and reputation, without allowing oneself to transform by way of a more organic, authentic, personal process.

Lovewit, the owner of the household and the only character who appears to elevate himself in any way, is also a curious example of a moralistic warning in The Alchemist. Lovewit is somehow able to show up in the very last scene, turn away all the angry victims, marry Dame Pliant, keep all the stolen goods from Sir Epicure Mammon and the others, and remain on good terms with his housekeeper Jeremy, also known as Face (Jonson 310). However, he still does not prove to be an accomplished specimen of alchemical transformation simply because the audience does not get to see him grow. Flachmann, looking through the lens of alchemy being a metaphor for satire rather than for personal growth, argues that “Lovewit’s upward alchemical progress may also be interpreted as a symbol of the proper psychic reward which comes to the ideal viewer of a well-wrought comedy” (280). This is a substantial argument when applying the contextual lens of the alchemical workings of satire. Yet, when examining this interpretation through the context of Jonson’s message being a warning against social elevation without personal transformation, the supposed elevation becomes more of a pointedly empty one lacking entirely in substance or even the slightest feeling of emotional victory.

Lovewit does indeed seem to succeed at the end of The Alchemist, swooping in during the last scene and acquiring all the long fought-for items of societal elevation (including Dame Pliant), yet the purpose of alchemy is not to make more wealth, but to shorten the process of substances that are constantly moving towards their “purest state” (Flachmann 262). If one were to consider the purpose of alchemy in a literal sense, it would be clear that Lovewit wins the alchemical game in that he is the only character to acquire more goods than what he began with. However, looking at the painstaking, yet ultimately rewarding, alchemical process from a metaphorical viewpoint, Lovewit does not succeed; in terms of transformation he is on level ground with the rest of the characters by the close of the curtain. Also, it is worth mentioning that, as Lovewit indicates, he did not achieve this social and monetary elevation through honest means:

That master that had received so much happiness by a servant . . . were very ungrateful, if he would not be a little indulgent of a servant’s wit, and help his fortune, though with some small strain of his own candour . . . if I have outstript an old man’s gravity, or strict canon, think what a young wife and a good brain may do, stretch age’s truth sometimes, and crack it too.” (Jonson 317, emphasis added)

Lovewit’s character not only remains out of the action of the play until his arrival in the last act, leaving his victory empty of any true sense of achievement. He acquires this paraphernalia of the socially elevated by following the lead of his housekeeper, Jeremy, who deceives the victims of the con one last time to gain prizes for his returning master.

Another character, Subtle’s partner-in-crime and Lovewit’s housekeeper, Face, exemplifies one who does not elevate, but who merely changes his “face,” molding himself and his role into whatever is most advantageous for him at the time. Face (as he is named in the dramatis personae) changes his name and appearance depending on which customers are in his presence: with Dapper and Drugger, he is referred to as “Captain” and is adorned in a uniform; to Sir Epicure Mammon, he is “Lungs” and dresses as a servant of Subtle’s; to Lovewit, he is “Jeremy,” Lovewit’s housekeeper who was supposed to oversee the estate when Lovewit went to the countryside. Between himself, Subtle, and Dol, however, he remains “Face,” an appropriate title not only for how the character so easily disguises himself around customers, but also for how he deceives others in order to succeed in his own ulterior motives beyond the Subtle and Dol con (Jonson 43-317). In her article “The Game of Wits in The Alchemist,” Joyce Van Dyke analyzes Face as being simultaneously a complement and adversary to Subtle (252). Referring to Face’s character, Van Dyke views him as “totally unscrupulous. He is a perfect utilitarian and will use and abuse anything and anyone, even himself, to gain his end” (257). Van Dyke also comments on Face’s shifting role, or rather, exchange of masters: “In reassuming his status as Lovewit’s butler, we can see Face taking the kind of subservient role which so chafed him in his relations with Subtle” even though, Van Dyke argues, Face does indeed exhibit at least as much (if not more) control in his relations with Subtle and Lovewit (269). In the last act of the play Lovewit even remarks, “I will be ruled by thee in anything, Jeremy” (Jonson 316). Looking at Face’s character from an alchemical warning standpoint, and taking into consideration Van Dyke’s analysis, it appears that Face does not succeed in attaining a personal alchemical transformation. Although he frequently changes his name, character, and even whom he chooses to serve, he does not grow as an individual; he merely changes the “master” through whom he can reveal his true manipulative authority.

In his dedication of The Alchemist to Lady Mary Wroth, Jonson speaks to a theme that highlights and underlines the play’s warning about false, cheap social and personal elevation. In this letter he begins, “In the age of sacrifices, the truth of religion was not in the greatness and fat of the offerings, but in the devotion and zeal of the sacrificers” and concludes with “This, yet, safe in your judgement . . . is forbidden to speak more, lest it talk or look like one of the ambitious faces of the time, who, the more they paint, are the less themselves” (Jonson 40). The letter clearly points out the foibles of false elevation, as does the note to the reader: “If thou art one that takest up, and but a pretender, beware of what hands thou receivest thy commodity; for thou wert never more fair in the way to be cozened, than in this age” (Jonson 42). Jonson exemplifies this warning to Lady Mary Wroth and the reader not only through the failure of characters such as Surly, Lovewit, and Face to succeed in a personal transformative process, but also through the fast-paced and complex development of the play.

