Eve, the Serpent, and Slavery


The most interested piece of artwork I saw at the Ackland Art Museum was Eve and the Serpent by Rose Piper. This painting depicts the version of the biblical creation story that is told through the slave spiritual “Dem Bones (Gonna Rise Again).” Besides the painting’s title and the author’s choice to represent Eve as an African American, the only distinctive feature of this painting that nods to the song is the serpent’s winking eye.

In many adaptations of the creation story, Eve is often portrayed as intentionally disobedient or naïve and child-like. However, in this painting, Eve is dignified. Her posture is that of a confident woman, and even the animals are drawn to her. In this adaptation, she also seems more curious in the serpent than in the fruit. This painting depicts the moments just before Eve takes the forbidden fruit and while the vivid colors, flowers, and friendly animals give the painting a happy, fairytale feel, the ominous dark clouds in the top, left corner foreshadow the story’s ending.

The slave spiritual that this painting originates from was one of many that were often sung by slaves as they worked the cotton fields. The lyrics tell the story of Adam and Eve but the last lines to the song are particularly interesting: “So Adam took a pick and then took a plow, And that’s why we’re workin’ now!” Not only did this song help African Americans pass time during long hours of manual labor, it helped them share religious stories and make sense of the senseless oppression they were experiencing. Piper’s choice to link this spiritual to her painting draws deeper meaning into her work. Not only is she illustrating the creation story, but she is also representing all the men, women, and children who sang those words during one of the darkest times in US history.

“The Devil’s Brood”: Wilson Library visit

At Wilson Library, we looked at a few different adaptations of Frankenstein. One particular adaptation that stuck out to me was a book titled “The Devil’s Brood: The New Adventures of Dracula, Frankenstein & the Universal Monsters” by David Jacobs. This book takes the iconic character of Frankenstein’s creature and uses it, along with other Universal “monsters,” to create a horror story. While I didn’t read the book, by looking at the front cover, the synopsis on the back cover (which is also used in the accompanying letter), and the other two books in the Universal Monsters trilogy, I was able to learn a lot about this Frankenstein adaptation.

The cover of the book clearly identifies what type of adaptation this novel is. Dark purple skies, an eerie full moon, spooky green fog, and four classic monsters give the cover a typical horror-story feel. Of the four monsters, there is a mummy with raised arms, the Wolf Man crouching on a bridge, classic Dracula with a long purple cloak, and the 1931 Frankenstein’s Monster with green skin and neck bolts. The Scooby-Doo like cover not only tells the reader that this novel is a horror story, but also makes me believe it is geared more towards younger readers, perhaps teens and young adults. Besides the title, there are two tag lines on the front cover: “Fear is Universal” and “A new novel of classic terror based on the Universal Monsters.” These two lines reinforce the book’s horror genre and identify the author’s intent of writing a new story utilizing characters that the readers are already familiar with. One specifically interesting thing about the title is that the creature is named “Frankenstein,” like it is often mistakenly done in pop culture, while in the original novel, Victor Frankenstein is the author that creates the unnamed monster.

The synopsis on the back of the book, which is also used in the publisher letter we saw at Wilson Library, tells a little bit about the storyline. As I suspected based on the book’s cover, Frankenstein’s monster, along with other classic monsters, are evil creatures that have “reawakened to torment the world.” We also learn by reading the synopsis that the protagonist is an American gangster.

By some of the phrasing in the synopsis, such as “reawakened” and “return,” made me wonder if this book was a part of a series. After a little research, I discovered that “The Devil’s Brood” is the second book in a trilogy based on classic Universal monsters. The first book, written by Jeff Rovin, is named “Return of the Wolfman,” and the third book is “The Devil’s Night” and was also written by David Jacobs. My guess is that Universal wanted to create new profitable material (without necessarily having to invest in new characters and stories) and hired different authors to create popular stories based on existing classic characters.

This novel was intriguing to me because it looks exactly like what I would expect from a Frankenstein adaptation. Although, after reading the 1818 book, I now realize that the popular 1931 movie version of Frankenstein is not as true to the original as I initially thought. However, as a young reader, I could definitely see myself reading this book and I’m sure it would have influenced the way I approached the character of Frankenstein’s creature.

Materialism and Wealth in Robinson Crusoe

In Robinson Crusoeby Daniel Defoe, a prominent theme of wealth and materialism becomes evident through the character of Robinson Crusoe. Materialism, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is “an emphasis on or preference for that which is material, at the expense of spiritual or other values.” Crusoe measures his wealth by the amount of possessions he owns. He does this before, during, and after his time on the island. This material wealth is also a meter for his perceived success and virtue.

Even before being shipwrecked on the island, Crusoe puts a strong emphasis on his material wealth. Early on, when talking about his motivation for disobeying his father, he mentions his father’s belief of wealth and success:

“…Kings have frequently lamented the miserable Consequence of being born to great things, and wish’d they had been placed in the Middle of the two Extremes, between the Mean and the Great… the wise Man gave his Testimony… when he prayed to have neither Poverty or Riches” (3).

Crusoe rebels against this middle-class mindset just as much as he butts up against religion. He leaves his family in pursuit of wealth, just like he seeks adventure.

Furthermore, the perceived success of his adventures relies heavily on the wealth he obtains from his travels. Before being marooned on the island, Crusoe’s ventures in Brazil produce material wealth, which he believes makes him better than those around him:

“I found means to sell them to a very great Advantage; so that I might say, I had more than four times the Value of my first Cargo, and was now infinitely beyond my poor Neighbour” (39).

Once Crusoe is finally stranded on the island, he still holds onto this belief. Ironically, he acknowledges that he no longer needs worldly possessions; however, he makes thirteen trips to the shipwreck in order to retrieve as many objects as he can. Beyond this, he also spends pages describing the objects he makes, while only spending a few words to describe his family. While it can be argued that many of these materials were imperative to his survival, there were others that he had no use for, such as the gold he takes from the ship: “I have no manner of use for thee… However, upon second thoughts, I took it away…” (65).

When faced with the realization that money will do him no good on the island, he condemns this worldly wealth as evil. However, he still risks his life to retrieve it and keeps it for 28 years, even when there is little hope of being rescued so that he could actually use it. This conflict between his new spiritual pursuits and material desires reveals the conflict between the practical and spiritual. Years later, he takes gold from another shipwreck, justifying his actions by saying he will need it when he is rescued.

Crusoe’s materialism is not just limited to inanimate objects. He reconsiders himself a wealthy king when new people come to his island. Rather than regard them as equals, he considers them his subjects, and him, a ruler over land and people: “My island was now peopled, and I thought myself very rich in subjects… the whole country was my own mere property” (294).

Crusoe views his material wealth not just as a measure of his worldly success but also as a meter of his spiritual goodness. While he rebels against religion for much of his life, he eventually uses his material possessions to justify his favor with God:

“I might well say now indeed, that the latter end of Job was better than the beginning. It is impossible to express here the flutterings of my very heart when I looked over these letters, and especially when I found all my wealth about me; for as the Brazil ships come all in fleets, the same ships which brought my letters brought my goods…” (339).

Perhaps the most consistent characteristic of Crusoe, despite all he experiences, is his obsession with material things. He focuses heavily on his land, money, and possessions before he is stranded on the island, and continues to focus on societal wealth during his 28 years in solitude. Finally, when he finally rejoins civilization, this obsession remains, despite everything else that has changed.