|2003 International Conference of Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies|
|Providence, Rhode Island, USA|
David Jones’ In Parenthesis (WW I) and John Del Vecchio’s The 13th Valley (Vietnam) both depend heavily on Jung’s archetype of the eternal feminine. Del Vecchio’s allusions are realistic; Jones’ are straight out of myth and nightmare. Their soldier-protagonists are partially successful because they confront feminine archetypes, both beneficial and rapacious, within themselves.
Writing In Parenthesis was David Jones’ therapy for his lingering war trauma. He lyrically evokes the interior lives of his doughboys, especially a very ordinary Pvt. John Ball. Not merely a war adventure, IP develops the daily life of WWI soldiers in trenches—cleaning, cooking, housekeeping. Only the final section edges into traditional war action, yet here Jones’ numinous female figures concentrate. As a result, Pvt. Ball, Jones’ recreation of himself as a young soldier, rises to acts of extraordinary bravery and sacrifice. Ball carries Jones’ central theme--that ordinary humans can retain mythic sacramental consciousness in life and death.
Like Jones’ soldiers, Del Vecchio’s are infantry. Also, both authors participated in the conflicts which became their novels. Decorated with the Bronze Star for bravery under fire, Del Vecchio fought in the 1970 campaigns in the Khe Te Laou River near the DMZ (endpaper 13th Valley). Two later novels, For the Sake of All Living Things (1990) and Carry Me Home (1994) form a trilogy.
In 13th three characters carry the main plot lines: Lt. Rufus Brooks, a company commander; Daniel Egan, a seasoned sergeant; and Pvt. James Chelini, a recruit. Alpha, their company [of the 101st Infantry], alone of the five companies in their division, goes directly into the heart of North Vietnamese Army country and operates autonomously for eleven days and nights. In contrast, other divisions stay in the rear lines, talk tough, and make good targets. Lt. Brooks’ Alpha soldiers disdainfully call these noncombatants REMF’s (See Glossary.). Actually they fit Northrup Frye’s category of impostor that he calls miles gloriosus, or boastful soldier (39-40).
Brooks and Egan put their men's safety first and for this receive loyalty from most of the men. They fight a quiet, cautious, "feminine" war. Alpha and the NVA dance around the valley, avoiding conflict whenever possible, going head-on when not. At one point Brooks even holds a quiet communion service for his command platoon, passing around a can of beer that he has packed for days just for this purpose. Ultimately Brooks and Egan sacrifice themselves for the company while Chelini becomes a savage, cynical combat veteran.
Of these four men, Jone's Pvt. Ball and Del Vecchio's Sgt. Egan succeed most clearly as individuated soldiers. Though they may experience negative elements of the anima or animus, they assimilate positive aspects of the eternal feminine archetype into their mature male selves.
Erich Neumann's The Great Mother details feminine aspects of
human myth, iconography, and psychology—a merging of Jung, Margaret Mead,
and Frazer. He describes how two pairs of archetypes branch out from the
central figure of the "Great Mother who is good-bad and makes possible
a union of positive and negative attributes" (21). One pair, the
rather static "elementary character," consists of the Good Mother, Demeter
or Isis evoking birth and renewal, and the Terrible Mother, the Gorgon
or Kali evoking death and destruction (20). The second pair, the
positive and negative forms of the anima, generate radical changes in the
human psyche. From the positive pole arise animae such as the Virgin
Mary, Sophia, or Sita; from the negative pole, Lilith and Circe (34-5).
Closely following Jung's precepts, Neumann defines the anima as the “male's
personal as well as archetypal experience of the Feminine” (33).
His circular Schema III of the whole of the Great Mother indicates that
archetypes may overlap one another. Mary may be the Mother of God,
intercessor-midwife for humankind, as well as the transformative Virgin
or Sophia. Figures such as Medea, Circe, and Calypso may embody positive
or negative values. While the elementary pair are stable containers, womb
or tomb, the transformative pair create inspiration, ecstasy, epiphany,
madness, or dissolution (82-83).
Influenced by the poetry of Eliot and Pound yet unable to divorce himself from the novel form, Jones reserves these poetic effects for moments of high drama. Thus, early in the novel, Jones’ protagonist accesses elements of the Great Mother to comprehend his traumatic experiences and to maintain psychological balance in this chaotic environment.
Other positive manifestations of the Great Mother appear as Ball's unit
settles into war. As in 13th Valley, sleeping, cleaning, cooking,
expressing affection take on greater significance among the men than combat.
Homemaking with groundsheets—that is, actually creating shelter—becomes
fact and metaphor in both narratives. Ball sees sleeping men "wombed of
earth, their rubber sheets for caul." Mother Earth provides spiritual security
in trench warfare where "all sureness [is] metamorphosed" (75-76).
As with Alpha Company in Vietnam, Jones' WW I soldiers create out of uncertainty
a fragile yet nurturing folk culture (IP 49).
