One thing these second two episodes have convinced me of is the importance of literary allusions. I'm still not sure where they are intended and where they are being read into; but as Glenn and I mentioned in the thread on Part 1, it hardly matters. Certainly the recap made a great case for the ongoing centrality of Coleridge; and I really appreciated Glenn's recap of the history of Cerberus (I had no idea he had any number of heads but there anywhere save this story).
So let me start with the allusions.
You two do a good job on why Wolfe might have invoked Dickens. But why did Number 5 do so? What was in his mind as he compared his aunt to Betsey Trotwood? On the surface level, of course, Betsey Trotwood's focus on David Coperfield's utterly hypothetical sister, and her wishing he had been a girl, seems to Number 5 to parallel Aunt Jeannine's question about whether he has a sister. But on a deeper level, Betsey Trotwood was originally cold to David Coperfield — upon learning he was a boy not a girl, she abandoned him for years — but upon his showing up to beg for help, she ended up saving him from a tyrannical step-father. (And if Number 5 really is a clone, then his "father" might be seen as analogous to a step-father, i.e. not a biological father.) Thus the comparison expresses, perhaps subconsciously, Number 5's wish for Aunt Jeannine to rescue him from his tyrannical father. (And to make him rich, which, (rot13) fur yngre qbrf.)
Nabokov: the connections to Lolita are, I think, deeper than you trace. First, in that novel Humbert Humbert is also a step-father, or a false-father (he marries the mother of Dolores Hazes (whom he calls Lolita) to get at her, and becomes her sole support, and unhindered tormentor, when her mother dies). And Humbert is, of course, a sexual pervert (to use the old-fashioned language that seems to fit) and abuser — just as #5's father, a brothel-owner, might be said to be. And Lolita is a novel written (save for the brief forward) by a narrator in prison on the charge of murder — as (I think we've already seen by this point) Number 5 was, although he writes once released. Interestingly, this makes Number 5 both HH (the murderer writing his own justification in a "fancy prose style") and Dolores Haze (the child tormented by the false father, who is a sexual pervert). This dual identity for #5 is, of course, very fitting, given the whole course of the story, and fits the duality of his character well. (By the by, the author of Lolita's name is pronounced NabOkov, not NabAkov, as was famously done by Sting in the Police song; the last two vowels are the same rather than the first two.)
Finally, two very small points about Proust: first, you say in your recap that the drugs his father give him makes Number 5 "lose time" (your exact phrase!) — as we also see later in the story. Well, of course Proust's novel is In Search of Lost Time. Make of that what you will. Finally, the term " demi-monde" is used several times — in particular, I believe, for Odette, Swann's love (and later wife). So that's a connection there, as well. (By the way, I just loved the connection that demi-monde is literally half-world, as the planet that Number 5 is on is a half-world, and that the abos are nymphs du bois, since they have sex with trees.)
On other topics...
- You mention that the narrator's father's experiments on him started when he was seven. Well, this time around I noted that what he actually says is that he was "seven of our world’s long years" — which highlights the fact that the years are the years of Saint Croix, which might be different from those of Earth. Which is to say, we don't actually know how old he is at all. (Is "long year" comparative? Or just poetic? We don't know.)
- I mentioned in my comments on Part 1 the issue of Number 5's first name, but of course it turned out you covered that here, making the same points I did. Ah well. Unlike you two, I don't live in the future....
- Toy soldier symbolism: you didn't note, and maybe you took it as obvious, another reading here, which is that the larger thing that Number 5 wants to knock down (projected, Freudian-style, onto the boy and the toy) is his own father, who is bigger than he is. FWIW, in Wolfe's autobiographical musings quoted in Ellison's introduction to Wolfe's stories in the anthology Again, Dangerous Visions — writtena round the same time as this story — Wolfe says of his father: "He was a man who was home only on weekends, and brought me one or two lead soldiers every time he came, until I had a corrugated board box of them so heavy I could not pick it up. If we're so much richer now, why can't you buy those lead soldiers any more?" Not sure there's much to make of this, but it's interesting that Wolfe's association with his father is also toy soldiers. (The answer to Wolfe's question is so obvious you'd think he would know it: because lead poisons children's brains, and children put toys in their mouths. But that's off-topic.)
