How do the characters of The Intuitionist experience fear? Can someone please help me with ideas for my essay on The Intuitionist? This is the essay prompt: One of the threads running through...

How do the characters of The Intuitionist experience fear?

Can someone please help me with ideas for my essay on The Intuitionist? This is the essay prompt:

One of the threads running through The Intuitionist is an authorial interest in fear and the human response to it.
Given this, your goal is to analyze the characters' concept/experience of fear in a manner that explains their culminating responses to it.

Here is a suggestion for analyzing Lila Mae in a manner that accounts for her embedded textual context:

Lila Mae: Whitehead’s ways of representing and conceiving “fear-response” are signaled by the foundations, respectively, of Empiricism and Intuitionism; by the political combat and stakes of city governance; and by the role of fear in a noir detective plot. Imagine that each of these sites of “fear-response” in some way engages Lila Mae and, thereby, influences the nature and outcome of her self-confrontation.

1 Answer | Add Yours

akannan's profile pic

Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Fear drives much of the characters' narratives throughout Whitehead's work. One example of this would be in the Empiricist foundation of absolutism.  Lila Mae is considered to be such a threat to the Empiricists because of their embedded fear that they might be wrong.  While she speaks about "White people's reality," Lila Mae suggests that the Empiricist foundational notion of consciousness is afraid of "the other:"  ''[Reality] is built on what things appear to be -- that's the business of Empiricism. They judge them on how they appear when held up to the light, the wear on the carriage buckle, the stress fractures in the motor casing."  The Empiricist response to fear is to demonize "the other."  It is for this reason that Fulton's plans for the black box are coveted in order to be destroyed. At the same time, it is the same reason that Lila Mae is discredited.  The Intuitionist approach is a fearful one for the Empiricist.  It is one in which fear plays a major role in its response to "the other."

I think that another example of fear playing a large role in a character's response would be Pompey.  He plays the role of a "pet" for White society out of the fear that he will be unable to provide a better life for his children. Fear of lack of opportunities and economic advancement play a large role in his responses. Part of his resentment towards Lila Mae is that she lacks this fear because of her independent and solitary nature.  Pompey must act in the name of other people.  As a result, he is afraid of speaking out and voicing dissent because he is African- American.  His fear of racial intolerance causes him to acquiesce to it and endure humiliation and degradation.

I think that Fulton might be one another character in which fear plays an interesting role in forming his experiences.  Fulton "passes" for White, even though he is African- American.  His fear at "coming out" is what motivates his responses to White society.  He formulates his Intuitionist theory, in part, to criticize the Empiricist White social perception of the world.  The "Black Box" is an attempt to goad White society.  Fulton's fear of social intolerance is what enables him to develop a philosophy that transcends external reality, seeking to construct what can be from what is.  I think that this is where fear plays a role in impacting his narrative.  The fear of rejection and marginalization compels Fulton to develop an alternate way of thinking where individual character will be recognized and understood.  It is in this light where fear impacts characterization.

In these examples, fear plays a critical role in understanding individual characters.  Their narratives are formulated out of their response to fear.  Fear of being different or being "the other" is what defines reality for many of them. Their responses to it is what establishes their characterizations in the novel.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,960 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question