Ball, like Jones, is shot in the leg and crawls through the wood, dragging his rifle. In Ball's delirium vision, he sees this beneficent Valkyrie-Queen reward dead soldiers, German and British, with vegetative blessings--saxifrage, sweet-briar, myrtle, St. John's Wort, mistletoe (for Balder, of course). Thomas Dilworth sees the Queen of the Woods as one of the novel’s “summary symbols” (120). With this Good Mother archetype, Jones maintains his central theme, that humans can retain mythic sacramental consciousness in life and death. The terrible irony of course is that Hansel, Gronwy and the others remain dead.
Jeremy Hooker’s early analysis, David Jones: An Exploratory Study, sums
up Jones’ use of the female principle:
As we will see in Del Vecchio’s narrative, clear vision in warfare means seeing clearly the complexities of actual and psychic reality. Pvt. Ball’s survival depends greatly on his accessing the positive and negative archetypes of the elemental feminine. Moreover, as we have seen in the folk culture of the trenches, Ball and his comrade doughboys intuitively emphasize the “creaturely and kindly qualities” of positive archetype.
Dilworth has noted that Jones told him that Jung was “more intelligent” than Freud, but that Jung was “also more esoteric and ‘got carried away.’” Jones also told Dilworth that he preferred Freud for his “basicness” (Dilworth 203). However, it is my opinion that In Parenthesis, Jones’ first literary work, inclines toward the more global archetypes of Jung’s pantheon. Pvt. Ball’s psychic musings on various archetypes of the Great Mother are not merely sexual but survivalist in nature.
Jones’ feminine focus in soldiering remained strong after his wounding. After Jones recovered from his wound, he was sent to southern Ireland in 1918. Here, as he noted in one of his letters, he had an experience of what Keith Aldritt calls “another sudden, powerfully impactful vision of the elemental feminine.” In a sunset tableau Jones saw a young farm woman herding cows: “ragged and bare-limbed” yet “ a figure of great dignity, with flowing red hair” (38). Here Jones reveals, in a personal epiphany, an ideal example of Jung and Neumann’s Good Mother archetype. Jones seems to have collected such moments throughout the twenties and thirties, distilling them into the mythic figures of In Parenthesis. In fact, W. B. Yeats, himself famous for archetypal feminine figures, gave high praises to Jones’ novel soon after it was published (Aldritt 108).
By World War II, Jones had turned to painting to frame his views on
war. Epiphany 1941, created immediately after the Luftwaffe’s destruction
of Coventry, shows the double perspective seen in sweet sister death and
the Queen of the Woods. In this painting, also named Britannia and
Germania Embracing, two stern women warriors embrace as destruction whirls
around them, the Epiphany star illuminating all. Aldritt sees in
their “searching expressions . . . profound sadness, helplessness, and
hopelessness” (124-125). Are they Terrible Mothers or Good Mothers?
Jones uses these elemental Jungian archetypes bravely by neither sanitizing
the horrors of war nor succumbing to simplistic nationalism. In his androgynous
view of war, no one wins.
The feminine archetypes in Ball’s visions have marked him as an integrated
self as well as a conscientious soldier. While Ball ably accesses
his aggressive, masculine side to kill his enemy, his healthy sense of
the feminine aids his individuation and prevents him from caricaturing
the German soldier into a faceless enemy. This scene immediately precedes
the Queen of the Woods’ ritual anointing. Ball’s vision of her seems
a just reward for avoiding egotistical hubris after his duel with the German
Introduced as "quiet" and "disciplined," "a soldier's soldier" (91),
Egan accesses feminine aspects within himself to become an ideal warrior.
His men pass on legends about him taking out four NVA soldiers with four
rounds "And they was firin' at him" (24).
Eschewing savagery of the My Lai type, Egan directly refuses the common practice of taking ears (544). His feminine attributes create a positive ambience. Even in battle, he focuses on protecting comrades more than killing enemies. Jung presented such psychological flexibility as desirable. Similar literary figures include Sergeant Elias in Oliver Stone's 1986 film Platoon, Zora Neale Hurston’s Teacake in Their Eyes Were Watching God, and Augustus MacRae of McMurtry's novel and film Lonesome Dove. With Egan's individuation, Del Vecchio directly attacks ego-driven film warriors of the immediate post-Viet Nam era—1975-1982. Also attacked, I believe, are politicians of this time who, having avoided active, rigorous military service themselves, blithely sent others into harm’s way. Such REMF’s are still around today, vicariously relishing the battles that others fight, yet quite willing to celebrate “Mission Accomplished” as if they had had a hand in the fighting.
Del Vecchio celebrates Lt. Brooks’ giving nature. Del Vecchio says that the men of Alpha "would do almost anything for him [Brooks] because he would do almost anything for them" (221). He swims rivers, helps cook, and even walks point. However, his wife Lila serves him divorce papers just before they begin the campaign. In his dreams she transforms from a positive anima into a young witch, though he controls his mind’s image of her better than Chelini does his anima-image of Linda.
