"Horizontal Fear"Submitted by Nathan Blue on Tue, 11/08/2022 - 15:35
Dr. O’Connor sees himself embodying different national, religious, and gender identities. This embodiment is discussed with Nora in a conversation about “everything [the doctor] know[s] about the night” (79). His character and meandering yet compelling dialogue with Nora imports different gender identities (79-80, 96), national archetypes/stereotypes (90), religious identities (91), and languages (92-94) and combines them in the uncertainties that night symbolizes. Dr. O’Connor says,
“Do things look in the ten and twelve of noon as they look in the dark? Is the hand, the face, the foot, the same face and hand and foot seen by the sun? For now the hand lies in a shadow; its beauties and its deformities are in a smoke—there is a sickle of doubt across the check bone thrown by the hat’s brim, so that there is half a face to be peered back into speculation” (85).
Night represents uncertainty, and uncertainty produces speculation. For the doctor, this appears in the ways glossed above, turned inward, in terms of speculative identity. For Nora, speculations are turned outward, toward Robin. Nora’s pain is emphasized even more, as the doctor implies it, because of the way that otherness is understood among women. “She who stands looking down upon her who lies sleeping knowns the horizontal fear, the fear unbearable. For man goes only perpendicularly against his fate. He was neither formed to know that other nor compiled of its conspiracy” (87). The doctor seems to imply that, unlike men, women were formed to know “that other.” What might Barnes be getting across by having Dr. O’Connor describe this unbearable “horizontal fear”?
As an aside, the perpendicularity assigned to men here reminds me a bit of Vorticism, with its use of sharp, rigid lines and masculine overtones.