|"The Private History of a
that Failed" by Mark Twain
|"Editha" by William Dean Howells||"Chickamauga" by Ambrose Bierce|
|"The Real Thing" by Henry James||American Realism||"The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman|
|"The Basket Maker" by Mary Austin||American Regionalism||"The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane|
|American Naturalism||Robert Frost's Poetry||Wallace Stevens' Poetry|
|William Carlos Williams' Poetry||T.S. Eliot's Poetry||Modernism|
|Claude McKay's Poetry||Trifles by Susan Glaspell||Excerpts from Cane by Jean Toomer|
|"The Ice Palace" by F. Scott Fitzgerald||"Big Two-Hearted River" by Ernest Hemingway||MIDTERM|
|Elizabeth Bishop's Poetry||"Middle Passage" by Robert Hayden||Cubism
|"A Good Man Is Hard to Find" by Flannery O'Connor||"Howl" by Allen Ginsberg||The Sandbox by Edward Albee|
|"She Unnames Them" by Ursula K. Le Guin||"The School" by Donald Barthelme||"Recitatif" by Toni Morrison|
|Sylvia Plath's Poetry||"Videotape" by Don DeLillo||American Postmodernism|
|"The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien||Tabloid Dreams by Robert Olen Butler||Leviathan (ch. 1) by Paul Auster|
|Leviathan (ch. 2-3) by Paul Auster||Leviathan (ch. 4-5) by Paul Auster||FINAL|
|1b: "The Private History
of a Campaign that Failed"
by Mark Twain
Research Survey Compiled By: Jacob Rudin
Twain's “A Private History of a Campaign the Failed” was first run in 1885 in Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, which ran numerous accounts of soldiers who had fought on both sides of the war. Century later took several of these works and published them as Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, but Twains account was excluded from this collection. The goal of the editors was to “teach the generation that had grown up since the war how the men who were divided on a question of principle... won by equal devotion and valor that respect for each other which is the strongest bond of a reunited people.” “A Private History” is in many ways opposite to that ideology.
This is a short story about Mark Twain and several Confederate militia men who spent a few short days running about the Missouri countryside reveling in the idea of war and enjoying general merriment. They spend their days slumbering and generally kicking back and their nights retreating from false tales of bands of Union soldiers who are coming their way, always bringing sure defeat with them. After several nights of this the group decides to no longer retreat and instead hold up in a barn. That particular night they see a mysterious rider whom the assume to be a Union soldier of some sort, they fire a volley of shots and kill the man. After the event they all seem to be particularly taken aback about the harsh realities of war, particularly Twain's character. Several retreats later they join other bands much like themselves and learn of a squad of Union soldiers coming their way led by some unknown general (whom is revealed later to be Ulysses S. Grant). It is at this news that the original group disbands with some determined to stay and Twain and the others making a brisk flight back home.
-Character List and Descriptions-
Mark Twain (unnamed in the narrative)- Twain's character is one of rather weak disposition in terms of military value however his realizations about the realities of war are the focal point of the overall work. His character makes the claim that men (such as himself) whom have very little to do with the civil war themselves, still have some say in how it should be perceived.
Peterson Dunlap- The appointed “poet laureate” of the group, who seemed to be fascinated with variations on the spelling of his own last name. Not exactly the battle scarred romanticized image of a back county militiaman, however a great illustration to the point Twain was trying to make; that war was not a poetic thing but rather a barbaric act.
Ed Stevens- The son of a town jeweler he shared the same view that all the men did at the beginning of the story; that this was some mere vacation away from the monotonies of life. That view was drastically changed by the end of the story.
Smith- One of the more salty of the group, he actually joins the regular army and is killed in battle. He is there to illustrate that some of the men Twain was with did end up staying in the army.
Fear - Illustrated throughout “A Private History” by the continuous retreat of the militiamen from the apparent threat of the enemy. They ultimately face the fear when they decided to stay in the barn and let the enemy come. A rider approaches and they kill him without hesitations, however their actions lead to a realization of truth about war and death.
Journey from Innocence to Awareness /Truth - Twain alludes to this after he has killed the mysterious rider by saying: “The thought shot through me that I was a murderer, that I had killed a man, a man who had never done me any harm.” Twain struggles with this concept for a great deal of “A Private History” and it becomes the ultimate reasoning behind his desertion.
Freedom – This is briefly addressed when Twain begins to talk about his father owning slaves and how “slavery was a great wrong and he would free the solitary Negro he then owned if he could think it right to give away the property of the family when he was so straitened in means.”
Loyalty – This is addressed in a satirical manner when the reader learns of a young man who was a pilot mate with Twain and chastises his loyalty to the Union because his (Twain's) father had owned slaves. Twain recounts: “A month later the secession atmosphere had considerably thickened on the Lower Mississippi and I became a rebel; so did he.” Clearly an illustration of the pilot mate casting aside his original loyalty to the Union. Then later: “He did his fair share of the rebel shouting but was opposed to letting me do mine. He said I came of bad stock, of a father who had been willing to set slaves free. In the following summer he was piloting a Union gunboat and shouting for the Union again ...”
“The thought of him got to preying on me every night, I could not get rid of it. I could not drive it away, the taking of that unoffending life seemed such a wanton thing. And it seemed an epitome of war, that all war must just be the killing of strangers against whom you feel no personal animosity, strangers who in other circumstances you would help if you found them in trouble, and who would help you if you needed it.”
"This thing that I have done does not end with him; it falls upon them too, and they never did me any harm, any more than he." - Twain (after killing the mysterious rider)
“The thoughtful will not throw this war paper of mine lightly aside as being valueless. It has this value; it is not an unfair picture of what went on in may a militia camp in the first months of the rebellion, when the green recruits were without discipline, without the steadying and heartening influence of trained leaders, when all their circumstances were new and strange and charged with exaggerated terrors, and before the invaluable experience of actual collision in the field had turned them from rabbits into soldiers.”
“I could have become a soldier myself if I had waited. I had got part of it learned, I knew more about retreating than the man that invented retreating.”
Realism - Mark Twain is a definitive practitioner of the Realism movement and “A Private History” is a prime example as to why. If one defines Realism as "the faithful representation of reality" then it could be noted how Twain is very descriptive about the harsh realities of death and war. Unlike the Romantic style writer, Twain chooses to focus more on the actual ways of people and he uses several different characters to express this idea, from the boat pilot who struggles with loyalty to Stevens who views the whole war as a vacation away from the mundane only to discover that death is a terrible realization.
Local Color- There is a brief hint of this style when Twain talks about Missouri and how the war was perceived from the frontier states at the very beginning of “A Private History.”
Southwestern Humor – This style, popular from 1830-1860 can be briefly seen in the militiamen's conflicts with nature described in a humorous way, and the fictionalized “autobiographical” accounts often associated with this style of writing.
Situational Irony – particularly right after the death of the mysterious rider with realizations about death and war come into play. And also after several steady marches that begin playfully but end with all involved cursing the war and everyone involved in it.
Pathos - the reader sympathies with Twain after he thinks himself a murderer. Then even more so when he begins to asses the consequences of his actions and the results they have on the slain riders family.
Exterior Monologue – this allows Twain, who as telling an account that has already happened to add his own antecedents into the story without disrupting the overall flow of the narrative. It also gives him free reign to comment on the events as he sees fit.
“Unmatched in the care and handling of tone, [Twain] has produced in this merry tale about shattered innocence and slaughter an antiwar manifesto that is also confession, dramatic monologue, a plea for understanding and absolution, an a romp that gradually turns into atrocity even as we watch.”
Merry Tales (The Oxford Mark Twain) , by Mark Twain, Introduction by Anne Bernays
Mark Twain and the "Campaign that Failed", by Fred W. Lorch
The Short Works of Mark Twain, by Peter B. Messent
"Editha" by William Dean Howells
Research Survey Compiled By: LaKeithia Glover
-Born in Martinsville, Ohio March 1, 1837
Taking place in New York in 1898 “Editha” centers around
Editha Balcom and her love George Gearson. With the news of the Spanish
American war breaking out George is initially against the act of war
and fighting, however Editha has the opposite feelings; expressing that
it is a glorious occurrence. Her highly positive and exciting attitudes
towards war persuade George that it is in fact a good thing. Using
George’s belief and faith in God and manipulating the opinions of his
father and that of a job of a solider is to have honor and love
about all else for your country she pressingly encourages George to go
to war. Settling into her duties as the sweet heart of a
solider Editha soon learns of her love’s death and an initially bout of
mourning takes a trip to break the news of George’s death his mother.
These are some quotes that I found interesting. the way that
Howells used them, I understood it as an example of the type of
propaganda that was used in America at that time to ensure that the
citizens were accepting of the fact that a war was starting and it was
for good reason.
"Chickamauga" by Ambrose Bierce
Research Survey Compiled By: Thomas Moniak
Connections Among Works
|3b: "Chickamauga" by Ambrose
Research Survey Compiled By: Robert Knarr
Summary – A six year old boy travels through the woods with his toy wooden sword. He encounters many interesting things. First, he sees a rabbit, is quite frightened and runs away from it. Then, the boy falls asleep in the woods, and awakes in the evening. The most notable thing he encounters is a group of men he originally mistakes for animals. The men are soldiers who appear to be wounded, dragging themselves along on their knees. He moves to the front of the group and begins to lead them. The boy then realizes the ground had been trodden on earlier. A tremendous battle had taken place just a few hours earlier, and the boy had slept through it all. The boy then makes his way toward a fire, and after stopping for a moment, he watches his soldiers drown themselves in a creek. After attempting to move his forces further, he realizes the desolation that has taken place and, disillusioned, throws his sword away. Finally, at the end of the story the boy comes across a burning building. He then realizes it is his home, and finds a dead woman, perhaps his mother. The story ends with the boy being terrified and stupefied at his uncovering of the woman.
Themes and Motifs – There are a few different themes and motifs. One important theme presented is the destructive nature of war. The story exhibits how truly damaging a war can be. The boy encounters absolute devastation to the woods and more importantly his home. Additionally, the war causes the boy to be incredibly disillusioned. A motif of the story is the presentation of animals. The boy originally perceives the soldiers as some sort of animal; he is unsure what animal, perhaps a bear or dog. Perhaps, this signifies how beastlike men can during times of war. The other time the boy encounters an animal he sees a rabbit. However, when he sees the rabbit he is terrified. Perhaps, the rabbit is a representation of innocence, and such purity frightens the boy. Another important theme is the blurring of illusion and reality. The boy believes he is playing a game, but actually he is in the middle of a war. Also, since the boy believes he is playing a game, the story has a somewhat surreal quality. At first, the reader is unsure if the boy’s adventure is real, or part of his imagination.
Cultural Contexts – The story was written in 1889, but is actually about the Battle of Chickamauga. The battle was during the Civil War, and occurred in 1863. Ambrose Bierce fought in the Battle of Chickamauga, and used his experience to create a vivid picture of the harshness of war. Additionally, the story was published when the United States was near war with Germany.
Connections to other works – Bierce’s presentation of the grimness of war can be compared to many other war stories or novels. For instance, the story is similar to All Quiet on the Western Front, A Farewell to Arms, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. The theme of disillusionment is a common one as well. Such disillusionment occurs throughout literature and can be seen in The Catcher in the Rye or The Sun Also Rises. Furthermore, the idea of blurring illusion and reality occurs in some of Bierce’s other works, such as An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.
Relevant Criticism and links to other information on Bierce and his writings –
Yost, David. “Skins Before Reputations: Subversions of Masculinity in Ambrose Bierce and Stephen Crane.” War, Literature & the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities Vol. 19 (2007): 247-260.
Cornes, Judy. “Madness and the Loss of Identity in Nineteenth Century Fiction.” New York, 2008.
Morris, Roy Jr. “'So Many, Many Needless Dead': The Civil War Witness of Ambrose Bierce.” New York, 2007.
"The Real Thing" by Henry James
Research Survey Compiled By: Jay Desselle
“Our prime concern with
James must be as readers, not critics, and not with what he was, but
with what he wrote; not to establish his place in the literary canon
(or to demote him from it), but to find in him whatever pleasure and
interest we can.” (Virginia Llewellyn Smith IX).
“The Real Thing” is a statement about the pursuit of the ideal
in art. A young artist is surprised when one day, a couple in financial
difficulties, Major and Mrs. Monarch, come to his door requesting to be
models for him. They believe that as an illustrator who often depicts
members of the upper class, it would be beneficial for him to have “the
real thing” to model for him. The artist employs them and uses them for
quite a while, but ultimately finds himself losing his artistic
techniques because the Monarchs are so much like the real thing that
his drawings of them are entirely devoid of life. Ironically, two of
his other models, members of the lower class, are much better at
portraying members of the aristocracy. Eventually, the artist finds
himself elevating his other models at the expense of the Monarchs who
desperately try to hang on. The climax occurs when the artist requests
that the Monarchs server tea to himself and his other models, a
complete reversal of an earlier event. When the couple debases
themselves so, the artist is momentarily touched. Despite attempts to
keep the Monarchs on out of some measure of pity, the artist finally
yields to his instincts and the advice of his artistic conscience, Jack
Hawley, and lets them go. Even though Hawley insists that the Monarchs
negatively affected his art in the long run, the artist believes that
the experience was worth “the memory,” (James 193).
The Artist: The narrator of the story is never named. Rather,
the audience learns that he is an illustrator just on the verge of
achieving great things. Although he would rather spend his days
painting portraits, he recognizes that his illustration work is
necessary to make a living. During the story, he is attempting to
receive the contract for illustrating a series of novels. Even though
he recognizes that letting the Monarchs go was the right decision, he
still remains indebted to them. The experience allowed him to clearly
recognize human nature at its most basic form.
“The Real Thing… is the quintessentially Jamesian phrase.”
and Historical Context:
The general reading public of the 1890s loved short stories.
As magazines and newspapers published serials quite frequently, a story
had to be quite special in order to stand out and achieve lasting
literary affirmation. As the Victorian Age drew to an end, the
aristocracy was definitely on the decline as was public regard for the
upper classes, which would seem to have made “The Real Thing” a certain
success. However, McClure had a great deal of difficulty selling the
piece and had to delay its American release several times until enough
printers accepted the story for him to recoup his investment (the story
was published in Black and White in England). The problem with the
story was not its content, but its author as James had quite a
reputation as a dense analytical writer whose work, though critically
acclaimed never sold particularly well. In fact “The Real Thing’s”
advertising campaign emphasized the accessibility of the story and
attempted to market James’ name and not his literary occupation. The
story did receive great acclaim partially due to the emphasis that
newspaper editors placed on the story’s realism which was highly
popular at the time. Also, readers enjoyed reading about the production
of illustrations. Unfortunately, most readers probably failed to
recognize the significance of the story’s theme (Johanningsmeier).
Realism plays a definite role in “The Real Thing.” Bazargan
believes that the story is about the pursuit of the “hyper real” which
ultimately leads to a desire for the real thing (Bazargan 136). In
other words, the ideal (the Monarchs) is not really what people want.
For the narrator, the epitome of an idea ends up defeating the purpose
of his artistic expression. Ideals are largely unattainable and
therefore unrealistic. As such, an imitation that strives to achieve
the ideal often becomes the real thing in idea and nature, if not
physically. Grossman goes even farther and calls the Monarchs a “vulgar
reality” that in their epitome of the ideal, show a “stupid disregard
for the real thing,” (Grossman 317). However, the artist himself is
almost a Romantic figure who constantly searches for the real thing.
However, he is held back by his “anxiety about the extent to which the
artist’s images can provide consolation and compensation for lost
reality,” (Grossman 318). Perhaps the narrator is a Romantic striving
to achieve realism while at the same time contemplating the cost of
such an act which Lainoff seems to maintain as “His realism can
therefore be defined as giving the shape of reality, or the air of
reality to that which may not be real, ” (Lainoff 193). McElderly Jr.’s
belief that “The Real Thing” “ironically states the idea that
Impressionism is a sounder principle of creative art than literal
Realism,” seems to be a confirmation of this idea (McElderly Jr. 123).
Although some critics do see a “postmodern crisis of representation”
theme, most would agree that “The Real Thing” is a realist piece
dealing with the ideas of Romanticism and Impressionism (Bazargan 135).
Connections have been made between “The Real Thing” and
several other works by James. Smith compares Milly from The Wings of
the Dove to the Major in that both “don’t add up,” (Smith 224). Another
character, Kate, is a “poor copy” like Mrs. Monarch (Smith 205). Mrs.
Monarch also “can make nothing of the part assigned to her,” like
Hyacinth in The Princess Casamassima (Smith 103). James himself said
that in crafting his story, he wanted to be “as admirably compact and
selected as Maupassant,” (Edel 57). Connections can also be found with
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Artist of the Beautiful” which argues that
striving for perfection in art destroys creation (Fiorelli 1906).
Finally, several connections to Oscar Wilde exist. For example, the
Major is compared to a character from The Importance of Being Earnest
that “looks everything but has nothing,” (Fiorelli 1907). Ascari
believes that “James in fact conceives art as a personal view of
reality, advocating a manner halfway between the mechanical adhesion to
the real professed by naturalist
The central theme of “The Real Thing is that “art is a
transformation of reality, not a mere reflection of the thing itself,”
(Fadiman 217). The Monarchs are essentially dead; they are incapable of
achieving anything artistically. The very qualities that equip them so
well for photography does not lend legitimacy to their career as
models. When Mrs. Monarch takes pride in being able to recognize
herself in the artist’s drawings, she fails to realize that that is
what makers her so ill suited. The fact that the artist cannot
perfectly capture the Monarchs (making them too big) indicates his
subconscious desire to transform reality. With Miss Churm and Oronte,
he can work with them to make the lower class appear as the embodiment
of aristocracy, but the Monarchs are just too static to change. After
all, an illustration is not a portrait, but rather a snapshot of
activity. In a sense, the entire story is a metaphor for the struggle
that an artist goes through in his creation process with the Monarchs
being the power that holds the artist back. Bazargan calls it “an
indictment of artistic mimesis in its limited sense,” (Bazargan 134).
The Monarchs are anachronisms, representative of an ideal long
abandoned. In fact, they “are a metonymy trying to pass for a
metaphor,” (Ron 204). Although that ideal is what the artist wishes to
achieve, it is impossible to do so relevantly with the Monarchs.
Rather, he has to employ models like Miss Churm and Oronte who possess
modern sensibilities and attitudes that help them achieve an
appropriate imitation of aristocracy that can connect with readers. In
essence compromises sometimes have to be made between the ideal and the
practical in order for art to be created. However despite their
uselessness as models, the Monarchs do end up helping the narrator. As
they begin to recognize that their use is drawing to an end, the
Monarchs begin to perform domestic chores for the narrator. The moment
when they take up serving tea to Miss Churm and Oronte, the narrator
begins to realize just what the Monarchs must be going through. When
they begin to do his dishes for him, in a quiet and humble manner, he
is touched truly recognizes their plight. However he knows that he
cannot keep them on, since it would harm both of them and could never
work out and ends up paying them to go away. Even though Hawley
intimates that the entire experience hurt him, the narrator knows
better. Gaining a contract for a series of books is a financial
achievement. However, learning about human nature and the plight of the
human experience is aesthetically invaluable. The Monarchs may not have
improved his physical fortunes, but knowing them does help the
“narrator emerge with a finer understanding of the human situation and
with a new awareness of what constitutes the real thing in human
relationships: compassion… James implies that only through such an
attitude may the artist achieve true greatness,” (Labor 378). James
himself seems to confirm this when in The Portrait of a Lady he writes
that it is “the enveloping air of the artist’s humanity- which gives
the last touch to the worth of the work,” (Labor 378).
Most critics appreciated the style that James employs in “The
Real Thing.” James himself recognized that the story needed a fast pace
so as to be “a little gem of bright, quick, vivid form,” (Edel 56).
Scudder calls it a departure from earlier work “through the natural
process by which the subtle grows more impenetrable and the delicacy of
shade is divided by still finer discrimination,” (Scudder 695-696).
Others praised its “lively, spontaneous tone” and its use of the so
called “popular style” that was such a departure for James (Fiorelli
1907). Labor actually calls the story itself the real thing because it
changes normal events into a work of art, (Labor 377). Overall, James
succeeds in crafting a brisk narrative that effectively develops its
characters and ideas. In his planning process, James said of “The Real
Thing” that “it must be a picture; it must illustrate something,” (Edel
55). He certainly succeeded.
“I could imagine "We always use it" pinned on their bosoms
Most critics tend to focus on the relationship between the
Monarchs and the narrator. In fact, some place so much prominence on
the lifelessness of the Monarchs as models, that they miss the main
idea of the story, that experiencing the human condition is key to
artistic achievement. However, some writers do recognize this
significant idea, and attempt to place James himself in the narrator’s
place. Bazargan though cautions against putting too much stock in such
an idea. Rather, readers should understand the universal nature of
James’s ideas. Many critics try to qualify exactly what the real thing
is. Essentially, they all agree that the real thing is some sort of
exchange between the artist and the Monarchs, that even though they did
not provide him with artistic inspiration, their “memory” is the real
thing (in terms of human nature). Lainoff calls this “an art theory of
nominal realism,” (Lainoff 193). In Smith’s opinion, this is simply
indicative of the scarcely recognized fact that creating art is an
exchange with life. On the whole, most critics agree that “The Real
Suggested Exam Questions:
XII. Links to Further Information:
A Reading of ‘The Real Thing’
|4b: "The Real Thing" by Henry
Research Survey Compiled By: Kelsey Cox
A Brief Overview
Henry James’ “The Real Thing” tells the story of a desperate couple through the lens of a troubled artist. The narrating artist has recently agreed to illustrate “Rutland Ramsey,” the first novel from the periodical, Cheapside. The couple, Major and Mrs. Monarch, are seeking work as models and, though inexperienced, desire a sense of worth to match their appearance. So, it seems that each party may benefit mutually, but reality is not always as it appears. As far as appearance is concerned, the couple seems convinced that they each are fit to play the part as models, especially as to represent the aristocratic English. Their confidence is well played as Mr. Monarch insists of his wife, “Get up my dear and show how smart you are.” While considerably shyer, she “did it quite well” (James 176). Their façade, though boasting of perfection, is neither permanent nor substantial. In fact, their appearance of perfection disqualifies them as sitters, being “too distinguished to be [personalities]” (174). Whether from sympathy or wishful thinking, the artist decides to ease their desperation, allowing them to model for his Cheapside endeavor.
As the story unfolds, the couple’s incompetence is compared with the curious abilities of two other sitters. The first is Miss Churm, whose economic status is no secret, possessing both the appearance and dialect of a “cockney,” a working class inhabitant of London (181). While such traits may seem to hinder one aspiring to model the aristocratic, it is her transparence that frees her to be made into art. The other sitter is Oronte, an Italian whose helplessness is comparable to that of a “lazzarone,” a Neapolitan beggar (188). Again, in a paradoxical way, that which appears to make him useless renders him indispensable, having a “feeling for the pose” (186). Each offers a servile and malleable disposition, allowing them to pose as kings and queens. As the story progresses, the artist becomes disillusioned by reality’s monotony. After receiving admonition his respected peer, Jack Hawley, the artist replaces the Monarchs with this odd pair. This leaves the royal couple only dishes to wash and, ultimately, a return to desperation. This decision proves pivotal to the artist’s success, as his illustrations grant him passage to illustrate the remaining novels in Cheapside.
- Perception vs. Reality
James explicitly prioritizes between the two through his narrator who held “an innate preference for the represented subject over the real one” (179). Over the course of the story, there is an ironic shift of roles between the Monarchs and the two other models. The narrator constantly refers to the Monarchs as “the real thing.” That is, they really possess aristocratic qualities, fixed into their beings. However, their realness prevents them from becoming objects of art, which requires not reality but appearance. Miss Churm and Oronte, on the other hand, are not actually like the characters they portray and, consequently, are capable of malleability. In short, the Monarch’s fixed view of themselves prevents them from ever appearing, artistically, as they are. On the other hand, Miss Churm’s and Oronte’s freedom from fixed appearance allows them to appear as they aren’t. In the second to last paragraph, the narrator reveals the “cruel law” that “the real thing [is] so much less precious than the unreal.”
- Painting vs. Photography
James uses the transcendent theme of “perception vs. reality” to convey this more immanent theme. Churm and Oronte have clay-like qualities, formable to the artist’s desires. The narrating artist complements the two saying that Oronte, an Italian, could look “like an Englishmen,” being “as good as Miss Churm,” who could look “like an Italian” (187). More like dried clay, Mrs. Monarch is able to sit still “for an hour almost as motionless as if she were before a photographer’s lens” (183). Miss Churm and Oronte are raised from their societal imperfection into beauty through artistic creativity. On the flipside the Monarch’s perfected appearance leads ultimately to artless bore, as does photography, in its rigidity of appearance. The artist implicitly declares that the Monarch’s “are not makeable” (181). The beauty of painting is that it can “represent everything“ (181). The problem with photography is not that it’s “the real thing” but that it’s “always the same thing” (183).
- The Monarchs
As a couple, the two reflect the rigidity of reality, in general, and the irony of fixed appearance. This irony can be seen in their name, as they, while appearing monarchial, are neither wealthy nor capable of being portrayed as such. This irony may also be seen in the paradoxical shift from their monarchy to servitude as the story ends. Their tragic flaw might be described as “a lack of representation” (179).
- Mrs. Monarch
She is specifically compared to photography, as mentioned above. Being shy and particularly weak-willed, she is used to shed negative light upon photography. Ultimately she is left hopeless, having no place in the artist’s home. Similarly, photography is seen to have no place in art.
- Mr. Monarch
Strong-willed and outspoken, he has bestowed his wife with the perfection she now boasts, as if he were her personal photographer. Contrasted with her shyness, he has an air of confidence about him and has “kept her quiet,” accounting for her shyness (177). Similarly, photography subjects its object into a weak and immovable realness.
- Miss Churm
As seen in her dialect where “a” is replaced by “y,” the “u” here may be replacing “a” as to spell “charm.” If so, then perhaps she may be described as almost charming, being a “heroine of romance,” though “she couldn’t spell, and she loved beer” (181). Being just shy of charming, she is not limited by charm as the Monarchs are by their aristocratic identity. With all that said, she represents the romanticism and beauty found in the mundane.
Realism and Romanticism
- The story itself is quite realistic, glorifying the mundane and even mocking the glorious. However, it is not so simple. While the artist’s beautification of the rather ugly renders success, he does not forsake his representational preferences. Again, a paradox is present. He rejects the glorious appearance of the Monarchs because it is too real. Instead, he glorifies Miss Churm as an “ample her heroine of romance” (181) and Oronte as “a treasure” (186). So, in summary, that which appears romantic is less beautiful in reality while the mundane possesses a sort of romantic beauty.
- James spent time in America and Europe, speaking English, French, and German. Both a writer and an artist, he was aware of and involved with the current literary and artistic movements. The Kodak camera had just been patented four years before “The Real Thing” and was available for common use. Reacting to the popularization of photography, especially photographic portraits, James was unwilling to allow the camera to replace the brush, as communicated in “The Real Thing.” His familiarity with French accounts for the allusions to French phrases Additionally, his English heritage accounts for his commentary on specific English appearances, namely the aristocratic (The Monarchs) and the cockneys (Miss Churm).