Flachmann argues that the alchemical process is seen in the interrelations between the characters. Specifically, he asserts, “as the source of the heat which distills the fools in the author’s seething dramatic cauldron, it also provides a well-known system of belief through which Jonson can metaphorically illustrate the exposure of his flawed characters,” later adding that “viewed in this manner, Jonson’s use of alchemy in the play creates an effect exactly opposite to the claims made by ‘true practitioners’ of the science. . . In The Alchemist, the process is just the reverse: the fools are all distilled, through the language and action of the play, to the level of their most base desires” (279). Flachmann’s argument is based on the idea that Jonson’s viewpoint was that the “purest state” of the dupes was the moral and humanistic equivalent to the “basest” metal, lead. However, when seeing The Alchemist as a moral warning about cheaply-attained elevation, the dupes in the play do not seem so much to be “distilled” into their basest state (Flachmann 279), but corrupted – not by Subtle, Dol, and Face, but by the dupes’ own greedy drive to acquire the gold, immortality, and status which they believe will make them perfect.

Jonson’s warning about the dangers of seeking quick, empty fixes still very much remains relevant today. In a world where most people are subject to some form of consumerism, it requires a very discerning mind not to begin believing that one product, job, diet, etc., will somehow make that person worthier, happier, or safer. As the victims of Subtle, Dol, and Face continuously strive to attain the ultimate cure of all struggles and hardships, they fall steadily deeper into the trap laid by those who can exploit their desperation. This is a struggle made even more difficult by each character’s will to maintain a pious and generous exterior, while being truly motivated by their greed and their belief that the elixir will fix everything – and all they must do is pay an alchemist to make it for them.

Further, if one were to look at the humanistic metaphor of alchemy, and the “purest state” of a human being that of ultimate knowledge of the self and the world, there is a strong connection between the fast-paced workings of social media websites and The Alchemist. On social media, people often attempt to appear more knowledgeable and accomplished than they truly are, taking on more authority than what they have in reality. In Jonson’s “Note to the Reader” he states, “I give thee this warning, that there is a great difference between those, that, to gain the opinion of copy, utter all they can, however unfitly; and those that use election and a mean. For it is only the disease of the unskillful, to think rude things greater than polished; or scattered more numerous than composed” (42). In the actual script of The Alchemist, there is also much related with the structure of social media. As each victim in The Alchemist attempts to possess a fictitious ultimate cure for supposedly virtuous reasons, many people on social media sites today, and in the real world, struggle to find the easiest solution to their desperation for betterment, however unreliable and impermanent the solution may be.

Ultimately, Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist is a comedic representation of a much more tragic struggle for perfection. Jonson uses the basic characteristics of the alchemical process, as well as the possible metaphors behind the structure of the pseudo-science, to offer a warning to his audience about the consequences of seeking perfection without transforming and building one’s character. Because of the basic alchemical process that, in theory, ultimately turns lead into gold, the metaphor for personal growth and self-knowledge could easily be lost on those who wish to escape the ills of mankind without experiencing the transformation on a more internal level (Oseman 73). There are many characters in The Alchemist who exclude themselves from the normal arc of character transformation. Surly, for example, ultimately fails in his vendetta against the con artists, even though he sees the true nature of their business (Jonson 43-317). Lovewit also never transforms or grows as a character, although he is the only character in the play whose wealth or status increases in any way. Face may change his role from “assistant of Subtle” to “Lovewit’s housekeeper,” but he never takes advantage of this shift by advancing and instilling in himself any kind of moral lesson. Each of these characters, however, fail to complete a metaphorical alchemical transformation because each one of them is “but a pretender” who while seeming noble, just, or humble, is actually manipulative and opportunistic, each in his own way (Jonson 42). Jonson’s warning, unfortunately, has at least as much relevance today as it did in the 1600s because, in the age of usernames, comments sections, and advertisements selling false, unreachable perfection, seeking out true personal transformation while maintaining even the slightest degree of authenticity has become more elusive than ever.



Works Cited

Finnigan F., David. “The Role of Surly in The Alchemist.Papers on Language & Literature 16.1 (1980): 100-104. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.

Flachmann, Michael. “Ben Jonson and the Alchemy of Satire.” Studies in English Literature (Rice) 17.2 (1977): 259-281. Academic Search Premier. Web. 27 Sept. 2016.

Greenblatt, Stephen, Ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.

Jonson, Ben. The Alchemist. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. B. New York: Norton, 2012. Print.

Oseman, Arlene. “Going Round in Circles with Jonson and Shakespeare.” Shakespeare in Southern Africa 15 (2003): 71-82. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.

Van Dyke, Joyce. “The Game of Wits in The Alchemist.” Studies in English Literature (Rice) 19.2 (1979): 253. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 14 Oct. 2016.