The Psychology of the Serpent in D.H. Lawrence's Snake

Powerful Essays
The Psychology of the Serpent in D.H. Lawrence's 'Snake'

Less than 17% of the world's snakes are poisonous and less than half of these are dangerous to man. The risk of death as a result of snakebite is, in fact, lower than the risk of being struck by lightning (Pinney 138). Nonetheless, cross-culturally and throughout the world, the snake is an object of fascination, fear, and respect for humankind. The serpent is a source of symbolic speculation, as it appears in myth, dream, literature, and religion. In nature or otherwise, "it is impossible to approach the creature innocently" (Morgenson 3). As D.H. Lawrence's poem, "Snake", suggests, the snake's invoked power in not a result of any physiological aspect of the snake's chemistry, but rather a consequence of the psychological symbol that defines the snake's being. Like many of Lawrence's nature poems, Barbara Hardy classifies "Snake" as "anthropomorphic", composing the snake as a creature in itself, but "through the images of human experience" (43). Lawrence's serpent is carefully constructed with a sense of immediacy and harsh reality, but it is through the eyes and experience of the human narrator that the reader comes to understand the snake. More importantly, the reader comes to understand the pure necessity, and the pure immorality, of subconscious symbolism and judgement. The snake provokes both terror and respect.

Aside from the reality of a mysterious, occasionally poisonous predator is the archetypal image of the serpent, latent with mythological, biblical, and historical symbols. Among the most common phobias is ophiaphobia, or fear of snakes, despite the unlikeliness of one to encounter a snake in the urban world (Rapoport 195). Lawrence, though ...

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...s Cited

Hardy, Barbara. "D.H. Lawrence's Self-Consciousness." D.H. Lawrence in the Modern World. Ed. Peter Preston and Peter Hoare. New York: Cambridge UP, 1989. 27-46.

Hobsbaum, Philip. A Reader's Guide to D.H. Lawrence. London: Thames and Hudson, 1981.

Lawrence, D.H. "Snake." The Norton Anthology of English Literature: Major Authors. 6th ed. Ed. M.H. Abrams, et al. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. 2452-54.

McGuire, William et al, eds. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. 5th vol. 2nd ed. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1956.

Morgenson, Greg. The Serpent's Prayer: The Psychology of an Image. N.D. On-line. Available: 22 February 1998.

Pinney, Roy. The Snake Book. New York: Doubleday, 1981.

Rapoport, Judith L. The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing. New York: NAL Penguin, 1989.
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