- French- phrases from this language are alluded to on a few occasions, referring mostly to artistic phrases, creating an artistic theme throughout the story. These references are indicative of James’ familiarity with art and the French language.
- Raphael and Leonardo (184)- further reference to art, this time that of Italy, this is also indicative of his artistic background.
- The Divine Comedy- This is an example of intertextuality, in which James alludes to Dante’s work to illustrate a scene in “The Real Thing.” Doing so allows for a romantic portrayal a realistic Oronte.
Research Survey Compiled By: Brittany Robinett
I. Historical Context
a. The Realism Literary Movement begin in approximately 1865 towards the end of the Civil War, and it lasted until the start of World War I.
b. Following the Civil War, Americans felt disillusioned by the mass destruction and loss of life throughout the country. What the American people had believed to be a short, fairly painless war, the Civil War turned out to be horribly devastating to America’s economy, society, and unity amongst the states and people.
c. The Southern (Confederate) States suffered a great struggle both during and after the Civil War. The Reconstruction Era was a ten year period following the Civil War in which the eleven Confederate states were divided into five military districts. Confederate states were ordered to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment in order to be received back into the Union.
i. The Fourteenth Amendment granted all African-Americans citizenship, and thereby the civil rights that citizenship implied.
d. The Civil War and Reconstruction led to the disintegration of the Southern aristocracy, and, thereby, some distinctions between the different social classes. Many more people were impoverished or financially-tight than before the War.
e. As the Industrial Revolution began in the United States, technology became a more central part of American life. This newfound industrialism took away some of the focus from the importance of nature, leaving many to question man’s rather than God’s abilities.
f. Especially into the beginning of the twentieth century, America saw a great deal of immigration from Europe and Asia. Immigrants were taking job positions that many American citizens needed for money. A variety of cultures were coming into America, and people began to question the definition of “American.”
g. During the late nineteenth century, psychology was just beginning to emerge as a science. At this point in time, the goal of psychology was Sigmund Freud, founder of psychology, greatly explored the human sexual desire. In his research, he focused on the sexual drives and desires of both men and women. However, Protestant America felt this to be a very taboo subject. As the century began to turn, more and more women begin to cry out for suffrage. The female gender began to develop its own voice in both America and literature.
i. Ex. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening
a. The Romantic Literary Period began somewhere around 1830 and ended approximately during 1865.
b. Romanticism is a type of writing that focus mainly on the interaction between an individual in the world. Writers of this period related aspects of nature to the internal struggle within man. This “struggle within man” is portrayed as very emotional and passionate, as the focus of the story is the individual’s soul questioning its potential and destiny. Romantic writers, such as Nathanial Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau, felt nature, being God’s creation, could bring them closer to God. Within romantic works, there was a great deal of focus on vivid landscapes and natural occurrences, such as storms. Romantic writers portray characters as miniscule parts in a large, vast universe.
III. Characteristics of Realism
a. The goal of the realist movement was to depict reality and discover truth.
b. The tone of most Realists writing is pessimistic.
c. Realist works did not possess the vanity and dramatic nature so commonly found in romantic works. In realist works, descriptions were blunt. Descriptions were not meant to be spectacular, as in romantic works. Literary works were often written in the vernacular, using dialects and common speech. While Romanticists focused on vividly describing objects, landscapes, and people, Realists described images and experiences, and writing in the vernacular helped to frame them.
i. Ex. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn
d. Romantics held the belief that all individuals were born with an equal possession of goodness and individual worth. Realists’ works, contrarily, focused on the development of an individual over a period of time. Unlike in Romantic works, Realistic characters could make an impact on the circumstances they were in, rather than simply react to their environment.
e. The plots and events of Realist works are much more likely and believable than those found in Romantic works. For example, characters in Realist works were often non-heroic, middle-class citizens facing everyday situations. Realists do not write mainly on large, dramatic events, but rather less dramatic, yet important ones. Realism works were written in a much more objective manner, as Realists’ works were often written like a newspaper report. Since the goal of the Realists movement was to report the naked truth, this “journalistic” approach was successful.
f. Examples of main characters of Realist works:
i. Cowardly soldiers
1. Stephen Crane’s The Read Badge of Courage
ii. Business/working class citizens
iv. Middle/lower class citizens
g. Unlike in Romantic works, symbolism is a less prominent device in Realist works. Rather, a greater importance is placed on the individuals’ experiences and the images they perceive and sensory details that they gather. American Realism often deals with individuals acknowledging democracy and its true definition. In Realist works, the characters have free will to make an impact on the world, whereas in Romantic works, characters simply react to the world. Romantics perceive themselves as a water molecule in an ocean. Realists consider themselves are the piece of driftwood that gets tossed about in the storm.
h. Realist works were often satirical, as many Realists used their writings to pinpoint problems of American society.
i. Ex. Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle
i. Romantic works had an underlying theme that man was essentially moral and good. With the onset of 1865, however, many Americans were skeptical of this belief. They had watched brother destroy brother, social class sneer upon social class, and watched “evil” corrupt their nation. Thus, the Realists sought to look at reality and interpret it in order to discover truth. To do this literarily, Realists would record even the seemingly unimportant details when describing images, experiences, et cetera.
IV. Common Themes/Ideas
a. Class Struggle—how individuals fit into society
i. Main characters and narrators of realistic works often belonged to the middle-class. The upper classes are often portrayed as
ii. In 1859, Charles Darwin, the “father of evolution” published The Origin of Species. In this piece, Darwin proposes that animals and humans survive due to the theory of “natural selection.” This theory states that animals with traits best suited to adapt to their current environment have a better chance at survival than those without those traits. Those adapting animals have the best chance at survival and reproduction, meaning that all of the animals with that certain adaptation will eventually be a species because of that unique characteristic. This evolutionary theory led America and other nations to adopt the theory of “Social Darwinism,” which basically implies that the more “well-off” classes are more likely to survive in society than those individuals belonging to lower classes.
b. Examining Reality and Moral Truth
i. Realists felt that by examining small aspects of reality, they could, in turn, uncover a larger truth. Rather than being like the Romantics and examining the magnificent aspects of nature, Realists studied ordinary objects and experiences to reveal truth.
a. Quote by William Dean Howells: “Let fiction cease to lie about life; let it portray men and women as they are actuated by the motives and the passions in the measure we all know…let it not put on fine literary airs; let it speak the dialect, the language, that most Americans know—the language of unaffected people everywhere—and there can be no doubt of an unlimited future, not only of delightfulness but of usefulness for it.” (William Dean Howells)
b. “For Berthoff, realism is committed to ‘capturing the special immediate air of American reality in the familiar American dialect’…he does question whether realism was ‘anything more than a name, a borrowed label which happened to come so strongly into fashion ... that no one could avoid deferring to it.’ … realism is ‘the record of life, the real, the true..’” (Lynn M. Zott)
VI. Examples of Works and Writers
a. Mark Twain
i. Huckleberry Finn
b. Henry James
i. The Portrait of a Lady
c. Stephen Crane
i. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets
d. Kate Chopin
i. The Awakening
e. William Dean Howells
b. "American Realism." Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Lynn M. Zott. Vol. 120. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Gale. UNIV OF GEORGIA LIBRARIES. 27 Jan. 2009 <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/start.do?p=LitRC&u=uga>.
g. "Introduction." The Bedford Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Stephen A. Scipione. Vol. 2. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008. 1-39.
h. Nairne, James S. Psychology. 5th ed. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2008.
"The Yellow Wallpaper"
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Research Survey Compiled By: Jill Hueter
The narrator – a new mother diagnosed with a nervous disorder
John – the narrator’s husband, a physician, who thinks he knows what is best for
Jenny – the narrator’s caretaker
A woman and her husband take up residence in a rented house to allow her to
recover from the “nervous disorder” she has been diagnosed with after having a
child. She is supposed to stay away from intellectual stimulus and social contact,
although she herself thinks both would do her good. The room she stays in has
yellow wallpaper with a devious pattern which at first vexes her, but she
becomes increasingly obsessed with working out the pattern. There is sufficient
evidence that she has been tearing away at the wallpaper for a significant
portion of her stay, and as she begins to think she sees a woman behind the
pattern, she spirals into madness. Finally, her husband, who never took her
condition seriously and insisted she was improving, discovers her creeping
around the room having ravaged the walls, believing herself to be the woman
behind the pattern in the wallpaper.
Gilman herself suffered from nervous breakdown and depression for many
years, and was put on the “rest cure,” which severely restricted intellectual
activity. After nearly going insane, she wrote The Yellow Wallpaper not “to drive
people crazy, but to save them from being driven crazy,” as she later explained
in Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper. She continued writing and lecturing, with
particular emphasis on women and social reform.
The Yellow Wallpaper is often considered a work of Realism because of the way
it represents a real woman going through a real mental deterioration. Because
there is little moral uplift or reference to the idyllic, it can be seen as breakaway
from Romanticism, as Realism did. The work can also be considered Gothic
because of its use of suspense, danger, and the grotesque.
The story is written as if the narrator herself were keeping a journal of her
experiences. Because she has been ordered not to write, she must be stealthy,
and is sometimes “interrupted” by the entrance of other characters. Gilman’s
style in this story can be seen as ahead of her time because of her
experimentation with a kind of stream-of-consciousness. Gilman generally
makes a new paragraph for every sentence or two, resulting in very few longer
paragraphs. This style more accurately reflects the way a person’s mind would
jump from one thought to another, particularly the mind of someone who is
The work was originally denied publication because of its melancholy nature. It
was finally published in 1892 in the New England Magazine. Readers and critics
initially had mixed responses to the work: some thought it was too depressing,
while others considered it a quality gothic horror story on par with the works of
Poe and Hawthorne. The story was not approached as a feminist work until the
1970s, most likely because of the implications about gender roles which still
abided for many years subsequent to the publishing of The Yellow Wallpaper.
Gilman responded to criticism by publishing Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper,
in which she explicitly stated that her intent was to save people from
experiencing the same fate as her protagonist, not to drive them to it.
Following the Civil War, the workforce received a greater influx of women, but
even so, at that time few women supported themselves by themselves. Women
were still largely dependent on their husbands, and the role women assumed in
society was subordinate to men. This submission is demonstrated in The Yellow
Wallpaper by the narrator’s deference to her husband’s and physician’s orders,
despite her better judgment.
Male dominance/female submission
The narrator herself has absolutely no say in how she is cured; everything is
decided by her male physician and husband. Although she protests, both by
writing and by telling her husband she thinks it would be good for her to go out
and see people, he dismisses her opinion entirely, even laughs at her. This
repression results in the narrator’s wanting to shock her husband in the final
scene. When he faints in shock, she “creeps” over him, representing an ironic
conquering of male dominance through insanity.
As stated above, the narrator is restricted by her husband’s insistence on her
treatment, which manifests itself in her mind as a woman trapped behind the
pattern in the wallpaper. Her own cage is the assumption of all that her
husband and the physician know best.
As her mental illness progresses, the narrator becomes increasingly less
explicit about her own condition, showing that she can no longer recognize her
own instability. Ironically, her husband, who insists that she continue the rest
cure, also insists that she is not sick and has the ability to pull herself out of her
|6b: "The Yellow Wallpaper"
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Research Survey Compiled By: Kaitlin Springmier
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is a short story about a woman suffering from postpartum depression whose husband restricts her to an upstairs room of a house they have rented for the summer. It chronicles the woman’s slow descent into madness, which seems to be exasperated by her husband’s forced ‘rest cure’. The protagonist obsesses over the yellow wallpaper that covers the walls of her room. The longer she stays in the room, the more the wallpaper seems to mutate, she imagines the patterns moving and that there is a woman trapped in the wallpaper. She thinks that the woman is creeping on all fours behind the “bars” (which were created by the shadows), trying to escape from her prison. Soon she descends into complete insanity and decides to try to free the woman trapped in the wallpaper by stripping the wallpaper. On the last day of summer, she locks herself in her room to finish the task. When her husband arrives home, the woman refuses to unlock the door and tells him to go fetch the key from outside her window where she threw it earlier. Once he returns with the key and opens the door, however, he finds her creeping around the room, circling the walls and touching the wallpaper. He faints, and she continues to circle the room, stepping over his inert body each 'lap' around.
Many literary magazines rejected “The Yellow Wallpaper” before the New England Magazine published it in 1892. Many editors considered it too depressing, or, “too terrible and too wholly dire” as William Dean Howells stated. In 1916, Gilman followed up her short story with an article titled “Why I wrote the Yellow Wall-Paper?” (can be found in the Literature Resource Center of the UGA Libraries http://go.galegroup.com.proxy-remote.galib.uga.edu/ps/start.do?p=LitRC&u=uga). In this article, she stated that the inspiration for her was her experiences when physician treated her for depression with the ‘rest cure’, which limited her intellectual activity to only 2 hours per day. She goes on to say that the story “was not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy, and it worked”.
Narrator- A young, middle-class woman, who is undergoing care for post-partum depression. Her lack of activity leads to her descent into madness, as she becomes slowly more and more obsessed with the wallpaper that decorates her room.
John- The narrator’s husband, who also acts as her physician. He dismisses the narrator’s pleas to get out of the room and to remove the wallpaper, and treats her like a child. His all-encompassing authority over the narrator aids in her mental demise.
Jennie- John’s sister who acts as a housekeeper and babysitter while the narrator is ill.
The Subordination of Women in Marriage: Gilman displays the role of women as second-class citizens in “The Yellow Wallpaper”. The story reveals, through characterization, that the gender division kept women in a childish state of ignorance and prevented their full development. Frequently, John's assumption that he is superior leads him to misjudge, patronize, and dominate his wife, all in the name of helping her. Because of her restrictions, the narrator retreats into her obsessive fantasy, the only place she can retain some control and exercise the power of her mind.
The Importance of Self-Expression: The mental constraints placed upon the narrator are what ultimately drive her insane. John forces her to be completely passive and forbids her from exercising her mind in any way. However, the narrator's eventual insanity is a product of this repression. She is constantly longing for an emotional and intellectual outlet, and even goes so far as to keep a secret journal. For Gilman, a mind that is kept in a state of forced inactivity is doomed to self-destruction.
The Wallpaper: the narrator decides that the wallpaper is something she must interpret and that it symbolizes something that affects her directly. In the beginning it seems merely unpleasant: it is ripped, soiled, and an “unclean yellow.” The worst part is the formless pattern, which fascinates the narrator as she attempts to figure out the wallpaper. After staring at it for hours, she sees a ghostly sub-pattern behind the main pattern, which develops into a woman. As the narrator becomes more obsessed with the wallpaper, she realizes that the woman is looking for an escape from the wallpaper, which has formed bars to imprison her. The cage has strangled many women who have tried to escape, and the bars are decorated with their heads. As shown, the wallpaper represents the structure of family, medicine, and tradition in which the narrator finds herself trapped. Gilman uses the wallpaper as a symbol of the domestic life that traps many women.
“John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in marriage”
“So I take phosphates of phosphites – whichever it is, and tonics, and journeys, and air, and exercise, and am absolutely forbidden to “work” until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas. Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good. But what is one to do?”
“I don’t like our room a bit. I wanted one downstairs that opened on the piazza and had roses all over the window, and such pretty old-fashioned chintz hangings! But John would not hear of it. He said there was only one window and not room for two beds, and no near room for him if he took another”
“ ‘Bless her little heart!’ said he with a big hug, ‘she shall be sick as she pleases! But now let’s improve the shining hours by going to sleep, and talk about it in the morning!’ ”
“I really have discovered something at last. Through watching so much at night, when it changes so, I have finally found out. The front pattern does move – and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it! ….And all the time trying to climb through. But nobody can climb through that pattern – it strangles so”
Psychological Realism: Gilman uses psychological realism, a genre of writing that emphasizes the internal mental struggle of a character, to emphasize the themes within her story. By detailing the protagonist’s decline into insanity, she successfully attacks the rest cure and the subordination of women. Because John forces the narrator into intellectual activity, her mind focuses on the wallpaper and develops a character within the wallpaper which kick-starts her mental decline. By detailing the mental decline, Gilman can make the story feel more ‘real’ and therefore more effective.
Epistolary Story: An epistolary story is a story composed entirely of fictional letters written by a character. Gilman uses this technique to display the narrator's descent into madness from both the inside and the outside. If Gilman had told her story in first-person narration, reporting events from inside the narrator's head, the reader would never know exactly what to think because a woman inside the wallpaper might seem to actually exist. Had Gilman told the story from an objective, third-person point of view, without revealing the narrator's thoughts, the social and political symbolism of the story would have been obscured. As it is, the reader must decipher the ambiguity of the story, just as the narrator must attempt to decipher the bizarre patterns of the wallpaper. Gilman also uses the journal to give the story an intense intimacy and immediacy.
Irony: Gilman uses irony in “The Yellow Wallpaper” to further emphasize her themes. The narrator’s use of verbal irony gives the story a satirical approach. An example of this is when the narrator states “John laughs at me, of course, but one expects that in a marriage”. This is not typically expected in a marriage, but emphasizes Gilman’s theme of woman’s subordination. Gilman also uses dramatic irony, which gives the reader insight into the narrator’s ignorance and mental decline. For example, when the narrator first describes the bedroom John has chosen for them, she focuses on the room's bizarre features: the nailed-down furniture, the bars on the windows, and the torn wallpaper, and attributes them to the fact that it must have once been used as a nursery. Even this early in the story, the reader can see that the room could had been used to house an insane person as well, which foreshadows the narrator’s insanity.
"The Basket Maker" by Mary Austin
Research Survey Compiled By: Laura Register
- Mary Austin’s The Basket Maker is a story of Seyavi, an elderly Paiute woman and her difficulties and way of life in the “campoodie” in which she lives. Seyavi’s husband was killed in war, leaving her to fend for herself and her son. The narrator is a character from outside the campoodie who is intrigued by Seyavi’s way of life and culture. Seyavi teaches the narrator about her way of living as she makes well-crafted and beautiful baskets to support herself as an independent woman and speak out against the stereotypical role of a woman in a society.
- "The Basket Maker" is primarily an example of the literary movement, regionalism. The story focuses on the area near Independence, in a dessert location. The narrator gives vast, detailed descriptions of the land and its features. It also describes the culture and its traditions, such as basket making, and even uses many words that are a part of the local dialect.
- Also as is characteristic with another movement, naturalism, the story is written to describe the struggles of its main character in a world that is both threatening and hostile. It has a focus on survival as Seyavi works to support herself and at one point even describes the women as “she dogs”, showing the animalistic qualities of humans (Belasco 309).
- Seyavi—Seyavi is the main character whose story is being told. She is an elderly Paiute woman whose husband died and makes baskets for a living to provide for herself and her son. She is a strong, female character who represents independent women and also provides cultural information and knowledge to the narrator.
- Narrator—Not much is known about who the narrator actually is. The narrator could be Austin herself but is also believed to possibly be a man. He or she is certainly an outsider to the campoodie and records all of the lessons and historical information taught by Seyavi.
- There are also lesser characters described in the story but little details are given and their role is not as significant. Some of these include Seyavi’s son, her deceased husband, and other women of the campoodie.
- Ultimately, the story is about gender identification. Seyavi speaks strongly for women and exemplifies a strong, female provider as the narrator describes the way she supports herself and her son, not because she wants to but because she must. Seyavi finds food and works hard to make and sell baskets to support herself. In fact, Austin opens the story with the line “A man… must have a woman, but a woman who has a child will do very well,” showing at the start Seyavi’s view of women and their strength (308). The narrator also later describes the other women who live on the campoodie in contrast to a strong woman like Seyavi whose focus has shifted from dancing and adorning herself with flowers to making well-crafted baskets. The narrator sees her as a very noble, important figure as seen when he alludes to her being like Deborah, a strong female character in the bible (312).
- Throughout the story there is a large focus on nature, which is a key part of Seyavi’s culture. She has grown up living off of the land and knowing that the land is much more important than her particular home. The narrator also conveys the importance of nature to the culture by providing vivid descriptions of its appearance and its necessity to Seyavi’s survival.
- "The Basket Maker" also has an undertone of focusing on racial identification. The narrator is presumably making comparisons of Seyavi and the other Paiutes on the campoodie against the European American readers. It is the European Americans who have fought Seyavi’s people and killed her husband. She teaches about her own culture through her life examples as well as the narrators use of phrases such as “In our kind of society” to compare and contrast the two different lifestyles.
- “A man… must have a woman, but a woman who has a child will do very well.” (Belasco 308)
- “…There are things to be learned of life not set down in any books, folk tales, famine tales, love and longsuffering and desire, but no whimpering.” (312)
- In what way does Seyavi contrast the stereotypical mould of the female role in society?
- Explain the importance of the juxtaposition of the narrator and Seyavi.
- How is naturalism represented in the story?
Research Survey Compiled By: Mary Hafner
Regionalism is an American literary movement that began after the Civil War (after 1865) and continued into the early 1900s. The movement is sometimes called local color writing, although the two terms can be slightly different, with regionalism being a broader concept and local color being characterized by attention to the local characters and culture. Works within the movement focus on all aspects of a particular region, including setting, characters, and dialect. This attention to one region highlights the differences between regions of the country. Many critics believe that by helping people in different regions to understand other regions, American Regionalism helped unify the nation after the Civil War. Most regional works are fictional short stories, but some novels from the time are very regional.
- Dialect-Local color writing often incorporates regional dialect in order to portray characters and their interactions accurately.
- Characters-Local color writers often create characters that represent the region of the nation they are writing about. Often, these characters can be very stereotypical.
- Setting-Describing the setting of a story is essential in American Regionalism. Nature plays a large role in how society develops in a particular region. For example, pioneers had to change their cultural practices, such as what and when they ate, in order to adapt to and survive the rough winter weather and desert areas in the West. The history of a region also contributes to its setting. For example, the suppression of African Americans and racism in the South was due to its history of slavery. Writers often choose settings that present difficulties and struggles. The setting is never a backdrop in a regional story; instead, it can take center stage, almost as if it were a character.
- Narrator-Though the author of a work many times has personal experience in a region, regionalist writers often employ the narrator as a intermediary that serves to connect the audience to characters and region of the story. The narrator is often an observer rather than a participator in the story.
- Plot-Some accuse regional works of being boring and lacking plot. Often, plot takes a backseat to the regional elements of a story.
- Themes-Regional stories often reflect on the past and see it as the golden age. Conflict is present when characters from other regions or settings enter a different setting (such as an urban character entering a rural setting). Themes of overcoming obstacles, such as nature, are often present. Regional works often celebrate that community.
- Detailed Description-Because American Regionalism’s first goal is to create an understanding of the region, Regionalist writers often include very detailed description of characters and setting in order to create a feeling of the region.
- Tone-Stories from the movement can be sentimental or nostalgic of old time (example, the plantation tradition). These stories can also have a bitter or satirical tone to show the reaction against change and loss of culture.
Though it seems that the country would be strongly united after the Civil War, the opposite was true. Anger and bitterness lingered between the North and the South due to the immense shedding of blood. Many white southerners also resented the North’s “interference” in their lives through Reconstruction. These whites desperately wanted to maintain their “Southern identities.” They clung to these identities and fought to keep the Civil War from changing these identities. This created a unique Southern culture and defined the South as a distinct region despite the fact that it was once again part of the union.
Meanwhile, the North was also changing and becoming even more distinct and different from the South. After the Civil War, immigrants, many from Europe but also from areas of the world such as China, began to trickle, and then to flood, to the United States. Many arrived in Northern cities, such as New York. This increase in population, as well as changes in technology, changed the Northern city to a crowded center of industrialism. This immigration was a threat to the traditional culture of the North. Regionalism was a response to this threat.
At the same time, settlers were developing a whole new culture in the west. As Northern cities became overcrowded and the South floundered, many immigrants and other American pioneers headed west in search of better opportunity in farming and ranching. The blossoming railroad system aided this migration. However, due to the differences in land and natural elements found in the West, as well as to the different mentality of the pioneers, migrants often left behind their previous regional identities, developing a distinct Western identity. Meanwhile, Native Americans were losing their land and culture to immigration.
Connections to Other Literary Movements
American Regionalism combines American Romanticism and American Realism. The sentimentality of many of the stories, the reflection on the past, and the emphasis on setting, particularly the natural setting, are themes the movement shares with Romanticism. However, Regionalism also shares common traits with Realism. Critic Donald Dike cites four commonalities between Regionalism and Realism
- “Both insist on the accurate observation of details and are likely to contend for honest, undistorted expressions of genuine social experiences” (86)
- “Both believe that literature should contribute to American social history” (86).
- “Both are concerned with the individual as a member of the community” (86).
- “Both ignore the exceptional for the sake of the ordinary man.” (86)
Dike also emphasizes that the two movements overlap when he states, “Moreover, the two kinds of literature, like all such arbitrary classifications, overlap” (86). Many of the works from the time period have both regional and realist elements, making it difficult to categorize them. However, Dike also notes the differences between Realism and Regionalism.
- “Local-color writing is not incompatible with special literary strategies like the pastoral and the elegy. Nor did it rule out romance” (87).
- “The ordinary man in local-color fiction is not ordinary to the readers of that literature” (87).
- “The colorists were more observant of the mannerisms of a community than of its manners. There is nothing in their writing that approximates remotely the novel of manners of the realists” (87).
- “Local-color writing does not grapple seriously with the moral problem of social groups or of individuals in groups” (87).
When comparing realism and regionalism, Harry F. Warfel states, “Local color is one type of realism, if realism be defined as graphic delineation of actual life it is concerned with contemporary social truth. Yet it is not realism that professes to present the whole truth and then proceeds to reveal only the nether side of life…” (X). American Regionalism draws from both Romanticism and Realism but breaks from neither.
Regionalism occurred around the same time as Naturalism, but these movements were distinctly different. Critic Robert Rhode notes the difference between regionalists and naturalists when he writes, “The importance of background, or setting, to the naturalist needs scarcely to be mentioned. He was not so much an artist as a laboratory technician preparing a detailed report. The character in a story, his environment, and his specific reactions are all presented as parts of a sociological process” (143).
- North-Writers represent the North through by immigration, industry.
- South- Writers produced the most local color fiction characterizing this region. Writers characterize the South by Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the suppression and disenfranchisement of African Americans, and the strained and often violent relationship between blacks and whites. Southern literature after the Civil War is sometimes referred to as the “plantation tradition,” a theme which remembered the pre-Civil War South.
- Midwest-This region was often characterized by farming.
- West-Writers characterize the West through pioneers, adventures, struggle, and harsh conditions.
- African American-African American writers wrote about the South but wrote about the Southern black community rather than the southern white community in order to help audiences better understand the African American community.
- Women-Women authors dominated American Regionalism in the North. The movement drew female authors due to its focus on the ordinary, domestic life, an area women knew well. Women regionalists often included themes of triumph in adversity and focused on the mental and internal aspects and struggles of characters.
