Revisiting “The Substitute”: Of Ladders and Loneliness

Okay, folks. Here’s a quick review of the literary allusions from last week, before we move on to tonight’s episode and its bookish Easter eggs.

It has been suggested that the two ladders we saw in “The Substitute” represent the two time lines or parallel realities. Will one of them break or become unstable? Will the characters have to be rescued from one reality and pulled into the other?

These ladders bear an obvious reference to Jacob’s dream depicted in the book of Genesis. First, Jacob goes “out from Beersheba, and…toward Haran” where he places a stone beneath his head and falls asleep (a dreaming stone? A stone of destiny?). Although I imagine this “stone” to be more like a brick, it’s hard not to identify it with the white stone that Smocke grabbed from the scale and threw into the water, explaining to Sawyer that it was an “inside joke.” But back to biblical Jacob: he dreams of a ladder (or a stairway) “set upon the earth, and its top reached to heaven… the angels of God ascending and descending on it.” And then God speaks to Jacob. He says, “I am with you, and will keep you, wherever you go, and will bring you again into this land. For I will not leave you, until I have done that which I have spoken of to you.” Yet another sacred narrative to ponder!

George, rabbits, loneliness, corruption….

In “The Substitute” we see our third Steinbeck reference. Recall the scene when Ben is leading Sawyer over the ridge to show him the second island in “Every Man for Himself.” Sawyer quotes Of Mice and Men (“that little place you always wanted, George?”), only to later be outdone by Ben’s quote from the same book: “A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. It don’t make no difference who the guy is, long as he’s with you. I tell you, I tell you a guy gets too lonely and he gets sick.” Though less obvious, Dharma station #5,“The Pearl,” (the one with the pneumatic tubes), is another reference to a work by John Steinbeck. This novella (of the same name) is a story about a poor man who finds a magnificent pearl and instantly becomes a man of great wealth.  This blessing soon turns to a curse as he discovers how easily riches can “corrupt and destroy.” This brings to mind both Hurley’s “bad luck” and the MiB’s outlook on the nature of men. Lastly, Sawyer returns to Of Mice and Men in “The Substitute” as he follows Smocke through the jungle. Shortly before threatening to shoot Smocke, he provides a  brief summary of George and Lenny’s story. A short preface in the Bantam Book paperback edition sums up the relevant theme nicely: “This is the great American novel of loneliness, of love and need, of homeless and rootless men who have nothing but each other.” This succinctly describes the vulnerable condition of not only the castaways, but also the humanity that Lost allows us to see in even the most damaged antagonists like Ben. Loneliness and the fear of being isolated (literally on an island!) is one theme that deserves further examination.


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