Moth-eaten Mania

Though lists “mania” as a synonym for “obsession,” “obsession” doesn’t appear as a synonym for “mania.”  I wonder what the New Critic would say about that.  A denotation-connotation complex of sorts?

One of themes apparent in Jeffery Eugenides novel The Marriage Plot is that of a mania.   Each of the main characters manifests this obsessiveness differently.  Leonard literally suffers from manic depression, “mania” in its connotatively clinical sense, and exhibits bipolar behaviors characteristic of manic depressives.  Meanwhile,  the Hannas’ obsession is not one that might be responded to with a prescription for Lithium.  Their “mania,” though, as’s would suggest, would  ordinarily be characterized as an “obsession” for its non-clinical connotation, is a fixation on the maintenance of originality and antiquity.

 The Hannas’ house was a hundred-year-old Tudor. . . Inside, everything was tasteful and half falling apart. The Oriental carpets had stains. The brick-red kitchen linoleum was thirty years old. When Mitchell used the powder room, he saw that the toilet paper dispenser had been repaired with Scotch tape. So had the peeling wallpaper in the hallway. (74)

Everything about their home reflects its age: the stained carpet, the peeling wallpaper.  Eugenides uses the words “power room” not because  he avoids racier terms — he has no problem in the rest of the novel — like, heaven forbid, b-a-t-h-r-o-o-m, but because “powder room” exhibits an older, outdated (like their red-brick kitchen) connotation, a word long ago abandoned by most by this time.   Most every descriptive word in the above paragraph is a paradigmatic options for something old and out-of-date.  Words like “falling apart,” “stains,” “tape,” “peeling” develop this elderly imagery Eugenides creates.  Plus, linoleum and wallpaper have long gone out of date.  My grandmother tell me this all the time,  and she’s old enough to have been around to see the Hannas’ house being built.

Thank G-d for Scotch tape.

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