Authors and Works
North South Midwest West
Harriet Beecher Stowe’s The Mayflower George Washington Cable’s Old Creole Days Hamlin Garland’s Main-Travelled Roads Bret Harte’s “The Luck of Roaring Camp” and “The Outcasts of Poker Flat
Sarah Orne Jewett’s Deephaven and The Country of Pointed Firs Kate Chopin’s Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie Zole Gale Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s A New England Nun and Other Stories Alice Dunbar Nelson’s (African American) The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories Mary Hunter Austin’s The Land of Little Rain
Example of American Regionalism
Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an example of regional fiction describing the Mississippi River. Twain’s experiences as a child growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, located on the Mississippi, River, as well as his time working on a steamboat, gave him the knowledge and enabled him create the novel. In the story, Twain incorporates detailed description of the Mississippi and its surroundings. The characters are very stereotypical, with Jim being a runaway slave complete with slave dialect. For example, Jim once says, “I doan’want to go fool’n ‘long er no wrack. We’s doin’ blame’ well, en we better let blame’well alone, as de good book says” (Twain 69). Twain brings in the romantic through the character of Tom, an adventurous boy who sees the ideal in everything. He also brings in romantic elements through nature. Realism is also present, however, in Huck, who is Tom’s foil, and through Twain’s attempts to accurately preserve the culture of the time through the story.
Richard Brodhead states, “Regionalism's representation of vernacular cultures as enclaves of tradition insulated from larger cultural contact is palpably a fiction . . . its public function was not just to mourn lost cultures but to purvey a certain story of contemporary cultures and of the relations among them" (121).
In his article “Notes on Local Color and Its Relation to Realism,” Robert D. Rhode explains why regionalism was a success. He writes, “Many of the local colorists…succeeded in a major use of setting because they understood the basic principle involved. Briefly, this principle is that a length or elaborate us e of setting is permissible only if a correspondingly important function is assigned to setting the structure of the story. In other words, setting as mere background or ornament must of necessity be brief and inconspicuous; setting used as a factor in action, an influence upon a character a symbol of moral value, as an active personality may, on the other hand have unlimited treatment” (146).
Donald Dike states some of the goals of the movement.
- “One of the motives of nineteenth-century local-color writers was the desire to foster Americanism by documenting American history with accounts of the life of its various peoples” (83).
- “Related to the desire to foster Americanism was the conviction that…a distinctly national literature could be achieved” (84).
- “Some local-color writing was motivated less by political and aesthetic considerations than be a semianthropological interest in local customs” (84).
- Local color often takes the form of propaganda designed to call attention to the plight of special problem of people in local areas” (84).
- “Still other local-color writing celebrates the rural life for its simplicity, unsophistication, innocence, and proximity to nature” (85).
Elizabeth Ammons and Valerie Rohy state, “There was never a single local color or regionalist tradition…Instead, the genre includes a wide range of writers and text spanning not only different parts of the United States but also many cultures and ethnicities, genres and forms, goals and ideologies” (vii).
June Howard suggests, “Regionalism…is not only about place but also about the relations between places” (120).
Suggested Exam Questions
- What elements of Mark Twain’s “A Private of a Campaign that Failed” fit into American Regionalism? What elements of this narrative do not fit American Regionalism?
- How does Mary Austin’s “The Basket Maker” characterize the Midwest? How is the story nostalgic?
Ammons, Elizabeth, and Valerie Rohy. Introduction. American Local Color Writing, 1880-1920. Ed. Elizabeth Ammons and Valerie Rohy. N.p.: Penguin Books, 1998. viii-xxx.
Belasco, Susan, and Link Johnson. "Introduction." The Bedford Anthology of
American Literature. Ed. Susan Belasco and Linck Johnson. Vol. 2. Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008. 1-39.
Campbell, Donna M. "Regionalism and Local Color Fiction, 1865-1895." Literary Movements. 27 May 2005. 14 Jan. 2009. <http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/lcolor.html>.
Dike, Donald A. “Notes on Local Color and Its Relation to Realism.” College English 14.2 (1952): 81-88. JSTOR. University of Georgia. 12 Jan. 2009 <http://www.jstor.org//>.
Howard, June. “American Regionalsim: Local Color, National Literature, Global Circuits.” A Companion to American Fiction 1865-1914. Ed. Robert Paul Lamb and G. R. Thompson. N.p.: Blackwell Publishing, 2005. 119-39.
Rhode, Robert D. “Scenery and Setting: A note on American Local Color.” College English 13.3 (1951): 142-46. JSTOR. University of Georgia. 12 Jan. 2009 <http://www.jstor.org//>.
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Barnes and Noble Books,
Warfel, Harry R. Introduction. American Local Color Stories. Ed. Harry R. Warfel and J. Harrison Orians. N.p.: American Book Publisher, 1941. ix-xxiv.
Whitaker, Russel, and Kathy D. Darrow. “Regionalism and Local Color in Nineteenth-Century Literature.” Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism 188 (2008). Literature Resource Center. Gale. U. of Georgia Lib. Athens, GA. 11 Jan. 2009 <http://infotrac.galegroup.com//?db=LitRC>.
Witalec, Janet. “Regionalism and Local Color in Short Fiction.” Short Story Criticism 65 (2004). Literature Resource Center. Gale. U. of Georgia Lib, Athens, GA. 14 Jan. 2009 <http://infotrac.galegroup.com//?db=LitRC>.
|8b: American Regionalism
Research Survey Compiled By: Jackie Warlick
American Regionalism is a movement in both visual art and literature that focuses on the character, culture, and aesthetics particular to an area of America. It is also referred to as “local color” literature because of the focus on building a comprehensive view of one area through the attitudes, dialects, and customs of a localized area. This style became immensely popular after the Civil War, when in contrast to the desire to fuse the country, some writers sought to preserve the integrity of the South or North’s character in their short stories and novels. The movement is often attributed to 1865 to the early 20th century, but remnants of the style are present in artists’ works such as the ubiquitous American Gothic by Grant Wood, and writers such as Flannery O’Connor.
AMERICAN GOTHIC by Grant Wood, 1930
Regionalism as Realism and Historical Context:
American Regionalism is often categorized within the realm of realism because the writing style often possesses similar goals and literary characteristics. In the aftermath of the Civil War, the idealism of Romanticism proved hard to preserve. Because of this social context, American Regionalism has a tendency to treat plot, characters, and “moral” as a realist would. However, due to the significance of landscape, nature, and the “rustic-appeal” of Regionalism, it may mirror descriptive elements, importance of preservation of a place/ideology/sentiment, or the nostalgia of Romanticism. Inevitably, Regionalism lends itself towards the Realism categorization because of the necessity for a portrait of regional life. Far from being epic tales of heroism, Regionalism, like Realism, focuses on the daily, sometimes mundane lives of regular people in order to better portray the full character of the region.
The Southern defeat in the Civil War may have led to the popularity of Regionalism, as during the Reconstruction, many sought to preserve the identity of the South from the meddling of the more industrial and technologically oriented North. Regionalism in literature and art have a tendency to focus on the more rural settings of America, perhaps out of the sentimentality of familial virtue and “down home” moral. This, naturally, is an example of the Romanticism with Regionalism, as Realism tends to appeal towards a more pragmatic rejection of moral absolutes (Belasco/Johnson 33). Though the North grew to have a strong identity of its own, burgeoning with immigrants offering a wealth of insight into foreign cultures, Regionalism often used this as a device to illuminate the integrity of rural life, while perhaps concealing dormant xenophobic undertones.
BOYS IN A PASTURE by Winslow Homer, 1874
Characteristics and Techniques:
Regionalism employs certain strategies in order to fully record and depict a region. Some of these techniques are as follows:
Setting: Though far from Shakespearean drama, Regionalist literature tends to give descriptive, detailed accounts of the ‘literary backdrop.’ Because Regionalism focuses so heavily on soci-ety’s progression due to their environment, the proper explanation of that environment is crucial. Settings are often removed and hard to reach.
Dialect/Mannerism: This, along with setting, is possibly the most crucial tenet of Regionalist writing. By mutilating proper spelling and relying on regional phonics to respell words according to the accent, writers can design a character to illustrate their region more explicitly and fully than if proper grammar had been employed. Though not considered Regionalist, an example of this kind of “respelling” from class would be Miss Churm’s cockney accent in The Real Thing. Another famous and often controversial example of heavy dialect use would be Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, arguable the pinnacle of American Regionalist literature.
Characters: One of the areas in which the push/pull of Realism vs. Romanticism in Regionalist fiction occurs in the characters/character development. Though local-color fiction tends to spot-light “everyday” people, possessing no great secrets or fascinating mysteries, they can be overly reminiscent of an area or time, making them stereotypical or overly sentimentalized. However, in order to better render the region itself, this kind of stereotyping can illustrate the entirety of the region better.
Narrator: Local-color fiction can mimic or hearken back to “tall-tales” or myths of the region, and often a narrator is placed to further liken the fiction to the latter format. Also, narrators often act as an objective “foreigner” in order to contrastingly embellish and define the region.
Plot: Like Realism, Regionalism better forms a comprehensive view of an area to the audi-ence/reader by describing apparently unremarkable events. Often there are prolific amounts of assumably insignificant details. The audience, however, can better participate in literature such as this, where the material is easily relatable. By incorporating these elements that draw the audience into the narrative, the reader gains a more universal understanding.
Themes/Motifs: American Regionalism can feel weighted with nostalgia. This is often a result of the historical context, in which regions, notably the South, wish for the isolation they possessed pre-Civil War. Stories tend to reminisce over a less industrialized, “truer” time. These themes are often revealed by the contrast of the objective narrator, the inclusion of a foreigner, or a break against regional tradition.
South: Kate Chopin, Grace King, Charles W. Chesnutt, James Lane Allen, Alice Dunbar-Nelson
New England: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Rose Terry Cooke, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
West: Bret Harte, Mark Twain, Mary Austin
Midwest:Hamlin Garland, Zona Gale, James Whitcomb Riley, E.W. Howe
THRESHING WHEAT by Thomas Hart Benton, 1938
Belasco, Susan, and Link Johnson. "Introduction." The Bedford Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Susan Belasco and Linck Johnson. Vol. 2. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008. 1-39.
Campbell, Donna M. "Regionalism and Local Color Fiction, 1865-1895." Literary Movements. 27 May 2005. 22 Jan. 2009. <http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/lcolor.html>.
"The Open Boat" by Stephen Crane
Research Survey Compiled By: Lauren Stadalius
The story “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane is a story about four
men struggling for survival after their ship, The Commodore, sunk in the middle
of the ocean. The four men, the captain, the correspondent, the oiler, and
cook, are all trapped on a “dingy,” no bigger than a bathtub, really. The oiler
and the correspondent were left to row the boat and keep it moving, the captain
was injured and could only lay on the floor of the boat and try to give orders,
and the cook is left to bail out the water at the bottom of the boat while
thinking about his passion for food. They do attempt to use an overcoat and an
oar as a sail, but it stops working as the wind dies down. The crew is given false
hope twice. The first by a lit lighthouse that isn’t inhabited, and the second by
clueless tourists who don’t understand they are stranded at sea. These different
situations could have still helped them if they could only get through the strong
current to land. That night, the sighting of a shark is given an eerie description.
After a deep discussion, the men decided they would get the boat as close as
they could to shore, and then jump and swim to shore. After the men jump, the
oiler tries to swim to shore as fast as he can, the captain used the boat to float
to shore, the correspondent keeps getting caught in the current, and the cook
floated on his back with the use of the oar. A man runs on shore to them,
appearing to be a saint to the men arriving to shore. The only man not to make
it alive was the oiler; he was found face-first. The remaining men were taken
care of, and their adventure stranded at sea finally came to an end.
Captain- He was the captain of the boat that sank, and was injured in the
catastrophe. He seems to be the most pessimistic of the group, but tries to stay
positive and encourages his group. All he can do is lay on the bottom of the
boat and give orders on how to get back to shore. At the end, he floats to the
shore holding onto the boat and still orders their rescuers to save others first.
Cook- The cook is originally described as being overweight and messy. He is the
only one who wears a lifejacket and keeps positive throughout the whole story.
His job is to bail out seawater from the bottom of the boat. He doesn’t seem fit
enough to survive, but fights his way to shore at the end of the story.
Correspondent- The correspondent is believed to be autobiographical in nature,
seeing as crane served as a war correspondent when his ship sank. The
correspondent was assigned the job to row the boat, and switched off with the
oiler in order to take naps. His thoughts are the only ones the audience can
hear, and they are usually very dark options his future could be. The
correspondent fights with the current the whole way back to the shore, and
Oiler- The oiler is the only character given a name (Billie) and the only character
that dies in the story. The oiler is the strongest, and is assigned the job of
rowing along with the correspondent. On the way to shore, he is determined to
live. He swims hard, and is expected to make it, but dies close to shore.
Symbols and Motifs:
Seagulls- they serve as a threatening symbol of the challenges to come in their
adventure at sea.
Seaweed- served as a symbol of land. It gave the men in the boat the hope of
land nearby. It showed that the safety of land was close, but reminded them
that the danger of the ocean was right by them.
Ocean- serves as a symbol of how powerful nature is and than a man is nothing
compared to the power of the world around him.
The Open Boat- shows the weakness of man in comparison to nature. It
demonstrates how helpless humans are helpless in the hands of nature.
The story “The Open Boat” is the story of Stephen Crane’s experience after he
pursued a personal experience in war. He was on the steamship The
Commodore heading to assist the Cuban Revolution when it sank on January
2nd, 1897. After the sinking of the ship, Crane and three other men spent
hours in a small lifeboat before reaching land. Crane wrote down his
experiences in an article titled “Stephen Crane’s own Story” which later became
the basis for this short story. Ernest Hemingway stated that “The Open Boat”
should be one of the works that every reader should be familiar with.
Individual vs. Nature- It was during the nineteenth century with the Industrial
Revolution that men began to feel invincible and that they were able to take on
anything. In Crane’s short story, he shows the people that it can be the other
way around. He shows the power of nature through the struggle of the men
against the sea.
Free Will- It is characteristic of naturalism writers to have their characters
wonder if their free will determines what will happen to them in life or if it is in
the hands of nature. This is clearly demonstrated in “The Open Boat” with the
characters questioning their fate, even while they try to convince themselves
they can defeat the forces of nature.
Perspective- this story is told in a very limited perspective. This limited
perspective clearly demonstrates the uncertainty and chaos of events in life. It
shows how sometimes in life we are left to wonder if everything is understood,
or ever can be understood. Crane writes in an ominous point of view to show
that all characters felt similarly about their situation, implying that anyone could
feel the same way in their situation. This shifting point of view is meant to show
the lack of comprehension in a time of crisis, not a lack of characterization.
Societal Context/Literary Movement:
The writing for this short story was influenced heavily by naturalism, which
typically depicts events of everyday life in a raw manner. Crane shows the
typical lower class members struggling through life, trying their best to survive.
The story clearly depicted a tremendous fight against nature and realistic details
of mankind struggling against nature while still showing the thought process of
a person in this sort of situation. Nothing about this story is “sugar coated.” It is
a story that tells the truth, which is exactly what naturalism is.
"Bingen on the Rhine" by Caroline Norton
"Moby Dick" by Herman Melville
"Native Son" by Richard Wright
"The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck
"The House of Mirth" by Edith Wharton
"The Naked and the Dead" by Norman Mailer
"The Sinking of the Commodore" by Stephen Crane
"To Build a Fire" by Jack Londo
- When it occurs to a man that nature does not regard him as important, and
that she feels she would not maim the universe by disposing of him, he at first
wishes to throw bricks at the temple, and he hates deeply the fact that there are
no bricks and no temples.
-Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat”
- “He thought: ‘Am I going to drown? Can it be possible? Can it be possible?
Can it be possible?’ Perhaps an individual must consider his own death to be
the final phenomenon of nature.”
- Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat”
- “None of them knew the color of the sky.”
-Stephen Crane, “The Open Boat”
Suggested Exam Questions:
- What is Crane trying to say about man v. nature with this short story?
- Why do you feel this story was told in third person when it appears to be a
true story from Crane’s life?
- Why do you feel the oiler was the only character that died when he was
depicted as the strongest one?
- Was the limited perspective of this narration important in this short story?
Literary Criticism on “The Open Boat”
- Bloom's BioCritiques: Stephen Crane; 2002, p67-95, 29p
- Magill’s Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition © 2007 by Salem
- Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition © 2001 by Salem
Bouchard, Jennifer. "Literary Contexts in Short Stories: Stephen Crane's "The
Open Boat"." Literary Contexts in Short Stories: Stephen Crane's 'The
Open Boat' [State abbreviation]. 1 Feb. 200
Belasco, Susan, and Link Johnson. "Crane’s ‘The Open Boat.’” The Bedford
Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Susan Belasco and Linck Johnson. Vol.
2. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008. 335-336.
Answers Corporation, "Characters." The Open Boat 1 Feb 2009
Answers Corporation, "Themes." The Open Boat 1 Feb 2009
|9b: "The Open Boat" by
Research Survey Compiled By: Lauren Fant
-The Oiler (Billie)
-The story is about 4 survivors of a shipwreck who are in a small boat on a rough sea. They spot land multiple times, but cannot take the small boat past the point where waves begin to break, for fear that they will drown before they can swim to the shore. The four men talk about how strange it is that no one sent any life savers out to get them, but then wonder if maybe the people on shore just think they’re out in the small boat for pleasure, perhaps fishing. After a long, cold night at sea, they decide to head towards shore and swim as best they can to safety. Once they hit shore, they realize they all made it to land, but only three of them made it alive. Billie, the oiler, had died. The remaining men however were rushed by people from the shore and tended to and fed.
-Man vs. Nature
Style/Analysis of Form:
-Crane uses multiple different points of view in this short story. For the most part, it is told from the view of an outside observer, but then sometimes he channeled the individuals and their perspective on the situation.
-“It would be difficult to describe the subtle brotherhood of men that was here established on the seas.”
-"If I am going to be drowned--if I am going to be drowned--if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods, who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees? Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life?"
-“When it came night, the white waves paced to and fro in the moonlight, and the wind brought the sound of the great sea's voice to the men on shore, and they felt that they could then be interpreters.”
Interesting Author Info:
-Though the short story itself is fiction, it is actually based on something that actually happened to Crane himself. He was a passenger on a ship that was right off the coast of Florida, and tragically the boat sank and he found himself in a small little boat fighting to survive with three other men.
Research Survey Compiled By: Kelley McLaughlin
Naturalism is a literary movement that focuses on human beings, their actions, and their relationship with the outside world. It tries to use science as a means of understanding the world. It was heavily influenced by Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. “Social Darwinism” emphasizes the idea of “survival of the fittest” and similarly, the naturalism movement highlights the idea that the world is a terrifying and competitive place in which people must struggle to survive.
“Naturalism is the application of the principles of scientific determinism to fiction and drama. It draws its name from its basic assumption that everything that is real exists in nature.”
The Rise of Naturalism: Historical Context
*Since naturalism tends to be considered a sub-movement under the larger Realism Movement, historically and culturally, the same events and changes were occurring.*
SCIENCE -- Great advances were being made in the science field, including the emergence of the scientific theory, as well as the ideas of Charles Darwin (mid-1800s) and Sigmund Freud (1890). Darwin penned his Origin of Species which included his theory of evolution and the idea of “survival of the fittest”. Freud begins to publish his theories on sexuality and consciousness, including the Oedipus complex.
GOVERNMENT & CULTURE – The Civil War had just ended and the era of great westward expansion and railroad construction was also at an end. The US population was steadily growing and immigration was at an all time high. Industrialization peaked during this time with the growth of factories and businesses which employed many citizens and non-citizens alike. Unsanitary and unjust working conditions became prominent issues as well as living conditions. Overpopulation in cities caused unhealthy and dirty living conditions in slums. The divide between social classes was clearly evident. The Civil rights movement was beginning to emerge with the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1875) and the formation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.
TECHONOLOGY – Major advances in technology were also happening during the late 19th to the early 20th century including: the first radio broadcast, Model T car by Henry Ford, the opening of the first movie theater, the Wright Brother’s first flight in Kitty Hawk, NC.
Beliefs of Naturalistic Writers
The writers of this movement believed that humans were not really in control. Rather, humans were controlled by outside forces such as heredity and the environment.
Humans are “beasts” that can be studied through their relationship with their surroundings. These surroundings include not only nature and the environment but also other humans and creatures.
The world is a harsh, cruel, and competitive world in which humans must struggle daily in order to survive.
The goal of these writers was to present a real depiction of everyday life in America. Although this goal is similar to that of American realist writers, naturalists achieved it in a different manner, therefore presenting much different work. Like realists, naturalists used detail as a main technique but they chose a specific segment of reality to write on.
Characteristics of Naturalistic Writing
Characters tend to always be from the lower class of society and in turn experience many hardships
These stories are usually set in an urban setting, which is not out of the ordinary considering the class that the characters tend to be a part of
For naturalist writers, depicting everyday life in America meant focusing on what was real. Many writers grew up in poverty or worked as journalists and in turn were witness to poverty so reality and everyday life in America for them was very dismal. The pictures painted in their writings tended to be pessimistic, horrific, unsanitary, hard.
According to Vernon Louis Parrington, naturalistic writers “sought the truth…rejected Victorian reticence [by] presenting characters’ instincts and impulses…selected characters
According to Donald Pizer’s Realism and Naturalism in Nineteenth-Century American Fiction there are two contradictions or elements in the naturalistic novel
1. The first contradiction is between the subject matter of the novel and the idea of man that emerges from this subject matter. The writer creates a fictitious world rather normal and something that readers could easily relate. It is what the naturalist writer does with the characters within this world that contradicts the atmosphere. The writer discovers qualities within the characters of this dull world that are usually associated with stories of adventure and heroism (passion, violence, strength). In this way, the study of characters in relation to their environment becomes key.
2. The second contradiction involves theme. A common theme in naturalistic writing is man being controlled by outside forces. On the other hand, authors also tend to reveal a humanistic trait in the characters that illustrates the significance of the individual. In doing so, the author is slightly discrediting the ultimate outside forces on a human life.
In summary, according to Vernon Louis Parrington, naturalist writers:
-sought the truth
-presented characters’ instincts and impulses
-chose characters with strong animal drives OR characters driven by forces beyond their understanding
-recorded what happened to such characters
Realism vs. Naturalism
Naturalism is said to be a continuation or extension of realism. Works from both movements depict reality and use details to paint a picture. According to John Hospers, naturalism strays from realism in its “selection of details” because naturalist writers tend to “present and emphasize those details which are unpleasant, obscene, shocking, or horrible.”
Realist characters are presented as average middle-class citizens going through normal day to day routines while naturalist characters are presented as being controlled and governed by the environment in which they are subject to.
Because naturalism is considered an extension of realism, many works fall under both movements. Naturalist works are still depicting real-life events but with a different outlook on characters.
Influential Naturalist Writers & Their Works
The Red Badge of Courage
Maggie: A Girl of the Streets
“The Open Boat”
The American Tragedy
The Octopus: A Story of California
The Pit: A Story of Chicago
The Call of the Wild
"Introduction." The Bedford Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Stephen A. Scipione. Vol. 2. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008. 1-39.
Campbell, Donna M. "Naturalism in American Literature." Literary Movements. Date of publication or most recent update (listed above as the "last modified" date; you don't need to put the time down as well). Date you accessed the page. <http://www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/natural.htm>.
Davies, Jude. "Naturalism". The Literary Encyclopedia. 5 November 2001.
Pizer, Donald and Earl N. Harbert, ed. American Realists and Naturalists. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume 12. Detroit: Gale, 1982.
|10b: American Naturalism
Research Survey Compiled By: Will Weber
Naturalism is a literary movement that seeks to understand human beings in relation to their surroundings while raising philosophical questions as to laws and forces that govern human lives. The naturalist character is shaped by the world in which he lives and is the result of heredity, instinct, environment and chance. Naturalism seeks to recreate a believable, everyday reality, and is the result of Realism combined with the influence of Charles Darwin. Naturalistic work does not shy away from the unpleasant and may portray the brutality of life such as poverty, racism, sexism, death, disease and prostitution.
Science: Science was advancing steadily and the more deterministic aspects of science heavily influenced Naturalism. At the forefront was Darwin with his publication of Origin of the Species, and his approach to natural selection. However Isaac Newton was influential with his ideas of mechanical determinism, Karl Marx, who viewed history as a battleground for economic and social forces, and Sigmund Freud with his view on determinism of the inner and subconscious self.
Culture and Government: With the end of the Civil War expansion was reaching new heights. As more and more immigrants came to the “land of opportunity” cities quickly became overcrowded. The railroads offered new opportunities for rapid growth due to easy transport of materials. Children worked in dangerous factories and families starved. The Gilded Age was booming as the Rich reached new heights of wealth. The Government preserved “freedom” by allowing a few men the “right” to dominate entire landscapes of other individuals. American writers saw these situations and reported them.
a) Characters are often ill-educated or low-class and attempts by these characters to exercise control upon their own lives are thwarted by social forces beyond their control
b) The setting is often in an Urban Center like New York or Boston
Themes according to Walcutt
a) The "brute within" each individual, composed of strong and often warring emotions: passions, such as lust, greed, or the desire for dominance or pleasure; and the fight for survival in an amoral, indifferent universe. The conflict in naturalistic novels is often "man against nature" or "man against himself" as characters struggle to retain a "veneer of civilization" despite external pressures that threaten to release the "brute within."
b) Nature as an indifferent force acting on the lives of human beings. The romantic vision of Wordsworth--that "nature never did betray the heart that loved her"--here becomes Stephen Crane's view in "The Open Boat": "This tower was a giant, standing with its back to the plight of the ants. It represented in a degree, to the correspondent, the serenity of nature amid the struggles of the individual--nature in the wind, and nature in the vision of men. She did not seem cruel to him then, or beneficent, or treacherous, or wise. But she was indifferent, flatly indifferent."
c) The forces of heredity and environment as they affect--and afflict--individual lives.
d) An indifferent, deterministic universe. Naturalistic texts often describe the futile attempts of human beings to exercise free will, often ironically presented, in this universe that reveals free will as an illusion.
- Frank Norris
- Theodore Dreiser
- Jack London
- Stephen Crane
- Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (1905)
- Ellen Glasgow, Barren Ground (1925)
- John Dos Passos, U.S.A. trilogy(1938): The 42nd Parallel (1930)
- John Steinbeck (1902-1968), The Grapes of Wrath (1939) _
- Richard Wright, Native Son (1940), Black Boy (1945)
“The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” – Jack London
“Our civilization is still in a middle stage, scarcely beast, in that it is no longer wholly guided by instinct; scarcely human, in that it is not yet wholly guided by reason” - Theodore Dreiser
“The function of the novelist... is to comment upon life as he sees it.” – Stephen Crane
“If you're in trouble, or hurt or need - go to the poor people. They're the only ones that'll help - the only ones.”- John Steinbeck
Robert Frost's Poetry
Research Survey Compiled By: Faith Middlebrooks
Robert Frost was named after the famous confederate general. His mother was a former teacher and from a family that had a deep religious background and his father was a Harvard-educated journalist trying to find fame and fortune. His parents split up when he was young and his father died from tuberculosis when he was only eleven years old. He was inspired to write poetry by his mother who read poetry aloud to all of her children. In high school, he published poems in the school newspaper. He attended college at Dartmouth College and after becoming so miserable there he dropped out and pursued various other jobs while striving to still become a well-known poet. He got married and had six children though two of them died young. Later on after he had his first professional publication he tried attending college once more only this time at Harvard to be a Greek and Latin teacher. This time he withdrew before finishing his second year of school. With help from his grandfather, he bought a farm but life became so difficult that he became a full time teacher and returned to serious poem writing. After a while he sold the farm and quit teaching. He moved with his family to England where he met other poets, Ezra Pound. He published two collections of poetry in England before war broke out and he moved his family back to the United States. He published another collection upon his return, which was the first out of four to win a Pulitzer Prize. The last two decades of his life he did readings of his poetry and taught in many colleges and universities, receiving more than forty honorary degrees. One of the most notable moments in his life was when he recited one of his very own poems at the Kennedy inauguration. He was eighty-six years old when he recited by memory “The Gift Outright” which he wrote just for the event. In 1962, he was awarded the Congressional “Gold” medal by Kennedy. He died the next year and because of his fame and what he meant to the people of the United States, his obituary was printed on the front of the newspapers across the nation. Amy Lowell, a woman who reviewed some of his work, influenced a lot of the fundamental qualities of his poetry. Robert Frost believed that his work “took life by the throat” rather than being an escape from his life and “makes you remember what you didn’t know you knew”.
