Motif of Sexuality in Angela's Ashes and the Great Expectations

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In the two notable novels, Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, motif of sexuality play a significant role in successfully illustrating the protagonists’ affectionate desire towards characters of the opposite sex – also acting as an indicator of the protagonists’ maturation to adulthood. Furthermore, as the novels progress, through the voyeuristic experiences, the characters gain a deeper sense of sexual consciousness, either covertly or overtly, showing development in both physical and mental growth in characters, which eventually start to act as a galvanizing force that changes their lives. This motif shifts rapidly throughout the novels; briefly mentioned at the beginning as the characters themselves start to mature and develop, until the very end of the novel, which to Frank, sexuality becomes a force that eventually allows him to understand the deaths of immortal souls and learn to confess and relieve his sins and guilt, whereas to Pip, sexuality acts as a force that advances his social status.

Nevertheless, the highlight and pinnacle points in these two novels are the engagement of the characters’ sexual desires. In search for this engagement, both McCourt and Dickens convey voyeurism to depict the mental growth and maturation of the protagonists, Frank and Pip from Angela’s Ashes and Great Expectations respectively. In Angela’s Ashes, voyeurism or ‘excitement’ as Frank calls it, plays a significant role in portraying his mental growth and maturation from adolescence to adulthood. “[…] when I see them in my mind I’m tempted and I climb to the very top of the castle where once there was a tower and there in full view of Ireland I interfere with myself and spurt all over Carrigo-gunnel and fields beyond.” This quote which describes Frank’s experience of masturbation on top of the hills was a form of escapism for Frank, illustrating his voyeuristic whims and fancies. The act of masturbation is notable here, because it is in the days of Frank’s childhood that priests sermonized about the sins of masturbation and sex. His maturation is also marked by how he somewhat embraces his natural sexual impulses, instead of feeling burdened by it. Another quote from this novel illustrating Frank’s voyeuristic thoughts is when Frank reads a sex manual written by Lin Yutang. “[…] I wake up in a state of excitement with something hot and sticky pumping out of me oh God my male organ of copulation sticking out a mile people in the park giving me curious looks.” It is then he realizes his father has lied to him for years about the “Angel on the Seventh Step”. This quote also frames the ‘excitement’ Frank had while sleeping in the park, signifying his first experience of a nocturnal emission. These exaggerated descriptions such as, ‘pumping out’ and ‘sticking out a mile’ suggest a humorous tone in this passage, creating a jovial mood throughout. Frank’s first experience of nocturnal emission and his dreams of virgin martyrs signify the physical maturation that he is going through at this stage of the novel, especially after having discovered the truths his father hid from him. Later on in the book, from these voyeuristic experiences, Frank eventually learns about sex and his desires – and more importantly, he no longer feels guilty about them. By the use of direct, exaggerated and colloquial diction, Frank McCourt overtly expresses the significance of lustful thoughts. However, in a stark contrast to Angela’s Ashes, the motif of sexuality is addressed in a more subtle and covert manner in the Great Expectations. “[…] directed my attention to Estella’s beauty, and made me notice it the more by trying her jewels on Estella’s breast and hair.” This quote expresses sexuality in disguise, but only weakly, for the sexual undertone is still discernible. Quite obviously this act of Miss Havinsham was a pretentious showcase of Estella’s beauty and valuable assets, a plausible part of her plan to raise...
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