Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 4: No 1) >> Revolution, Patriarchy, and Orestes: Porgy's Ambivalence Toward His Father in Woodcraft >> Page 11

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Secondary Scholarship | 1996
Transcription 11
Simms also lived through tyrannies, revolutions, and wars. As historian
and statesman he involved himself in the political and social scene of South
Carolina. He wrote Revolutionary War Romances in which he warmly praised
his characters for fighting against the British tyranny for justice and freedom.
Simms was greatly disillusioned by European revolutions and was terrified
by the disastrous scenes of the French Revolution. In addition, in the 1848
Presidential election he found that the New York radicals whom he had regarded
as his political ideals supported Martin Van Buren in collusion with the Free Soil
Party, and that Zachary Taylor, whom he supported regardless of his party
membership, took to Whiggery. In his mind social chaos was "firmly associated
... with the North" (Taylor 279). In this way Simms was preoccupied with
current real-life problems while writing Woodcraft.
In The Eumenides Aeschylus uses a contrast of patrilineal and matrilineal
societies to pit a new set of values against the old, established ones. He lets
Apollo and Athene defend Orestes from the indignant Furies. Simms's
Woodcraft, by contrast, portrays the shifting of values which comes to a dead
end; Porgy is not actually involved in killing one of his parents but hesitates to
respect the traditional values his father represents. The Revolution only functions
as "temporary relief from the hands" of the Furies. It does not bring a new set
of values, but the Fates with it. The Fates do not allow Porgy to work his will.
Patriarchy, which is associated with his own dangerous keeping," is
predetermined by the Fates. Because Porgy hesitates to restore the pre-war state
while forced to strive for it, the Furies never lay bare their formidable faces, no
are they given the opportunity to transform themselves into the Eumenides.
Simms also keeps Athene from any reconciliatory judgment, disintegrating her
into the several functions of (1) a war goddess, (2) a goddess of weaving, and (3)
a personification of wisdom, all her phases unsettling and irritating Porgy, making
him uneasy and uncomfortable. Thus Simms reverses the moralistic and
reconciliatory representation of Aeschylus's Eumenides in order to render the
difficulties through which nothing can guide Porgy.