“There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.
He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”” –pg.584 lines 23-27
“Three foggy mornings and one rainy day
Will rot the best birch fence a man can build.” –pg. 587 lines 92-93
“There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.” –pg. 588 lines 30-36
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.” –pg. 589 lines 18-20
“They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves again:” –pg.589 lines 14-16
“ I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.” –pg. 594 lines 14-15
“Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.” –pg. 594 lines 6-7
The theme of Robert Frost’s poetry usually depends on the event occurring in his life during the time he is writing each select poem. Doom would be the theme of a lot of the poems that we read in the course book. In Home Burial he talks about the death of his child and in After Apple-Picking he talks about how things are not as good as he thought they were. In Nothing Gold Can Stay he talks about how something starts off so well but knows nothing good last forever.
During another point in his life he also had positive themes throughout some of his poetry. The Road Not Taken talks about how he made choices in his life and that he decided to take the road less traveled by. He talks about how this has made a difference in his life. Fire and Ice talks about how something else will do that is positive instead of something negative. Though The Gift Outright starts off a little negative, you realize about mid way that he is telling the true story of our nation and how we have overcome things to become what we have and will become in the future.
And overall theme would be life, specifically his, and nature and how he used it to express what was going on throughout his life.
Literary Devices (Style, Form, etc.)
Robert Frost was excellent at developing metaphors. He was very traditional and had an amazing ability to use speech patterns with formal devices. In other works, he also used lyric poetry, sonnets, continuous form, and blank verse just to name a few. Robert Frost hated free verse. Often times he personified nature in his poems and also used nature as a metaphor for things that happened in his life. In the poem The Road Not Taken, Frost used a lot of imagery to show exactly the direction that he chose to take for his life. In Nothing Gold Can Stay he uses symbolism, imagery, alliteration, rhyme and imagery to show how things change and how the good things go away.
Compare and Contrast
You can compare Robert Frost work with other writers such as Henry Longfellow and Edward Robinson, while contrasting his work with Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and Carlos Williams.
You can compare some of the poems in the course book to poems such as Dust as Snow, To Earthward, The Need of Being Versed in Country Things, Not to Keep, Reluctance, The Sound of Trees, and A Time to Talk which can be specifically be compared with Incident.
Robert Frost has no specific style. His writings are influenced by many events that occurred in his lifetime. Considering the fact that he endured many joys and tragedies throughout the course of his life, his style of writing and his subject topics vary from one time to another. He is often considered a metricist, never writing in free verse.
Links to other Poems
|11b: Robert Frost's Poetry
Research Survey Compiled By: Scott Garmon
This poem begins with an unnamed narrator wondering how a wall that divides his property from his neighbor’s gets weathered down and broken up every year. He considers the expanding of ice during the winter and hunters that come around with their dogs, but ultimately he does not know for sure how the erosion happens. The narrator and his neighbor meet during the spring “mending time” to fix the wall. He then explains how they go about fixing the wall, including what the boulders that make up the wall are like and how it is difficult to make them balance on each other. After that, he begins to say that he does not think the wall is necessary while the neighbor does. The neighbor’s only explanation of his reasoning is “Good fences make good neighbors.” The narrator wants to convince the neighbor that the fence has no purpose, but he knows that the neighbor is too set on his ways to listen.
“After Apple Picking”
The narrator first describes a scene of an apple tree with a ladder leaning against it. There is an unfilled barrel next to the tree, as well as a few unpicked apples remaining on the tree. The narrator then scales back and says that he is getting sleepy from picking all day. He wonders what his dreams might be like: maybe visions of numerous vivid and magnified apples appearing and disappearing. His feet ache from standing on the ladder all day and picking apples has grown old. Next he speculates what sort of sleep he will have, whether it will be normal human sleep or strange and long like a woodchuck’s, who does not dream.
The narrator envisions that the bent limbs of a birch tree were bent by a boy climbing and swinging on them, but then explains how ice from a winter rain really does the job. The ice weighs down the limbs and bends them permanently, sometime even down to the ground. He then returns to his original vision about the boy swinging from them and how he would prefer that were the truth. This fictional boy is actually based on the narrator as a boy because he used to do the same thing. Now, the narrator wishes that he could relive those days. Doing so would be like leaving reality for a while so he could escape from a life that is like wandering through dense underbrush that scrapes and scratches at any passers-by.
The narrator finds a white spider carrying a dead moth on a white plant. He then contemplates why the spider is white, why the spider is perched on that specific white plan, and what forces caused the moth to wander into the clutches of the spider. He considers fate, and wonders whether fate governs such a small thing.
“The Road Not Taken”
The narrator is walking in a forest of trees with yellow leaves. He faces a split of the path into two directions and considers which one to take. Both paths are in just about the same condition, neither having been less trodden. He chooses the second path and continues onward. He then thinks that in the future he will lie to himself and tell people he took the path less traveled.
Themes and Motifs
Boundaries- Through a subtle allusion to an ancient Roman custom of marking one’s territory with a tangible division, in “Mending Wall” Frost highlights an essential human preference to need boundaries. While the narrator does not see the practical purpose of the wall, the neighbor defends the wall’s existence by using logic passed down to him by his father. The narrator characterizes this approach as old and dark, like it dates back to an archaic age of savagery. On another level, while the narrator seems opposed to the wall, he still calls upon the neighbor to rebuild it. This suggests that he might have a subconscious yearning for a boundary, even though he might not understand why.
Sleep and Death- As the narrator considers what type of sleep he might experience in “After Apple Picking”, sleep could even be interpreted as death, stemming from the notion of The Garden of Eden and how picking an apple can ultimately result in eternal damnation. Also, since the narrator is harvesting his crop and it is growing cold, hence the ice in the trough, the changing of the seasons suggests nature’s death as well, or at least a long hibernation with rebirth during the spring.
Sexual Metaphor- In accordance to a popular Modernist trend, Frost could have meant, either consciously or subconsciously, the “swinging” of trees in “Birches” as a sexual experience, one that the narrator in the poem would like to return to. The boy mentioned in the poem “subdued his father’s trees” by “riding them down over and over again”, and the term “riding” can be likened to sexual activity. Frost links the vision of limbs with leaves trailing on the ground to the image of “girls on their hands and knees that throw their hair before them”. Also, in the final lines of the poem allude to a climax, as he climbs “toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more”.
Fate- The occurrence in “Design” that the narrator stumbles upon, a freakishly albino spider carrying a dead moth on an equally unusual white plant, raises the question of how it all happened. The speaker considers that design or fate, could have determined the odd situation, but does not seem sold on the idea. Instead, the first line of the poem might explain the speaker’s final conclusion. “I found a dimpled spider” expresses that because the speaker found this odd occurrence and described it, then theoretically he created it. He is the ultimate deciding factor of humanity’s awareness in this situation; therefore it was him, not design or fate, which made it happen.
Remorsefulness- The essential conflict in “The Road Not Taken” is a universally applicable one because all humans face it daily. Humans must often choose between two possible outcomes, and it has become human tendency to try to logically and empirically do so. In Frost’s poem, however, the paths the speaker must choose from do not allow for such reasoning because the paths “were really about the same”. Therefore, a decision must be made upon gut instinct alone, a decision that will take the speaker down one path probably never to return to the other. After having chosen one path, the speaker immediately wonders what could have been. In order to convince himself he made the right decision, the speaker will lie to himself in the future by saying he took the road less traveled, that he made the right choice while in the back of his head he knows that is in fact not the case.
Cultural Contexts and Literary Movements
New England- Frost grew up in Lawrence, Massachusetts and at one point during his life briefly lived on an isolated farm in rural New Hampshire. Almost all of his poems, including the ones highlighted here, draw inspiration from the New England landscape, wildlife, weather, and lifestyle. Imagery of seasonal and characteristically New England scenes shapes Frost’s poetry and makes it unique to his own. Poems focus on everything from apple orchards, as mentioned in “After Apple Picking” and “Mending Wall” to indigenous spiders and plants such as the heal-all in “Design”. Frost’s settings are familiar to the common man, as even the likes of Ezra Pound said Frost’s poetry had “the tang of the New Hampshire woods” creating a sense of “utter sincerity”.
Modernism- Frost wrote the majority of his well-known poetry in the infancy of the modern era. Although the Bedford Anthology has him in the Modernist section, he shares limited themes and characteristics with the mainstream Modernist movement, as he remained “steadfastly aloof of poetic movements of the time.” In “Birches”, Freudian theory leads to the interpretation of sexual motivation and sexual release in the “swinging” of trees. The fact that a young boy embodies these feelings relates to Freud’s In addition, many of Frost’s characters are psychologically complex in that they tell themselves to believe one thing but actually believe another, whether they know it or not, like in “Mending Wall” and “The Road Not Taken”. Also, his poetry is full of ambiguity and irony. Many themes that Frost works in are very subtle, and can often lead to misinterpretation of his poetry, like the common misconception that the message of “The Road Not Taken” is to choose the road less traveled.
Realism- Frost’s work probably has the most to do with the Realist movement, although not entirely. First of all, the use of the vernacular, similarly to Mark Twain, in his poetry is Realist, but not in a Naturalistic sense. Instead of using the vernacular in an attempt to preserve the regional character of New England, Frost uses the language of the common man, which helps make his poems more universally applicable and accessible. This concept extends into the characters themselves, who are usually nothing more than mere farmers or men talking a casual stroll through the woods. The characters also find and examine moral dilemmas through everyday and seemingly mundane objects like a spider, Birch tree, or a crumbling stone wall.
Form and Mood
The form that Frost presented his poetry in was neither totally new and groundbreaking nor traditional. Frost borrowed forms from both the 19th and 20th centuries, blending them to create a form unique to his own. He employed free verse mostly, which “does not hesitate to leave out a syllable or put one in.” Instead of using poetic diction he used natural rhythms of speech with the vernacular of a soft-spoken New Englander. Some poems do have a rhyme scheme though, like the abaab scheme of “The Road Not Taken”. Frost believed that it was not predetermined verse that dictated a poem, but each poem’s mood would determine the “first commitment to metre and length of line.”
Imagery and simile/metaphor are two of the most common tools Frost used in his poetry. The natural setting of each of his poems is described with detail in ways that only Frost could. For instance, he likens weighed down branches of birch trees to “girls on hands and knees that throw their hair/ before them over their heads to dry in the sun.” He sets the entire scene of “Design” with similes by comparing a moth’s wings to satin cloth or a paper kite.
Overall, Frost’s poems have a quite dark and sometimes tragic mood, utilizing scenes in nature to explain certain aspects of the human condition.
Conder, John. "On "After Apple-Picking"" Welcome to English « Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois. 08 Feb. 2009 <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/frost/apple.htm>.
Kilcup, Karen L. "On "Design"" Welcome to English « Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois. 08 Feb. 2009 <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/frost/design.htm>.
Montiero, George. "On "Birches"" Welcome to English « Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois. 08 Feb. 2009 <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/frost/birches.htm>.
Montiero, George. "On "Mending Wall"" Welcome to English « Department of English, College of LAS, University of Illinois. 08 Feb. 2009 <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/frost/wall.htm>.
"Robert Frost -." Poets.org - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More. 08 Feb. 2009 <http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/192>.
"Robert Frost : The Poetry Foundation." Poetry Foundation: Find Poems and Poets. Discovery Poetry. 08 Feb. 2009 <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=2361>.
Wallace Stevens' Poetry
Research Survey Compiled By: Sara Sheridan
Wallace Stevens was born in 1879 to a devout Presbyterian mother and a not-so-devout father. Church activities and reading filled Stevens’ childhood, although in his teens he started to doubt his beliefs and soon claimed that he no longer had Presbyterian beliefs. In 1904, Stevens met his future wife, Elsie Kachel. In many ways, his career in poetry started with his five-year courtship with Kachel. Although their courtship was a happy time for the couple, Stevens’ inability to accept the “real” Kachel, and abandon his ideal wife that he created through their letter correspondence put a tremendous strain on their marriage. However, in 1924, Stevens’ only child, Holly, was born. Just a year earlier Stevens published his first book of poetry, Harmonium, at the age of 45. Although Stevens is now famous for his poetry, during his lifetime he was more famous for his work in the insurance business. Stevens was shy about sharing his complex poetry, and as a result was less well known as his contemporaries such as Robert Frost, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.
PS – Interesting fact: Stevens got into a fistfight with Ernest Hemingway and broke his hand on Hemingway’s jaw. *Editor's note: NO WAY THAT IS SO COOL!
- The relationship between the world and mind
- The beauty of planet earth as an end in itself
- Poetry as an affirmation of life (Poetry as a substitute for God/religion)
- Beliefs and the problems they present for people in a secular age (“God” is subjective)
- Revealing the extraordinary dimensions of the ordinary
Wallace Stevens’ poetry constantly investigates reality and society’s responses to it. As a result, it often hints towards learning to live with multiple perspectives on life and never accept one answer to any question. One poem that displays this belief is “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Although society’s reactions to change fascinated him, he never embedded his own opinions on current events such as Hitler’s power in Germany or Mussolini’s presence in Ethiopia in his work.
Another inspiration for Stevens’ poetry was his constant struggle with his religious beliefs. Stevens’ mother was a devoted Presbyterian and raised her children with her beliefs in mind, however, he later claimed in a letter, “I dismiss your question by saying that I am a dried-up Presbyterian, and let it go at that because my activities are not religious.” Steven’s loss of a firm religious belief strongly affected his poetry, causing him to “[think] of some substitute for religion…My trouble, and the trouble of a great many people, is the loss of belief in the sort of God in Whom we were all brought up to believe.” Many of Stevens’ philosophical ideas, like supreme fiction, stemmed from his issues with religion, along with one of his most famous poems, “Sunday Morning.”
One of Stevens’ biggest influences was Ralph Waldo Emerson. After receiving a twelve-volume set of Emerson’s Works for Christmas, Stevens constantly referred back to these volumes, eventually causing Stevens to believe “the divine not as the idea of eternal or imminent being but as immanent activity.” Both writers infuse their work with abstract thoughts, observations and philosophical ideas. Most of these observations came from Stevens’ weekly walks through the New Jersey or New England countrysides. The sights, sounds and sensations Stevens felt during his walks were often inspirations for his work, causing nature to be the subject of a lot of his poetry.
- Poetry is free verse, meaning that there was no pattern, rhythm, or definite meter in his poetry, although he felt that there should always be a “ghost of some simple meter”
- Very loose iambic pentameter
- Stevens avoided using first person, choosing to use third person instead. This allowed him to make an effort to see himself from the outside and speak universally
- His poems were usually a series of couplets, quatrains and tercets, sometimes split into cantos.
- Stevens stated that poetry must “resist the intelligence almost successfully,” meaning that the understanding a reader gained after initially being baffled was a reward in itself. Stevens never meant for his poetry to be simple to understand.
Supreme fiction is a central theme throughout all of Stevens’ poetry, originating in his poem, “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman.” In another poem, “Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction,” Stevens attempted to define supreme fiction as a cross between idealism and pragmatism. Stevens’ believed that people could “genuinely believe in fiction since they interpret their experiences mentally, leaving them with no choice but to believe in their mind’s version of reality, whether the reality is material or spiritual.” This belief helped Stevens cope with his internal struggle with religion, deciding that God was a part of his “supreme fiction,” meaning that the feelings of joy and content he received from practicing religion were real. This led Stevens to regard poetry as a substitute for God. Although supreme fiction is the central theme to Stevens’ poetry, it too stems from his conflict with religion in a secular world, making this one of his central inspirations.
Stevens’ poetry contains characteristics of many literary movements, the most prominent being Romanticism and Modernism.
Romantic: Romantic writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson inspired Stevens, especially in his earlier works. Poems like “Sunday Morning” reject traditional Christian beliefs in favor of finding religion in nature:
“What is divinity if it can come / Only in silent shadows and in dreams? / Shall she not find in comforts of the sun, / In pungent fruit and bright, green wings, or else / In any balm or beauty of the earth”
Stevens’ belief that a person’s imagination forms his reality is another Romantic characteristic. This essentially is what Stevens called the “Supreme Fiction.” According to Jonathan Levin, author of The Poetics of Transition: Emerson, Pragmatism and American Literary Modernism, Stevens’ “insistence on imagination has led some critics to classify Stevens as more essentially late Romantic than modernist.”
Modern: Although Stevens’ poetry contains some Romantic elements, he himself criticizes the Romantics’ use of the imagination in literature: “The romantic belittles [the imagination]. The imagination is the liberty of the mind. The romantic is a failure to make use of that liberty.”
One major modern characteristic of Stevens’ poetry is his effort to find the purpose of poetry. He concluded that poetry was not about of life, it made life, which again refers to his “Supreme Fiction” philosophy. Stevens also believed that poetry did not need to have a blatant meaning behind it; instead, he wanted the words and language he used to make the poems to affect the readers, not hidden symbolism. The language Stevens commonly used in his poetry is very colloquial, which is also a modern characteristic. One of Stevens’ goals with his poetry was to help people view poetry in a fresh light and accept multiple answers to a question, which made his work particularly complex.
Summary of Poems
“Sunday Morning” – This poem, originally in his first published book of poems, Harmonium, displays the Romantic side of Stevens’ earlier poetry and is a prime example of his struggle with believing in God. At the beginning of the poem, a woman is enjoying “Complacencies of the peignoir, and late / Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,” and the nature around her, instead of going to church. In the second canto, the narrator asks the reader why the woman could find more contentment in religion instead of nature:
“Give her bounty to the dead? / What is divinity if it can come / Only in silent shadows and dreams? / Shall she not find in comforts of the sun…Things to be cherished like the thought of heaven?”
Further down in the fifth canto, Stevens’ says that “Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her / Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams / And our desires.” This means that life will be immortal through the decomposition of the human body into nature, supplying nutrients for its beauty, rather than a spiritual eternal life. In the sixth canto, the other voice that speaks to the woman in the poem argues that although nothing physical on earth is immortal, the change created by the death of life creates the earth’s beauty. In the end, the woman concludes that Jesus is only a historical figure, and that she, along with every other life on earth, is individually responsible for her own happiness and contentment.
“Anecdote of a Jar” – Like many of Stevens’ poems, “Anecdote of a Jar” seems ambiguous and vague at first glance. In the first stanza, the narrator places a jar in Tennessee, disrupting nature’s growth. One could claim that this poem is an argument against human intervention in nature. Each of the three stanzas notes how the jar affects the nature that surrounds it. In the first stanza, the jar “made the slovenly wilderness / Surround that hill.” At this point, nature is still wild, or “slovenly,” with no outside influence to tame it. In the second stanza, the wilderness “rose up to it, / And sprawled around, no longer wild.” The jar’s presence has caused nature to attract itself to growing around the jar, essentially taming nature. The last stanza shows how the jar “[takes] dominion everywhere,” even without “[giving] of bird or bush, / Like nothing else in Tennessee.” This poem could be a response to the technological advances being made during this point in Stevens’ life.
“The Death of a Soldier” – This poem is one of Stevens’ more blatant poems, comparing death to autumn. It is likely that this poem was a response to WWI, which was common for many modernist writers during this time. It also has a very stern feel to it, especially when the narrator says that the soldier, unlike Jesus, will not “become a three-days personage, / Imposing his separation / Calling for pomp.” In the third stanza, Stevens notes how both human death and the death of nature is unavoidable and part of a cycle: “Death is absolute and without memorial, / As in a season of autumn.” This poem is not only a small attack on Christianity, but also a comment on how the death of one faceless soldier goes unnoticed by the majority of society. The final stanza reveals the latter by noting that “When the wind stops and, over the heavens, / The clouds go, nevertheless, / In their direction,” meaning that when one person’s life ends, the rest of society will continue living the same way without hesitation.
- “The relation of art to life is of the first importance especially in a skeptical age since, in the absence of a belief in God, the mind turns to its own creations and examines them, not alone from the aesthetic point of view, but for what they reveal, for what they validate and invalidate, for the support they give.” – Wallace Stevens
- “If anything, Stevens’ poetry makes it increasingly difficult to rest content with such classifications as ‘Romantic,’ ‘modern,’ and ‘avant-garde.’ Stevens roams freely between such conceptions and, by doing so, complicates our understanding of thee relations between literature, imagination, and the real, historical world.” – Jonathan Levin
- “It is the belief, and not the god that counts.” – Wallace Stevens
Popular Poems and Published Works
- “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” “Sunday Morning,” “Anecdote of the Jar,” “The Idea of Order at Key West,” “The Emperor of Ice Cream” and “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman”
- Harmonium (1923), Ideas of Order (1936), Owl's Clover (1936), The Man with the Blue Guitar (1937), Parts of a World (1942), Transport to Summer (1947), The Auroras of Autumn (1950), Collected Poems (1954), Opus Posthumous (1957), The Palm at the End of the Mind (1972), Collected Poetry and Prose (1997)
Holander, Stefan. Wallace Stevens and the Realities of Poetic Language. New York: Routledge, 2008.
Levin, Jonathan. The Poetics of Transition: Emerson, Pragmatism, and American Literary Modernism. NC: Duke University Press, 1999.
Quinn, Justin. Gathered Beneath the Storm: Wallace Stevens, Nature and Community. Dublin Ireland: University College Dublin Press, 2002.
Serio, John N. The Cambridge Companion to Wallace Stevens. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
Stevens, Wallace. The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1957
|12b: Wallace Stevens' Poetry
Research Survey Compiled By: Haley Hancock
Thirteen Ways of Looking at Blackbird:
• The relationship between man and nature
• The number 13, (known as the ‘eccentric number’)
• The relationship between men, women and nature
• Death and despair and how humans deal with it.
Anecdote of the Jar:
• The power and domination of nature over everything it surrounds.
• Authority over nature, Can Man Co-exist with Nature?
• Roundness, the circular motion of all living things.
Emperor of Ice-Cream:
• Life and Death and the liminal stage between.
• Youth and adulthood, the stages between.
• Toils of death on the living
The Snow Man
• The Winter season mind-set
• Thinking and the thought process of the mind
• Repetition of the letter ‘s’
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird:
It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.
Anecdote of the Jar:
It took dominion every where.
The jar was gray and bare.
It did not give of bird or bush,
Like nothing else in Tennessee.
The Emperor of Ice-Cream:
Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
The Snow Man:
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is
Steven’s poems are free-verse and seem to have no set rhyme or rhythmic tie connecting them. In “The Snow Man”, Steven’s uses alliteration of the consonant sound ‘s’ to further invoke the idea of a ‘s’nowman into the reader’s mind, without ever actually mentioning a snowman in the poem. Most of the poems are in sets of rhyming couplets or quatrains.
Modernism: Steven’s was critical of the use of the imagination poetry. Steven’s wanted his poetry to be re-read, he wanted poetry to have an impact on his readers, not have a masked meaning behind confusing symbolism. The emphasis on perception and point of view in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” is a clear example of modernism.
Intertextuality and Links to Other Poems:
It has been suggested that Stevens’ was inspired in one way or another by T.S. Eliot, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and John Keats.
Stevens was born in Reading, Pennsylvania in October of 1879. He attended Harvard and was admitted to the U.S. Bar in 1904 and had a successful law career for the next 12 years (Wallace Stevens). Throughout his life, Steven’s continued to write poetry, prose and plays. The American Academy of Poets says this: “More than any other modern poet, Stevens was concerned with the transformative power of the imagination. Though now considered one of the major American poets of the century, he did not receive widespread recognition until the publication of his Collected Poems, just a year before his death” (Wallace Stevens).
Other Popular Poems and Works:
Ideas of Order (1935)
Owl's Clover (1936)
The Man With the Blue Guitar (1937)
Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction (1942)
Parts of a World (1942)
Esthétique du Mal (1945)
Three Academic Pieces (1947)
Transport to Summer (1947)
Primitive Like an Orb (1948)
Auroras of Autumn (1950)
Collected Poems (1954)
Opus Posthumous (1957)
The Palm at the End of the Mind (1967
The Necessary Angel (1951)
Three Travelers Watch the Sunrise (1916)
Carlos Among the Candles (1917)
Brunner, Edward, John T. Newcomb, and Cary Nelson. "Modern American Poetry: Wallace Stevens." Modern American Poetry. 2000. Oxford University Press. 9 Jan. 2009 <http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/s_z/stevens/stevens.htm>.
"Modernism in American Poetry." The Bedford Anthology of American Literature. Vol. 2. Boston, NY: Bedfore/St. Martins, 2008. 605-18.
"Wallace Stevens." www.poets.org. Ed. Robin B. Schaer. American Academy of Poets. 9 Jan. 2009 <http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/124>.
William Carlos Williams' Poetry
Research Survey Compiled By: Andrew McFarland
Born 1883, William Carlos Williams was a writer and medical doctor who played a key role in the American Modernist movement as well as the Imagist and Objectivist movements. Many hail Williams as the true heir of Walt Whitman because of Williams’ efforts to create a brand of poetry particular to everyday American. Unlike his contemporaries Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, Williams used plain speech and developed an unique rhythm, both of which demonstrated American life. Williams published twenty-two works of poetry and countless other essays and other writing throughout his career before he passed away in 1963.
Williams' role within the Modernist movement
While studying for his M.D. at U Penn, Williams met and began a long friendship and collaboration with Ezra Pound and from there, it’s history. While working in New Jersey as a doctor, Williams spent many of his weekends in New York. There, he became a member of ‘the Others’ which also included Marianne Moore, Mina Loy and Marcel Duchamp, consequently a key player in early Modernism. Williams, as were many of the Modernists, was heavily influenced by new ideas of the perception of reality. Early in his career, Williams worked alongside Pound and H.D. to create the Imagist movement, but quickly moved on to further his own ideas of the new and fresh American Modernism. With the critical and commercial success of Spring and All in 1923, Williams firmly supplanted himself as one of the great poetic innovators not only of Modernism, but of the twentieth century.
Noted Poems and Explications
“Spring and All”- is a 23 line poem describing the awakening of spring in a cold winter landscape. Throughout the poem the imagery focuses the reader down and in until one finds the hidden dormant life that has been waiting under the “dead brown leaves” and “leafless vines”. After we discover this, we watch as such small things as grass and wildcarrot make their magnificent entrance into spring. Some critics say that “Spring and All” is metaphorically a work of ekphrasis, and that poetry, in the place of nature, can focus the mind until it finds a point of awakening.
