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The Role of Men

The Protagonist/Hero

Captain Jack Sparrow

Captain Jack Sparrow can be seen as the antihero in Pirates of the Caribbean. The modern antihero is an adaptation of the Gothic Byronic hero featured in works like Lord Byron’s Manfred. In Gothic literature, the Byronic hero often exhibits characteristics like arrogance, cunning, and disrespect of rank and privilege. They generally distaste social norms, have a troubled past, and are mysterious, self-destructive, and treated like an outcast or outlaw. The current antiheroes tend to expand on this idea as well as fight villains, not for the “right” reasons but rather to fulfill their own agendas such as revenge.

Captain Jack Sparrow combines the two ideas. CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow is rather arrogant, sure that everyone has heard of him and that he deserves to be in charge he constantly insists that he should be referred to as “Captain” Jack Sparrow. At the same time though, he is an outlaw and disrespects other people with rank, going against social norms because he is in fact a pirate. Though he helps Will Turner rescue Elizabeth, his true intentions are to get revenge on Barbossa and to get the Black Pearl back as his own ship. He can invoke sympathy in viewers despite his short comings because he has been “wronged” by his previous crew and in the end his actions help lead to the rescue of Elizabeth and the defeat of Barbossa.

Will Turner

Will Turner is emotional and protective. He is the “hero” protagonist of the story that will stop at nothing to rescue Elizabeth, the woman in distress. His character can be compared to that of Ferdinand in Ann Radcliffe’s A Sicilian Romance. Ferdinand vows to protect his sisters and he acts on his emotions. This can be seen when he stands up to his father, who wants to force Julia to marry someone she does not love. Later on, Ferdinand devises a plan to rescue Julia from a monastery and follows through with it, threatening anyone who may get in their way, such as the father in the monastery who Ferdinand threatens to kill if he does not keep quiet and help them escape. They manage to get away, and by the end of the story Ferdinand has helped to reunite their family.

Will Turner resolves to rescue Elizabeth from the crew of the Black Pearl. Though they are not family, he is deeply attached to her by love and he therefore lets his emotions take control when she is in danger, knowing that he only wants to save and protect her. At first, Will made sure to follow standards of behavior, calling Elizabeth “Miss Swann” and not taking credit for the work he did on the swords because it should have been his master’s job. However, when the woman he loves is threatened, he ignores those rules and joins forces with pirates to rescue her, standing up to Governor Swann and Commodore Norrington who refused to ask a pirate for help, though he was likely their only hope. Then, believing that Jack stands in his way because Jack refuses to immediately stop Barbossa from harming Elizabeth, Will knocks out his own accomplice. Will discovers that Barbossa actually wants him, Will threatens to end his own life if they do not let Elizabeth go, and he succeeds in helping her escape from them. At the end of the first movie, he once again goes against the norm and stands up to Governor Swann and Commodore Norrington by helping Jack, a pirate, escape death.

The Men in Power

In Gothic literature, men are in power in political, military, and even familial matters. The antagonists in the Gothic narratives therefore tend to be these powerful men because they can use this to manipulate the other characters, in particular the women. They often force woman characters to do something against their will, or they capture the woman, creating the woman in distress aspect of the narrative and progressing the plot forward.

Commodore James Norrington

Commodore Norrington is similar to John Thorpe in Jane Austen’s Northranger Abbey which uses many aspects of Gothic narratives to create a parody. John Thorpe is convinced that he belongs with Catherine Morland and that she returns his love. His constant bragging and his self-centered attitude turn her off though, and she pursues someone else. Not realizing his mistake, John goes as far as to propose to Catherine. Like many of the men in Gothic literature, he lets his status take precedence and it goes to his head, making him believe that he has more power over her than he actually does.

Commodore Norrington is part of the upper class and also a leader in the Royal Navy. He believes that he and Elizabeth would make an excellent couple and therefore he pursues her and asks her to marry him. Before he gets an answer though, she is kidnapped by the crew of the Black Pearl. He uses his power and influence in the navy to follow and attempt to rescue her, making him appear to be a protagonist in the narrative at first. However, his success would mean the separation of the true loves, Will and Elizabeth. Norrington’s power, therefore, is being used to make him an antagonist. At one point in the movie, Elizabeth agrees to marry Norrington because it could mean that he will attempt to rescue Will who has been captured by the crew of the Black Pearl. Though Norrington does not seem to realize her true reasons for this sudden acceptance of marriage, his position is therefore being used to manipulate Elizabeth into doing something that she would rather not do.

