The World of Opposites and Plato Using Samuel Taylor Coleridge Novel Christabel

The World of Opposites and Plato Using Samuel Taylor Coleridge Novel Christabel

In his philosophical view Plato wanted to study the difference and correlation between the world of forms and the world of ideas. In his not finished poem-novel Christabel Coleridge also turns to the imaginary world, which coexists with real one. Omens, inner feelings, different sings help the readers to get the author’s message, which is hidden behind the plot structure.
Plato’s theory of “Things and Ideas (or Forms)” makes an outstanding contribution to the Western Philosophical thought. Although he has written a lot of books on different aspects including political science, ethical theory, psychology and art, he is known all over the world mostly due to this theory of “Things and Ideas”. The idea that the reality that we see around us is not a true reality, but just a reflection of the higher reality makes the cores of the theory of “Things and Ideas”.
Things are those objects which can be perceived by human senses and include everything that surrounds us. These things altogether make a sensible world. This world is changeable, fleeting and never certain. The reason of this changeability is that the world of things is nothing more than a reflection of the Ideal world or the world of Forms. The Forms are unchanging and eternal. They are not created and will exist forever. The world of Forms makes the realm of being and this being is the real world. But it can not be perceive by our ordinary senses and all we see is just a reflection of the real world. With our senses we can perceive only the realm of the becoming – the way the being is realized in our perception. The becoming is changeable and imperfect. It usually disfigures the Ideal objects. Plato wanted reality to be fixed, permanent, and unchanging. He identified the real with the ideal realm of being as opposed to the physical world of becoming. We can perceive things by our senses only because they have their ideal pairs in the realm of the Being. If we can say that some thing is “beautiful” it means that this “beauty” is nothing more but a reflection of the Form of “Beauty” which exists on the level of Forms or Ideas. The theory of Forms or Ideas insists on the dual nature of the world stating that every subject we see here in the realm of becoming has its “Ideal” equivalent in the realm of being.
Let’s concentrate on the realm of being now. According to Plato it contains absolute and perfect Forms, such as Love, Justice, Beauty, etc. The Forms are transcendental that means that they stand beyond space and time and present an Ultimate Reality without disfiguring. The theory may seem complicated and far-fetched but it was a necessary measure for the time when all the philosophical science was called in question by the Sophists’ teaching. This teaching denied any fundamental notions, such as Good and Bad, Beauty and Ugliness putting everything under doubt and calling these notions only the matters of individual opinion. What was good for one person could be bad for another and vice verse. The theory of Forms was created by Plato to prove an existence of universal notions which are true for everyone and don’t depend on the individuals’ perception. At the same time the theory gives explanation of the differences which basic notions have in our heads. The Forms from the world of being are refracted by our “reality” and they are individual for each human as they are perceived through the filter of one’s senses. Ideal Forms are changed by the senses of each individual and this is the reason of different interpretations. In his dialog called “Parmenides” Plato finds a lot of flaws in the theory of being but finally he stresses on the necessity of this theory: “If a man refuses to admit that forms of things exist or to distinguish a definite form in every case, he will have nothing on which to fix his thought… and in so doing he will completely destroy the significance of all discourse [Plato, “Parmenides”, 9]. This way the theory of Being gives people some generalized notions – unchangeable, objective and transcendental. This gives people stimulus to seek for true knowledge and hope to count on the higher truth and gives a hope to get the ability to see the real world of being without distortions. The path to this knowledge is long and winding but the result – possession of the true knowledge on the nature of things and events - is definitely worth it.
Reality and imagination are so closely interconnected in Coleridge’s poem that it becomes hard to distinguish them. This way Plutonian dilemma about distinguishing them becomes irresolvable. In the novel we can see that things very often are different from the first impression they make on us. Geraldine, who appears as a light and innocent creature, becomes the source of problems, quarrels and misunderstanding. Christabel’s father, who seems to love his daughter more than life, suddenly discovers his true feelings about her. Christabel is trapped in the world of her fantasies. Her naivety does not let her recognize true intentions of Geraldine. The author vividly illustrates that each of the characters of the novel leaves in his illusionary world and despite they coexist in one house, each of them has his own illusions, which shape out his reality and way of thinking.
Plato’s opposites are presented by two women – protagonists of the novel. Geraldine and Christabel represent two opposing forces of good and evil, right and wrong Kind and naive Christabel does not recognize evil nature of Geraldine right at once. The author gives only light hints for the reader and only with the development of the subject we can truly discover the evil part of Geraldine. Small hints which get the readers and the characters of the novel later are understood like bad omens. Geraldine was not able to enter the house herself. She also could not pronounce a prayer. All these sings help to recognize the evil nature of Geraldine. Christabel does not notice them either and she looses the blessing of her dead mother who protected her.
These two opposing characters do not only confront each other. From the very beginning of the novel Christabel is attracted to Geraldine. Despite these two women present two opposing notions, some invisible force links them together. The author, same like Plato, underlines that good and evil are closely interconnected. In order to distinguish good things, we must have evil deeds in order to compare them. Same in the Coleridge’s poem Christabel’s innocence and purity is underlined by Geraldine. And despite Christabel loses much in her fight with dark forces, there are much things which she gains. She loses the blessing of her mother, she uncovers true feelings of her father about her, but she finds courage to stand everything and rediscovers her inner self. Coleridge wanted to attract an attention of his readers to their own personalities. The characters of the poem-novel can be regarded as the parts of the personality. Like every person who discovers not very pleasant things about herself Christabel is frightened and embarrassed after meeting Geraldine. Hesitation almost breaks her spirit and fear deprives her of courage but finally she finds inner courage to go on. Faith becomes that weapon, which helps her to start fighting with difficult circumstances. Two opposites in Coleridge’s novel depend on each other. They are interconnected so closely that we can not separate them or distinguish them from each other.


Works Cited
Plato. Parmenides. Francis Macdonald Cornford, trans. The Collected Dialogues of
Plato: Including the Letters. Hamilton, Edith and Huntington Cairns, ed. Princeton, NJ:Bollingen Series LXXI: Princeton U. Pr., 1989 [1961].
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “Christabel.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. M.
H. Abrams. Vol. 2. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. 349-364.