Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Caliban Upon Setebos

Since no one decided to contemplate, in my opinion, the weirdest poem we have read so far, I decided to post on "Caliban on Setebos," having previously studied it with Professor Porter and attempted to write a paper on it. The poem is a contemplation of Natural Selection, and Caliban misunderstands this process because he is unwilling to accept that his low societal standing is natural. He projects his bitterness and anger onto Setebos, or Natural Selection, and twists its role in nature. In order for Setebos to be an agent of Natural Selection, his behavior must embody the scientific tenet of Charles Darwin’s "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection". Darwin asserts “any variation, however slight...if it be in any degree profitable to an its infinitely complex relation to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual” (Darwin 132-33). He also notes that competition develops from the “struggle for existence that inevitably follows from the high rate at which all organic beings tend to increase” (134). Caliban notes this variation of individuals when he speculates upon and imitates the behavior of Setebos with a population of crabs. Each crab has a unique physical variation that is then associated with its success in life: “the first straggler that boasts purple spots / shall join the file, one pincer twisted off; / ‘say, this bruised fellow shall receive a worm, / and two worms he whose nippers end in red” (Browning 104-07). Caliban recognizes that physical traits determine the crab's success, but he believes their fate depends on his whims he explains, “as it likes me each time, I do: so He” (108). The grammatical structure of Caliban’s statement, with Caliban’s behavior preceding Setebos’, indicates that Caliban is projecting his emotions and logic onto Setebos. This discards Darwin’s concept of random variation for the idea of random success in life, twisting Caliban’s perception of the rudimentary tenet of Natural Selection. I wont point out Caliban's confusion throughout the rest of the poem, but for Setebos fulfills the remaining tenants of Natural Selection through several other organisms. The squirrel and the urchin embody Survival of the Fittest while the "icy fish" occupies an environmental niche. Browning's poem is an elaborate portrayal of Natural Selection and the problem it poses to disenfranchised members of society.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful explication, Celina--and quite a feat to compress your paper into one lucid paragraph!