“This is a poem of discovery, of the gradual emergence of the sense of spring from what looks otherwise like a disease of winter.” (John Hollander)
“Williams apparently decided that if he could simulate in poetry the process of incipient growth which experience had taught him to be only latent beneath the barren ground, it would stand also as a linguistic graph of the mind's perceptual process. Ideally, the notion that the landscape and the mind share what amounts to a common process might provoke in the reader an awareness of systems of interconnectedness in which, conceivably, countless versions of a single process could be layered, one atop the other, in a unified, "objective" vision of the oneness of all initiation into life.” (Richard R. Frye)
“To Elsie”- This poem highlights several of Williams’ favorite themes, probably the most important being his case study of the “generic” American population (“mountain folk from Kentucky”, “devil-may-care men”, “young slatterns”, “some Elsie”). Further beyond this, perhaps, both physically and metaphysically, is Williams’ idea of needing to be grounded in some sort of locale. For Elsie, a young mentally handicapped woman who sometimes came to help with housework, Williams’ has provided some sort of locale, but he questions if it is the right one, seeing as how it is not her original one. Whether she is “saved” or not is mostly up to the reader; however, the question is posed. Also, this poem is comprised of many parallelisms, notably men and women, and higher and lower class. But a very interesting one is the identification of the “pure products of America”. Are they these mostly vagabond cultures of people mentioned early on, or does the poem come full circle and the careening car offers us a viable answer.
“"To Elsie" focuses three of Williams' main concerns: a despoiled America, the alienated and self-alienating human condition, and the ravished Eden of the imagination.” (Thomas R. Whitaker)
“The poem is primarily a diagnosis; its solution is implied. But there are the isolate flecks of understanding which intimate some hope for the future, if only someone can be found to "drive the car."” (Bram Dijkstra)
“This is Just to Say”- very well could just be to say. However, that’s not very much fun. One way to see this poem is to think of “This is Just to Say” is as a triumph of Williams’ ideology, that there is beautiful poetry inside the plain speech of America. Most critics agree, though, that this poem subjects itself to the reader. A very interesting piece about this poem comes not from any critic, but from Williams’ wife, Flossie, who wrote a reply:
(crumped on her desk)
Dear Bill: I've made a
couple of sandwiches for you.
In the ice-box you'll find
blue-berries--a cup of grapefruit
a glass of cold coffee.
On the stove is the tea-pot
with enough tea leaves
for you to make tea if you
prefer--Just light the gas—
boil the water and put it in the tea
Plenty of bread in the bread-box
and butter and eggs—
I didn't know just what to
make for you. Several people
called up about office hours—
See you later. Love. Floss.
Please switch off the telephone.
“Any thematic interpretation is made self-consciously and somewhat uncertainly.” (Leonard M. Trawick)
“The Red Wheel Barrow”- is a magnificent example of the imigist/objectivist poems. Much like cubism in visual art, Williams’ seeks to expose every part of his subject, the red wheel barrow. First, he gives it it’s purpose, or rather states that the object is not meaningless, “so much depends/ upon”. Then, he paints the wheelbarrow’s image, (it’s red, first off) “glazed with rain/ water”. And finally, he places it in reality, “beside the white/ chickens”. Notice the direction of the poem. The reader begins, rather than ends, with a purpose and is brought down into reality, where it just a thing beside some chickens. What makes it noteworthy, though, is how Williams’ has already given the wheel barrow substance and being, and by working down to just a place, he has perfected (completed) it’s existence. “The Red Wheelbarrow” also makes a great example of a modern use of enjambment. By splitting up the compounds “wheel/ barrow” and “rain/ water”, we are not only allowed, but invited to literately read between the lines and see the wheelbarrow at many angles and for everything it’s worth.
“[I]n twentieth-century verse, an enjambment can occur without interest in shock or abruptness as a mimetic effect by itself. . . . A paradigmatic case is from William Carlos Williams in a well-known poem which uses the device almost as if in a manifesto. . . .” (John Hollander)
“Instead of Milton's shifting back and forth from original to derived meanings of words, Williams "etymologizes" his compounds into their prior phenomena, and his verbal act represents, and makes the reader carry out, a meditative one. The formal device is no surface trick.” (John Hollander)
Everyday American Life- Williams felt that European and classical subjects were worn out and ventured to create a new, pure product of America with his poetry, celebrating the everyday and local aspects of life.
Simple Language- Williams almost exclusively uses a small, comprehensible vocabulary consisting of a handful of American colloquialism. But! don’t let Williams’ use of simple language fool you, just because everything is easily defined does not make it easily interpreted. In fact Williams’ twisted and placed words with such scrutiny that they often mean much more than what is generally thought.
Innovations in Meter and Line- Williams also was extremely innovative with his use of free verse and different ways of constructing his poems. His goal was to construct poetry around the natural speech patterns of American English and did this, particularly through an experimental use of enjambment.
"William Carlos Williams." Poets.org. Academy of American Poets. 10 Feb 2009 <http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/119>.
"On "To Elsie." Modern American Poetry. Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 10 Feb 2009 <http://www.english.illinois.edu/MAPS/poets/s_z/williams/elsie.htm>.
"On "The Red Wheelbarrow." Modern American Poetry. Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 10 Feb 2009 <http://www.english.illinois.edu/MAPS/poets/s_z/williams/wheelbarrow.htm>.
"On "Spring and All"." Modern American Poetry. Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 10 Feb 2009 <http://www.english.illinois.edu/MAPS/poets/s_z/williams/spring.htm>.
"On "This is Just to Say"." Modern American Poetry. Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 10 Feb 2009 <http://www.english.illinois.edu/MAPS/poets/s_z/williams/just.htm>.
"Flossie Williams Reply to "This is Just to Say"." 10 Feb 2009 <http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/88v/flossie.html>.
|13b: William Carlos Williams'
Research Survey Compiled By: Alina Yudkevich
Born in Rutherford, New Jersey in 1883, Williams spent his adolescence studying literature but went on to attend medical school, earning him the moniker of the Doctor-Poet. Williams frequently associated with other artists and members of the avant-garde in New York City, and is now perhaps best known for his often-minimalist poetry and other contributions to the Modernist movement. He published works until his death in 1963.
Purpose in Works
Williams sought to deviate from the traditionalism found in the poetry of his time, including the Imagist movement with which he was briefly associated. He sought to separate himself from it and other poets like Eliot, as he thought them to be too “attached to European culture and traditions.” He instead chose “objectivism” as a descriptor for his works, to emphasize the importance found in the tangible.
His primarily goal in poetry, via experimentation in line and meter (an invention he later dubbed “The American idiom”), was to display a snapshot of a moment: raw, unchanging, and often based in life’s “mundane.” His episodic demonstrations of the natural moments in life, like painted still-lifes, were perhaps indicative of his aforementioned associations with the artists and photographers of the city, and his poems even went on to “hint at hidden possibilities” (VanSpanckeren). There was always a great emphasis placed on the design of the poem, as that was the tool with which Williams was able to portray the concept in a way he viewed different from simply “poetry” or mere written words; through an alternative set-up he felt he was able to use words more as a painter used paint, as opposed to your average simile-laden, anguished poet who used them for what Williams considered deeper, unnecessarily overarching generalizations.
Williams acknowledged frequently his willingness to break through the boundaries typically associated with the writing of poetry, and to blur the line between visual art and the verbal capture of a speck in time.
Whether intended or not, his affixation for the ordinary (and as an extension, based possibly on his own locality: the urban, industrial, and the working classes) made his poetry seem more accessible to a wider range of audiences.
Quotes from Williams
“"There is no subject; it's what you put on the canvas and how you put it on that makes the difference. Poems aren't made of thoughts — they’re made of words, pigments…”
“But we -- are full of memories.”
“The local is the only universal.”
“The meaning of the poem can be grasped by attention to the design. Design makes things speak.”
If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,-
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely,
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,-
Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?
“This Is Just To Say”
I have eaten
that were in
you were probably
they were delicious
and so cold
“The Red Wheelbarrow”
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
(Note: it has been suggested that this poem represents an image that Williams saw as he looked outside of his window while treating a dying patient, and he sought to capture it like a still-life painter would with this minimalist piece.)
Breaks from symbolism
“Idealization of the rural primitive”
"Williams, William Carlos: Introduction." Short Story Criticism. Ed. Anna Sheets Nesbitt. Vol. 31. Gale Cengage, 1999. eNotes.com. 2006. 11 Feb, 2009 <http://www.enotes.com/short-story-criticism/_williams-william-carlos>
VanSpanckeren, Kathryn. An Outline of American Literature. <http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/LIT/wilwil.htm>
"William Carlos Williams." Poetry, Poems, Bios and More. 11 Feb 2009 <http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/119>.
Costello, Bonnie. "William Carlos Williams in a World of Painters." 11 Feb 2009 <http://bostonreview.net/BR04.6/costello.html>.
T.S. Eliot's Poetry
Research Survey Compiled By: Ben Wills
T.S Eliot was born September 26, 1988. He graduated from Harvard in 1910, earning a BA and MA in English Literature. He gained literary fame between 1917 and 1923.
Eliot impulsively married Vivien Haigh-Wood. They were troubled with economic pressures and suffered from being incompatible. In 1938, Haigh-Wood was institutionalized for mental instability. She died in 1947 and Eliot remarried in 1948 to Valerie Fletcher.
The Waste Land
Regarded as Eliot’s finest work, The Waste Land is an allusive and complex poem. As such, it is subject to a variety of interpretations, and no two critics agree completely on its meaning. It may be interpreted on three levels: the person, the society, and the human race. The personal interpretation seeks to reveal Eliot's feelings and intentions in writing the poem. At the society level, a critic looks for the meaning of the poem in relation to the society for which it was written. Finally, the human level extends the societal level to include all human societies - past, present, and future.
Since the human level is an extension of the societal level, the basic themes are the same for both. The main theme is "modern life as a waste land." Eliot supports the theme by showing what was wrong with society in the early twentieth century. These shortcomings include lack of faith, lack of communication, fear of both life and death, corruption of the life-water symbol, and corruption of sex.
Eliot- At the time of the poem’s composition, suffering from acute nervous ailments, chief among them severe anxiety. It was during his time of recuperation that he was able to write much of The Waste Land, but his conflicted feelings about his wife, Vivienne, did not much help his state of mind. The ambiguity of love, the potential of that emotion to cause both great joy and great sorrow, informs the passage involving the hyacinth girl – another failed memory, as it were.
The Waste Land, Eliot's first long philosophical poem, can now be read simply as it was written, as a poem of radical doubt and negation, urging that every human desire be stilled except the desire for self-surrender, for restraint, and for peace. Compared with the longing expressed in later poems for the "eyes" and the "birth," the "coming" and "the Lady" (in "The Hollow Men," the Ariel poems, and "Ash-Wednesday"), the hope held out in The Waste Land is a negative one.
Ezra Pound- Edited The Waste Land. After his initial reading of the first draft of the poem, Pound noted that it was “a masterpiece; one of the most important 19 pages in English.” He offered extensive suggestions for revision, cutting several lenghty sections and deleting hundreds of words and phrases from the poem. At his suggestion, the poem was reduced to half the length of earlier draft.
I. The Burial of the Dead
II. A Game of Chess
III. The Fire Sermon
IV. Death by Water
V. What the Thunder Said
Each title of the sections deals with a natural force/entity: death, the mind, fire, water and thunder.
Throughout The Waste Land, there are multiple voices and a deliberate attempt at creating a sense of fragmentation, discontinuity, and decay.
There are 3 different time periods, past, present and future.
In the end of the poem, Eliot begins to reference V. Weston, From Ritual to Romance; the Fisher King. It’s final line, “Shantih, shantih, shantih” holds the meaning, “The peace which passeth understanding.” Though the poem is dark, it ends with a sense of hope.
The Waste Land is rich with biblical and mythological works.
Death - “That corpse you planted last year in your garden, / Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?”; “The hanged man”; The Burial of the Dead; Death by Water as a whole is eight lines discribing the death of Phlebas the Pheonician.
Rebirth – Many ties to Christianity and Jesus.
Lust – A Game of Chess, is a poem of a mans (Bill) lust and flirtation with a woman or possibly two women (Lou, and May).
Water – The entire story in Death By Water; Showers of rain in The Burial of the Dead as well as the character (Marie?) mentions a fear of death by water, from What the Thunder Said-
“It there were rock
And also water
A pool amoung the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drop drop drop drop drop
But there is no water”
“Analysis of T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land.” Associated Content. “Arts and Entertainment.” Anita Grance Simpson. 14 Feb 2009
Belasco, Susan, and Linick Johnson. The Bedford Anthology. “T.S. Eliot.” Boston: Bedford/ St. Martins, 2008.
"On "The Waste Land." Modern American Poetry. Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 10 Feb 2009
“Notes on T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922)” Elcamino. 15 Feb 2009 <http://www.elcamino.cc.ca.us/Faculty/sdonnell/waste_land.htm>
“The Wastland.” World Literature Website. Dr. Fidel Fajardo-Acosta. 15 Feb 2009
“Summary and Analysis of Section I: "The Burial of the Dead" The Waste Land Study Guide. 15 Feb 2009. <http://www.gradesaver.com/the-waste-land/study-guide/section1>
"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"
J. Alfred Prufrock is the voice of this piece, and debating a matter to the reader. His trouble seems to be derived from being and older man, dealing with a complication in love. – An interesting point in that Eliot would later be a man who found separation from his first wife.
Prufrock proves to be concerned/disappointed his image both physically and his confidence.
Quotes to express his physical concerns:
“With a bald spot oin the middle of my hair – They will say: How his hair is growing thin!”; “They Will say: But how his arms and legs are thin!”; “Though I have seen my head (growing slightly bald)…”
Quotes that express his lack of confidence:
“I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker, And I have seen the eternal Tootman hold my coat, and snicker”; “I do not think that they will sing to me (talking about the mermaids)”
Eliot never directly describes the woman.
“The poem never visualizes the woman with whom Prufrock imagines an encounter except in fragments and in plurals -- eyes, arms, skirts - synecdoches we might well imagine as fetishistic replacements. But even these synecdochic replacements are not clearly engendered. The braceleted arms and the skirts are specifically feminine, but the faces, the hands, the voices, the eyes are not.”
Hamlet: “No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be” ; “Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse”
John 11:1-44: “To say: I am Lazarus, come from the dead”
Matthew 14:3- 11: “Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter”
Heisod : “And time for all the works and days of hands”
Recurring Lines/ Ideas
“In the room the women come and go, Talking of Michelanego.”
“And indeed there will be time”
“Do I dare”
“So how should I presume?”
References to “tea and cakes”
Belasco, Susan, and Linick Johnson. The Bedford Anthology. “T.S. Eliot.” Boston: Bedford/ St. Martins, 2008.
"On "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Modern American Poetry. Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 10 Feb 2009
|14b: T.S. Eliot's Poetry
Research Survey Compiled By: Rachel Bumgarner
"Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”
Summary of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”: This poem, the earliest of
Eliot's major works, was completed in 1910 or 1911 but not published until
1915. It is an examination of the tortured psyche of the prototypical modern
man--overeducated, eloquent, neurotic, and emotionally stilted. Prufrock, the
poem's speaker, seems to be addressing a potential lover, with whom he would
like to "force the moment to its crisis" by somehow consummating their
relationship. But Prufrock knows too much of life to "dare" an approach to the
woman: In his mind he hears the comments others make about his inadequacies,
and he chides himself for "presuming" emotional interaction could be possible
at all. The poem moves from a series of fairly concrete (for Eliot) physical
settings--a cityscape (the famous "patient etherised upon a table") and several
interiors (women's arms in the lamplight, coffee spoons, fireplaces)--to a series
of vague ocean images conveying Prufrock's emotional distance from the world
as he comes to recognize his second-rate status ("I am not Prince Hamlet").
Writing Style in “Prufrock”: The rhyme scheme of this poem is irregular but not
random. While sections of the poem may resemble free verse, in reality,
"Prufrock" is a carefully structured amalgamation of poetic forms. The bits and
pieces of rhyme become much more apparent when the poem is read aloud.
One of the most prominent formal characteristics of this work is the use of
refrains. Prufrock's continual return to the "women [who] come and go / Talking
of Michelangelo" and his recurrent questionings ("how should I presume?") and
pessimistic appraisals ("That is not it, at all.") both reference an earlier poetic
tradition and help Eliot describe the consciousness of a modern, neurotic
The Speaker in “Prufrock”: The poem centers on a balding, insecure middle-
aged man. He expresses his thoughts about the dull, uneventful, mediocre life
he leads as a result of his feelings of inadequacy and his fear of making
decisions. Unable to seize opportunities or take risks (especially with women),
he lives in a world that is the same today as it was yesterday and will be the
same tomorrow as it is today. He does try to make progress, but his timidity and
fear of failure inhibit him from taking action.
Themes in “Prufrock”:
Loneliness and Alienation: Prufrock is a pathetic man whose anxieties and
obsessions have isolated him.
-Indecision: Prufrock resists making decisions
for fear that their outcomes will turn out wrong.
continually worries that he will make a fool of himself and that people will
ridicule him for his clothes, his bald spot, and his overall physical appearance.
-Pessimism: Prufrock sees only the negative side of his own life and the lives of
Summary of The Waste Land:
PART 1. "The Burial of the Dead," presents the voice
of a countess looking back on her pre-World War I youth as a lovelier, freer,
more romantic time. Her voice is followed by a solemn description of present
dryness when "the dead tree gives no shelter." Then the poem returns to a
fragmentary love scene of the past, perhaps the countess's. The scene shifts to
a fortune-teller who reads the tarot cards and warns of death. The final section
of part 1 presents a contemporary image of London crowds moving along the
streets blankly, as if dead. One pedestrian calls out to another, grotesquely
asking if the corpse in his garden has sprouted yet, suggesting the necessity of
death before rebirth can take place. In the final line of this section, the poet
calls the reader a hypocrite who thinks he is any better off.
PART 2. "A Game of Chess" presents a neurotic rich woman frustrated by her
male companion's reserve. This is followed by a gossipy barroom conversation
about a woman who was unfaithful to her soldier husband during the war and
who had an abortion to hide her guilt.
PART 3. The third section, "The Fire Sermon," mingles snatches of an old
marriage song celebrating the Thames River with a contemporary image of the
filthy, trash-filled Thames. Then, starting at line 215, the ancient seer Tiresias
narrates a banal and loveless scene of seduction of a typist by her "lover," a
petty real estate agent. The scene is squalid and passionless; the sexual act is
meaningless to both participants. This is followed by contrasting images of
Queen Elizabeth I boating on the Thames with her lover, the earl of Leicester.
PART 4. The fourth section, "Death by Water," fulfills the prophecy made by the
fortune-teller in part 1. It is a brief section, marking death as the end, or, in
keeping with the whole poem's structure, death that must precede
transformation and rebirth.
PART 5. The final section, "What the Thunder Said," begins with images of a
journey over barren and rocky ground. The thunder is sterile, being
unaccompanied by rain, by a mysterious sense of some compassionate spirit
visits the traveler. Chaotic images of rot and of a crumbling city lead up to line
393, at which time a cock (a symbol of Christ) crows, announcing the coming
Writing Style of The Waste Land: The Waste Land employs only partial rhyme
schemes and short bursts of structure. The inclusion of fragments in languages
other than English further complicates matters. The reader is not expected to be
able to translate these immediately; rather, they are reminders of the
cosmopolitan nature of twentieth-century Europe. In addition, Eliot uses
mimesis during the second section. For example, the first part of the second
section is largely in unrhymed iambic pentameter lines, or blank verse. As the
section proceeds, the lines become increasingly irregular in length and meter,
giving the feeling of disintegration, of things falling apart. As the woman of the
first half begins to give voice to her paranoid thoughts, things do fall apart, at
least formally: We read lines of dialogue, then a snippet from a nonsense song.
The last four lines of the first half rhyme, although they are irregular in meter,
suggesting at least a partial return to stability.
Themes in The Waste Land:
- Chaotic life of individuals and society in the twentieth century
Disillusionment of post World War I generation
Sterility and waste
Spiritual exhaustion of the modern world
The quest for spiritual salvation and moral regeneration
Historical Context in “Journey of the Magi”: In June 1927, Eliot was baptized and
confirmed in the Church of England. Later that year, this poem appeared as a
pamphlet in a series, the Ariel poems, of short works produced for the
Christmas season by Eliot’s London publisher, Faber and Faber. “Journey of the
Magi” concerns Eliot’s conversion from agnosticism to christianity. The dramatic
monologue also anticipated a persistent concern in Eliot’s later poetry and
drama, the effects produced by the irruption of supernatural elements into
Themes in “Journey of the Magi”:
Death vs. life
Summary of “Burnt Norton”: "Burnt Norton," is named for a ruined country house
in Gloucestershire. The first section combines a hypothesis on time--that the
past and the future are always contained in the present--with a description of a
rose garden where children hide, laughing. A bird serves as the poet's guide,
bringing him into the garden, showing him around, and saving him from
despair at not being able to reach the laughing children. The second section
begins with a sort of song, filled with abstract images. The poem shifts midway
through the section, where it again assumes a more meditative tone in order to
sort out the differences between consciousness and living in time. In the third
section, Eliot describes a "place of disaffection"--perhaps the everyday world--
which allows neither transcendence ("darkness") nor the beauty of the moment
("daylight"). The fourth, very short section returns to a sort of melody (some of
the lines rhyme) to describe the unattainable, fictional point of fixity around
which time is organized. This point is described as surrounded by flowers and
birds. The final section of this quartet returns to reality: Despite the apparent
vitality of words and music, these must die; the children's laughter in the garden
becomes a mocking laughter, scorning our enslavement to time.
Writing style of “Burnt Norton”: Eliot is much less experimental with rhyme and
meter in this poem than in the others such as “The Love Song of J. Alfred
Prufrock,” and “The Waste Land.” He uses literary devices such as chiasmus and
the repetition of words to create a rhythm not dependent on previous poetic
Themes in “Burnt Norton”:
Nature of time
Limitations of language
Limitations of human knowledge
Struggle for religious faith
T.S. Eliot and the Modernist Movement: Eliot was a prominent figure of the
modernism literary movement. He demonstrates his mastery of this style in one
of his most famous poems,The Waste Land, where he uses revolutionary
techniques of composition, such as the collage. Eliot turned to untraditional
sources for inspiration such as the ironic poems of the 19th century French
symbolist poet Jules Laforgue.
Belasco, Susan, and Linck Johnson. The Bedford Anthology of American
Literature. Vol. 2. Boston: Bedford, 2008.
"A Brief Guide to Modernism." Poets.org. 15 Feb. 2008.
Johnston, Ian. "Lecture on T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and
The Waste Land." 15 Feb. 2008.
Smith, Grover. "On "The Journey of the Magi"" Modern American Poetry.
University of Illinois. 15 Feb. 2008.
Research Survey Compiled By: Jill Magley
Modernism was a reaction against all traditional forms of art, literature, and daily life. The traditional forms had become outdated and it was time to “make it new!” This literary movement bridges art and literature. It began around 1914, around the time when cubism was introduced. Modernist writings attempt to show multiple views of an image/story. It was all about perception, seeing anew, and forward motion.
“It is in art the highest business to create the beautiful image; to create order and profusion of images that we may furnish the life of our minds with a noble surrounding.”
The modernist time period was greatly influenced by WWI. “The horrors and brutal reality of the war had a lasting impact on the American imagination.” Ezra Pound wrote a poem in remembrance of the horrors of war, which he believed revealed the declining values and desecrated culture of civilization, a belief that was shared by many other writers all over the world.
The decade after WWI was often referred to as the Jazz Age. This time was characterized by shorter skirts, flappers, looser morals, and rebellion. Poets during this time became very experimental, determined to transform the arts. Shortly after the Jazz Age, came the Great Depression which left many Americans feelings lost and hopeless.
Characteristics of Modernist writing
-The modernist works were Anti-Romantic. The focus of the poems was not in nature but in the art itself. The poems did not necessarily have to have meaning. In T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land many people find it difficult to make sense of the poem, but that was the point. Ezra Pound edited the poem with Eliot and he believed that it was not supposed to make sense, the reader was not supposed to understand everything. It made the reader feel lost and like nothing made sense anymore, which was how many people felt after WWI. All that was left after WWI was pieces, just fragments of confusion. This poem mirrored the time after the war.
-Ezra Pound was the inventor of imagism. He had three techniques for imagist poems: 1) direct treatment of the thing, whether subjective or objective 2) use no word that does not contribute to the presentation of the poem 3) As regard to rhythm, to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in the sequence of a metronome
-The point of view is often remote and unattached to the subject
-Many poems focused on showing more than one way of looking at something; showed multiple perspectives (Ex: “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” by Wallace Stevens)
Many of the common themes included:
Alienation from Society and Loneliness
Agonized recollections of the past
The world as a wasteland
Sense of place, local color
Loss and despair
Inability to feel or express love
Influential Modernist Writers & Their Works
- “Mending Wall”
- “The Road Not Taken”
- “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”
- “Anecdote of the Jar”
- “The Snow Man”
William Carlos Williams
- “The Red Wheelbarrow”
- “To Elsie”
- “The Waste Land”
“American Literature: 1914 – 1945.” The Bedford Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Stephen A. Scipione. Vol. 2. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martins, 2008. 500 – 537.
O’Conner, Dr. Michael. “Literary Modernism 1915 – 1945.” 2000. Millikin University. 16 Feb 2009 <http://www.millikin.edu/aci/Crow/basics/modernism.html>.
"American Literature," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. 2008. 16 Feb 2009 < http://au.encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761564847_3/American_Literature.html>.
|16a: Claude McKay's Poetry
Research Survey Compiled By: Tara Hemmer
Born in Jamaica in 1889, Claude McKay was raised in a rather prosperous peasant family where his parents provided all of their 11 children with solid educations and strong religious faith in the Baptist Church. After McKay completed his secondary education, he went to a trade school, but had to leave to take care of his ailing mother. After her death, he joined the Jamaican Constabulary. After 17 months McKay decided this was not for him, with the help of Walter Jekyll was able to quit. Jekyll then influenced him to create his first poetic attempts which were written in the local Creole language (Constab Ballads, Songs of Jamaica). Realizing the success he could acquire in the United States, he started school at the Tuskegee Institute, but he soon had to confront the “hate of his race” in the South and the dislike of his curriculum at school. So, he decided to move to New York to further his career in poetry. Upon arrival he invested in a restaurant and got married. Within a year, the business and marriage failed. Moving to Harlem, McKay became involved with other literary intellectuals. He submitted two of his works “The Harlem Dancer” and “Invocation” in English to a literary magazine, Seven Arts, under the pen name of “Eli Edwards”. His real identity was soon discovered by Max and Crystal Eastman, who were editors of the Liberator, a racial socialist journal. They published his most famous poem, “If We Must Die”, which was inspired by the race riots in the summer of 1919. Poets such as Langston Hughes went as far as to dub this poem as a major inspiration of the Harlem Renaissance. Strongly resisting the title of “black protest poet”, he soon moved to London where he studied to works of Karl Marx, worked for a socialist journal and published a work of poems, Spring In New Hampshire. He then returned to New York and became associated editor of the Liberator and published Harlem Shadows. McKay, disillusioned by the color consciousness of American society, moved to the Soviet Union. His involvement with the Bolshevik Revolution called attention to him under the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which blocked his return to the states for the next 12 years. He eventually lost faith in the Communistic ideals and sided with socialism. After returning to the U.S. where he joined the Federal Writers Project. At this time he wrote his autobiography entitled A Long Way from Home. His work lost its popularity, and in 1943 died of a stroke close to the same time of becoming baptized into the Catholic Church.
