“You will be her sole interest in life”
In John Collier’s “The Chaser,” Alan Austen is motivated by self-centered love. This short tale of desire, manipulation and future murder carries all the marks of self-centered love. His self-centered view of love is evidenced in his desire to be the object of Diana’s obsessions, his willingness to pursue love through trickery, and through the story’s foreshadowing of his inevitable return to buy the poisonous “life-cleaner” providing a way to murder Diana.
The story first shows that Alan is motivated by self-love when he expresses his delight at becoming the object of her obsession. Alan shows amazement at each example given of the love potion’s potential effect on Diana. He believes that she means everything to him, but in reality, he wants someone to appreciate him as much as he appreciates himself. His view of love pictures her desires being satisfied by a relationship with him; unfortunately, she has no desire for him. The old man describes a love that matches this picture in his conversation with Alan, “‘She will want to know all you do,’ said the old man. ‘All that has happened to you during the day. Every word of it. She will want to know what you are thinking about, why you smile suddenly, why you are looking sad.’ ‘That is love!’ cried Alan” (463). He focuses entirely on her actions toward him, while virtually ignoring any responsibility that he has toward her. Alan revels in the old man’s promises that, “She will [want to be everything to you], when she has taken this. She will care intensely. You will be her sole interest in life” (463). In essence, Alan obsession is with someone loving him, not him loving someone else: the epitome of self-love. His verbal responses of joy reveal his motivation of self-love.
The story initially shows that Alan is motivated by self-love by expressing his delight in being the object of Diana’s affections. The story continues to show that Alan is motivated by self-love by his willingness to pursue love through trickery. The setting of the story lends itself to giving the feeling that something deceptive is about to happen. He enters into an old building to do business with an un-named old man. Collier gives the feeling that Austen is in a place where he should not be. The un-named old man offers a potion that Alan can give to Diana without her noticing. This potion will essentially change Diana and the course of her life, causing her to fall madly in love with a man to whom she gives hardly any attention. As Alan seeks to be the object of Diana’s devotion, so the old man’s offer becomes attractive: “Its flavor is imperceptible in orange juice, soup, or cocktails – and however gay and giddy she is, she will change altogether. She will want nothing but solitude and you” (462). Using a love potion seems to indicate that Alan is willing to do anything to meet his own desires, regardless of whether or not Diana’s desires conflict with his. True love is concerned for the desires of others rather than focusing on the desires of self. An individual who has love for someone else is willing to sacrifice for that other person, but an individual who has a self-centered love is willing to sacrifice that other person for his or her own self. Austen chooses to sacrifice Diana and her desires rather than sacrifice for her desires, clearly revealing his self-love. He actualizes this self-love in his willingness to pursue love through trickery.
Austen’s motivation of self-love is evidenced in his reaction to the knowledge that he could be the one who meets all of Diana’s desires, as well as his willingness to pursue love through the use of trickery. The final way the story shows that Austen is motivated by self-centered love is the story’s foreshadowing of Alan’s inevitable return to purchase the “life-cleaner” as a means of murdering the love-struck Diana. From the very beginning, the old man seeks to make Alan fully aware of the expensive poison that is for sale. Although Alan is appalled by the idea of murdering someone the old man is not deterred: “‘I look at it like this,’ said the old man. ‘Please a customer with one article, and he will come back when he needs another. Even if it is more costly. he will save up for it, if necessary’” (462). The man is clearly leading Alan into a trap that has worked many times before; the trap of enticing people by fulfilling a desire to be loved for a small sum, only to lure the customer into coming back to find an expensive answer to the problem they created in their pursuit of self-centered love. Once a life has been polluted by self-centered love, the “life-cleaner” quickly becomes an attractive option. He tells Alan that people will buy the cheap potions, but that they will always come back to find a solution to the problems created by the cheap potions. As the reader realizes that Alan is motivated by self-centered love, and that this love will eventually turn into loathing, the reader understands that Alan will soon be back. The final proof of Alan’s inevitable return is the closing remark of the old man, “Au revoir” (463). This French phrase literally means, “to the seeing again.” The old man knows that Austen will return to buy the expensive poison because selfish love will slowly fade away, revealing that the object of the love was always self, not the other person. The foreshadowing of Alan’s inevitable return to purchase the “life-cleaner” as a means of murdering Diana evidences his motivation as self-centered love.
Alan’s motivation of self-centered love is evidenced through his desire to be the object of Diana’s obsessions, his willingness to pursue love through means of trickery, and through the foreshadowing of his inevitable return to buy poison with which to murder Diana. Collier’s gruesome tale provides insight into the outworking of a self-centered love.
Collier, John. “”The Chaser”.” 50 Great Short Stories. Ed. Milton Crane. New York: Batam Books, 1983.