The light and the dark : Polarity in 'Christabel' and Pierre



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That polar opposites are a condition of human experience is indicated in both Eastern and Western philosophy. My intention is not to explore the myriad facets of polarity, but to focus on this principle that was such a powerful force of motivation in the worlds of Coleridge and Melville as they experienced the conflict of light and darkness that surges from the unconscious activity of the mind, ever striving toward reconciliation. This study encompasses Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Christabel" and Herman Melville's Pierre, only a segment of their search to synthesize the inescapable conflicts of existence, but one that significantly reflects the attempt both men made to transcend this opposition: The primitive darkness as seen in Geraldine and Isabel joins the incompleteness of light and innocence represented by Christabel and Lucy and forms a wider vision of reality. The bond between the two men lies deeper than the influence one man had on the other, for their symbolic worlds spiral downward to that creative and archaic, psychic center that reaches back to the beginning of man. However, it was the ability of Coleridge to articulate this struggle between the primal unconscious and the guiding intellect, in symbols that touched a responding cord in Melville's mind and brought forth Pierre, that is so ancestrally akin to "Christabel."