McKay’s Involvement with the Modernist Movement:
Claude McKay was a part of the modernist movement by becoming one of the first significant writers of the Harlem Renaissance. This cultural movement in society was inspired by a great migration of educated blacks to the city. McKay, a native Jamaican, was part of this migration firsthand. His book of poems he wrote while living in the city, Harlem Shadows, published in 1922, was a precursor to the Harlem Renaissance. Many of its poems had inspired African American writers when they appeared in journals earlier. Even this small selection gives us a rich and multifaceted portrait of race in America. His poem “The Harlem Dancer” is said to have actually began this important movement in literature. McKay’s poetry described the reality of black life in America and the struggle for racial identity, which was the basis of the “New Negro Movement”. Living in Harlem, Claude McKay was in the center of this newly established sect of society. Harlem was now a political and cultural center of Black America.
Summary of Selected Poetry:
“If We Must Die”: McKay wrote this sonnet in response to a series of anti-black riots and lynching that took place in Chicago, Washington D.C.; Omaha, Nebraska; and other northern and southern cities in the summer and fall of 1919. Blacks fought back to these riots, displaying a new militancy that McKay also voiced in this poem. In line three there is a mention of “mad and hungry dogs”. This usage supports the poems purpose of exposing the race riots because history verifies that dogs were used to attack, frighten, and murder blacks. This poem is a bold statement of masculine and racial authority. While the poem speaks of the entire race, it is specifically about me. The phrase “O kinsmen!” explicitly mentions the role of men in these riots, but leaves the women unmentioned. McKay also seems to distinguish a struggle between man and beast rather than man and woman (“round us bark the mad and hungry dogs”, “In vain; then even the monsters we defy”, “Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack”).
“The Harlem Dancer”: The title of this poem demonstrates the African American poets tendency to display laborers, and these laborers unnoticed potential in society. Claude McKay writes in the form of a sonnet, much like all of McKay’s works. The sonnet form creates an initial paradox in the poem. The strict, slow-moving rhythm of the sonnet form constrains the wildness of the events occurring at the nightclub throughout the poem. This slow moving rhythm apparent throughout the stanzas creates sadness in the poem which contrasts with the gaiety of the boys and girls in the crowd. Youth is displayed immediately introduced in the first line of this poem. This generates a connection between the innocence of children being stripped from them at an early age due to societal reasons. The entire poem is filled with contrasting ideas of reality, and what the speaker is observing in his head. In lines 3and 4 “ Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes / Blown by black players upon a picnic day” contrasts the hectic indoors of the nightclub where wailing saxophones are usually heard with the softness of flutes at a wholesome picnic outdoors. In lines 5 and 6 “She sang and danced on gracefully and calm / The light gauze hanging loose about her form” McKay contrasts the “stripper” with imagery of a Greek statue. Poets of the Harlem Renaissance also tend to insert images that represent how proud they are of their heritage. “….proudly swaying palm / grown lovelier for passing through a storm” is used by McKay to show how the blacks have a acquired a certain proudness and beauty that could not be observed without the trials they had previously gone through. In lines 10, 11, and 12 “ ….tossing coins in praise /…..boys, and even the girls, / Devoured her with eager, passionate gaze;” represents the need for fulfillment in humans. This girls dances for mere coins; is her human dignity worth a few coins? Finally, the couplet at the end of the poem “But looking at her falsely-smiling face, / I knew her self was not in that strange place.” shows the ultimate meaning of what McKay is trying to say: Though economic forces obscure human values, they can still be distinguished through the passionate observer (the children).
Idealism is like a castle in the air if it is not based on a solid foundation of social and political realism.
Nations, like plants and human beings, grow. And if the development is thwarted, they are dwarfed and shadowed.
If a man is not faithful to his own individuality, he cannot be loyal to anything.
I know the dark delight of being strange,/ The penalty of difference in the crowd,/ The loneliness of wisdom among fools…..
Inspired by British poets such as Wordsworth and Shelley
Style and Form:
- Uses British forms such as the sonnet
- Traditional 16th century form
- Ababcdcdefefgg rhyme scheme
- Iambic Pentameter: gives poem rhythmic flow
- Inserts random line breaks into the sonnet
- Use of the sonnet to attack racial violence.
- Sense of racial pride and desire for social/political desire
- Study of peasant life in rural and urban life
- Racial Themes
- Part of the symbolist, decadents, and early modernists
1. Chasar, Mike. "The Sounds of Black Laughter and the Harlem Renaissance: Claude McKay, Sterling Brown, Langston Hughes." American Literature 80.1 (Mar. 2008): 57-81. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. [Library name], [City], [State abbreviation]. 16 Feb. 2009 <http://wf2dnvr6.webfeat.org:80/ySXZL11019/url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx
2."Claude McKay." Academy of American Poets -- Biographies of American Poets (Jan. 2008): 1-1. Literary Reference Center. EBSCO. [Library name], [City], [State abbreviation]. 17 Feb. 2009 <http://wf2dnvr6.webfeat.org:80/ySXZL11024/url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=
3.David Goldweber "HOME AT LAST : The pilgrimage of Claude McKay - black poet converted to Christianity". Commonwealth. FindArticles.com. 13 Feb, 2009. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1252/is_1999_Sept_10/ai_55820350
4. Sharyn Skeeter “Claude McKay: Harlem Renaissance Poet and Novelist”. africanamericalit.suite101.com. 14 Feb, 2009. http://africanamericanlit.suite101.com/article.cfm/claude_mckay
5. Poets.org “Claude McKay” www.poets.org. 13 Feb, 2009. http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/25
6. William Maxwell “Modern American Poetry: Claude McKay” University of Illionois. www.english.illinois.edu Feb 13, 2009. http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/mckay/mckay.htm
|16b: Claude McKay's Poetry
Research Survey Compiled By: Annie Herndon
1) Historical Background- The Harlem Renaissance
a) This advance was called the “New Negro Movement.”
b) Artists and Intellectuals found new ways to explore the historical experiences of black America and the contemporary experiences of blacks in Urban America.
c) Spanning from the early 1900’s to the middle of the 1930’s, this movement challenged white paternalism and racism. Celebrating black dignity and creativity.
d) The Harlem Renaissance grew out of a new changes taking root since the abolition of slavery with the Thirteenth amendment to the Constitution and the great migration of black people from rural areas to the urban metropolises such as New York City; the movement was accelerated by the patriotism and intrigue surrounding World War I.
e) It was referred to as a Renaissance because it was a rebirth of cultural, social, and intellectual form.
f) Emancipated African-Americans strove for civic participation and to overthrow white supremacy as well as Jim Crow segregation.
g) The movement created a culture focused around Jazz and Blues.
h) Race Riots, such as the ones which took place during the “Red Summer of 1919,” ensued, following the impact this cultural awakening was having on black pride.
i) It was a time period characterized by racial pride, the promotion of socialist and progressive politics, and the production of music, literature, and art that challenged racism and stereotypes.
i) Jazz poetry and modernism was introduced into mainstream literature.
ii) Common themes were the experience of slavery, black identity, effects of racism, and modern black life in the new age.
iii) McKay’s poetry during this time period utilized the sonnet as a vehicle for passionate expression against racial hatred and violence.
j) “What united participants was their sense of taking part in a common endeavor and their commitment to giving artistic expression to the African American experience.” –Steven Watson
k) A new black identity developed from the movement, based in self-determination, black militancy, black urbanity, and civil rights.
i) The movement created a whole new racial consciousness.
2) Short Biography—Claude McKay
a) McKay was born September 15, 1890 in Jamaica. He was the youngest of eleven children, and he lived with his eldest brother, who was a schoolteacher, receiving the best education he could manage.
b) He emigrated to the United States n 1912, after becoming the people’s poet in Jamaica.
i) He attended Booker T. Washington’s university, The Tuskegee Institute, and found himself disliking the racism and oppression associated with the university. He finished his schooling at Kansas State University.
ii) During his career he joined a group of black radicals who were unhappy with Marcus Garvey’s Nationalism and middle class reformist NAACP. This group was called The African Blood Brothers.
c) McKay enjoyed a largely successful career, participating avidly in the Harlem Renaissance movement, Socialist politics, and after his death was established as a member on as Molefi Kete Asantes’ list, “100 Greatest African Americans.”
i) His works cannot strictly be considered modernist. He also, shows some success as a romantic and naturalist. He cannot be qualified in one of the literary movements, but many.
ii) He wrote three novels: Home to Harlem (1928, and won the Gold Award for Literature), Banjo (1929), and Banana Bottom (1933).
iii) Also, he wrote many short stories, poems, and two autobiographical works.
d) McKay died on May 22, 1948 of heart failure.
3) Form—The Sonnet and Modernist Poetry
a) The sonnet: A lyric poem containing 14 rhyming lines of equal length: Iambic Pentameter is the meter in English. The rhyme scheme of the sonnet follows two basic forms (Baldick):
i) The Italian sonnet (The Petrarchan sonnet): comprised of an eight line ‘octave’ rhymed abbaabba, followed by a six line ‘sestet’ rhymed cdcdcd. The transition between the octave and the sestet is called the volta, or turning point, which generally also transitions the mood or subject matter of the poem (Baldick).
ii) The English sonnet (The Shakespearean sonnet): comprised of three quatraines and a final couplet. The rhyme scheme is ababcdcdefefgg (Baldick).
iii) The modernist sonnet came about out of a new literary movement and focused of the traditional form and new radical content.
b) Modernist poetry emerged in the early twentieth century with the appearance of the poets HD, Ezra Pound, and the Imagists.
c) This school of poetry focused on traditional formalism and ornate diction.
d) Many times, especially in the work of Claude McKay, modernist poetry took the form of lyrics.
i) Lyrics are fairly short poems expressing personal mood, feeling, or meditation of the single speaker (“I”). There is a song like quality to the poem and its rhythm
ii) Common lyric forms are sonnets, odes, elegies, and more.
4) Poems—“If We Must Die”
a) McKay wrote this poem in response to James Weldon Johnson’s poem, “Red Summer,” after a wave of anti-Black riots and lynching’s broke out in Washington DC, Chicago, Omaha, and other northern and southern cities.
b) The theme of this traditional English sonnet (with 14 lines and rhyme scheme ababcdcdefefgg) is the conflict between races, between white and black.
c) The use of the line: “Mad and hungry dogs” helps validate that this poem was written in response to the hate crimes against blacks in America, because history claims that dogs were used to attack, subdue, frighten, and even murder black people.
d) He indicates, by repeating the title throughout the poem, that the speaker does not want to be killed by gruesome torture, “If we must die,” and therefore, action must be taken in order to strike back against the oppressors.
e) The speaker understands the battle for justice will be a difficult one.
“O kinsmen we must meet the cowardly foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,”
i) The tone represents a war between two races.
ii) The speaker takes the position that every man must stand and fight for basic human rights and emphasizes boldness.
iii) This is a poem of action, a calling to bear arms.
(1) Unlike the modernist usage of the word “I.” McKay invokes the spirit of collectivism by using the romantic “we.”
f) It presents a traditional ideal of black masculinity and the black man’s insistent quest for racial authority.
g) “Etched into the consciousness of literate black Americans for generations to come as a model of Afro-American heroism, this poem has become a point of reference for the entire racial experience and a touchstone of the Afro-American entry into subjectivity. As Winston Churchill used it as a rallying cry to call the British into sustained battle against the Nazis, this single poem of renunciation earned McKay an international reputation even beyond his race.” –Marcellus Blount
h) The poem also gives voice to McKay’s powerful struggle to find his own masculine identity as a black, immigrant writer in a time of racial oppression in America.
i) This poem channels Romanticism with its glorious call to bear arms, as well as, Naturalism by comparing beasts and human beings.
j) This poem is the “Inaugural address of the Harlem Renaissance.” –William Maxwell.
5) Poem—“The Lynching”
a) Themes: the brutality and torturous treatment of blacks and the biblical allusion of crucifixion
b) The lynched is a reference to the crucified Jesus Christ and the heavenly Father calling him home again.
c) In this religious account of lynching “The awful sin remained still unforgiven,” which means that the lynchers are unforgiven, thus cutting the white race away from heaven and God.
i) “The Lynching,” therefore refuses any racist access to God.
d) As the spirit of the lynched ascends, the only light that remains is a star far above the earth, and the last quatrain is dominated by the unrepentant on-lookers that “danced around the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.”
e) Form: A variation on the traditional or Italian sonnet, the octave follows the rhyme scheme abbacddc. The final sestet follows the rhyme scheme effegg.
f) “The embedded third quatrain makes the poem mimic a Shakespearean sonnet (three quatrains and a couplet). Because of this formal duality, it might be difficult to call "The Lynching" Italian or Shakespearean; the key is the poetic pace -- the reflective tone is more indicative of an Italian sonnet and so the poem can be primarily characterized as such. It largely follows the Italian rhyme scheme but has Shakespearean organization.” –Nilay Gandhi
i) Because the poem is slow to read and guides the reader calmly, it is far more often revered as an Italia sonnet.
ii) The octave’s slow pacing helps to enhance the description of the swinging, lynched man.
g) The rhythmic use of punctuation, a period at the end of the first and second quatrain and a semicolon at the end of the third quatrain forces the reader to consider each image before moving on, therefore, reading and evaluating simultaneously.
h) The image of the “Bright and solitary star” both invokes the image of the North star, which slaves were told to follow in order to escape their masters, and also, the star could also symbolize the one which the magi used to direct them toward the cradled of Jesus.
i) At the traditional volta, there is a juxtaposition of the unnatural and the natural: death and life, and also, night and day:
“All night a bright and solitary star…
Hung pitifully o’er the swing char.
Day followed and the mixed crowds came to view,”
j) The octave focuses on the image of the unreal ascension of the spirit, the heavenly father, and the sestet focuses on earthly, tangible objects.
k) There is a parallel drawn between the woman’s “steely blue eyes” and the “Dawning day,” thus also drawing a parallel between the racist and nature or the world.
i) Perhaps this parallel reasons that the world itself is evil.
ii) This comparison shows how ingrained racism is in our society and in nature.
(1) Even the children are depicted as fiendish dancers.
l) “The redemption the man receives in the afterlife, a parallel drawn between the lynched and the Holy Spirit and his dead father and God, combines with the rest of the poem to provide a political statement: the oppressor may own the world but the oppressed are the children of God.” –Nilay Gandhi
m) Perhaps the ultimate meaning of this sonnet is that the only peace to be found is in heaven or the afterlife, not here on earth where the oppressors dominate the oppressed.
a) Shakespearean sonnet
b) McKay employs assonance by repeating the long “I” sound which adds to the biting tone of the poem.
i) Cacophony in his alliteration also fuels the tone:
“She feeds me breads of bitterness”
“Sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth”
c) The theme of this poem is the speaker’s masochistic love of a culture and country that is slowly choking the persona of breath and life, which is also evident by the cacophony in the alliteration (it sounds like gasping and choking)
d) McKay employs the English Renaissance’s sonnet motif of the cruel yet fair and beautiful mistress. This mistress, now transposed the time of the Harlem Renaissance, is America
i) McKay’s persona stands within America’s womb, ensnared almost within her “walls’ and “cultured hell.”
ii) The speaker is as much a victim of American society as a product of it.
e) The last sestet is biblically prophetic referring to 1 Corinthians 13:12:
“Darkly I gaze into the days ahead”
f) The poem and prophecy close with monuments to America’s strength collapsing under time’s punishment.
g) “Through broad allusions to Shelley's sonnet on the ruined colossus of Ozymandias, the poem ultimately projects America's descent from vital mistress to antiquated wreck, from invigorating "cultured hell" to deathly Egyptian knock-off, its "granite wonders" turned derivative memorials of mighty collapse. To The Waste Land's postwar string of morally sacked culture capitals-"Jerusalem Athens Alexandria / Vienna London" (ll. 378-379)-McKay's New Negro soothsayer would add Jazz Age Washington or New York City, or at least the granite-white stretch of Manhattan below 125th Street.” –William Maxwell
h) The first half of the poem is the reflection of the dark apocalyptic view of the second half.
i) Perhaps McKay is commenting on America’s undeniable and eventual demise and breakdown.
7) Poem: “Africa”
a) In romanticizing the 1920’s many poets also romanticized the land of origin or Africa.
b) The origin of everything including slaves and civilization.
c) McKay employs the traditional Shakespearean sonnet form.
i) This poem, with its cacophonous repeating of assonance with the short “I,” employs metaphor and personification in attempts to show how the mother country has changed.
d) McKay uses the image of the sphinx with “riddled eyes” and “immobile lids” as a constant, which throughout time has seen Africa, specifically Egypt, change from “ancient treasure land” to “a modern prize” and a “harlot.”
e) The sphinx was a temple guard, a lioness with the head of a human. Myth suggests that she would ask riddles to travelers who wished for safe passage. If they could answer the riddle, they could pass, but if not they would be devoured by the sphinx. The sphinx in this scenario represents the devoured Africa of the past.
f) This poem may be a reaction to Marcus Garvey’s “African Fundamentalism,” which stated that those of African ancestry should return to the motherland in order to redeem her. Garvey was a native of Jamaica just like McKay, yet McKay is saying there is nothing left of Africa because she has prostituted herself for arrogance and fame.
“If We Must Die”
If we must die--let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die--oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
His spirit is smoke ascended to high heaven.
His father, by the cruelest way of pain,
Had bidden him to his bosom once again;
The awful sin remained still unforgiven.
All night a bright and solitary star
(Perchance the one that ever guided him,
Yet gave him up at last to Fate's wild whim)
Hugh pitifully o'er the swinging char.
Day dawned, and soon the mixed crowds came to view
The ghastly body swaying in the sun:
The women thronged to look, but never a one
Showed sorrow in her eyes of steely blue;
And little lads, lynchers that were to be,
Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
The sun sought thy dim bed and brought forth light,
The sciences were sucklings at thy breast;
When all the world was young in pregnant night
Thy slaves toiled at thy monumental best.
Thou ancient treasure-land, thou modern prize,
New peoples marvel at thy pyramids!
The years roll on, thy sphinx of riddle eyes
Watches the mad world with immobile lids.
The Hebrews humbled them at Pharaoh's name.
Cradle of Power! Yet all things were in vain!
Honor and Glory, Arrogance and Fame!
They went. The darkness swallowed thee again.
Thou art the harlot, now thy time is done,
Of all the mighty nations of the sun.
Baldick, Chris. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York:
Oxford UP, 1990.
Blount, Marcellus. "Caged Birds: Race and Gender in the Sonnet." In
Engendering Men, ed. Joseph Boone and Michael Cadden. New York:
Eckhardt, Joshua. “On Claude McKay.”
Gandhi, Nilay. “On Claude McKay’s Poetry.”
“If We Must Die, by Claude McKay.”
Maxwell, William. New Negro, Old Left. New York: Columbia University Press,
Maxwell, William. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
McKay, Claude. Caged Birds: Race and Gender in the Sonnet." In Engendering
Men, ed. Joseph Boone and Michael Cadden. New York: Routledge,
Perry, Jeffrey B. Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918.
New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.
Watson, Steven. The Harlem Renaissance: Hub of African-American Culture,
1920-1930. New York: Pantheon Books, 1995.
The Complete Poems of Claude McKay, edited and with an introduction by William J. Maxwell.
Trifles by Susan
Research Survey Compiled By: Alex Starke
-George Henderson- the county attorney, arrives at the scene in order to find evidence against Mrs. Wright.
-Henry Peters- the sheriff, is also looking for evidence to convict Mrs. Wright of her husband’ murder.
-Lewis Hale- a middle-aged man who went to visit his friend, John Wright, only to find out, from Mrs. Wright, that he was dead. He is slow to judge, and seems apprehensive about calling Mrs. Wright guilty.
-Mrs. Peters- the sheriff’s wife, there to help collect items to bring to Mrs. Wright while she is in jail.
-Mrs. Hale- the wife of Lewis Hale, neighbor and former friend of Mrs. Wright. She starts out apprehensive of sifting around the Wrights’ home, but eventually starts to come across interesting facts.
The play begins with Mr. and Mrs. Hale, Mr. and Mrs. Peters, and Mr. Henderson entering the home of the recently deceased John Wright. It is the intent of Sheriff Peters and County Attorney Henderson to find evidence of Mrs. Wright’s hand in the death of her husband. Throughout their investigation, they come and go from the main room, spending more time exploring places such as the bedroom and the barn. The main focus in the play is on the two women, Mrs. Peters and Mrs. Hale. By simply exploring the living room and the kitchen to try and find what they should bring Mrs. Wright in the jailhouse, they come across various pieces of evidence that would incriminate Mrs. Wright. However, they tend to identify with Mrs. Wright, and instead of turning the evidence over to the men, they cover it up or take it with them. In this way, they attempt to help Mrs. Wright get away with her crime.
-The bird could be looked at as representative of Mrs. Wright herself. By cutting off all communication from the outside world, Mr. Wright caged Mrs. Wright up as though she were a bird. Then, by strangling the bird, it could also be seen as Mr. Wright strangling Mrs. Wright herself, which would provoke Mrs. Wright to act violently.
-The bird could also be looked at as a child substitute for Mrs. Wright. The canary’s voice is a contrast to the harsh authoritarian voice of her husband.
-The decision that Mrs. Wright was going to “knot it” represents that she had planned on “knotting” the rope around her husband’s neck. When Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters decide that they think Mrs. Wright is guilty, the convey it as deciding she was going to “knot” her quilt.
-It could also represent the knot that is apparent among the women, and how it could not be broken.
-The quilt that Mrs. Wright was working on parallels the process by which the women figure out what happened at the Wright house. To make a quilt, one sifts through material and trivial things, finding patterns and piecing them together. This is how the women find the evidence incriminating Mrs. Wright, by sifting through the housework and finding pieces of Mrs. Wright’s life that are out of the ordinary. They then piece these things together to discover what happened the night of John’s death.
-The uncompleted tasks that are described in the opening paragraph may symbolize that Mrs. Wright was in the middle of something when she was provoked to take action on Mr. Wright, perhaps by his strangling of her bird.
-The title is symbolic of how the men consider the women’s observations unimportant and trivial. It might also be viewed that Mr. Wright viewed the bird as “an annoying trifle.”
In the nineteenth century, few women went to college and sought careers beyond labor in the household. Susan Glaspell graduated from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, with a Ph. D. in Philosophy. She then took a full-time position as a reporter for the Des Moines Daily News. From here, she began her career as an author writing fiction, plays and freelance journalism.
In 1915, in Provincetown, Massachusetts, various authors, including Glaspell, her husband, George Cram Cook, and Eugene O’Neill, began writing plays and acting them out, calling themselves the “Provincetown Players.” The group eventually moved to New York, where feminism was on the rise. Glaspell began to be influenced by women’s rights activists, and even became the founding member of Heterodoxy, “a radical group of women activists who were prominent in the feminist movement” (Evans 1). In this environment, Glaspell was inspired to create female characters that threw off stereotypical roles and were more important than what may meet the eye.
Glaspell pulled from the inspiration to write about strong and smart female characters, as well as her experience as a former reporter, to write the play Trifles. The play itself, as well as a short story “A Jury of her Peers,” was based on an actual murder case that she had previously reported on in the year 1900. In this case, Margaret Hossack was an Iowa farm wife who was accused of murdering her husband while he was sleeping.
Throughout the nineteenth century, there was an emergence of several important literary female figures, including authors Kate Chopin and Fanny Fern. Fern and Chopin often wrote about “inequality of the sexes and the inability of women to live their own lives without reliance on men” (Maillakais 1). These writers in a sense paved the way for authors such as Glaspell. They represent the result of writing in a time period where women are expected to follow certain roles, and their writing illuminates the struggle that strong-willed women have with this situation. Female writers, as well as writers in the Provincetown Players, influenced Glaspell to write a play about women who not only go outside the role of housewives by having independent thought and piecing together clues, but also break the mold by going against the men.
1-The strength of the bond between women:
-Two women who start out as complete strangers to each other draw together when their sex seems to be insulted in any way. When the County Attorney criticizes the state of the room, the women “draw nearer.” Also, when they are mocked for worrying over “trifle things,” they “move a little closer together.” -Throughout the play they are often accused as being “loyal to their sex.” By sorting through the clues that they come across, the two women bond with each other, as well as with the prime suspect. This is evident by their desire to cover up the incriminating evidence.
-The play highlights the importance of differences between men and women. In Trifles, the men are depicted as forceful, aggressive, analytical, and self-centered. The women, however, are viewed as thoughtful, intuitive, circumspect, and sensitive to the needs of others. These contrasts explain why the women find the clues to solve the murder, while the men pass over these same clues as irrelevant.
-There are numerous critics that focus on the dichotomy of gender roles in Trifles, but infer different meanings.
-Some critics take the contrast in the accepted social norms for men and women as opposed to the actions of the characters to mean that women are underestimated in society.
-Others believe that since the play focuses on such critical views of Mrs. Wright, and the inability of Mrs. Hale and Mrs. Peters to make a difference on the men’s opinions, regardless if they are right or wrong, represents the powerlessness of women in society.
-Some critics think that the conflict between law and justice in the play reflects internal discord the author was feeling when she wrote it. Her husband had been unfaithful, and she illuminated this resentment in the rebellious actions of her characters (Makowsky).
-One common theme throughout most criticism is that the bond that forms between the two women in the house represents the women gaining power.
“ Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.” –Mr. Hale
“It seems kind of sneaking, Locking her up in town and then coming out here and trying to get her own house to turn against her!” –Mrs. Hale
“Bad sewing always made me fidgety.” –Mrs. Hale
“I wonder if she was goin’ to quilt it or just knot it.” –Mrs. Hale
Ben-Zvi, Linda. "'Murder, She Wrote': The Genesis of Susan Glaspell's Trifles." Theatre
Journal 44 (March 1992): 141-62.
Bookrags staff. "Trifles: Characters". 2005. February 22 2009.
Crocker, Lisa. “Studies in Liminality:A Review of Critical Commentary on Glaspell's
Trifles.” American LiteratureResearch and Analysis Web Site. 30 July 1996. February 20, 2009. http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/glaspell.htm#Contents.
Cummings, Michael J. “Trifles: A Play by Susan Glaspell.” 2008. February 19, 2009.
Evans, Elizabeth. “Biographical Influences on Glaspell's Trifles.” American
LiteratureResearch and Analysis Web Site. 30 July 1996. February 20, 2009. http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/glaspell.htm#Contents.
Mael, Phyllis. "Trifles: The Path to Sisterhood." Literature/Film Quarterly 17 (1989):
Maillakais, Mikes. “A Woman's Place: Literary Background for Glaspell's Trifles.”
American LiteratureResearch and Analysis Web Site. 30 July 1996. February 20, 2009. http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/glaspell.htm#Contents.
Makowsky, Veronica. Susan Glaspell's Century of American Women: A Critical
Interpretation of Her Work. New York: Oxford UP, 1993.
Pollaro, Cindy. “Major Images Found in Glaspell's "Trifles".” American Literature
Research and Analysis Web Site. 30 July 1996. February 20, 2009. http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/wohlpart/alra/glaspell.htm#Contents.
|17b: Trifles by Susan
Research Survey Compiled By: Anders Lee
I. Plot Summary
After the death of a Nebraska farmer, two women and three men arrive at the scene of the crime to investigate. The men in the story go about looking for evidence of a possible motive and leave the women to gather items for the farmer’s widow, the only suspect in her husband’s death. The men are consumed by the significance of their work and pay little attention to the women, who actually find the physical evidence for a motive. Throughout the story, the perspectives and sympathies of the women are contrasted with those of the men. Ultimately, the women do not relinquish the evidence they discover to the men.
