Death as an Ally

Like many others, I had a difficult time getting in to Stevie Smith’s Novel on Yellow Paper. I kept struggling to pin down a plot which consistently evaded me. Despite this, certain passages in this novel deeply resonated with me. One in particular comes after Pompey discusses her revelation concerning suicide as a young child and recommends teaching young children about suicide. This passage was intriguing. At first, I was taken aback by the suggestion. By the end of the passage, Pompey almost had me convinced. I love the following passage (so much so that I’m going to quote the entire thing):

So I think every sensitive young child should early learn this. It is a great source of strength and comfort. It is so possible that things may become more than we can bear, is it not? That is not my thought at all. But rather, it is so possible that we may be afraid that things will become more than we can bear. There is a very deadly sort of slave feeling in this thought. For if we think this and become undone by our fear, we may too anxiously placate our fellow-beings, who appear to us to be in more authoritative positions and to have more of power than we over the things that oppress us. But with death as our immediate ally, such thoughts vanish. (Smith 159)

Pompey’s mastery over death, which she gained by realizing death will come at her call, removes her fear. This passage, I think, discusses Pompey’s place as a woman in society. Just from reading the beginning of Swastika Night, I think this idea of women’s place in society will continue to be important. Pompey addresses the oppression women face, but she also presents it as a deadly thought the oppressed convince themselves of. The thought that a certain group of people, in this case, women are inferior creates this unbearable fear and this “deadly sort of slave feeling.” This sort of brainwashing that convinces the oppressed of their inferiority seems present in Swastika Night too, at least in what I have read so far.  When one is overcome with the sort of feelings Pompey is describing, the only option is to make death your ally. Pompey suggests there is a power in knowing you can summon death at any moment.




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