‘Bonfire Of The Vanities’ – Sherman’s Metamorphosis Completed. Essay, Research Paper
The final chapter, ‘Into the Solar Plexus’, is the longest of the novel and in through the course of its 36 pages we see Sherman McCoy’s life dramatically turned around on two different occasions. Midway through the chapter we reach a point, after the new evidence has been presented to Kovitsky which all but clears Sherman’s name, the disastrous events of the last few months appear to be making way for happier times. However, we soon realise that even if Sherman does avoid punishment in the form of a prison sentence, the punishment he has already suffered will make a return to his former way of life an impossibility. The media coverage of the ‘Henry Lamb case’ has led to the breakdown of his marriage, the loss of his highly-paid job and hence the inability to sustain the sort of lifestyle that he and his family had been used to, and his castigation from society. So, by this stage in the proceedings, the verdict in court is of little importance – Sherman McCoy has nothing more to lose. What is interesting to look at towards the conclusion of the novel is the differing responses when Kovitsky dismisses the case against Sherman. Certainly, the response of the court spectators is completely predictable, as is that of the court officers; it is the reaction of two men, Kovitsky and, more importantly, Sherman, that merits closer attention. For this purpose, it is useful to stylistically analyse the final pages of the novel. By page 718, the spectators have learned of Kovitsky’s decision to adjourn the court and it is clear that trouble is brewing. The tension of the situation is heightened by the writer’s use of short, simple sentences which put across their message concisely. For instance, the sentence ‘A tremendous commotion from behind’, relates the facts in the briefest possible manner, helping to create a tense atmosphere in which events are taking place at high speed. The descriptive narrative of these pages is filled with imagery which also helps to create a feeling of excitement and action. The metaphor ‘. . . his eyes blazing’, is the first of a number of references which create an image of the devil and of the blazing inferno in which he, and increasingly Sherman, inhabit. We get some idea of the animalistic qualities of the crowd who have attended the trial through language such as: ‘Three officers left the line that was trying to herd the demonstrators out of the courtroom.’ And also by constant use of onomatopoeia, whereby the demonstrators are described as ‘rumbling’ and ‘growling’. There is a great deal of vulgar language littered throughout this section and this, as well as the constant use of colloquialisms such as ‘Yo!’, ‘Hi!’, and ‘F’r Chrissake’ help to add realism to the description. As the narrative continues, we notice further devices employed by the author to make the description of events seem more real and thrilling. The present tense is used more frequently, as in the sentence, ‘All at once, just to his left, Sherman sees the wild rawboned form of Quigley.’ The single consonant words at the start of the sentence can only be read with a sense of urgency and help to create an atmosphere of excitement. The continual use of adjectives like ‘wild’ and ‘crazy’ reinforces the chaotic tone of the storyline. The prose immediately following on from the above sentence: ‘He’s joined the court officers. He’s trying to herd the mob back. He has a crazy look on his face’, enables us to see exactly what Sherman is seeing and feeling which makes the reader feel more a part of the action. Further on in the description, we see the use of other literary devices employed to keep the action flowing. In the sentence ‘Pushing and shoving . . . a terrific thrashing about . . . Quigley!’, we are made aware of Sherman’s disjointed thoughts by the us e of three dots to separate each statement. We get some impression of the almost surreal atmosphere of the courtroom fight when Sherman describes one of the aggressors using the hyperbolic language: ‘He has his head stuck way up in the air . . .’. Later on the same page Sherman again gives an exagge rated impression of the man attacking him: ‘A contorted face. An enormous bony finger.’ The motif of time is present throughout the concluding pages of the novel with many devices being used to ensure an atmosphere of fast moving action is created. Added to this is Sherman’s constant reference to ‘Now’. It is as if there is no longer any need to contemplate the future, because for Sherman there is no future. He prefers to live in the present, in the ‘now’, and it can be no coincidence that much of the description at the end of the novel takes place in the present tense. A further explanation of the phrase, ‘Now it begins!’, is that Sherman is accepting that the time has come for him to shed the final features of civilised man; he has already lost his wife, his job, his house and his self-respect, all that remains to be discarded is his self-control before he sinks down to the animalistic depths of the court spectators. As the chapter draws to a close, there are more references to the devil and to the metaphorical underworld that Sherman is fast becoming a part of. The robes of Kovitsky billow out ‘like enormous black wings’ and in the penultimate paragraph of the novel we are told that Sherman ‘let out a short harsh red laugh’. The colour red being significantly the colour of the devil and the colour of blood. The final paragraph offers paints a startling picture of how much Sherman has changed since the opening sections of the book and shows to what extent he has degenerated. Once the archetypal Waspish figure of respectability, it is not only his behaviour which has so dramatically altered, but his speech: ‘it don’t matter!’. These are the final words that Sherman utters and are quite appropriate – his actions are no longer of any consequence, his life has been ruined already. He has now cast off all the features of a civilised man and has been forced to become the predator in an unforgiving world: ‘He could feel his upper lip stretching across his teeth’ – he is the wolf out for revenge.