One of the many hints in S suggests that we follow the monkey (352), with Jen Hewyard circling Anca’s words and adding the comment Sound advice. Here are my thoughts where the monkey leads us. We begin with a catalog of monkey sightings…
- Filomela refers to the proverbial million monkeys (ix) immediately following a mention of Covarrubias.
- The organ grinder’s capuchin monkey, tied to the organ grinder by a thin piece of rope, is a silent witness to an unscrupulous business transaction and the target of later retribution. (8-9)
- The monkey is now attempting escape from the retribution foretold in #2. S notices this just before passing out after being shanghaied. S mutters, Run, monkey. Run. (24-25)
- A monkey (the same monkey?) is found wrapped like a baby in the arms of a nearly-starved sailor aboard a two-masted ship that S‘s xebec comes alongside. The monkey comes aboard and attempts to get comfortable. (54-56)
- The monkey jumps down the hatch as the waterspouts approach. (62)
- S recalls the “two monkeys” he has come across while attempting to describe what he remembers to Ostrero. S says, Animals don’t seem to like me much. (87-88)
- After S’s miraculous escape from Vevoda’s Detectives in the cave and the loss of Corbeau, S swims out of the line of fire and discovers to his amazement that the ship destroyed by the waterspouts has somehow resurrected. As he gazes in astonishment at this sight, S notices the monkey shrieking and swinging in the halyard. (200-201)
- After threatening Maelstrom and demanding to be let off the ship, S gets a stern lecture and a promise that after his short visit on land, he will be happy to return to the ship. As he ponders this, he hears the monkey laugh. (219-220)
- In Fn4, FXC references the Bouchard monkey. (263)
- The female sailor with the pouting mouth appears to be trying to teach the monkey to mop the deck. The monkey is having none of it. The monkey is jabbering and running circles around the sailor. S attempts to communicate to the sailor, but she does not respond, and finally walks away. The monkey leaves a puddle of urine on the deck that she has just mopped. (266-267)
- The monkey is sitting on top of a barrel in the middle of the deck tossing pieces of ship biscuit into the wind. It is at this same time the Maelstrom realizes that Vevoda’s planes are close by, and he orders a sudden change of course. FXC also references the Bouchard monkey in Fn11, and Straka says in his own words that that monkey is now on his back. (272)
- The monkey is sitting on top of the ghost-ship boy as S becomes part o’ the tradition. (297)
- The monkey shrieks as Vevoda’s planes make the first actual entrance into the apparently hidden world of the ship at sea. (338)
- On his way to assassinate the governor, S dreams that he is paddling in the stern of a steel canoe. In the bow, with a monkey on her back, is Sola. (341)
- Anca tells S to follow the monkey to find the governor, which turns out to be a symbol carved into a tree that leads him to the path. As S contemplates what it means to follow the monkey, he remarks to himself, Of course there is a monkey. There is always a monkey. Near the end of the path, S hears a howler monkey cry out in the distance. (352-353)
- S hides the valise in the hollowed trunk of a dying possumwood (p353). Another name for the possumwood tree is the monkey-no-climb.
- In the torrent of words section, one of the scenes mentioned is an insane parade of monkeys. (380-381)
- When S is finally with Sola after his solace in the Winter City, he returns to the ship with her. There he finds the monkey, which seems much older now, curled up asleep. It awakens and makes a noise before returning to sleep. (401)
- In the climax, the monkey is darting among the wine barrels, pulling out the bungs and draining the black wine. (452-454)
- At the end, S envisions how he will obtain Maelstrom’s spyglass from its hiding place in the chart room – under the blankets where the monkey sleeps.
The last image of the monkey seems tantalizing – the hidden spyglass lay beneath the monkey.
What does it mean to follow the monkey?
Chapter 1, What Begins, What Ends serves as a prologue to the overall story, and the organ grinder’s monkey serves as a symbol to this story.
The monkey is tied down to a low-paying job, literally, with a rope. He is targeted for attack by the organ rental agency because the organ grinder was “stealing” funds. And yet it is the organ rental agency that has already stolen funds and now uses its resources to inflict great harm to both grinder and monkey. Near the end of the chapter, both S and monkey are in danger, and S roots for the monkey to escape.
Vevoda is like the organ rental agency – he does unscrupulous business and inflicts bodily harm on those who get in his way. The monkey is an innocent bystander on the run, just like S.
