Salome: Gaze and Vision

Salome: Gaze and Vision

The concept of gaze and vision in Wilde’s Salome is clearly very important if we are to ascribe to the common critical theory that gaze becomes synonymous with possession and dominance. It therefore becomes logical that the only two characters who cannot truly see, Salome(consequences) and Jokanaan(hidden in the cistern) are the two characters that die, as they are never able to gain a proper perspective of events, resulting in the fact that they are rendered powerless to intervene in their own fate. However, it could be argued that in the case of Salome, she remains a cipher as she both dominates proceeding by having gazes rendered unto her, yet remains overtly naïve about the consequences of her actions. For example, we see early on that Salome is aware of her own powers of manipulation, as shown by the rhythmic repetition of ‘You will do this thing for me, Narraboth. You know that you will do this thing for me.’ Here, the purposeful ambiguity of the statement renders Narraboth servile, and Salome immediately becomes dominant by virtue of the fact that she can draw men’s attention, embodying the role of the traditional femme fatale and reversing the traditional power structure of Victorian society. Conversely, she seems unable to restrain herself from this overt sexuality, unaware or better, ‘unseeing’ of the transgression she enacts when repeatedly affirming, ‘I will kiss your mouth, Jokanaan.’ It is when her sexuality derives into a crazed fascination with destroying social taboos that the other characters’ vision of Salome becomes warped, resulting in Herod’s fatal command to, ‘kill that woman.’

This is direct contrast towards Jokanaan, who is dragged against his will towards his fate precisely because he is prevented from seeing the world around him, and therefore can only acquiesce to the wishes of other more prominent characters such as Salome. He may not ‘wish to know who she is’, but this becomes unimportant in the context of the play due to his visual impotence. He cannot stop Salome’s wishes to see ‘nothing in the world so black as thy hair’ with a look, nor can he react beyond castigating her as the ‘daughter of Sodom. His oration is subsumed by the visual potency of the play, and so his death is inevitable as soon as he is dragged out so that others can see him. His gaze is non-existent and so he is effectively powerless. ‘I spake’ does not compare to ‘I look’ and so the head of Jokanaan must inevitably be separated as other characters are able to project their perceptions and feelings about the world onto him i.e. he becomes the casualty of Herod’s fixation with Salome. Therefore, what we can establish from the text is that power eventually goes to those who see and perceive the world around them the best- note here that the most rational character, Herodias, with her affirmation that ‘I do not believe in miracles’, stays unscathed. Death in Salome has a direct correlation to being in some way ‘blinded’ to the actions of those around you. -DF

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Filed under Week 8 reviews: Wilde's journalism, Wilde's Salome

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