The Phoenix by Sylvia Townsend Warner
In The Phoenix by Sylvia Townsend Warner we have the theme of greed, conflict, cruelty, sensationalism, responsibility and control. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Warner may be exploring the theme of greed. Poldero’s main function is to make money. When he purchases the phoenix he sees that he can make a profit however things don’t go as planned for Poldero. The phoenix doesn’t do much apart from standing in his cage. This annoys Poldero and he figures out a way to make more money from the phoenix. At no stage in the story does Poldero consider the welfare of the phoenix. He is totally driven by greed. The more impressive that he can make the phoenix the more money Poldero will make. It is also possible that Warner is exploring the conflict that exists between man and nature. Man in general looks upon exotic animals for profit. That is their main goal and it is also Poldero’s goal. To make as much money as he possibly can. Regardless of how the animal may be treated. The phoenix has been taken out of its environment by Lord Strawberry and though it may have been content at his aviary. Poldero on the other hand looks at the phoenix as being a money making machine. Like all the animals in Poldero’s Wizard Wonderworld.
It is also noticeable that Poldero will go to any lengths in order to irritate or kill the phoenix. Even using alley cats to attempt to terrify the phoenix to death. This may be important as Warner may be highlighting the cruelty that exists at Poldero’s Wizard Wonderworld. No animal is safe if it is not making the money that Poldero wants the animal to make for him. The artificial ageing process that Poldero employs is also cruel with Poldero hoping that the phoenix will eventually burn itself. It may also be a case that Warner is placing a spotlight on the sensationalism or at least the want for sensationalism that existed at the time the story was written. With people not being overly concerned about the well-being of an animal once they were excited by what was happening. Something that is noticeable by the large crowds that attend the phoenix’s burning. However it is also noticeable that all those who attended the phoenix’s burning were killed. This could be important as Warner may be suggesting that there has to be an end to sensationalism and the constant cruelty to animals.
Poldero’s invitation to a film crew may also be important as he wants as much exposure as he can get. Exposure to Poldero means more people will visit Poldero’s Wizard Wonderworld which in turn means that Poldero will make more money for himself. At all stages money is the driving fact for Poldero and not the well-being of the animals that he has a responsibility to. Lord Strawberry on the other hand took a different stance. Rather than trying to make money on the phoenix (or his other birds) he devoted his life to their care. Whereas money drives Poldero, Lord Strawberry on the other hand had a real interest in all the birds in his aviary. The general public may also be as much to blame as Poldero is. At no stage in the story does anybody object to how the phoenix is being treated.
Again sensationalism is all that mattered to the general public. The more exciting and thrilling an event might be. The more money the general public were prepared to pay. Making men like Poldero who exploited animals even richer. The reader also suspects that Poldero will lie in order to promote an event or animal. Something that is noticeable by the fact that Poldero tells his customers that he has a crocodile that has eaten a woman. Though it is possible that this may be true. It is highly unlikely. Poldero will say anything once there is money in it for him. The truth is irrelevant. The most important thing for Poldero is to be able to sell his animals to the public. Regardless of what story he may create about them. The end of the story is also interesting as there is a sense of justice when the phoenix bursts into flames and kills Poldero. The very man who had been exploiting the phoenix loses his life due to his efforts at trying to make money from the phoenix. Similarly with the thousand people who also perish it might be a case that Warner believes that each individual got what they deserved. At no stage was anybody concerned about the phoenix’s well-being. People had paid money to be amused and paid for their amusement with their lives. Which may be the point that Warner is attempting to make. She may be suggesting that sensationalism has a price and that price may not be what an individual expects it to be. If anything nature will not be beaten by man though man likes to think that he is in control.