Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 4: No 1) >> Revolution, Patriarchy, and Orestes: Porgy's Ambivalence Toward His Father in Woodcraft >> Page 8

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Secondary Scholarship | 1996
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poverty, and the sheriff will be driven back into the woods. Deprived of his
lands and negroes, says Porgy, he is still a man. Thus he associates a civil war
or a revolution with an unreal change, exactly because he believes it would not
reform or even change the status quo. Nothing suits him better than remaining
a soldier, for it holds him in suspension of judgment about the way he has led his
life. Pressured by Lance, he confesses he will never allow his manservant Tom
to fall into the hands of others, revealing that he is in despair over how to
struggle with his difficulties.
On the surface Porgy embodies a Southern stereotypical tendency to self-
indulgence, ease, and indolence, but his indolence is more deeply rooted in some
doubt about the established values of Southern planters. He is well content to
find a cause of discomfort in the outcome of the Revolution. He deceives himself
into believing that the Revolution, likened to the Fates, has shattered the slightes
hope of reforming him, and that the fatal sisters have not saved him from the
difficulties but plunged him into the depths of despair. He grumbles over a court
of justice never protecting him from M'Kewn's greed but exposing him to its
"fearful activity." But the fact is that he does not want to regain the pre-
Revolutionary situation. Orestes turns to Athene for support and judgment; he
thinks he acted right and tries his best to plead "not guilty" to matricide. Porgy,
by contrast, has done nothing to help secure patriarchy, the Southern status quo.
He has not taken on the responsibility of running a plantation effectively. He fell
heir to it, precluding "any necessity that [he] should learn." This is why Porgy,
who cannot dispel an ambivalence toward his father, clings to his old way of life,
comforting his "animal" side. He fears any judgment because he knows in
hesitating to justify himself, he is killing his father indirectly. He has no other
blood relative to kill but himself, in order to speak for patriarchy.
Porgy has no reconciliatory measures left. He finds the old pre-
Revolutionary society tottering feebly to its collapse but feels some doubt about
re-building it. Aeschylus's Athene turns to the court for a reconciliatory
settlement when Apollo and the Furies are determined not to yield an inch over
Orestes, but Porgy finds himself deprived of any urgent need for reconciliation.
He fears any change that seems to satisfy a deep-felt psychological need. His
predicament is vividly demonstrated by his hesitation in choosing between Mrs.
Eveleigh and Mrs. Griffin. In his view, they have a double function to perform
as Athene and the Furies. They provide him with ever-contradicting options
which seem to guide him through a difficult situation but only entice him into the
vortex of complications.
Mrs. Eveleigh is a Southerner who has lived through the Revolution and
sustained little damage to her plantation. She thinks herself a Whig, but taking
it into consideration that her husband was a faithful Loyalist, she has never
directly involved herself in fighting against the British. These circumstances
secure her plantation against the hostility of both Whigs and Tories during the
war. Many plantations around her have been devastated, but she enjoys not only
"the success but the charm and beauty of her plantation" (Woodcrqft 335), owing
to her own judicious economy and her wise overseer Fordham's sobriety and
integrity.