How does Stevenson deviate from realism in "The Beach of Falesá"? What are the gothic aspects he uses for this shift?

Stevenson deviates from realism, at least on the surface, by basing the plot of "The Beach of Falesá" on taboos and superstitious beliefs attributed to people who are native to the Pacific Islands. The irony is that happenings in the story that appear at first to have a supernatural basis are actually the result of tricks, of "smoke and mirrors" created by a man who is essentially a con artist and is deceiving the native people for his own purposes.

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Stevenson deviates from realism by introducing a number of gothic elements into his story. Characteristically rich in local color, “The Beach of Falesá” is full of strange taboos and magic spells, which, to Victorians, would've seemed like weird, barbaric customs.

From the vantage point of the white man, these elements...

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Stevenson deviates from realism by introducing a number of gothic elements into his story. Characteristically rich in local color, “The Beach of Falesá” is full of strange taboos and magic spells, which, to Victorians, would've seemed like weird, barbaric customs.

From the vantage point of the white man, these elements do indeed represent a departure from realism in that they're not a part of his worldview. But from the standpoint of the natives that John Wiltshire encounters, there's nothing strange about them at all; they're all a perfectly normal part of daily life.

And yet, unbeknownst to them, their cultural practices have been shaped to a large extent by the gothic elements to which they have been introduced by Case, a con artist who delves into his big bag of tricks to convince the indigenous people that he has demonic powers.

In exposing Case as the thoroughgoing charlatan that he is, Wiltshire introduces a bit of good old-fashioned realism into the story. This may not induce the inhabitants of the island to change their exotic worldview, but at the very least it will make it harder for Case to continue exerting such malevolent power over them and ruthlessly exploiting their credulity for his own benefit.

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"The Beach of Falesá" is one of R. L. Stevenson's more naturalistic works, set in the present day and without the swashbuckling adventure of Kidnapped or the path-breaking science fiction of the The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. It's a straightforward story about deception and vindication, but with an underlying message about the difficulties inherent in cross-cultural relations between Europeans and Pacific Islanders and, at least implicitly, about the injustice of imperialism.

The novella is gothic only in the sense that the island people are imposed upon by a man named Case who has tricked them into believing that he has supernatural powers or that he is, or controls, a "devil" whom they call Tiapolo. Case is a trader who is the rival of the narrator Wiltshire, and he has turned the "natives" against Wiltshire by convincing them that the girl Wiltshire has married has had a taboo placed upon her.

Case's power stems from his having set up a series of auditory and visual tricks deep in the island forest. A "Tyrolean harp" creates eerie sounds when the wind blows through it, and statues covered in "luminous paint" have been placed in a kind of demonic jungle shrine to frighten the islanders, who are stereotypically portrayed as ignorant and gullible. It is a veneer of the gothic and preternatural Stevenson presents in the tale, and in the end, Wiltshire succeeds in blowing up Case's "temple" and killing this manipulator, though at the cost of Wiltshire's breaking his own leg and having to start anew as a trader in a different location.

What could be labeled gothic, at least metaphorically, however, is the frightening ability of a man such as Case to perpetrate such a deception. In some ways Stevenson can be seen to have anticipated Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Like Kurtz in Conrad's novella, Case has set himself up as a kind of god over the "natives." In both cases it is an especially perverse form of colonialist dominance being carried out by an unscrupulous and borderline psychotic individual. Whether or not these kinds of ruses were successful in reality, there is surely something gothic in the very idea of them as attempts to use superstition and vulnerability to bolster the power dynamic that existed between colonizer and colonized.

In Stevenson's treatment, Wiltshire, though his speech and attitude are racist, can be seen as subverting this dynamic, by legitimizing his marriage to Uma and by destroying Case's phony religious impositions upon the island people. "The Beach of Falesá" is thus a seminal progressive work, though it makes its points in a roundabout way and unfortunately expresses or seems to uphold the negative stereotypes so commonly held at the time by Europeans about nonwhite peoples.

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