Themes
 

HOBBY-HORSE

Lillabullero

Don Quixote

Noses

Names
 
 

HOBBY-HORSE

The word HOBBY-HORSE is present both in all caps and in lower case letters throughout the book. HOBBY-HORSE is not only used as a noun, it is also used as an adjective and an adverb. HOBBY-HORSE superficially describes a hobby which a person obsessively pursues. However, the underlying meaning of a HOBBY-HORSE often refers to sexual images, whether they are the sex organs, sexual activities, etc. One possible reason why Tristram uses HOBBY-HORSE to refer to sexual images can be the fact that a hobby-horse is a child's toy stick horse. The way one rides a HOBBY-HORSE provides clear imagery of the sexual references.

HOBBY-HORSES are only attributed to the male characters of the book. From the reading, one comes to understand that often times the word refers to the male sex organ. Other times it refers to sexual activity. Sexual activity is described as a journey and the object on which one rides during the journey is the HOBBY-HORSE. The author's usage of adjectives such as "hot" and "electric" to describe the journey suits the interpretation of the journey as sexual intercourse or activities.

HOBBY-HORSE, aside from being used to refer to the male sex organ and sexual intercourse, is also used as a metaphor for prostitutes. In one of the volumes, the author describes in detail about the man "riding" a HOBBY-HORSE.

HOBBY-HORSE is one of many words with double meanings throughout the book. Tristram clearly feigns innocence about the secondary meanings of the word, however, his explicit descriptions provide the reader with a different interpretation and also reflects Sterne's critique on society's treatment of such issues.

Lillabullero

According to Bishop Percy in his Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (4th. edn., 1794), the words 'Lilli-Burlero-Bullen-a-la' were 'the words of distinction used among the Irish Papists at the time of their massacre of the Protestants in 1641'. They were made the refrain of a nonsense song satirizing the Earl of Tyrconnel on the occasion of his going to Ireland in January 1686-7 as James II's Catholic lieutenant. The song was immensely popular and is said to have played a major part in rousing the anti-Catholic feeling which brought about the Revoultion of 1688. The words were by Lord Wharton and were set to music by Purcell.

Uncle Toby would whistle or hum Lillabullero in response to any kind of argument or issue he felt was nonsense or in a situation where he was shocked or embarassed by the subject at hand.

Don Quixote

There are many allusions, within Trisram Shandy, to Cervantes' famous character Don Quixote, as well as his steed Rocinante. Sterne portrays Yorick, in (Vol.I,Ch.X) as a misunderstood man who rides a broken-down horse, much like Don Quixote. The author finds Cervantes' masterpiece to be a great source of inspiration, in part because Yorick may be interpreted as Sterne's alter egoč and, of course, Sterne loves to invoke the parallels between himself and the beloved literary figure Don Quixote.

Moreover, the many character pairings within Tristram Shandy seem to be related to that between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the knight's loyal sidekick. Perhaps, most clearly, this may be seen with Walter and Toby, but also with Toby and Trim, and Walter and Slop.

Furthermore, Stern seems to draw upon the Cervantic rendering of interior consciousness. Cervantes' characters tend to physically embody their differences; Sterne has taken this concept and extended it, so that these essential differences are not seen so much in social rank or appearance, but rather in their process of thought. For example, while Toby perceives the world in terms of war and military tactics, Walter assimilates everything to theory and philosophy.

Noses

According to Walter Shandy, a nose determines one's character. He is absolutely devistated by the crushing of baby Tristram's nose at birth and believes that Tristram is now doomed by fate. Much against the insistance by Sterne that a nose is just a nose, one's nose symobizes one's sexual organ. There are quite a few parallels in the book that relate the two, including the mishap at Tristram's birth. Dr. Slop was explaining the use of his new forceps for extracting the baby from it's mother and indicating that grave misfortune could occur if the baby were not to come out head-first. Baby Tristram's nose was crushed instead of his *****.

Walter has ancestral 'evidence' to support his theory that long noses are very important in determining character. His future great-grandfather had a very hard time convincing his wife-to-be to marry because he had a very small nose. Walter has read extensively on the subject of noses and determines that the German philosopher, Slawkenbergius is the most well versed on the subject finding many 'arguments' for the importance of long noses.

Names

To Walter Shandy, names are as important as noses, in determining character. According to him, Martin Luther would not have been an important figure in history if he had been given a different name. [Not that he thinks Martin is an especially good name -- just fair.] Therefore, Walter's solution to the problem of his new child's crushed nose is to name him Trismegistus, the name of the greatest king, lawgiver, philosopher, priest and engineer ever. Walter's rationale is that if one does not have a sizable nose he, at least, has a chance in life if he has a significant name, and this is one of the best. The absolute worst name that has ever existed is Tristram -- the name with which his child is accidently christened.


© Copyright 1996 Keith Earley
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