Disastrous Self-Cannibalism

Better Essays
In Western culture a fundamental belief states that humans are profoundly different from animals. In defense of our position as higher beings, we use culture and rationality to distinguish ourselves from animals and savages. The eighteenth century European man saw himself as the very pinnacle of culture and greatness. Advances in science had enabled man to understand and predict god’s world, and innovations in art allowed man to create works of increasing divine beauty. The progress of society was evident and continued to propel mankind to greater status with increasing distance from lowly animals. However, several eighteenth century authors present a different account of the idea of progress. For Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and William…show more content…
In particular, Swift shows this theme of human degeneration in “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed” (1731). The poem depicts Corinna, a prostitute, as she is removing her makeup and other fashion accessories at the end of the day. However, this nymph’s evening practices elicit shock and horror: Corinna “Takes off her artificial Hair,” plucks out her “Crystal Eye,” and “Untwists a Wire; and from her Gums/ A Set of Teeth completely comes” (A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed” lines 10, 11, 19-20). This deconstruction of the female form functions as a sort of cannibalism. It mirrors the process by which a butcher might process an animal so that its meat may be served. Indeed, Corinna is self-cannibalizing her own body and her own humanity. As her ritual progresses, she “Unlaces next her Steel-rib’d Brodice,” which conjures up imagines of metal machinery and suggests that she is less than human and therefore lacks the power of reason that would keep her together. Furthermore, the prostitute’s steady progress in revealing her grotesquely fragmented body parallels the same falseness in society that Swift aims to reveal in his poetry. But perhaps most horrifying is imagining how the Corinna, “Must ev’ry Morn her Limbs unite” (“A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed” 66). This process of reconstruction only works to hide her true nature, which she disguises by presenting herself as fully human. Ultimately, Corinna is made monstrous by the demands to uphold cultural standards of
Get Access