During last class’ discussion, certain patterns and themes that emerge in Brown’s Arthur Mervyn were examined. Among the various motifs and images that recur, a particularly interesting one is that of the stomach. This vital organ is highlighted a number of times (8, within the entire text), often in conjunction with the yellow fever epidemic and/or the rumours that spread in tandem with the disease.
A notable example of Brown’s use of “stomach” is in relationship with the effects of rumour. When Mervyn first describes the rumours of the spreading pestilence, he says:
As often as the tale was embellished with new incidents, or inforced by new testimony, the hearer grew pale, his breath was stifled by inquietudes, his blood was chilled and his stomach was bereaved of its usual energies (Brown, 101).
It is important to note the phrase that Brown associates with “stomach” in this passage. What does it mean for the stomach to lose its “usual energies” or its “vigour” (111)? What is the significance of the stomach regaining this energy, a phenomenon that occurs to our narrator later in the novel (124)? Why use the stomach, of all organs?
According to the theory and practice of Chinese acupuncture, different parts of the human body have different functions, in addition to their biological roles. The stomach serves as the processor of “food” – both physical, mental, and emotional. Perhaps this article will shed some insight into this recurring image of the stomach, and provide reasons of why Brown chose to emphasize this organ.
Our stomachs provide us nourishment, but they also reflect our state of being. They not only indicate if we’re hungry, but they could reflect a truth beyond their physical contents. Pay attention to each time “stomach” appears in the text – and pay attention to your own!