II. Character List
Mrs. Hale- She is the Wright’s neighbor, married to Lewis Hale. She is the most sympathetic towards Mrs. Wright. She provides background information on Mr. and Mrs. Wright and pushes Mrs. Peters into a higher degree of sympathy for Mrs. Wright.
Lewis Hale- Wright’s neighbor. He is the first person that Mrs. Wright informs about her husband’s demise. He informs the sheriff about the death and recounts his odd conversation with Mrs. Wright to Mr. Henderson.
Sheriff (Henry) Peters- sheriff of this unnamed Nebraskan town
Mrs. Peters- The sheriff’s wife; she has spoken with Mrs. Wright since she was taken into custody. It is apparent that she feels somewhat sorry for Mrs. Wright’s circumstances.
George Henderson- He is the county attorney. He assumes Mrs. Wright is the culprit in her husband’s death, however, he has to search her house for something that would give her a motive to kill her husband. He is seeking a conviction of Mrs. Wright in court.
The story repeatedly contrasts the views of the men with the women, especially pertaining to John Wright and his wife. Each gender believes the Wright of the opposite sex is the only guilty party. Glaspell also uses irony generously.
“Well, women are used to worrying over trifles.” Lewis Hale in response to someone mentioning Mrs. Wright being worried about her preserves.
“Those towels get dirty awful quick. Men’s hands aren’t always as clean as they might be” Mrs. Hale in response to the attorney’s comments on Mrs. Wright’s housekeeping ability.
“But I don’t think a place would be any cheerfuller for John Wright’s being in it” Mrs. Hale talking about what kind of person the victim was.
“I’d hate to have men coming in my kitchen, snooping around and criticizing” Mrs. Hale sticking up for Mrs. Wright in her absence.
“We think she was going to—knot it” Mrs. Peter’s ironic statement to Mr. Henderson.
“Oh I guess they’re not very dangerous things the ladies have picked out. No, Mrs. Peters doesn’t need supervising. For that matter a sheriff’s wife is married to the law” Mr. Henderson when asked if he wanted to check the items the women have found.
Excerpts from Cane
Research Survey Compiled By: Travis Esco
“Fear is a noose that binds until it strangles.”
- Jean Toomer
Biography: Jean Toomer was born in 1894 in Washington, D.C. with the birth name of Nathan Eugene Pinchback Toomer. Toomer had quite a colorful ethic identity, which later shaped his writings and viewpoint. He was Dutch, French, Native American, African American, Welsh, German, and Jewish. Early in his life, Toomer’s mother and grandparents played a major role in his life. Throughout Toomer’s early life he went to both an all white school and an all black school. He eventually discovered his mixed race heritage and was surprised with the knowledge. Soon after this discovery he came to a realization that in his own words, “Americans viewed life as if it were divided between black and white.” (Anthology) Toomer rejected the notion of race and wanted only to be viewed as American.
Although never graduating from college, he acquired a bevy of talents, which would affect his writings. Toomer eventually began writing after moving to Greenwich Village. There he met individuals who encouraged him to write. He found moderate success in many of his short stories, however, his more important work was influenced around his experience as a principle in Sparta, Georgia at the Sparta Agricultural and Industrial Institute. In Sparta, he found that the black peasant life motivated him to write Cane (Foley). Cane was published in 1923 and is the focus of the research survey. After Cane, Toomer continued writing, eventually becoming a Quaker in 1940 and dieing in 1967 (Jean Toomer Pages).
Louisa: Louisa is one of the main characters and the woman caught in the middle of a love triangle between Bob Stone and Tom Burwell. She works in a white man’s kitchen and is having a sexual relationship with one of the younger sons of the people she is employed, Bob Stone. Also, she has a relationship with one of the African Americans that work in the cane field, Tom Burwell. She lives in factory town where most of the African Americans live and on this day she is waiting for Tom.
Tom Burwell: Tom is a black man that works in the cane fields. His love interest is Louisa. Tom has a past riddled in violence. He has knifed several other people. Tom is in love with Louisa and confesses his admiration for her. Infact, he wants to marry Louisa but she puts the proposal off. He eventually comes to a confrontation with Bob Stone, which ends tragically.
Bob Stone: Bob is white and the son of the people who employ Louisa. His love interest is Louisa. He obviously has feelings for her, but his feelings are lust. Because she is black and he is white, he feels like he has a right to her body. He goes looking for Louisa when he finds her with Tom.
The scene is set in a shanty village called factory town. Louisa is an African-American woman who works in the kitchen of white folks. On this day she is coming home from the kitchen. However, she is deep in thought about the two men in her life, Bob Stone and Tom Burwell. One is black, the other is white, and she has feelings for both of them.
The story then shifts to the cane field. There, Tom Burwell comes into the picture. He works in the cane field with other men. Eventually conversation arises and one of the men mentions Louisa. This causes Tom to confess that, “She’s my gal.” One of the men laughs at him, and they get into a scuffle. Tom even pulls out a knife. However, Tom leaves to go find Louisa. He confesses his love to her and says he will cut Bob Stone if he is up to no good.
Finally the scene begins with Bob. He clearly has a lustful eye for Louisa and is in a dilemma about his feelings for her. He is not quite sure what to think. Obviously her being black and him white is the issue of contention. He constantly reminds himself that she is black, and because he is white, he has a claim to do whatever he pleases with her. He is not about to lose her to Tom Burwell, a black man. After stumbling upon a conversation in which he hears two men discussing him and Tom’s situation, he goes searching for Louisa. There he finds her and Tom huddled together. Conflict ensues culminating in a fight between Bob and Tom. Both men have feelings for Louisa, whether love or lust, and neither is about to lose her. Finally, Bob brandishes a knife but Tom is too fast. Bob’s neck is slashed, but he is able to stumble to the white side of town before he dies. The whites gather a mob, search for Tom, tie him up, and burn him at the stake in an old factory.
Social / Historical Context:
Even though Jean Toomer was 1/8 African-American, he was still categorized as black. Because of this, many consider Cane to be an influential source in the Harlem Renaissance movement. Writers of this movement like Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston even made treks to the town of Sparta where the novel is inspired. This reveals the importance of the novel during this time (Foley). Not only is Cane considered influential but also his other writings are seen as very important. Despite the positive reviews and criticism Toomer received, Cane never sold many books. Infact, it was noted that Toomer was highly disappointed that it was seen as an African-American novel instead of an American novel. Before Cane, Toomer embraced his Afro heritage but after he denied it. However, many still consider him African American to this day (Byrd).
Cane is usually lumped in with two literary movements: one being modernism and the other the Harlem Renaissance. With modernism, Cane seems somewhat fragmented, moving from different forms and focusing on different individuals. Toomer has said that he was inspired by Imagism and some have even considered many of his works cubist (Bush and Mitchell). Also, even though Cane was written before the Civil Rights Movement, it has elements of that era and is heavily involved with race relations. Many felt Toomer was looking toward the future of race relations. According to Whalan in Race, Manhood, and Modernism in American, Cane “was seen as mediation on the future of race in modernity.” (p. 173)
With the Harlem Renaissance, it refers to an era of unprecedented African American creativity dating from just after World War I and into the 1930’s. Toomer is seen as one of the important figures in the movement and Cane the culmination. Other important figures include Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Rudolph Fisher. A renaissance was not only seen in literature but also music and art. Other names for the movement include the New Negro Movement and the Negro Renaissance. Infact, there was no common literary style throughout the renaissance and because of this many people were drawn to the movement (MSN Encarta).
The major themes prevalent in the excerpt from Cane deal with race and race relations. Blacks have a very different role than whites in this town. The blacks work in the cane fields, work in the white man’s kitchen, and live in a shanty village. The whites employ the blacks and live in their own side of town. The relations between the two races become an issue in the story. Louisa, the black woman, is romantically involved not only with another black man but also a white man. The white man, Bob, is lustful after Louisa and feels he should not have to compete with another black man. Her being black is the reason he feels he has claims on her. Tom has his own internal divide because he loves Louisa but feels threatened by Bob. He does not trust Bob because he is white and must be playing tricks on Louisa.
Another theme mentioned is found in Teaching Jean Toomer’s Cane. It says the story of Louisa is about, “breaking class and caste taboos in social and sexual relationships in the South.” (p.6) Basically, Louisa is destroying the stereotypes of that time period concerning single women in the South. She openly cares for these two men and ultimately it comes to destroy them.
Symbolism also plays a role in Cane. Each character has a different representation. Bob Stone “represents the power and pride of white male birthright. He resents the subterfuge he must employ in order to see Louisa.” (McKay p. 119) Louisa represents “a symbol of the black folk culture and as a black woman in a world in which men make immoral claims on women’s lives.” (McKay p.119) Tom Burwell represents “the lone defenseless black man at the hands of the powerful white mob.” (McKay p. 121)
Style and Form
In this excerpt from Cane, the story is told in the third person narrative. However, this narrator is omniscient. The narrator knows what is going on in all the characters lives. Also, at the end of every segment there is a reoccurring poem. Cane cannot be considered strictly a novel because poetry is employed throughout the work. Every segment seems to have a different person of interest. The first focuses on Louisa, the second focuses on Tom, and the third deals with Bob and the ensuing events. According to some the style and form of this excerpt is “violence and despair.” (McKay p. 125)
Suggested Exam Questions:
- Describe the relationship between Louisa, Tom, and Bob while keeping in mind their symbolic nature and what they represent.
- How do race relations play out in the story?
- What is the significance or symbolic nature behind the poem?
Red nigger moon, Sinner!
Blood-burning moon, Sinner!
Come out that fact’ry door.
- Why does Bob feel his race “entitles” him to Louisa?
Works Cited and Suggested Helpful Information
Belasco, Susan. American Literature - A Portable Anthology. Boston: Bedford/Saint Martin's, 2006.
Bush, Ann, and Louisa Mitchell. "Jean Toomer: A Cubist Poet." Black American
Literature Forum 17 (1983): 106-08. JSTOR. UGA, Athens. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/2904332>.
Byrd, Rudolph. "Jean Toomer and Afro-American Literary Tradition." Callaloo (1985): 310-19. JSTOR. UGA, Athens. <: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2930981>.
Cager, Thompson. Teaching Jean Toomer’s 1923 Cane. Peter Lang Publishing; New York, 2006.
Foley, Barbara. "Jean Toomer's Sparta." American Literature 67 (1995): 747-75. JSTOR.
UGA, Athens. <: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2927894>.
"Harlem Renaissance - MSN Encarta." MSN Encarta: Online Encyclopedia, Dictionary, Atlas, and Homework. 24 Feb. 2009 <http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_761566483/harlem_renaissance.html>.
McKay, Nellie. Jean Toomer, Artist. The University of North Carolina Press; Chapel Hill, 1984.
"The JEAN TOOMER PAGES." Mathematics Department. 24 Feb. 2009 <http://www.math.buffalo.edu/~sww/toomer/jean-toomer.html>.
Whalon, Mark. Race, Manhood, and Modernity in America. University of Tennessee Press; Knoxville, 2007.
|18b: Excerpts from Cane
Research Survey Compiled By: Sarah Plemmons
Summary- “Portrait in Georgia” is a poem that describes an old woman that lives in Georgia. Her physical characteristics are compared to the characteristics of lynching, such as the “lyncher’s rope,” “the first red blisters,” and “the ash of black flesh after the flame.”
“Blood-Burning Moon” describes the love-triangle between black Louisa and Tom Burwell, and their white boss, Bob Stone. The superstition that the full-moon is a bad omen is prominent in the story. The black women sing improvised songs to counteract the omen. Louisa loves both Tom and Bob together in a balanced, yin-yang way. Someone mentions to Tom that Louisa is Bob’s gal and Tom gets angry and threatens to cut people, claiming that Louisa’s “his gal.” This confrontation prompts Tom to confess his love for Louisa and tell her that he would hurt Bob if he ever takes advantage of her. Louisa is scared for him. Bob is heading out to meet Louisa when he overhears men talking about Tom wanting to cut Bob. Bob gets angry and he rushes and stumbles all over himself on his way to confront Tom. They fight and Tom slits Bob’s throat. Bob stumbles back to the white town and tells the men who has killed him before he falls dead. The white townspeople form a lynch mob that catch Tom and burn him alive in the factory. The mob silences the singing of the black women.
“Seventh Street” describes an urban, African-American neighborhood in Washington D.C. The neighborhood is described as a wedge stuck in the “whitewashed wood of Washington” that splits the city in two. The neighborhood is also described as “black reddish blood” flowing through the city that even God would be ashamed to possess.
Author Bio- Toomer is the child of a white father and black mother. He refused to define himself as only one racial category. In 1921 he worked at a school in Georgia for 3 months. His experience there influenced the works that combined to form Cane.
Social and Historical Context- Toomer writes about ordinary African-Americans in rural Georgia dealing with harsh racial segregation and prejudice that freed slaves and their children had to deal with after the Civil War. Many African-Americans worked hard jobs for little pay in factory towns like the one described in “Blood-Burning Moon.” Lynchings were common. After World War I, many southern blacks moved up to the Seventh Street district of Washington D.C. The summer of 1919, the “Red Summer,” held race riots all of the country. In the nation’s capital, about 45 people, both black and white, were killed.
Literary Movement- Cane defines a Modernist work with its “fragmentation and resynthesis of subjects viewed simultaneously from multiple perspectives.” Cane is not a traditional narrative. It employs poetry, prose sketches, and short stories to form a short story cycle that is connected thematically, similar to a literary puzzle. “Seventh Street” is modernist because it combines prose sketch and poetry and a slightly unintelligible. “Blood-Burning Moon” uses poetry within a short story. The poem
“Red nigger moon. Sinner!
Blood-burning moon. Sinner!
Come out that fact’ry door.”
is a modern poem that fits into Imagism because it talks about an object, the moon, with very precise words in a compact way.
“Blood-Burning Moon” has some realist elements when it describes the factory men working, paying attention to detail and exploring the mundane. It also shows regionalism with the portrayal of Tom’s dialect.
“Portrait in Georgia” is an imagist poem that talks about an old woman.
Moon- it serves as a bad omen that the superstitious African-American ladies are wary of. The repetitive use of the phrase “up from” parallels the path the moon takes in the night sky.
Dogs- the dogs howl at the moon and trip Bob, serving as a type of foreshadowing of bad things to come.
Wedge- symbol of the black presence in Washington D.C. It has a negative connotation to it because a wedge splits things in half.
Black reddish blood- also a symbol of the black presence in Washington D.C. It flows through the town and God is ashamed of it.
Whitewashed wood- the white society that the black people are disturbing. The whitewash disappears in blood, perhaps saying that African-Americans will rise to equality.
Themes- Race and Racism is an obvious theme in Cane. Cane depicts the racial struggle of blacks in the north and south with segregation and lynching.
The theme of alienation is shown in ”Seventh Street” with the idea that segregation is not so harsh in the cities yet people still can form equal relationships because they are still in that “wedge.” The cities are so busy and active but full of lonely people.
“Red nigger moon. Sinner!
Blood-burning moon. Sinner!
Come out that fact’ry door.”
“Wedges rust in soggy wood..Split It! In two!”
“[God] would duck his head in shame and call for the Judgment Day.”
“The full moon, an evil thing, an omen, soft showering the homes of folks she knew.”
“And her slim body, white as the ash of black flesh after flame.”
"The Ice Palace" by F.
Research Survey Compiled By: John Youngblood
1). Where was Sally Carol Harper originally from?
2). Why did Clark think that Sally couldn’t be in love with a “Yankee” and what does this statement foreshadow in the end?
3). Why does the story begin and end in the same way? What significance does this have to the overall theme of the story?
This story is about a young girl from the south who gets engaged to a northern man because she feels that she might get restless in the south and that no one in the south where she lives can satisfy her desire to go places and do adventurous things. So she goes and gets engaged a wealthy northern man and for a while she enjoys being in his company. She likes his friends and his relatives for a while, but then begins to miss home. She increasingly reminisces about life before she met her fiancé (Harry), and feels like she is being treated like a child, as if she is not as smart as a normal person, if only because of her southern roots. After being left in an ice palace that was supposed to be a fun outing, she realizes that, had she been in the south where she was from, she never would’ve been left and she wouldn’t have had to fear for her life. She then leaves Harry and returns to the south and appreciates the treatment she receives there.
Curiosity killed the cat.- The main character (Sally Carol) thinks that she will find happiness in a man form the north. She is curious to see what people have to offer outside of her small southern town and she even asks her friend “Who will I marry here?” When he offers his hand, she kindly says “but-- well, I want to go places and see people. I want my mind to grow. I want to live where things happen on a big scale.” He refutes this with “"What you mean?" she then says “Oh, Clark, I love you, and I love Joe here, and Ben Arrot, and you-all, but you'll-- you'll-- --“ “We’ll all be failures?”(clark) to which she says “Yes. I don't mean only money failures, but just sort of-- of ineffectual and sad, and-- oh, how can I tell you?” “You mean because we stay here in Tarleton?"(Clark)"Yes, Clark; and because you like it and never want to change things or think or go ahead.” (Sally Carol)
You always want what you don’t have.- because Clark was from her home town, she didn’t see him as husband material, and because Harry was from out of town, she saw him as exotic and because she had never seen anything like him, she thought he would make a good husband.
You don’t know what you have until it is gone.- Sally Carol gets stuck in an ice palace and then says that she wouldn’t even be in that situation if she was in her hometown with her hometown boys looking out for her. “Clark Darrow-- he would understand; or Joe Ewing; she couldn't be left here to wander forever -- to be frozen, heart, body, and soul. This her-- this Sally Carrol! Why, she was a happy thing. She was a happy little girl. She liked warmth and summer and Dixie. These things were foreign-- foreign.” She says this when she is afraid that she will be left to die in an ice palace with no one to save her. In the end, Harry never rescues her, in fact another man has to find her. So in the end she leaves Harry and goes back to the south. The story ends with the same scene that it began with, except this time, Sally Carol isn’t wishing for something more, she is content with what she has.
Social/ Historical context:
This short story, among others by Fitzgerald, was written during the great depression (1922) and it was no doubt a means of income between one of his novels. Fitzgerald wrote many short stories in order to generate some kind of income to support him. Fitzgerald had an alcohol problem, and supporting himself, his wife, and his alcohol addiction became more and more of a challenge, especially around the time that he wrote this short story. He wrote many short stories during times between his novels when he needed income, and this work is no exception. Most of the short stories written by Fitzgerald were a means to an end rather than interconnected works. The only intertextuality between his works is the central idea that he needed money at the time.
Sally Carol Happer- The main character in the story. She struggles with the question of whether she should love a man from the north and leave her past behind her, eventually leaving the man she is engaged to so that she can return to her home in the south.
Harry Bellamy- The tall dark handsome Yankee that comes and sweeps Sally Carol Happer off of her feet and convinces her to move up north with him and be his bride. Eventually, he leaves Sally in a cold, dark, and lonely place and she fears for her life so she leaves him to go back home to the south.
Clark Darrow- hometown country boy that sally is best friends with before she moves off with Harry.
Dangerous Dan McGrew- likeable character that Sally meets via Harry’s party. He is the man that ends up rescuing Sally from the ice palace instead of Harry.
This was written during the modernist time period. One theme that could be seen in the story that represents a modernist attitude is stagnation. The North represents the proactive, progressive movement. The south represents the stagnant way of life and due to this cultural difference, a romance ends tragically.
Bruccoli, Matthew J. "A Brief Life of Fitzgerald." A Brief Life of Fitzgerald. 3 Dec. 03. University of South Carolina. 23 Feb. 2009 <http://www.sc.edu/fitzgerald/biography.html>.
Coleridge, Samuel T. "Identity and Symbols in Fitzgerald's "The Ice Palace"" The Modern Dash. 24 June 2008. The Modern Dash. 23 Jan. 2009 <http://themoderndash.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/identity-and-symbols-in-fitzgeralds-the-ice-palace/>.
|19b: "The Ice Palace" by F.
Research Survey Compiled By: Josh Childers
- Summary -
Sally Carrol Happer, a nineteen-year-old Georgia native, is engaged to Harry Bellamy, a yankee she met while summering in Asheville, North Carolina. Despite her love for the South and her friends, Sally Carrol decides that if she doesn’t get out of the South she will have never truly lived, and she sees Harry as her ticket to a better life. Harry comes to visit Sally Carrol and she takes him to the cemetery, where the two exchange conversation on a number of gravestones. Soon Harry takes Sally Carrol up North with him, where she quickly becomes homesick. She feels that she doesn’t fit in well with Harry’s family, particularly his mother, or his friends. Sally Carrol tries her best to behave appropriately, but her childlike fascination with occurrences like snow makes her stand out. She gets into a heated argument with Harry over comments he makes about Southerners and she again doubts her purpose in being with him. Finally, Harry takes her to the ice palace, and she becomes lost in a maze built into the structure and finds herself visited by one of the inhabitants of the graves she went to earlier. This visit is fleeting, as she is found by Harry and his friends, but she has made up her mind to return to the South. The story ends with Sally Carrol exactly where she began, in her home in the South.
- Historical Context -
“The Ice Palace” by F. Scott Fitzgerald was published in the May 22, 1920 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, a publication targeted towards the middle class with a circulation of 2.75 million copies a week. At this time in America’s history World War I had just ended the year before and the “Jazz Age” so often associated with Fitzgerald was just beginning to head towards its climax. Fitzgerald at the time of the publication was 24 years old, and he was riding the success of his recently released novel This Side Of Paradise and his marriage to Zelda Sayre. (Pg. 915-918 of The Bedford Anthology)
- Major Characters –
Sally Carrol Harper – a teenage Georgia girl looking for bigger things. Gets engaged to a yankee believing it is her ticket out of monotony, only to find that her heart lies too close to home to leave.
Harry Bellamy – the yankee, Sally Carrol’s fiancé. Believes in southern stereotypes and considers most southerners beneath him. Brings Sally Carrol north with him, only to lose her after the incident in the ice palace.
Margery Lee – the ghost/spirit/hallucination that visits Sally Carrol when she is lost in the ice palace. Named on a tombstone at the beginning of the story, Sally Carrol invents an image of her, from her clothing to her personality.
Clark Darrow – a southern boy who is friends with Sally Carrol but is interested in being something more. Picks Sally Carrol up at the beginning of the story when she tells him he will be a failure and could never give her the life she wanted. Picks her up again at the end of the story when Sally Carrol has returned to Georgia.
- Important Quotes/Possible Exam Quotes –
“Oh, Clark, I love you, and I love Joe here, and Ben Arrot, and you all, but you’ll – you’ll-“ “We’ll all be failures?” “Yes. I don’t mean only money failures but just sort of – of ineffectual and sad and – oh, how can I tell you?” (Pg. 921)
“…but tied down here I’d get restless. I’d feel I was – wastin’ myself. There’s two sides to me, you see. There’s the sleepy old side you love; an’ there’s a sawt of energy – the feelin’ that makes me do wild things. That’s the part of me that may be useful somewhere, that’ll last when I’m not beautiful anymore.” (Pg. 921)
“In the South an engaged girl, even a young married woman, expected the same amount of half-affectionate badinage and flattery that would be accorded a debutante, but here all that seemed banned.” (Pg. 927)
“It was three stories in the air, with battlements and embrasures and narrow icicled windows, and the innumerable electric lights inside made a gorgeous transparency of the great central hall.” (Pg. 932)
- Literary Movement –
Fitzgerald was a textbook Modernist writer, and “The Ice Palace” is an excellent example of his style. Modernism is about bridging the old and the new, and Fitzgerald brings this theme up constantly. Sally Carrol wants to get out of the South (old and familiar) and head north with Harry (new). Fitzgerald also mentions that Harry’s father is from Kentucky, and that this offers Sally Carrol a great sense of comfort because he is a link between the old and new.
One could argue that naturalism shows itself in the work as well, especially since the ice palace plays such a prominent role in the climax of the story. Fitzgerald puts great emphasis on discussing Sally Carrol’s ability to adapt to the elements of the North and how she longs for the loving weather of the South. Once she gets lost inside the ice palace she is fighting the elements and trying to maintain consciousness until someone can rescue her. It would almost appear as though the North is using the ice palace in an attempt to defeat her.
- Criticisms –
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2455/is_4_36/ai_90990568 - An incredibly thorough look at “Historical Method and the Construction of Memory” in “The Ice Palace”.
http://www.enotes.com/contemporary-literary-criticism/f-scott-fitzgerald - Detailed chronology of the events of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life.
"Big Two-Hearted River"
by Ernest Hemingway
Lecture Notes Compiled By: Valerie Morrison
*Both students who signed up to cover Hemingway ended up dropping the course early on, so here are my lecture notes to help you prepare for the exams.*
“Big Two-Hearted River”
Part of The Lost Generation – read alongside Toomer’s Cane and Fitzgerald’s “The Ice Palace.” Similarities? Are their writing styles similar? Are they writing for the same reasons?
How is this story modern? See introductory paragraph about how this story is naturalistic. Is this the same as Naturalism? How is it different? p.980.
Semi-autobiographical narrator, Nick Adams. Son of a doctor, vignette about him falling in love with a nurse during the war. Does Nick read as more or less “real” than some of the other semi-autobiographical narrators we’ve encountered?
What is this story about? Placement: it’s the last story in his debut novel, In Our Time, published in 1925. Alternating stories about brutality of war and Nick’s youth - this story bridges the two.
How is it written? How does the way it’s written reflect what Hemingway thinks about writing?
Over and over Hemingway emphasizes “Nick knew it could only be a mile,” or “he knew it could not be burned.” Why this repetition? What effect does this have on reader?
Religion in the story? Religious overtones? Napping in church-like clearing p.983, burning his tongue and saying “Jesus Christ” p.984. Sexual symbolism of ending paragraphs. Ritual sacrifice of grasshoppers, fish, Fisher King legend. Compare to symbolism in “The Waste Land.”
Methodical calmness. He liked to open cans. Peaceful or PTSD? Serenity, a quiet paradise, an Edenic or idyllic natural world. Shutting out the world, shutting off his mind. Relentless sensory detail here – only pleasure is to be found in physical activity (like Existentialism, defined by our actions, what we do). Hemingway’s story a precursor to existentialism.
Existentialism: a philosophical doctrine indicating that individuals create the meaning and essence of their lives. It emerged as a movement in twentieth-century literature and philosophy, foreshadowed most notably by nineteenth-century philosophers Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. Prevalent ideology in the 1940s and 50s. A central proposition of existentialism is that existence precedes essence. We are not essentially good or bad, but we are what we do. We are defined by and responsible for our own actions.
Why is the story separated into 2 parts here? What does the break do? Why is it where it is? What other stories have we read that have been partitioned/fragmented/broken up like this?
What could the swamp represent on the last page? Why does he end the story (and his novel) here, in a place that the narrator doesn’t dare to go?
