E Pluribus Unicorn: Sturgeon Is Alive and Well

by Theodore Sturgeon
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 551

Love is Sturgeon's great theme, and his short stories explore both the dark and bright sides. "Bianca's Hands" (E Pluribus Unicorn ; first published in 1947 but written in 1939) is a haunting account of a young man's obsession with the beautiful hands of an otherwise ugly and idiotic...

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Love is Sturgeon's great theme, and his short stories explore both the dark and bright sides. "Bianca's Hands" (E Pluribus Unicorn; first published in 1947 but written in 1939) is a haunting account of a young man's obsession with the beautiful hands of an otherwise ugly and idiotic woman. Ultimately he marries the woman, just to be near her hands. And on their wedding night, he blissfully allows the hands to strangle him. In other stories (as in Godbody, 1986) Sturgeon is intent on broadening his readers' understanding and tolerance of variant forms of human sexuality. "The World Well Lost" (E Pluribus Unicorn, 1953) attacks the unthinking fear and hatred of homosexuals in American society. There is a fairly elaborate science fictional framework, but in essence the story is simply a call for compassion and tolerance. It is also a story that perhaps typifies some of Sturgeon's weaknesses as a writer, for the humanity and generosity of the message are not matched by the quality of the vehicle. Once a reader gets over the audacity of a science fiction story of the 1950s expressing any sympathy at all for homosexuality, he might notice certain implausibility’s. Although the story is set in a supposedly jaded and sybaritic society, the hero is a homosexual who secretly and unrequitedly loves a homophobic shipmate and agonizes over the possibility of exposure. The reader wonders why there are not other homosexuals for him to share his love with, and why he is content to love a man who can never return his love, who would indeed despise him if his secret were known. And yet there is something moving about the inarticulate hero holding on desperately to even this unfulfilling and furtive love. Perhaps he, like the doomed young hero of "Bianca's Hands," typifies humanity's need for some kind of love — even when that love is unsatisfying or destructive.

But love is also a profoundly redemptive force in Sturgeon's art. "To Here and the Easel" (Sturgeon Is Alive and Well, 1954) tells the story — probably at least partly autobiographical — of Giles, a once-successful artist suffering through a terrible creative block. The narrative cuts back and forth between his crises and a sequence of hallucinatory episodes in which he imaginatively identifies with Rogero, a knight (borrowed from Ariosto's Orlando Furioso, 1516-1532) rendered powerless by an enchanter's spell. The parallel between the imprisoned knight and the artist unable to create is both a bravura piece of storytelling and a wonderfully perceptive metaphor for the artistic experience. Ultimately Giles, in both of his manifestations, is freed by the love of a woman who believes in him and teaches him to believe once again in himself and in the reality of beauty.

A similar pattern is followed in "Slow Sculpture," a kind of counterpart to "Brownshoes." In this case the hero, a brilliant scientist-inventor, has fallen into the trap that "Brownshoes" avoided: His inventions have been gobbled up by corporations to destroy possible competition and loss of profits. Enraged and bitter, he sits imprisoned by despair on his own estate, convinced of the futility of further effort, until he too is saved by the love of a woman. Both "Slow Sculpture" and "To Here and the Easel" flirt with overly sentimental and pat resolutions; each escapes, by the wit and elegance of their execution.

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