The Moonstone: Dual Narratives, Social Implications, and Symbolism

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Kendra Lynch
English 1302
Ms. Olsen
15 March 2011
The Moonstone
Wilkie Collins’s famous detective novel, The Moonstone (1868), takes place in the 1840s during the high-Victorian imperialist age, a time in which the British experienced a long period of contentment and prosperity. During this time, a strong sense of anti-feminism seemed to thrive in British society. Despite this fact, Wilkie Collins did not hesitate to make the women in his novel central characters that have a great influence on the plot. Collins’s effort to balance the plot and characterization in his novel was a great success. The characters in The Moonstone are more than just fictional characters, as they portray various social and religious messages and scores of Collins’s personal ideas. The plot of The Moonstone is stimulated by secrecy, and its story line is further complicated by the suppressed voices of women in the story. Wilkie Collins’s unique narration, complicated social messages, and intricate symbolism are all separate features of the novel that make it outstanding. The novel begins with a prologue called “The Storming of Seringapatam (1799): (Extracted from a Family Paper)” (Collins 5), when the British are currently raiding the palace of General Baird. An English adventurer named John Herncastle obtained possession of a magnificent, yellow diamond that was sacred to the Hindus. In his last breath, one of the Brahmin men opened his mouth and spoke in his indigenous language saying “The Moonstone will have its vengeance yet on you and yours!” (Collins 6-7). After the prologue, the novel advances to fifty years later. Herncastle willed the marvelous diamond to his niece, Rachel Verinder, who is soon to receive the diamond as a gift for her eighteenth birthday from her cousin, Franklin Blake. “Herncastle’s gift of the diamond to Rachel was not a gift of love but a ‘gift’ of a curse and vengeance” (Grinstein 134). On the night of Rachel’s party, the diamond was stolen out of her room with no signs of how it may have vanished. This mysterious event can be seen as the turning point in the novel, as it causes the plot to accelerate and continue on in a whirlwind of false accusations, passionate emotions, several unforeseen deaths, and major trust issues between family members, including the servants of the house. The narration of The Moonstone is a very unique feature of the novel as it is told through the perspective of eleven different narrators. Collins’s use of multiple narrators “wrenches authority away from an individual first-person narrator or an ill-defined but omnipresent omniscient narrator” (Free 342). Because the story is told through various points of view, the reader is able to better understand Collins’s intricate plot by following the story through the eyes and minds of all his characters. Patrick Brantlinger notes how the plot unravels “through the gradual discovery of knowledge, until at the end what detective and reader know coincides with what the secretive or somehow remiss narrator-author has presumably known all along” (Gruner 226). The reader only knows what the characters themselves knew about the events at the time they experienced them; this essentially puts them in a detective position. Not only does Collins keep his readers guessing, but he also uses his characters to present social messages to his readers throughout the story. Ian Duncan states that “the characterological scheme expresses a historical and cultural crisis of national dimensions” (Duncan 300). In most Victorian novels, servants exist as background characters, and nothing more. Contrarily, several of the main characters of The Moonstone are servants who not only play significant roles in the story, but also discuss their social positions. Rosanna Spearman and Gabriel Betteredge are two examples of servants who frequently speak up and make various comments about social class. Betteredge is a very stubborn, prejudiced man who...
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