So I came across a really confusing sentence. The following passage is to provide a bigger context, but what I don't understand is just the first one:

Control was something Ruth wanted very badly, yet eczema defied her attempts to eradicate it. The Jewish mythological figure Lilith, known as the ‘night hag’, was very powerful in her; ‘erupting’ when she felt controlled. This archetype had played out in every aspect of Ruth’s life, and she was only now beginning to see how it had influenced her: she’d had no trouble finding jobs, friends, boyfriends, but then felt controlled by them, and turned destructively against them.

To help understand more about the context -- there are four pillars in Ruth's life, Zionism, feminism, socialism and Judaism. I kind of feel that religion plays a part in interpreting the sentence.

To specify my question, I simply don't understand what is eczema to do with anything in the sentence (isn't eczema a skin disease?) and I am not sure about what the "it" refers to too... Control? Eczema? Or something else?

Maybe eczema is just a metaphor? I notice that "erupt" can also mean "(of a spot, rash, or other mark) suddenly appear on the skin." But how can I interpret the metaphor (if it is one)?


2 Answers 2


Difficult to interpret a paragraph out of context, but it seems to me that 'Lilith the night hag' is the metaphor here, representing the subject's actual condition of eczema. I see it has been suggested that it is the other way around, but I'm fairly certain there is no such thing as the 'night hag', whereas eczema is quite real!

Eczema is related to the nervous system, and sufferers find that the condition 'erupts' when under stress. In fact many eczema sufferers also have asthma and find both conditions come on at the same time. This makes sense as the paragraph you quote says Ruth's 'eruption' occurs when she feels she is being controlled.

Again, the paragraph is out of context but it seems to me that the writer is trying to establish that Ruth is stuck in what is often called a 'vicious circle' (or cycle): she wants control in her life, but she feels controlled by her eczema, and her eczema breaks out whenever she feels controlled.


By definition ' Eczema ' means a type of skin inflammation that include tiny blisters that ooze or weep but mostly self diagnosed. But this physical Eczema has nothing to do in the present description.

From what goes before and after the extract, it is evident our Ruth is a psychic patient and has come to the narrator for counseling. She suffers from trauma inherited from her father, worried about ' dropping to a hole ', 'a wordless hole' or ' loneliness of the cold well'. According to her own admission, though she controls things she worries that she is controlled by them In the prime of things, an uncalled for nagging sensation of being controlled gets the better of her and become disastrous. Eczema is this depravity in her character — it itches, defies attempts to eradicate. So eczema is a symbolic or figurative expression. The four pillars you refermay be strong intellectual structure, but nonetheless abstract constucts and may not necessarily help Ruth overcome her complex and disastrous feelings. Hence nothing religious in it.

  • "this physical Eczema has nothing to do in the present description"? On the contrary, my impression from reading the extract is that Ruth literally, non-metaphorically had the disease eczema--nothing symbolic about it (aside from the explicit point that it was something that it wasn't in her power to control).
    – sumelic
    Jun 28, 2017 at 22:00
  • I have gone through a major portion of original text, and it not any thing physical, I suppose. Otherwise, amongst so much of serious talks, it is Eczema! Your comments direct for a second reading. Well! Let's see what is what! Jun 29, 2017 at 1:49
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    FYI, what you describe with the tiny blisters used to be considered a subtype of eczema – "vesicular eczema", and then "dishyrdotic eczema" – but has largely come to be understood by the dermotological community as a separate condition. Because the dishyrdotic hypothesis was disproven (or was it?), it's now called pompholyx (which I understand is Greek for "blisters"). Also "cheiropompholyx" (when on the hands) and "podopompholyx" (when on the feet). Regular (atopic) eczema presents as inflamed, scaly, or thickened (raised) patches on the skin which are usually very itchy. Jul 29, 2017 at 1:31

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