The Collector

The Collector Themes


Class plays a major role in The Collector. The main character, Frederick Clegg, grows up in a lower-class household and only gains access to a great deal of money when he wins the football (soccer) pools. With his prize of more than 70,000 pounds, he is able to turn his wildest dreams about the beautiful upper-middle-class Miranda into realities. Money enables him to pursue and capture Miranda, but Clegg is also uncomfortable with his wealth because he feels that he does not have the class rank to match his improved financial circumstances. Once captured, Miranda constantly corrects Clegg's grammar and tries to educate him about art and the humanities, and by doing so illustrates the sharp intellectual divide between them - the result of their class differences.

In addition, Clegg is deeply resentful of Miranda's superior upbringing. He is very sensitive to the classist slights that other characters direct at him: he may have money, but people still assume that he is from a lowly class because of his accent. For his own part, Fowles explained that a major aim of the novel was the exploration of social changes in England, which had witnessed the rise of a wealthy group of people who did not come from high-class backgrounds. Clegg's moral corruption is an extreme example of the sudden wealth and corruption that Fowles observed throughout the nation at the time the novel was written.

The bitterness and anger that Clegg experiences are results of his class, just as Miranda's sense of superiority is a result of her background. Miranda opposes the H-bomb, probably because she has the privilege to be born into a class that regularly produces political leaders, and she knows her voice might be heard, or at least might influence other people. She has assumed that all good people must be pacifists. Moreover, Miranda's literary choices point to the class disparity between her and Clegg: she imagines herself as Emma Woodhouse and as Major Barbara, yet cannot imagine herself in the bar-and-factory world represented by Arthur Seaton.

Power and Control

Power and control are central aspects of Fowles's novel. From the beginning, Clegg uses chloroform to subdue Miranda; the pad of chloroform will reappear later in the novel during one of Miranda's escape attempts. Clegg also gags Miranda and binds her hands whenever he takes her upstairs. The basement where she lives is impenetrable and soundproof, and even if it were not, nobody lives nearby enough to hear her scream. Miranda may be better-educated than Clegg, but Clegg's uncanny ability to exercise control and predict how she might try to escape means that he is well-prepared for any rebellion.

Fowles explores the psychological ramifications of these control tactics by examining both Clegg and Miranda. At times, control makes Clegg drunk with power, unable to handle his own urges; for instance, he undresses Miranda after chloroforming her the second time and photographs her in his underwear. Later, he will use force to make her pose for him naked. Clegg's control of Miranda is psychologically damaging to her, and every day she tries out a different strategy in an attempt to unseat his control, and also to figure out how best to win his sympathies. His control over her makes her determined to fight for new privileges and emerge as a better person. In the end, of course, Clegg's controlling ways claim her life.

For his own part, Clegg thinks he is shut out of all avenues of power until his sudden acquisition of wealth. He thus equates money with power because he has always had to take orders from the higher social classes, both in the army and at work. Sexually, he needs to be in total control: for example, he can masturbate to pictures of Miranda, but cannot have a sexual relationship with the self-assertive Miranda when she is actually present.

Photographic Images

Miranda and Clegg have very different views regarding photographs, as becomes clear at several different points throughout the novel. Miranda thinks that photographs are dead, mere facsimiles of moments, and that such records fail to capture living, breathing reality. "When you draw something it lives and when you photograph it it dies," she says. To Clegg, however, photographs are a safe way of viewing the world. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the photographs he takes of Miranda. Clegg's photographs start off fairly innocuously: he simply asks Miranda if he can take pictures of her, and she consents. She thinks his photographs show no artistic talent, but she does not object.

Clegg's photo-taking turns aggressive when chloroforms Miranda, takes off her clothes, and photographs her in her underwear. Near the end of the novel, he wants to photograph her naked as insurance in case she tries to tell anyone that he kidnapped her. For Clegg, photographs are a safe way to view Miranda and "collect" her without having to deal with messiness of emotions, or with the dilemma of having an angry prisoner in his basement. To him, photographs are renderings in which none of life's beauty is lost, only its ugly confusion. To Miranda, it is precisely this confusion - anything "nasty," as she says - that makes people alive and that has been the impetus for all great art.


Miranda's imprisonment in Clegg's basement is experienced differently by the two main characters. As the captor and jailer, Clegg can play into his instincts as a collector. He does not want to kill Miranda, but subconsciously wants to kill any part of her that could resist him. Clegg hopes that his prison will accomplish just this, that Miranda will succumb to his power, fall in love with him, and let him dictate the terms of the rest of her life.

To Miranda, her prison is primarily something to be escaped. It is claustrophobia-inducing and apparently impregnable. She is cut off from daylight and freedom for weeks. The idea of prison and captivity is prominent throughout the novel; indeed, imprisonment creates the central conflict between Miranda and Clegg. For Miranda, such confinement is the one reason why she could never love Frederick: he imprisoned her, after all. Yet for Clegg, confinement is the only way to make Miranda love him: in the outside world, he believes, their class differences would keep her from ever taking notice of him.


Clegg is a collector of butterflies, an amateur entomologist, and his desire to collect and preserve both butterflies and Miranda is a central theme of the novel. He likes to observe objects from afar, dead and sanitized and without any complicating emotions. Several times Miranda remarks that her presence is becoming unwieldy because she keeps expressing her emotions and trying to escape. Miranda also hates the idea of collecting, whether the collection contains great artworks or simply Clegg's butterflies.

In the case of art, Miranda believes that it is a crime to merely catalog and classify all the beautiful pieces of art in the world, to hide them in private collections and not let them be enjoyed by vital, living people. To her, the idea of a collection robs objects of individuality, confining them in categories. In the case of Clegg's butterflies, Miranda views collection not as an accomplishment but as a massacre, since Clegg killed all the future butterflies that could have come from his collected specimens. The differences in Miranda's and Clegg's views about collection illuminate core aspects of their characters.

The Tempest

Shakespeare's play The Tempest is frequently alluded to in Fowles's novel, and the comparisons and contrasts between the two stories reveal Clegg's and Miranda's mindsets in The Collector. Clegg tells Miranda that his name is Ferdinand; in The Tempest, the character Ferdinand is a cultured and kind prince with whom Miranda falls in love. It is clear that this is the side of his character that Clegg wants the captive Miranda to see. Yet Miranda calls Clegg Caliban. In The Tempest, Caliban is a monstrous man who tries to rape Miranda. Yet Prospero, the powerful magician who serves as Shakespeare's protagonist, reduces Caliban to slavery. Caliban is violent, uncivilized, and undesirable. This is how Miranda views Clegg throughout much of The Collector. By analyzing The Collector in light of its similarities to The Tempest, one can unearth revealing aspects of the characters.


Miranda is a lover of art. As an art student, she aspires to be a great painter, and is heavily influenced by her mentor G.P. In her art, Miranda strives above all for authenticity. One of the things that most aggravates her about Clegg is his lack of appreciation for art. When Miranda and Clegg listen to music together or look at pictures, Clegg is completely blind to the levels of meaning that Miranda discerns. He does not enjoy reading; he dutifully reads The Catcher in the Rye to please her, but gets no pleasure from it. To Miranda, this is madness. Art for her is truth, and she cannot fully grasp that Clegg is part of the nameless mass of people who lack any real appreciation of art. From Clegg's point of view, this is all part of Miranda's elitist stance; as Clegg sees it, she is looking down on him for not having had her advantages in life. The sharp differences in their opinions about art highlight their radically different views of life as a whole.