118 Swiss Army Man

Daniel Harrison

In Poe’s novel, the use of blood as a tool of survival helps to illustrate the essential humanity of the characters, while also highlighting their vulnerability. There are two important instances where this is evident: Augustus’ writing of his letter in blood, and the use of blood to disguise Arthur.

When Arthur receives the note from his friend, he is only able to read the final few words: “blood – your life depends on lying close” (25). At this point, one cannot imagine that the letter is written in blood. The inclusion of that word, however, feels significant. Even the mere mention of blood, the imagery and weight of the word, indicates a survival situation. This serves to illustrate the importance of blood, how the word is immediately associated with danger and a base form of survival. When it is revealed later that Augustus found ink “by means of a slight incision with the penknife on the back of a finger just above the nail,” the resulting image is powerful and vivid. Writing a letter in blood is an intensely personal affair, and calls attention to Augustus’ essential humanity, by using an extrahuman substance as a tool of survival. At no point is blood associated with animals; it remains clearly human, a personification of vulnerability. This serves the raise the human above animalistic standards, even in dire situations of survival.

When Augustus and Peters resolve to disguise Arthur, they do so with blood taken once more “from a cut in his finger.” Again, Augustus uses his own body as an inkwell, making blood a tool of survival. The deliberate and calculate extraction and use of blood contrasts with a typical depiction of blood, as a substance to indicate injury and distress. Instead, this calls attention to the measures Augustus is willing to take in his pursuit of survival. Willingly cutting his finger and drawing blood is both an image of weakness and strength: he is growing weaker by harming himself, but the advantages gained by this are making him stronger. This creates a duality in which Augustus is both painfully human, and thus vulnerable, but also strong through his resourcefulness and sacrifice.

The use of blood as a tool serves to create a separation of the body, distinguishing between the human as an individual with agency, and the extrahuman as an extension of the body to be used by the human. The ultimate effect of this underscores and emphasizes the basic humanity of Poe’s characters, characterized by the tension between vulnerability and strength.


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The Open Anthology of Earlier American Literature: A PSU-Based Project Copyright © 2016 by Daniel Harrison is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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