Governor Weatherby Swann

Governor Swann can be compared to General Tilney from Jane Austen’s Northranger Abbey, which draws on many of the Gothic tropes. General Tilney was happy to match his son Henry with Catherine Morland because he believed she was wealthy and therefore a proper match. When it becomes apparent that she isn’t, however, he forces her from their home and forbids them from seeing each other. This backfires and Henry disobeys the order, and eventually they are able to convince General Tilney that they belong together.

At the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Governor Swann seemingly pushes for his daughter Elizabeth to marry Commodore Norrington. He feels that it is an appropriate match because they are both part of the upper class. In order to persuade Elizabeth to make the “right choice,” he attempts to subtly manipulate her, but she is aware of his actions. Within the first ten minutes, Governor Swann gives Elizabeth a new dress; she loves it, but immediately seeks to know why he is giving it to her. He claims there is no reason before then revealing that he wants her to wear it to Norrington’s promotion ceremony because the captain (soon to be commodore) fancies her.

It is also soon hinted at that Elizabeth and Will Turner like each other, but that their class differences keep them separated. Governor Swann makes sure to remind Elizabeth of this by saying that Will has a “sense of propriety,” meaning that Will conforms to the societal expectations and standards of behavior. By the end of the movie though, Elizabeth goes against her father’s wishes and decides to be with Will.

Captain Hector Barbossa

Barbossa is not only part of the banditti (see The Pirates information below), but more importantly, he is one of the strong and powerful males within the story that forces the woman in distress (Elizabeth) to do something that she does not want to do.

Barbossa can be compared to Gothic characters in this same position, such as Ambrosio from Matthew Lewis’s The Monk. As the story within The Monk progresses forward, we see Ambrosio become corrupt and evil. Barbossa has already reached this point when we are first introduced to him. Ambrosio’s power comes first from his role in the church because everyone in it looks up to him and listens to what he says. Then, as his character changes, he begins to gain supernatural power through the help of Matilda (Ambrosio’s secret lover). She raises Lucifer and Ambrosio receives a magic myrtle with which he plans to rape Antonia (the woman he desires). After it fails, Ambrosio creates another potion that makes it appear as though Antonia has died. When she wakes up in the crypt, he rapes her for his own satisfaction and kills her to protect himself.

Similarly, Barbossa’s power comes first because he is the leader of the Black Pearl and so the crew follows his orders. Then, they all become cursed by taking the gold and because of this, Barbossa gains supernatural power, becoming seemingly invincible as long as he is still cursed. He uses his power to imprison Elizabeth and then forcibly take the cursed gold and her blood for his own benefit (the satisfaction of no longer being undead). When it doesn’t work, he plans to try again, and he captures the actual child of Bootstrap Bill Turner (Will Turner) and threatens to kill him for the same reasons. Both Barbossa and Ambrosio are determined to follow through and get what they want.

Barbossa can also be easily compared to the mariner in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” For more information on this, see the Gothic Origins page.

The Banditti

In Gothic literature, there are often characters called banditti. They are ruffians, robbers, and outlaws whose goal is to steal from others and gain riches. Examples of the banditti can be seen in Ann Radcliffe’s Gothic novel A Sicilian Romance. In A Sicilian Romance (http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/7371/pg7371.html), it is explained that “… the forest, and the darkness, and the probability of encountering banditti, made the journey dangerous.” Another encounter shows “a group of men, who, from the savageness of their looks, and from their dress, appeared to be banditti. They surrounded a man who lay on the ground wounded, and bathed in blood…”

The Pirates

The pirate crews in Pirates of the Caribbean take on the role of the banditti from Gothic literature. These crews are most often all male because, according to the characters in the movie, it is considered bad luck for females to be aboard a ship at sea (although on rare occasion, females do join them). These characters are rough around the edges and prone to fighting, especially when they can gain treasure or power from it. Early in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the Black Pearl’s crew runs through Port Royal, destroying buildings, murdering residents, and stealing valuables. Their goal is to find Bootstrap Bill’s child (now grown up) and the final piece of cursed Aztec gold to gain back their lives by killing others; their own interests and well-being come before everything and everyone else. In addition, their clothes separate them from everyone else; they look more dirty and savage than the citizens of Port Royal.


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