- We talked in the discussion of the recap episode about how the notion of mimicking of consciousness, in which the mimicry becomes, or doesn't, or maybe does maybe not, equal to the whole, is a recurring theme in Wolfe (both in stories you've covered, and later in BotNS, and elsewhere). Here, of course, it is present in both the issue of Number 5's identity viz-a-viz his father, and also Mr. Million. But it is also parallel to the question of Veil's hypothesis, in which the same thing is thought to happen on a solar system-wide scale.
On Veil's hypothesis: Of course the name, Veil, has multiple meanings — is the abos own identity vieled from them (that was how I took it: not that the abos all knew they were abos, but that they had mimicked humanity so closely that they mimicked humanity's identity, losing not only their mimicry ability but also their own memories of having done this, hence, "they're not dead, we are").
And to answer the question Glenn left readers with: no, we can't tell if Veil's Hypothesis is true from this part of the story. Bloody hell, we'll be lucky to be able tell if it's true after we've read the whole darn novel.
One question though: if Veil's hypothesis were true, and the abos killed all the humans and mimicked them, how did Number 5's cloned ancestors survive that purge? (I did like the idea that Veil's hypothesis did happen, in a sense, culturally, with the English replacing the French... although this perhaps shows how the hypothesis could not be true, since the mimicry could never be perfect: the French, here, does persist; if the hypothesis were true, wouldn't alien culture be even harder to eradicate than an earlier same-species one?)
Re: the ethnicity of Celts... you mention the idea of Elves surviving, a la Robert E Howard: but Celts themselves play a role rather like the French in this story: replaced, intermingled, with only scraps of their language surviving in street names and sayings. (Ok, that last is exaggerated, people still speak Celtic languages, but you get my drift.) The allusion doesn't need to be to stories about elves; it could be to actual history.
I had the same interpretation of the three heads of Cerberus that Glenn did — with the neutral one being Mr Million and the joking one Aunt Jeannine. But I wonder if, by the end of the story, all three will have some aspects of all three? And what are we to make of David's joke, later in the story, about Cerberus's fourth head?
Finally, one small question: why was the seven-masted ship towed? Is that standard in harbors, or does it indicate something about the society's level?
Thanks, as always, for a splendid episode, with superb close reading & many other great insights. Looking forward to part 3....
Stephen, I'm obsessed with these sailing ships! It is normal for such ships to be towed through canals like this, and sometimes through harbors (though more often it is simply the case that a special harbor pilot takes over the sailing ship).
Wow, you nailed the Nabokovian reading of this story. We're nearly done recording our V.R.T. episodes, so we'll be getting on to our final wrap-up episodes very shortly. We will almost certainly be talking about prison narratives as a genre, and it looks like we'll have to include this. It's not our first and certainly won't be our last debt to your insights.
There are a large number of intellectual problems with accepting Veil's Hypotehsis. One of them is the biological mechanism of the shape-shifting. What exactly changes? How much choice does the organism have in the process, or is it in some ways an autonomic response to the environment? What happens to internal organs -- especially the brain (or, whatever nervous system these beings have)? What happens to genetic material -- can you reproduce with a true member of the species you are mimicking? Another problem is the timeline. Veil's Hypothesis supposes that this happened when the French settlers arrived (and maybe it did), but decades later there was at least one more group of settlers, the English-speaking (i.e. American) colonists. Were they also murdered by Abos -- Abos who were by then masquerading as humans and perhaps actually thought they were humans? Are there two sentient species on Sainte Croix now: the human descendants of the American colonists and the Abo descendants of the people who took the appearance of the French colonists?
Of course I missed a perfectly obvious Freudian element here. I need to work on this. Is there a type of therapy where you can overcome your antipathy to Freud so that you can actually recognize Freudian motifs when they're right in front of you?