Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 4: No 1) >> Revolution, Patriarchy, and Orestes: Porgy's Ambivalence Toward His Father in Woodcraft >> Page 2

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Secondary Scholarship | 1996
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Revolution, Patriarchy, and Orestes:
Porgy's Ambivalence Toward His Father in Woodcraft

Masahiro Nakamura

In Woodcraft, Porgy's struggle against true Loyalist M'Kewn, who lusts
for his plantation, may be aptly termed a struggle of class (as C. Hugh Holman
argued). Since Simms, in his early Revolutionary War romances, realizes and
portrays the mistreatment of the Loyalists by the planter class, it is not always
easy to say which side of this struggle wins his keener sympathies. Yet, for all
this realistic representation, as in most of his fiction, aristocratic young lover
eventually defeat their enemies. Simms has unwavering faith in Southern planter
values.
His description of Porgy, however, shows some ambivalence. A key to
gauging this ambivalence is Simms's reference to Orestes and the Furies.
Although he directly alludes to Aeschylus only once in Woodcraft, other sections
of the novel tell us that Orestes' story provided Simms with an important model
in his artistic exploration of cultural problems in terms of revolution, war, and
patriarchy.
After serving in the militia for seven years, Porgy comes back to his
dilapidated plantation. Early in Woodcraft, he professes himself to be a war-
ruined planter, but that his previous dissipation and profligacy had already begun
the ruin. Simms associates Porgy's hardships with the Furies who hunted
Orestes:

Porgy had been a fast youth. He had never been taught the
pains of acquisition. Left to himself his own dangerous keeping--
when a mere boy, he had too soon and fatally learned the pleasures
of dissipation. The war found him pursued by debt and
embarrassments, as unrelaxing as the furies that hunted the steps
of Orestes.—He had found temporary relief from the grasp of the
Furies, into the worse keeping of the Fates. He held himself very
nearly a ruined man, when the war began; and the loss of
numerous negroes, carried off by the enemy, gave him no reason
to doubt upon the subject. . . . The cessation of war, which
stripped him of his occupation, was an event which necessarily
restored the common law to its fearful activity. (Woodcraft 101-
102)

Orestes, the son of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, often appears in Greek