In contrast to Egan and Brooks, Chelini psychically disintegrates. After he reads a chatty, noncommittal letter from his girlfriend Linda, his anima-image of her becomes a young, cuckolding witch: “The bitch, he thought, I bet she's screwin like a rabbit. I bet she always has . . . , even when we were goin out”(555). Del Vecchio neatly juxtaposes this same episode with Chelini's taking ears, noting that the calluses on Chelini's mind “become thicker and thicker” (547). By the end of the novel, Chelini has become totally savage; he “mad-dog bites and rips [an enemy] soldier's neck, simultaneously thrusting his bayonet into the enemy stomach. Blood explodes in Cherry’s mouth“ (610). Chelini's transmogrified anima thus makes him a vampiric rapist (Guerin 180-185). The tragedy is that, while this savagery has distracted Chelini, Egan has led the unit into an enemy trench, has been injured, and desperately needs help. Though Chelini’s battle fury might play well to a Rambo II audience, it is a tactical as well as psychological error.
Let me emphasize that Del Vecchio makes clear distinctions between the characters Linda, Lila and Stephanie and the projections of these women in the men’s letters, night-dreams, and waking-dreams.
Egan consciously idealizes Stephanie as his anima. Jung and Stevens say that the absence of the person who embodies one’s anima or animus helps one develop an intense awareness of this soul-image. Meditating on his anima keeps Egan grounded, "She was the antithesis of Nam, the good, peaceful, the loving, . . . truth packaged perfectly" (306). She enriches his interior life, his Number two personality, as Jung would say. He receives a letter from her on the eve of the final battle. Her presence in this letter and in his mind propels him into a state of grace.
In an essay, “The Myth of Arthur,” written in the depths of World War Two, David Jones worried that the feminine emphasis of the Arthurian Legend had been lost: “Perhaps we are entering again upon a period when the love story may give place to the story of the heroic. . . .” Jones criticized the fanatical nationalism shown by German and Allied soldiers alike. As counterbalance, he promoted “the saving skepticism of the female mind” (Epoch and Artist 240). Del Vecchio, over forty years later, adds that element to his narrative for leavening. Stephanie’s “saving skepticism” rescues Egan from devolving into a film-variety macho soldier.
Egan's animus frankly loves the ultimate competition of war. Yet his
letters and dreams show an incredible tenderness. Throughout the first
half of the novel, he composes a letter to Stephanie. It's rather
straightforward: "I want to see you. I never knew how deeply you
touched me . . . . We had a lot of good times and some bad.
I don't know why I always had to be leaving but I think my desire to wander
has been satiated by my time here . . . . Stephanie, if you can,
please say I may come to see you. All my love, Daniel" (354).
He hands this to a helicopter doorgunner, then takes off into the bush
with his company. Now some might say that this is typical machismo—vague,
full of tumescent desire, no apologies for cruel inarticulateness when
he was with her. However, throughout the remainder of the novel
he increasingly identifies with her in his mind, confounding readers' expectations.
He converses with his mental image of her. His mind's Stephanie chews
him out: "Talk to me, Daniel. I know it's there but you won't
give it to me . . . . TALK TO ME! You bastard.” In his dreams,
he responds: "'I care for you more than anything else. . . .
I love you. . . . I'm sorry . . . , I didn't understand.”
The narrator emphasizes here: " It was his spirit speaking" (447-449).
Egan’s dialogue with his Stephanie-anima thus enables his ego to mediate
with his unconscious and to resolve the conflict between his spirit and
hers. His greatest achievement is his conscious recognition of her as his
anima. She becomes the archetypal feminine for him.
In both novels, psychic integration occurs when soldiers access their feminine sides. Jones’ and Del Vecchio’s protagonists experience decency and beauty within nihilistic wastelands of battle. Sgt. Egan and Pvt. Ball care for themselves and their comrades and are better soldiers than undisciplined men such as Chelini who conjure negative feminine archetypes. Tragically yet realistically, Jones’ and Del Vecchio’s positive epiphanies cannot be maintained. For this reason, I think, both authors close with funereal moods, not with a simplistic sense of victory such as one sees in war-fantasies such as The Green Berets, Rambo II, and more recently FOX NEWS coverage of the Iraq War. Ball drags his wounded body back to safety. Egan and Brooks remain MIA and their memorial service marks Del Vecchio’s ambiguous conclusion. For David Jones and John Del Vecchio, few individuated heroes exist in the environment of war, though enough to create tragic drama within the novel form.
As for solutions, both authors downplay egotistical hubris and unnecessary conflict while maintaining integration as an ideal. Further, their common theme that good soldiers access their feminine as well as their masculine sides promotes the idea that war can be avoided in great part. Citizens simply need to pay attention to the positive, creative, even anti-war, musings of characters like Ball and Egan and Brooks.
NVA -- North Vietnamese Army
REMF -- rear echelon motherfucker
Walking point – taking the lead position as a unit moves into unfamiliar territory
Works Cited or Consulted
Aldritt, Keith. David Jones: Writer and Artist.
London: Constable and Robinson, 2003.