The Chaser by John Collier

The short story that has been analysed can be read through the following link: 

‘The Chaser’ penned by John Collier is a modern commentary on the patriarchal system of the current day society, where men are parallel to animals while women a simple object to win over. Through the third person narrative where a man named Alan Austen is centralised in his pursue of buying a love potion to win the heart of a woman named Diane, Collier uses a very direct and conversational structure of writing, the same structure usually found in twentieth-century writings. Because of this, readers are quick to comprehend the theme that Collier sculpts throughout the story.

The characterisation of Alan Austen is immediately presented, as Collier uses a simile to describe Austen’s sense of apprehension at what he was about to do ‘as nervous as a kitten’. The alignment of Alan with that of a kitten presents Alan’s docility where he lacks the ability of the powerful man who knows what he wants and gets it. Austen is tenuous in his behaviour, where he ‘peered about for a long time’, presenting his inability to concentrate properly – showing symptoms of anxiety and also hinting at Alan’s powerlessness. As he designs Austen’s character, Collier also identifies the setting which is ‘dark’ and ‘creaky’ – giving off an ominous tone to the story which grabs readers’ attention and creates suspense. Austen’s lack of power is presented again when he pushes open the door which does show signs of the aggressive nature found in males but this idea is contradicted when Collier mentions that this sudden movement of Austen’s was something he was told to do, ‘doing as he was told’. Austen has no personality of his own, but a man who requires power and can’t have it. His character conflicts with the traditional macho man that is highlighted as the ultimate portrayal of man, where the character of Stanley in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ is dominating and gives a universal idea of what a man ought to be like in this modern day and age where the patriarchal system has a prominent influence.

The room in which Alan enters is then brought to focus as the darkness present a sense of danger while the room which only has two chairs and a kitchen table highlights a cheap professionalism where there’s two chairs situated in a position for a meeting between a client and a dealer to take place, only with a kitchen table instead of actual business tables.  Collier then focuses on the old man reading a newspaper, where his name is never announced, presenting an animosity which reflects on the dark and cheap setting as readers come to know the character as a dealer of potions, suspecting whether Austen’s purchase truly is reliable. The man being old and reading a newspaper, however, portrays him as a character of wisdom, reinforcing the image of an apothecary. But the traditional image of an apothecary is modernised in this story where the man is only thinking of money and economics, identifying the systems of purchase while also being indifferent to murder. He terms murderer as a ‘glove-cleaner’, making it almost mundane and presenting to readers the lengths one would go to earn profit. This man also mirrors the image of the proud man, who kills and takes pride in it and is commanding in nature, where his first dialogue is an order, ‘Sit down, Mr. Austen.’ He is power hungry and can easily take a life and no one could blame him, again referring to the character of Stanley who takes the life out of his wife’s sister and no one dares to blame him. As the plot progresses, readers can find an underlying reason as to why Austen chose to purchase from this man, aside from the actual reason of needing a love potion, as Austen requires a manly figure to accustom himself with the man that society has such high regards for. Austen’s character slowly boosts with this man and when he leaves, readers can see him destroying the life of Diane for whom he had purchases this love potion to use on, and being proud of it.

Collier also uses feminist ideals in how the men portray women as someone who needs to take care of a man and abide by him and love him even if he hurts her. They objectify the women into a caretaker but then again Collier uses irony in which the old man describes how the girl influenced under the love potion would treat the man, where she is to care for him almost as one cares for a pet, ‘She will never allow you to be tired, to sit in a draught, to neglect your food.’ But then again, the woman is nothing more than a thing to win over and have them work for you. Women are mere items of consummation while love is no more an emotion but rather a way to get what you want. This feminist ideal also hints at a theme of social realism where capitalisation has turned men into animals where they exploit love and create a thing out of it to make money.

The desperate need for companionship and detachment in human connections is also a theme that Collier explores where devotion is earned through money and not mutual connection or relationships. Society is so transfixed on capitalisation and consumerism that it has cut the lines with love and humanity, only considering physical lust to be the only source of love there is, where Austen can have relationships with other girls as well and Diane wouldn’t mind much. However, the man’s constant identification of the other potion which is valued at five thousand dollars gives readers a sense that this love potion will also have a drawback in which Austen will return to the man to poison Diane. This slight suggestion gives out a complete image of this decaying society where affection is bought and due to this, there will be horrible repercussions.

Collier’s plot and themes are a calling to readers to change our ways in which we monetise everything for our own gain, removing ourselves from love and affection only to get an end where we need to commit murder and get back to where we started – alone and in need of human connection. Collier does not stylise his writing much which presents our present day society which has turned a back to beauty and stylisation to become almost mechanic. His theme is profoundly created and evokes a sense of awareness in readers for how we generate in this society.

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