Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 4: No 1) >> Revolution, Patriarchy, and Orestes: Porgy's Ambivalence Toward His Father in Woodcraft >> Page 7

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Secondary Scholarship | 1996
Transcription 7
labor system, Hillhouse represents the capitalist, bourgeois society of the North,
whereas Porgy embodies Southern paternalism. More important than anything
to Porgy is to employ his leisure wisely enough to do whatever interests him,
humanitarianism included. In his view, man derives comfort from "profitless"
actions. This argument is a strong Southern attack and the best form of defense
against a growing Northern utilitarianism and materialism.
Yet it is a noteworthy fact that Porgy's plantation, one form of the
Southern slave system, does not work beautifully. This is why his words give
some tint of masochistic irony as when H. L. Mencken cynically remarked that
the Old South was "a civilization of manifold excellences--perhaps the best that
the Western Hemisphere has ever seen.... The Ur-Confederate had leisure. He
liked to toy with ideas. He was hospitable and tolerant. He had the vague thing
we call culture" (O'Brien 8). At the same time, Porgy's philosophy of life,
obtained through his personal experience of the Revolution, is not capable of
completely vanquishing Millhouse's logic or sense of values. The following
reveals that a revolution is still on the way in Porgy's consciousness:
To-day is secure. That is enough; and the philosophy which to-
day has brought, will, no doubt, reconcile me to-morrow. Hear
you, Lance? It is the first policy in a time of difficulty or danger,
always to know the worst—never to hide the truth from yourself--
never to persuade yourself that the evil is unreal, and that things
are better than they really are. When you know the worst, you
know exactly what is to be done, and what is to be endured. . . .
Lie itself is civil war, and our enemies are more or less strong and
numerous, according to circumstances. One of the greatest
misfortunes of men, and it has been mine until this hour, consists
in the greatest reluctance of the mind to contemplate and review,
calmly, the difficulties which surround us--to look our dangers in
the face, see how they lie, where they threaten, and how we may
contend against them. (Woodcrqft 109. Italics added.)

In an earlier scene where Porgy recovers his slaves, he feels pride at his success,
resolving that "he was still a captain of militia, and that each militia officer was
ad interim, in the commission of the peace" (Woodcraft 145). Later in the story,
he announces to the sheriff that "Life, after all, is a constant warfare" (Woodcrqft
435). He often compares life to civil war, adding that he is ready to look his
danger in the face. All these points demonstrate that he is under the influence of
a strong tradition of honor and chivalry from the pre-Revolutionary South. Yet
it in turn drives Porgy into the vortex of revolutions forever, because he has
made up his mind that the Furies will never transform themselves into the
Eumenides, the chorus of benevolent goddesses in Aeschylus's work.
Asked by Lance how his philosophy can put a stop to his trouble, he
answers proudly that he has acquired a degree of knowledge through "a certain
probation of folly" (Woodcraft 110), but later replies that he just has to repeat "A
fig for 'em all" or "Hurrah for nothing!" after a draft of Jamaica rum and