In literature class, we started reading The Phoenix. Then we made an activity. I did it with Maria Roggero.
Author: Sylvia Townsend Warner
Biographical notice: Sylvia Townsend Warner was born in Middlesex in 1893. His early death was a blow to Sylvia and she moved to London soon after and found work in an armament factory. She had strong leftist leanings and she wrote anti-fascist articles for communist publications. Her dislike for commercialism is evident in this short story.
Brief comment on the context of production:
It was written in 1940 which was during the Second World War
The story begins at the aviary belonging to Lord Strawberry. Lord Strawberry then goes to Arabia to look by himself for an authentic Phoenix, which he brings back to England. After his death, the Phoenix is moved in a cage at the Poldero’s Wizard Wonderworld. The story itself doesn’t say in what historical period this story is happening, however, given the fact that there is a Lord, aristocrats and the currency is shillings
The atmosphere in the story is warm at first Mr. Strawberry keeps the Phoenix well. But, when he dies the mood comes cold and cruel. We think that the mood at last it’s warmer because the phoenix kills all the people who have no sympathy.
Lord Strawberry: He is a cultured nobleman whose aviary is his pride. He is eager to add a phoenix to it and travels to Arabia in search of one. He finds a genuine one after which he spends time with the bird to win its confidence. Back home, he provides the bird with all it needs. Lord Strawberry stands for humans who never come into clash with nature as they understand it well.
“Lord Strawberry, a nobleman, collected birds”
Poldero: is the proprietor of Poldero’s Wizard Wonderland where he exhibits his collection of unusual creatures. Poldero bids for and buys Lord Strawberry’s phoenix when the nobleman dies. Poldero is in this business purely for the money his collection brings him. He does not have any feelings for his creatures.
“We could sell a bird like that”
Phoenix: It is a legendary and rare bird, who when the time comes, he builds a nest and bursts into flames so he can rise from its ashes.
There are two conflicts in the story. The first one is Man vs Self. Poldero is a very greedy man, he wants to gain profit from the sales of the tickets to see the Phoenix and will not stop at any cost. This leads us to our second conflict, Man vs Nature. For Poldero to be able to gain more money, he needs the Phoenix to die since it bursts into flames. But, the Phoenix is not going to die in any time soon. So, Poldero tries various ways to age the Phoenix, but, they are very unnaturally. He is messing with nature.
The main theme is the greed of man and his exploitation of nature for commercial success. Man comes into conflict with nature and nature exacts a heavy price. The phoenix stands for nature and Poldero stands for the human race which will do anything for money. Poldero finds that people are not interested in the phoenix as it is “too quiet”. So he puts the bird through an artificial aging process so that it will burn itself. There is also the theme of the society’s fascination for the sensational and the grotesque. People queue in large numbers to witness the macabre self immolation by the phoenix. Nature.
Figures of speech/ rhetorical devices:
Symbolism: The Phoenix is a symbol of immortality, since, he bursts into flames and rises from its ashes
Irony: The crowds that flocked to see the Phoenix, unnaturally aged for the profit of Poldero, go in to see the grand death of the rare bird, but they are the ones who end up dying.
After that, we made an essay. Here is mine:
How does Warner make the character of Polder particularly unpleasant for you?
The Phoenix by Sylvia Townsend Warner it’s a story that deals with a very common topic which is abuse. The abuser in this case it’s Poldero. He is a very rude man and Warner makes him particularly unpleasant showing that he only cares about money, and demonstrating how he abuses animals for his own good.
First of all, Warner can portray us Poldero as an unpleasant character since he only cares about money. Mr Poldero has in his possession a very special and beautiful animal, the Phoenix, but he does not care about that and his characteristics he just cares about the money the phoenix can give him. “Suppose (..) we could somehow get him alight?” in this quote, Poldero is suggesting that they should speed up the “death” of the Phoenix so that he can promote the event and gain money from it. This shows that Poldero is disgustingly greedy, abusive, and does not care about any other being other than himself.
Secondly, this character abuses animals for his own good. He finds a way to exploit the situation, he does not care about abusing an animal. He wanted to make profit on a creature’s death torturing the phoenix to age so that he could earn money. “the phoenix was moved to a small cage that had a sprinkler on the ceiling” in this quote, Poldero found out that the climate in Arabia, the phoenix’s birth place, was dry, so he put the bird in a box with a sprinkler so that he would suffer in a wet environment. This shows how little regard Poldero has towards the life of other beings. He is a careless abuser.
In conclusion, Poldero is a disgusting character and Warner makes it unpleasant by describing the things he does, like abusing and being selfish.