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The Bellis concerned primarily with the dark conflict between sex and religion. To what extent is this true and how important is this conflict to the novel as a whole?

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The Bell is concerned primarily with the dark conflict between sex and religion. To what extent is this true and how important is this conflict to the novel as a whole? Throughout Iris Murdoch's novel, 'The Bell' we are constantly being presented with conflicts, many of which relate to the discord between sex and religion which have been opposed to each other since the dawn of creation when Adam and Eve succumbed to temptation in the Garden of Eden. This conflict has particularly dark tendencies and acts as a destructive force for several characters, namely Catherine, Michael and Nick. Despite this being the primary theme of the novel we are also presented with a number of conflicts of a different nature. The main conflict of the novel is that existing between sex and religion, as embodied by Catherine and Michael. Michael is constantly confronted by the issue of his sexuality and how it affects his religion. He is always striving to live a good life and he believes that entering into the priesthood would allow him to achieve this. However he is prevented from fulfilling this wish by his homosexuality which goes completely against the Church's teaching. Michael believes that to live a good life, "One should have a conception of one's capacities ... study carefully how best to use such strength as one has". In initiating relationships with firstly Nick and then subsequently with Toby, Michael is clearly failing to do this. ...read more.


The only way in is through a door in the wall, which surprisingly is always kept unlocked. Toby discovers this when he climbs over the wall into the abbey as part of his sexual awakening. This incident follows the embrace with Michael and is Toby's attempt to convince himself that he is not homosexual. There is very little contact made between the abbey and the court. We only see rare glimpses of the nuns and Michael is the only person who is allowed to visit the Abbess. Most communications are made through Mother Clare, her intermediary. These boundaries are all representative of the widening gap between lay and spiritual life, and the fading role of religion in everyday existence during the 1950's when Murdoch was writing. People were abandoning the church in favour of other beliefs more relevant to the world they were living in. The community as a whole is separated from the rest of the world as there is a boundary wall enclosing both the abbey and the court. As Michael comes to realise, the community was an impossible dream; it is an attempt to isolate themselves from the realities of life. We also see religious and sexual conflicts between individual characters. Take for instance the contrasting speeches given by Michael and James Tayper Pace, in chapters 9 and 16 respectively, on how to live a 'good life'. James teaches that the good life is, "to live without any image of oneself". ...read more.


There is ironic symbolism in the name of Dora's lover, Noel Spens. Noel is a very Christian name but he speaks out strongly against religion. He believes that it misguides people and places unfair restrictions on their lives. Dora's changing musical tastes are also significant. At the beginning when they hold an evening of Bach's music, Dora dislikes this as she finds it too structured and formal. She much prefers listening to Noel's jazz music, with its jungle rhythms and exuberant style. However by the end of the novel we are told that she has taken an interest in listening to Mozart. This is representative of the change from chaos to order in her life in general. She learns to take control of her life and not let Paul repress her. Initially she describes marriage as being "enclosed in the aims of another". She is scared of Paul's physical power and will follow his orders to the letter. She is like the butterfly trapped on the train. Toby saves her from his restrictiveness by allowing her to rediscover her youth. He releases her. At the same time Dora saves Toby from being trapped in a relationship with Michael by allowing him to realise that he is not homosexual. There are many conflicts within this novel, the majority of which relate in some way to that existing between sex and religion. It is its destructive nature which makes this conflict so dark and I would argue that it is a conflict that can never truly be resolved. We do see different kinds of conflict as I have discussed but these do not play such a central role in the novel. ...read more.

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