Before descending into the depths of where the monkey leads next, I suggest you read my post Carl Jung and “S” to get your mind oriented.
V.M. Straka’s Ship of Theseus is a Jungian journey into the collective unconscious. Or, as the Blue Man Group calls it, Rock Concert Movement #237. Perhaps the monkey as a symbol for the collective unconscious came from this famous story of the 100 Monkeys.
The monkey is one of many symbols in the book that help us understand what is going on in S‘s unconscious mind – and ultimately ours. And since S does not realize he has descended into his unconscious, the symbols around him seem foreign with a life of their own, but they serve to help us understand S more deeply.
As you follow the monkey in the story, he (like S) is a passenger on the xebec after some unknown tragedy at sea occurs. He tries to find his place on the ship, but cannot communicate with the sailors. He does not work with the rest of the crew. The monkey jumps down the hatch when the waterspout approaches, illustrating S‘s own fear. S himself does not go down the hatch – the monkey is a metaphor for his feelings. These are the obvious parallels.
Some parallels are difficult to understand, such as when S and the monkey are seemingly at odds with one another. This represents the unconscious struggles we have with our very selves in certain situations. For example, the monkey is shrieking and swinging in the halyard apparently having fun while S is stupefied that the ship even exists. The monkey swings back and forth over the ship, as do S‘s eyes wander in wonderment at the vessel. The monkey shrieks as he swings, indicating the shouts of amazement that S feels inside over his astonishment.
One of the most interesting monkey encounters is as S attempts to communicate with the pouting female sailor. The monkey encircles the sailor, jabbering away as if to taunt her for having her mouth stitched shut. At the same time, S approaches the sailor and “jabbers away” as well, attempting to get her to communicate. She seems to have one mission – to mop the deck. She wanted the monkey to help, but he doesn’t. In fact, he leaves a puddle of urine on it after she has cleaned it. This is representative of what S does with the sailor. She has one purpose – to clean the ship with mop and holystone. She, another symbol of his unconscious, is trying to help S understand himself by cleaning away what obscures. But he doesn’t understand. And his failure to understand sends her away in a huff. He has urinated on her work.
When S dreams that the monkey is on Sola’s back, still and peaceful – this represents the work Sola is trying to accomplish. She, too, wants S. to understand himself. Know thyself, she seems to say in all of her encounters with S.
As S “follows the monkey” (finding the path to the governor’s residence), it is here that he begins to truly understand himself. He finds the path of the monkey, but where does it lead him? Pfeifer. The enemy without has now become the enemy within one of S’s innermost circles at one point in his life. Has S, like Pfeifer, become the very man he set out to destroy? Has his quest for good led him to be just as evil as Vevoda – killing those that stand in his way? It seems so, because just as S decides to go ahead and kill Pfeifer, a shot rings out and kills a Magpie as he flees. The European Magpie, self-aware and colored black and white. Two players, two sides. One is light. One is dark. (Ok, that’s from LOST, but the same concept is at work here.) The monkey has led us to this deep, internal struggle between good and evil that exists deep in the unconscious of S – and of you and I.
And finally, in the climax, we see that rather than kill a thousand people and murder Vevoda, S merely has the heir to the throne drink just enough avis veritatas (bird of truth) to be honest with himself and the crowd. Vevoda is left alive, and the monkey does overcomes evil with S‘s newfound truth: evil is drained of its power when S. ceases to fight it on its own terms. Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good as the good book says.
In the end, when S has finally realized this truth and internalized it deep in his unconscious, he is finally able to see himself clearly. He finds the spyglass, underneath the sleeping monkey’s perch, and is able to see a new ship – reconstructed and ready to sail the high seas with Sola by his side.
Who is Sola? Well, that’s another post…
P.S. Jen Heyward makes a comment on p455, near the end…
See? This whole final sequence was hers from the monkey’s appearance on.
Eric and Jen are now apparently have the original VMS manuscript for Ship of Theseus. It appears FXC changed the ending from the monkey’s appearance on (Straka’s version gave Jen nightmares – p452). Meaning? That FXC was trying to convince VMS (if he was still alive) and his readers that there is a better way. We are all dying to know that Straka’s version is, I’m sure. But that is the point – which ending will we write in our own lives for similar struggles? What will we decide for ourSelves?