The Sword of Damocles: Ackland Trip

The Sword of Damocles was painted by a English artist Richard Westall in 1812. According to the story told by Cicero, Damocles was a man in court that lusted over the kings life and showered him with compliments and flattery. However, the king had a tyrannical reputation and didn’t have many friends, so he lived in constant fear. He decided to invite Damocles to be in his shoes and live the life he lived to teach him a lesson of sorts. Damocles sat on the kings golden chair, ate his food, and wore his clothes. Just as he was starting to really enjoy it all, he noticed a sword hanging directly above his head, only supported by a tiny thin horsehair. The king had put it there to reveal to Damocles that living his life was not so pleasent when your life is constantly under threat, as the sword represented.

There are a couple important ways that Westall represented the story of Damocles accurately in the painting. First, the way that Damocles is positioned. There are many indicators that this picture represents the first time Damocles has seen that sword hanging from the ceiling. His eyes are seemingly staring up at the sword itself and yet we cannot see what his receptive actions are, because he is frozen in his fear. The servant girls are offering him wine to his outstretched hands that are now unmoving. But the jolt of seeing the sword has literally knocked his wreath of his head onto the floor, and he grips the side of the golden chair in fear. I wonder if perhaps his lack of posture was not present before he saw the sword, and when he did, his height gave way. It is no wonder he did, because if one did not know that story and just saw the picture, it would look like the sword was on it’s way to annihilate him.

The second way Westall pictures the story well is through the king, Dionysius. According to, Dionysius is a very unhappy man, and rules with an iron fist. This trait reflects well in the picture, because Dionysius looks very intense. What I found interesting upon first reflection of the image is that because the line of horsehair is so faint, and the king’s hand is raised, it looks like he is magically holding it up with Harry-Potter powers. However, in the story he was the one to hang the sword above Damocles, so perhaps this was Westall’s way of attaching Damocles’ actions to his painted character.

The last way this painting will be analyzed is through the use of color. If one was to squint his eyes and look at the painting, he would see mostly red and white, with any other colors receding into the background. Red is particularly known to be associated with war, danger, or love. Additionally, red is a theme among Westall’s pictures. This theme may have had something to do with the time period, as 1812 was during the french revolution, as well as the beginning of the war of 1812. Obviously, Westall knew what he was doing when we created this masterpiece.


Analyzing Racism in WSS

Image result for wide sargasso sea meme

Wide Sargasso Sea is a complex and intriguing adaptation, based on the backgrounds of certain characters portrayed in Jane Eyre. In the story, we see themes and events common to the West Indies in the 1830’s, in including racism, agriculture, and social structure. Let’s look at some examples from Wide Sargasso Sea, and see how they frame the 1830’s idea of race in particular.

The first example I want to dissect is at the very beginning of the book, when the horse dies. Godfrey, a black servant that stayed at Antoinette’s house, is known for being somewhat untrustworthy and morose. After the horse dies in part one, he mentions, “The Lord made no distinction between black and white, black and white, they are the same for Him” (pg. 10). At first glance, we may think he is talking about the death of the horse. Although there is argument for that, if we compare the Lord’s idea of life and death to black and white, but there may be a racial meaning behind it. There is cause to believe that he is using these words to support himself, because Annette initially backhandedly blamed him for the horse dying. His savage remark was a reminder to not hold his race inferior. Godfrey’s attitude was further proved to be very morbid towards the white people, as he later said: “ this world don’t last so long for mortal man” (pg. 10). Even though his character’s role was small, Godfrey emulates key points on racism in Wide Sargasso Sea.  

The second example we are going to look at is when Antoniette makes “friends” with the little girl named Tia, who actually bullied her. As Antoniette walked home one day, Tia called her a “white cockroach” (pg. 13). This comment precedes a odd formation of friendship between the two girls, but a nasty round of comments follows at a playdate at the pool. When Tia takes Antoinette’s pennies, Antoniette snaps “Keep them then, you cheating nigger,” and Tia replies with a rant on how “Real white people, they got gold money” (pg. 14). I would have never expected such a heavily loaded conversation to happen between two children, but it reflects well on the current racial tension in the west indies in the late 1830’s. The emancipation of slavery for Jamaica was passed in 1834, so the tensions between the black people and the white people were still deflating. Instead of previous reality of the white people being able to overpower people of color, the black people were able to fight back, and often used it aggressively to expose prejudices.

Why is Wide Sargasso Sea so loaded with backhanded, racist comments? Well imagine it like this: your forefathers are stripped from their land and taken to work land not their own, and you for forced to as well. Once you are free, you can go about and say what you please about your captors. Would you not want to confront them? Ok, so now pretend you are in the opposite position: you have set your slaves free, you are both equals, and now they have stayed near you, only to give backhanded comments about you. Are either of you justified? That was Jamaica in 1830.



Let’s talk about Friday. No, not the pre-weekend stretch, the deep and complex character that stars in both J.M. Coetzee’s Foe, and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. He is sometimes called a “negro”, and sometimes a “savage”, but either way he remains a loyal companion and intriguing character in whichever story you read. Let’s look at some of the ways he differs in each story.

The first way Friday is portrayed differently in Foe from Robinson Crusoe is in his physical attributes. His looks, hair, and race is completely different in Foe from the original text. In Robinson Crusoe, Friday is a native who is about to be eaten by other natives. He is described as “tall and well shap’d,” and “all the sweetness of and softness of an European in his countenance too, especially when he smiled”(219). Foe differs from this completely; we are told that he is not as tall as Susan (although she may be tall herself), and there are few, if any, instances of him ever actually smiling. His race in Foe is African, not native, and his hair is described as “A head of fuzzy wool”(5) and “like lambs wool,”(154) opposed to in Robinson Crusoe, where is his hair is “long and black, not curl’d like wool”(219). The final difference is that fact that in Foe, he has no tongue. This changes his whole plot line in the story of Foe. Why was Friday so different in each story? Although there are many answers to that question, many of them can be summarized into the fact that Friday’s entire story is changed, and when your heritage changes, your race and influences change too.

The second way Foe portrays Friday differently than who he is in R.C. is through his actions. In Robinson Crusoe, we only see Friday dance once, when he spots the mainland off the coast of the island. Friday sees it and “in a kind of surprise, falls a jumping and dancing, and calls out to me”(235). In Foe, dancing becomes Friday’s new hobby after he comes upon Mr. Foe’s robes and wigs, and cannot get enough spinning and dancing in them. Susan explains that when he dances he is “not himself. He is beyond human reach”(92). I wonder what happened to the native Friday when he was taken off the island with and separated from Cruose. Did he want to dance his cares away? Perhaps the reason he dances in Foe is a way of expressing himself, since another action that separates the R.C. Friday from the Foe Friday is his speech. In R.C, we watch him learn new words, converse with Crusoe, and communicate emotion. In Foe, his tongue has been cut out. At first glance, some may say that this aspect isolates Friday from the other characters and takes some of his meaning, but I truly think Coetzee’s way of adding depth, mystery, and curiousness to him to keep the readers on their toes.

No matter what book you read, Friday is definitely a character that will make you want to read more. He may be a loyal character universally, but each story gives new aspects of difference that work with his story and background.