Lyrical Analysis: “The Robber Fancy” by Charles Dickens

“When from thy boiling store, thou shalt fill each jar brim full by and by, dost thou think that thou wilt always kill outright the robber Fancy lurking within — or sometimes only maim him and distort him!”

-Charles Dickens, Hard Times, 1854

The key word in this poetic warning to overly-reliant intellectualism is “Fancy” — capitalized in the book presumably for emphasis.  Earlier in the chapter, a schoolgirl (Cecilia Jupe) is called out for wishing to “carpet her room with representations of flowers”, simply responding how she finds the imagery “pretty and pleasant”.  She fancies the flowers, and immediately after her admittance of this opinion, her teachers brashly lecture how all her thoughts should come from a place of fact (as opposed to “fancy”).

The quote from above comes after a lengthy paragraph describing essentially a perfectly educated teacher (M’Choakumchild) knowledgeable in just about everything one could reasonably expect to know.  “The boiling store“, then, refers to M’Choakumchild’s mind, steaming with information to a point of overload.  With this stored knowledge, he desires to “fill each jar (to the) brim full” with the same knowledge, so that the process can forever continue — a world of men and women who know fact and nothing else.  The children of the classroom, in particular Cecilia (whom is filled with “fancy” and thus resistance towards this process), are the latest empty jars to be filled with said fact.

Dickens counters the schoolteacher’s over-confidence (“dost thou think that thou wilt always“) with the realistic notion that not everyone will always take so kindly to a world of fact and nothing more.  In the chapter Cecilia is clearly discouraged by this onslaught against the fun and fanciful world she once knew, before being subjected to a realm of fact.  Dickens recognizes her individual spirit, and jests towards the schoolteacher — calling “Fancy” a “robber lurking within“, as if to suggest that Fact is un-natural and that in the end Fancy lurks within every mental jar, threatening to overthrow that which has been artificially placed (Fact).

This passage essentially states how it is improbable to expect someone to completely bend to your chosen system, in this context “fact”, and expect them to adapt without compromise.  Indeed, it ends with the ominous line, “or sometimes only to main him and distort him!” — “him” referring to “the robber” which of course refers to “Fancy”.  Subjecting your mindset to another without regard for empathy will not only fail to truly add something new, but it will also pervert what was once natural and pure.  M’Choakumchild may be very well-versed in education and overall knowledge, but in the process he has lost his ability to relate to those he wishes to teach (Cecilia).  As Dickens says in the same chapter:

“If he had only learnt a little less, how infinitely better he might have taught much more!”

Lyrical Analysis: “Bizness” by Tune-Yards

The lyrics are found here.  Here is the official music video:

“Don’t take my life away / Don’t take my life away”

The manner in which she sings this, rapidly and frantic, suggests that this song may work best if you take the lyrics on a literal level before analyzing interpretatively.  In the main chorus of the song, it sounds as if Garbus is describing a mugging.  From the opening line (“What’s the business?“) asking just what the hell is happening, to the realization that the mugger is moving closer (“From a distance“) finally to the attempt to try to empathize with her perpetrator (“I’m a victim!” / “I’m addicted!“) It all paints a very visual picture.  The intensity of this image obvious increases with every repeated plea (“Don’t take my life away!“).

WhoKill as an album seems to deal with similar subject matter upon the surface, and then on a deeper level one can interpret these things to act as metaphors for more intimate personal issues and insecurities expressed in song.  If you look at the opening verse in this same “Mugger” mindset, you can see how well it fits with just about every line.  The opening, in particular, makes much more sense on a surface level when analyzed from this perspective:

“If I represent the one that did this to you / Then can away the part that represents the thing that scarred you”

It seems to be an extended plea intended to be said to the mugger, only to be mentally pondered.  Muggers obviously don’t personalize or discriminate in terms of the individual; though if they are robbing you chances are you have a look of wealth or content.  She rationalizes, “If you are mugging me because I look like everything you aren’t and desire to be (in terms of wealth), then you need to get over whatever it is that personally traumatized you.”  Such a powerful, opening line.  Obviously, we are starting to see the deeper intentions of the song.

Immediately after this declaration of “Fix yourself before you hurt me”, she declares (“Get up / Stand up / Get on it!“) both the listener and herself to defend against the situation as to change the outcome (“I am no longer who you thought this one would be“).  A victim can be mugged, but a victim in self-defense is not such an easy target.

After this confidence boosting declaration, it’s revealed that she (as a victim) still ends up running into this mugger once more (“We end up around the mountain that I climb to lose you“) and despite how bold she was just moments before, meeting this mugger causes her to enter a state of shock (“Ask me, Tell me / but all my wisdom departed“).  Finally we enter in the main chorus, the confrontation, where all she can ask is “What the hell is going on / How did I get here / Don’t take my life away / I’m just like you!”

This entire time we have seen how simply the song reads in a literal manner, but it’s during the third verse where we start to realize that the song works much more beautifully on a symbolic level.  Regardless, finishing up the mugger theme, the victim in the song tries one final plea.  She states how “I’ll bleed if you ask me”, and we see how the mugger’s response is a simple “No” (“That’s when he said no“) before we enter back into the confrontational chorus once more.  I’d like to point out that the song ends asking the question “What’s the business?” repeatedly, as if Garbus is restating her disbelief of the entire situation.

Obviously, you can replace the whole Mugger / Victim theme with many concepts and interpretations, but what will remain consistent is the general narrative between the two parties.  If you go for the relationship-route, the song becomes a symbolic tale of frustration between two would-be lovers.  I see it as someone meeting someone who has been hurt in a prior relationship, so badly, that they see all of that heartbreak in every new person they meet, including the protagonist of the song.

This is very similar in subject matter to the song “Abducted” by Cults (I analyzed this here), the major difference is that Garbus is attempting a solution to the problem, whereas Cults focused on the sad cyclical nature of the whole thing.  The first verse then declares the protagonist of the song to be their own individual and not connected to any horrific past relationships.  The second verse reveals how the protagonist of the song does NOT enter into the relationship (“The mountain that I climb to lose you“), but ends up meeting this person again in life anyways (“We end up around the mountain“), this time demanding why things can’t work out (“Answer me this!“).  At the same time, there is a realization that no one wants to throw their time away with someone who is just going to hurt them (“Don’t take my life away“), so the protagonist is repeatedly asking in the chorus “What’s the business” — what hurt you before/are you ready for this/I don’t want to be hurt — before finally revealing she does fall in love (“I’m addicted yeah!“).

Writing this, I see a plethora of abstract and less direct ways (ex- an internal dialogue) of looking at this song from several perspectives, but the two general interpretations I’ve provided do indicate that the song is a song about frustration stemming from misunderstanding and miscommunication.  The protagonist attempts to overcome this (in whatever the medium is which the frustration is occurring, depending on personal interpretation), and in the end she finds herself addicted.  The real question, is to what?  To heartbreak?  To falling in love with those who are scarred?  The song’s brilliance lies in how many windows it can be seen through, and I hope my interpretation has provided some insight into whatever your personal interpretation of the song happens to be.