War imagery? Scorched earth. Black grasshoppers (Darwinian themes here too). Obsessive detail likened to shell shock or Post-traumatic stress disorder. Escape, return to simple routines, “I like to open cans.” Male fish, catching them like a battle. Anti-war? Twain was Hemingway’s hero, both responding to different wars in different ways. Compare fishing to war, death and struggle.
Elizabeth Bishop's Poetry
Research Survey Compiled By: Kelly-Ann Kuppenbender
Elizabeth Bishop was born in 1911 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father died shortly after she was born, and at the age of six she was sent to live with her grandparents after her mother was committed to a mental asylum. Elizabeth began to take a liking to poetry during the down-time of her many childhood illnesses. She wrote poems, songs, and skits while away at an all-girls summer camp during the summer. Bishop graduated from Vassar College in 1934. She was independently wealth her whole life and spent time from 1935 to 1937 traveling to Europe and Africa before settling with one her lesbian partners in Key West, Florida.
Bishop was very influenced by poet Marianne Moore, who was not only a mentor but a close friend. With the support of Moore, Bishop finally earned recognition when she won first place out of eight-hundred entries in a poetry competition by Houghton Mifflin, who ended up publishing it as North and South in 1946.
Bishop was notorious for writing slowly and publishing sparingly. This did not stop her from rising in popularity. She traveled to South America, fell in love with Brazil, and ended up moving there, and became involved with another woman. While in Brazil, she wrote her second collection, North and South—A Cold Spring and won a Pulitzer Prize for it. She went back and forth living in the United States and Brazil, teaching at both University of Washington and Harvard. Her last book, Geography III established herself as a major force in postmodernist literature.
Many feel the tragedies Elizabeth Bishop experienced at such a young age influenced her to become a strong willed and strong minded woman early in life. Her blatant sarcasm and fearlessness is portrayed throughout her works.
General Themes Throughout Elizabeth Bishop’s Poetry
-Geography and Landscape
-Human Connection with the Natural World
-Questions of Knowledge and Perception
-Ability/Inability of Form to Control Chaos
In “One Art,” the speaker attempts to avoid feeling any type of emotion in order to get over a loss. By saying something is not a “disaster,” she is really just pushing it out of her mind and looking ahead. This may work for a short time, but there is only so much emotional stress one can hold in. Losses and/or disasters are a natural part of life and will continue to occur, and at some point one will no longer be able to keep hiding from their problems. It may seem easy and doable at first, but in reality, the art of losing is impossible to master. Themes: Transience, memory and the past, love, sadness, and lies and deceit.
In the Waiting Room
Elizabeth Bishop explores the meanings of what it means to be a woman in her poem “In the Waiting Room.” The poem was written during the Women’s Rights Movement, and she combines a bunch of experiences throughout her life into one solid memory—that of her being a child, sitting in the waiting room, and reading a National Geographic. It is at this point in time that she realizes who she is, a girl, who someday will become a woman. She realizes that gender is the basis for one’s identity and the choices made in life. She knows that because of her gender, that she will be treated differently than boys, she too will have to struggle for women’s rights. Perhaps “the waiting room” was also a symbol of women waiting to advance their rights in society and to be recognized as equals.
Bishop wrote “Sestina” with such repetitiveness—such as the words house, almanac, stove, grandmother, child—because she wanted to represent the way children see the world. They repeat and rearrange things until they make sense. The poem seems to be very personal, perhaps the child represents Bishop as a young girl when her mother was put into the insane asylum. Pain is felt not only from the child, but from the grandmother, who has lost a child.
Bishop dedicated “The Armadillo” to Robert Lowell, her lifelong friend and fellow poet. This poem shows the clash between fire balloons exploding in the air during a celebration and the frail creatures on the ground below. Although the fire balloons are exciting and entertaining for the humans walking around enjoying the festival, no one seems to notice the effect they are having on the nature and animals around them. The animals are scared and even forced to leave their homes.
“I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.”
“Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities –
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts –
held us all together
or made us all just one?”
-In the Waiting Room
“Time to plant tears, say the almanac
The grandmother sings to the marvelous stove
and the child draws another inscrutable house.”
“The ancient owls’ nest must have burned.
Hastily, all alone,
a glistening armadillo left the scene,
rose-flecked, head down, tail down,
and then a baby rabbit jumped out,
short-eared, to our surprise.
So soft! – a handful of intangible ash
with fixed, ignited eyes.”
1945: Houghton Mifflin Poetry Prize Fellowship
1947: Guggenheim Fellowship
1949: Appointed Consultant in Poetry at the Library of Congress
1950: American Academy of Arts and Letters Award
1951: Lucy Martin Donelly Fellowship (awarded by Bryn Mawr College)
1953: Shelley Memorial Award
1954: Elected to lifetime membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters
1956: Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
1960: Chapelbrook Foundation Award
1964: Academy of American Poets Fellowship
1968: Ingram-Merrill Foundation Grant
1969: National Book Award
1969: The Order of the Rio Branco (awarded by the Brazilian government)
1974: Harriet Monroe Poetry Award
1976: Books Abroad/Neustadt International Prize
1976: Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters
1977: National Book Critics Circle Award
1978: Guggenheim Fellowship
Belasco, Susan & Johnson, Linck. The Bedford Anthology of American Literature. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.
“One Art - Elizabeth Bishop." Shmoop Poetry. 18 March 2009. <http://www.shmoop.com/intro/poetry/elizabeth-bishop/one-art.html>
“Elizabeth Bishop.” Poets.org. 18 March 2009. <http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/7>
“On ‘The Armadillo.’” Modern American Poetry. 18 March 2009.
|20b: Elizabeth Bishop's Poetry
Research Survey Compiled By: Asia Meana
RELEVANT BIOGRAPHICAL INFO
Lost both parents at a young age
Moved around a lot as a child
Traveled widely throughout adult life
Spent a great deal of time in Brazil
Had a tempestuous relationship that lasted most of her adult life and ended in tragedy
Bishop knew wealth and poverty both intimately—she was born into wealth but chose to spend time in Brazil amongst people with modest, and in some cases even impoverished, lifestyles.
Bishop was fascinated with the way common people found beauty and art in such simple and wholesome ways.
Rather than describing everything with florid and overly convoluted language, as did the Romantics, Bishop describes things the way a Modernist would—minimalistically, clearly, and succinctly.
In keeping with this literary tradition, Bishop’s poetry is more heavily contingent upon description than it is upon theme. Imagism hinges on the motto, “the natural object is always the adequate symbol,” suggesting, as Bishop’s work does, that everything there is to be understood about something can be addressed in a clear and direct description of it. Bishop’s work is therefore heavy with imagery and sharp accurate language.
Bishop’s work often suggests that the natural world has distinct rights and purposes that do not involve human beings. Animals and the great outdoors surface again and again in her poetry, always as entities that exist outside the observation and understanding of humans. Indeed, her descriptions of the observations of nature always hint at a deeper purpose that humans will never fully know.
"the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.” –“The Armadillo"
"and perching there in profile, beaks agape,
The big symbolic birds keep quiet" –"Brazil, January 1, 1502"
"But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?" –"In the Waiting Room"
SUGGESTED EXAM QUESTIONS
Discuss the tone in "One Art"—does it make you, as the reader, feel desperate? Encouraged? Despairing? Helpless? Satisfied?
Analyze the nature imagery in "Brazil, January 1, 1502." What is the purpose of such a graphic and careful description of the outdoors?
Explain what you think happens to the girl in the waiting room.
DISTINGUISHING FACTORS OF STYLE/FORM
Clear, simple, poignant language to describe observations
Controlled and contained meter—often in traditional styles, sometimes rhyming
Often reads almost conversationally—not at all formal
CONNECTIONS TO OTHER WORKS
Bishop's "At the Fishhouses" alludes to Marianne Moore's poem "A Grave"
Robert Lowell's "Skunk Hour" was modeled after Bishop's "The Armadillo"
Lowell's "The Scream" was inspired by Bishop's story In the Village
Microcosmic exploration of the "bigger picture"
“In The Waiting Room”
The poem describes a young girl becoming aware of the connections between humans, and how people develop personal identity in the face of them
-There is no “inside” that is apart from an “outside” in the poem—the aunt’s cry comes from inside the room where the dentist is at work on her, which is inside the dentist’s office, which is inside the world depicted in the magazine the speaker is reading, who is inside “In the Waiting Room.” All are perceived by the reader, blurring the lines between events, characters, and places, and illuminating Bishop’s insight into the aforementioned connections between humans.
The poem discusses the act of losing things that are important
-There is a definite rise in drama and intensityas the poem progresses, moving from the mention of lost keys, to lost houses, to lost cities, to a lost loved one. While the beginning of the poem can be read as encouraging, toward the end it takes on a much darker and more frantic tone.
-There is also some parallelism being drawn between the art of writing and the “art of losing.” It is as if Bishop is setting them up as synonyms.
|21b: "Middle Passage" by
Research Survey Compiled By: Kristy Ventre
Post Modernist: Most of Hayden’s poems are known for their broad sweep of black history. He moves away from objectivity to subjectivity by using multiple voices to tell one truth. He is infamous for ironically inverting form as well as celebrating fragmentation.
Robert Hayden, also known as Asa Sheffey, was born on August 4, 1913 in Detroit, Michigan. When his parents separated, he was raised by an African American couple in a poor, primarily black section of Detroit called “Paradise Valley.” To escape difficult home life he began reading modern poetry, and was especially drawn to the works of Carl Sandburg and Edna Millay. From 1936-1940, Robert Hayden conducted research on African American history, the subject of many of his later poems. Hayden did not achieve widespread recognition as a poet until the final years of his life.
The Middle Passage~ The passage of African people from Africa to the New World, as a part of the Atlantic slave trade. Ships left Europe for African markets with commercial goods, which were traded for kidnapped Africans who were transported across the Atlantic as slaves. The enslaved Africans were then sold as commodities for raw materials, which would then be transported back to Europe to complete the triangular trade.
The Amistad Revolt~ This poem is based on Robert Hayden’s research of this event. The Amistad was a Spanish ship transporting a group of kidnapped West Africans from the slave market of Havana to a sugar plantation further along the coast of Cuba. On July 2, 1839, the captives, led by Cinque, seized the ship, killing the captain and three members of the crew. The Africans ordered the navigator and the surviving crew members to sail the ship back to Africa, but the crew continued to steer northward. When the captives were charged with mutiny and murder, American abolitionists formed the Amistad Committee, which filed countercharges of kidnapping, assault, and false imprisonment on behalf of the Africans. On March 9, 1841, the justices decided in favor of the captives, who were freed.
Voyage through death
To life upon these shores
** Meaning: death as a part of the journey is no more horrible a prospect than the life to be lived after arrival**
Cinquez its deathless primaveral image, life that transfigures many lives
**Cinquez is depicted as the epic hero**
~Hayden narrates the story through a variety of voices, including both captives and captors, integrating passages from court depositions while alluding to hymns, myths, and literary works which classifies this poem as a postmodernist piece. He creates one truth with the usage of multiple voices.
~ The poem is written in three parts. Hayden states that, “although the horrors of the slave trade are common to all, each section develops a particular aspect of this horror, and focuses on a particular theme or incident.
Part I: These stanzas describe harsh sea conditions through the voices of both captives and captors while ironically interspersing prayers to protect the ships.
Part II: These stanzas explain how captors received slaves from African tribe leaders in exchange for commodities. These stanzas allude to the triangular trade process.
Part III: These stanzas depict the trial of Amistad. Hayden chooses to write an European crewman’s account.
This is a constant element throughout the poem. The lines from several hymns in Part I emphasize the irony of the Christian acceptance and justification of the slave trade.
Jesus Savior Pilot Me
Over Life’s Tempestuous Sea
The poem begins with a catalog of slave ships with pleasant names. This emphasizes a situational irony through historical selectivity.
Jesus, Estrella, Esperanza, Mercy
Epic Vs. Anti Epic
Uses standard epic conventions and devices, while consistently and ironically inverting the features developing the “anti-epic” form. The “anti-epic” form also includes characterization. “Middle Passage” creates a hero who represents his race in a quest for personal liberty, something in which all men have a real shared interest. The poem identifies Cinquez as the ultimate symbol of the timeless human desire for freedom, a theme of epic proportions. Cinquez’s rebellion against enslavement stands for the physical and spiritual struggle for freedom y all blacks then and since.
Supernatural Element: “Gods” are present in the poem, but neither as pagan deities nor as protectors similar to epics. Instead they are indifferent natured or a hypocritical Puritan. The sharks that hungrily await the suicidal leaps of crazed slaves are seen as gods who provide a quick death to the suffering victims
Belasco, Susan & Johnson, Linck. The Bedford Anthology of American Literature. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2008.
“Hayden’s Life and Career.” Modern American Poetry. 19 March 2009. http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/hayden/life.htm
On “Middle Passage.” Modern American Poetry. 19 March 2009. http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/g_l/hayden/middle.htm
Cubism and Literature
Research Survey Compiled By: James Herman
“Cubism is like standing at a certain point on a mountain and looking around. If you go higher, things will look different; if you go lower, again they will look different. It is a point of view.”
- Jacques Lipchitz
History of Cubism
Cubism was an early 20th century avant-garde art movement that revolutionized European painting and sculpture. Its main innovators were artists Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. The Bedford Anthology mentions the controversial debut of Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2 at the 1913 Armory Show in New York City (p 508-509). As far as modern art movements are concerned, Cubism can be said to fit somewhere in between the Impressionist and Surrealist movements.
What is Cubism?
Cubism emphasizes the reduction of natural forms into abstract, geometrical forms and fragmentations. These fragmentations are typically rendered as a collection of discrete planes. As such, objects are not depicted from a single perspective. The disassembly, analysis, and re-assembly of the subject matter allows for several aspects of a single subject to be depicted simultaneously. As a result, the viewer is forced to experience the artwork from multiple perspectives. Consequentially, cubism is an attempt to challenge and undermine objectivity.
Cubist Motifs in Literature
Cubist literature attempts to incorporate many of these same principles. There are mainly two different ways in which authors attempt to do this. The first is through form and style. Words can be organized into small, distinct sections, very much like cubes. These blocks of text are usually based on the repetition of a key phrase or idea, and as a result, the same subject matter can be viewed from multiple perspectives simultaneously. This emphasis is the second major aspect of Cubist literature. Characters are not one-dimensional, but instead portrayed as multifaceted individuals with conflicting beliefs or motives. Furthermore, Cubism questions the idea of an absolute truth by providing for a multitude of angles in which to approach and interpret the truth. In many ways, Cubism can be said to lend itself to both perspectivism and relativism.
Examples of Cubist Motifs in Literature
Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird – Wallace Stevens
This poem is an excellent demonstration of Cubism in literature. It is organized into thirteen very brief and discrete sections, with each being an attempt to capture the essence of a blackbird. Each section is merely a fragment of a larger picture, yet the final image cannot be necessarily viewed as a complete whole. It would seem that the poem only offers thirteen fragments, and no amount or configuration of fragments could ever hope to give the reader a truly complete representation of a blackbird. To add another layer of possible perspectives, it is ambiguous as to exactly how many blackbirds Stevens is trying to depict.
One Art - Elizabeth Bishop
The structural restrictions of the villanelle are arguably conducive to the creativity of Cubism. The required five triplets rather axiomatically lead to the block-like geometrical structure of Cubism. Also, Bishop’s focus on the words “master” and “disaster,” largely due to the rhyme scheme restrictions, ensures that repetitions will occur. Due to the brevity of the nineteen-line poem, these two repetitions become central to the poem. Also, with each stanza, the poem becomes clearer as the reader is better able to establish the narrator’s feelings toward loss yet still leaves the reader with an inability to fully understand the extent of that loss.
Middle Passage – Robert Hayden
Hayden manipulates perspective by providing multiple narratives, including those of both captives and captors. The poem’s primary persona, presumably a captured slave, seems to have collected and organized the documents that provide an account of the Middle Passage from Africa to the New World. Among these accounts are the ones of the increasingly anxious slave traders. In a sense, perspective is being used to reflect the struggle for power. On board the Amistad, the slave traders were in power until the slaves revolted and seized control of the ship. By reconstructing the account of the slave traders on his own terms, the narrator is able to further cement his position of re-acquired power.
Manipulation of perspective is of key important here as well as at the heart of Cubism.
Howl – Allen Ginsberg
The most noticeable feature of Howl is the poem’s structure. A long line is followed by a few, usually two or three, shorter lines. As such, the piece looks as if it were organized into a stack of very distinct blocks of text. Each block contributes to the previous block in such a way that it attempts to both clarify and obscure the original subject matter. Also present is the repetition of key phrases and ideas. In this case, Ginsberg uses the clause “who” numerous times to describe what he considers as “the best minds of my generation.” In section two, “Moloch” is the recurring idea, and in section three, it is the phrase “I’m with you in Rockland.” The constant repetition of these fixed lines in section two emphasizes, among many things, a grim outlook on industrialization and in section three, somewhat of a turning-point for the narrator. Furthermore, these blocks are also interdependent and many could conceivably be arranged in several different ways.
Additional Reading on Cubism
If you, dear reader, find Cubism of particular interest, then I would highly recommend reading the works of Gertrude Stein found in the Bedford Anthology (p 847–857). Stein was a personal friend of Pablo Picasso (he painted a famous portrait of her) and her work actively seeks to capture and mimic the nuisances of Cubism. I would also recommend reading the excerpt from her lecture entitled Composition from Explanation (p 830-833). In it, she explains the need for open acceptance of innovative forms of art instead of reactionary rejection, which was usually the case. As such, the lecture itself is given in Cubist form, as exemplified by heavy use of repetitions.
"A Good Man Is Hard to
Find" by Flannery O'Connor
Research Survey Compiled By: Raleigh Chesney
Brief Author Biography leading up to “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”:
Mary Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) was born on the 25th of March in Savannah, Georgia. She lived and attended religious schools (her parents were devout Roman Catholics) in Savannah until she was thirteen when her father, Edward F. O’Connor, was diagnosed with Lupus, a rare and incurable blood disease. He father has to abandon his job as a realtor, and the family then moved to Milledgeville, Georgia, which was the birthplace of her mother, Regina Cline O’Connor.
Since there were no Catholic schools in Milledgeville at the time, Flannery attended Peabody High School. In 1941, he father died from Lupus, and Flannery graduated high school the following year and because her studies at Georgia State College for Women. While in college, she wrote poems and stories for and edited a literary college magazine. She graduated with a degree in English in 1945 and went on to continue her studies at the University of Iowa, where she received a master of fine arts degree in creative writing, for two years. It was during these two years that Flannery sold her first story, “The Geranium”, to Accent. In 1947 she lived for seven months at Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., which was an estate left by the Trask family for writers, painters and musicians. Not liking life in the city, she accepted an invitation from Robert and Sally Fitzgerald, two literary Catholic friends, to move into the garage apartment at their home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. During this time he work began receiving notice and she was published in several magazines.
In 1950, Flannery was diagnosed with Lupus, the same disease that killed her father. After which, she moved back to Milledgeville to live on a farm with her mother where she lived for the remainder of her life writing and raising for peacocks. Her first novel, Wise Blood, was released in 1952 and received mixed reviews. It was not until she released her first collection of short stories in 1955, titled A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories, that she received critical acclaim.
-the grandmother: the “heroine” of the story, a deceptive and selfish woman that is the ultimate cause of her entire family being murdered before being murdered herself.
-Bailey: the grandmother’s son, a stern and hot-tempered man.
-the children’s mother: Bailey’s wife, who remains nameless. She is a very passive character who says and does little throughout the story other than care for the baby.
-the baby: innocent child who is never given a name.
-John Wesley: a proud and nagging young boy, son of Bailey.
-June Star: a sassy little girl, daughter of Bailey.
-Pitty Sing: the grandmother’s cat.
-Red Sammy Butts: owner of a barbeque restaurant/service station, The Tower, in the middle of nowhere.
-the monkey: Red Sam’s apparent pet, that is scared of children.
-Red Sam’s wife: waitress at The Tower.
-The Misfit: an escaped convict who is trying to live up to the punishment he feels he was dealt unjustly.
-Hiram: escaped convict traveling with The Misfit.
-Bobby Lee: escaped convict traveling with The Misfit.
-Narrator: the narrator is third person limited, the story is told largely from the perspective of the grandmother, which is the only character whose thoughts are revealed to the reader.
Summary of Work:
At the beginning of the story we are introduced to a family, of whom we never know their last name, that is getting ready to go on a vacation to Florida. The grandmother wanted to go to east Tennessee and attempts to change her son Bailey’s mind by telling him of an escaped convict called The Misfit, who reported to be heading south toward Florida. She makes other vain attempts at convincing the family to go to east Tennessee but is only ignored by the children’s mother and smarted off to by the children, John Wesley and June Star.
The following morning, the grandmother is the first in the car and ready to go with her cat, Pitty Sing, that she hid in a basket. She settled herself in for the trip between the children in the back seat. The children’s mother was dressed in the same clothes she had on the day before but the grandmother had put on an ornate sailor hat and navy blue lace trimmed dress. She commented on the weather and the speed limit and the scenery and defended the Georgia landscape when the children were suggesting they go through it fast to get to Florida.
The children entertain themselves with comics and games while the grandmother holds the baby. The children eat sandwiches and get worked up when John Wesley isn’t playing fair. So the grandmother tells them a story to calm them down until they stopped at The Tower for barbequed sandwiches.
They meet Red Sammy Butts, the owner of The Tower, outside working on his truck next to a small monkey chained to a tree that it climes to escape the children. Inside the restaurant, June Star taps to a song her mother puts on and is rude to Red Sam’s wife. Red Sam comes in complaining about not being able to trust people anymore and strikes up a conversation with the grandmother. It is during this conversation that the grandmother calls Red Sam a good man. They briefly talk about The Misfit and old and better times. Red Sam says that these days, “A good man is hard to find.”
The family continues their trip to Florida until the grandmother sees an old dirt road that leads to an old house she knew. She tricks the family into going to find the house by telling the children that there was a secret panel in the house where the family used to keep their silver and gets them so worked up about finding it that Bailey loses his temper and caves to the grandmother’s wishes. While going down the dirt road, the grandmother remembers that the house she remembered was in Tennessee, and she was leading them down a path to nowhere. This startles her and she accidentally lets the cat free, which jumps on Bailey’s neck and causes him to violently wreck the car.
The children were excited about the car wreck and disappointed that no one has been killed. All of them, except the children, sat down in to ditch to recover from what has just happened, and upon seeing Bailey’s face, which the narrator describes as “as yellow as the shirt” he was wearing, she decided not to tell them that the house was in Tennessee.
A car came along and stopped on the road above them, and three men with guns got out of it. One of the men told the children’s mother to have them come down to where they were all sitting. The grandmother identified the older shirtless man as The Misfit to which he replied, “it would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn’t recognized me.
The grandmother starts talking with The Misfit and tells him that she knows that he is a good man from a good family. While the grandmother continued to franticly convince The Misfit that he is a good man, he directs the other two men with him to take Bailey and John Wesley into the woods, where they are shot. After the two men return, one of them gives The Misfit the yellow shirt that Bailey has been wearing, and they then take the children’s mother, the baby, and June Star into the woods, where they are also shot. During this time, The Misfit is telling the grandmother about what all he had done in his life, and the grandmother continues to try to convince him that he is a good man and that he should pray.
Once The Misfit and the grandmother are left alone together, he tells her why he calls himself The Misfit and how Jesus has ruined the balance on Earth when he raised people from the dead. He says that if he has been there to know for sure if Jesus had or hadn’t raised people from the dead that he would be a different man. The grandmother expressed doubt on the issue as well. It is at this moment that the grandmother says that she things The Misfit is one of her own children, and she reaches out and touches him on the shoulder. In response, The Misfit springs back and shoots her through the chest three times.
The Misfit tells one of the men with him to take her body to where the others are and tells him that “She would of been a good woman…if it has been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” The other man replies by saying, “Some Fun!” And The Misfit tells him, “It’s no real pleasure in life.”
O’Connor said, "To the hard of hearing you shout and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures." This quote encompasses her main idea of the style in which she writes. O’Connor incorporates so much violence into her works to shock her readers. When the reader is places along side a character staring death in the face, they must come to terms with their life at the same time as the character. O’Connor says, “I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace.” Just as her characters are difficult to reach, O’Connor is writing to connect to the reader that is in the same place. The tool that she uses to open the eyes and minds of both her characters and her readers is violence: “It is the extreme situation that best reveals what we are essentially, and I believe these are times when writers are more interested in what we are essentially than in the tenor of our daily lives.”
- Good vs. Evil: what is good, and what is evil?
“In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.”
“‘There was a secret panel in this house,” [the grandmother] said craftily, not telling the truth but wishing that she were.”
“‘We’ve had an ACCIDENT!’ the children screamed in a frenzy of delight.”
“I found out the crime don’t matter. You can do one thing or you can do another, kill a man or take a tire off his car, because sooner or later you’re going to forget what is was you done and just be punished for it.” - The Misfit
“‘I call myself The Misfit,’ he said, ‘because I can’t make all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punushment.’”
“‘Lady,’ The Misfit said, looking beyond her far into the woods, “there never was a body that give the undertaker a tip.’”
“‘Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead.’ The Misfit continued, ‘and He shouldn’t have done it. He thown everything off balance.’”
“‘She would have been a good woman,’ The Misfit said, ‘if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.’”
Although this story has suggestions of regionalism in the play of the landscape and the local dialect used by the different characters, it is strongly a postmodern work. O’Connor fills this story with strong moral and religious conflict but leaves the reader with no conclusion or solid truth at the story’s end. This moral and religious ambiguity is very common among postmodern authors. Although O’Connor has commented that she wrote the story with one definite meaning, she acknowledges that the story can be taken as meaning many different things, and she does not limit the reader to only viewing her work through her eyes.
Most critical approaches to “A Good Man is Hard to Find” are focused on the idea of grace in the face of the grotesque. The climax of the story brings us to a moment when two people, the grandmother and The Misfit, are face to face. Both characters seem entirely undeserving of grace and unfit to be imparters of it. It is in this moment though that O’Connor seems to offer grace to both of them.
Throughout the story, the grandmother has been manipulative and concerned entirely with herself. Even while her son’s entire family is being killed, she seems to only be pleading with The Misfit for her own life saying, “Jesus, you ought not to shoot a lady.” We see the gradual breakdown of the grandmother from a self proclaimed “lady” into a frail old woman sitting like a child in the dirt unsure of what she even believes of God when she is faced with death. Through this breakdown we see a change in her at the end when she identifies herself as kin to The Misfit: “the grandmother’s head cleared for an instant. She saw a man’s face twisted close to her own as if he were going to cry and she murmured, ‘Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!’ She reached out and touched him on the shoulder.” It is in this realization and touch that the grandmother becomes the messenger of grace for The Misfit. The Misfit was aware of his need for grace and showed his awareness in his desire to see Jesus raise people from the dead. If he would have a chance to see, he could believe that he could receive grace for all that he had done. He found this grace through the touch of the grandmother when she recognized him as one of her own even after ordering the execution of her son and his entire family.
In the same way that we see a change in the grandmother, The Misfit goes through a sort of transformation. He explains that the reason he calls himself The Misfit is because he felt like he has been punished beyond what he was proven guilty for. So he set out to live up to the punishment he has already received. He blamed Jesus for having “thown everything off balance” in the world by raising people from the dead, which is arguably the ultimate act of grace, but The Misfit doubts the fact that Jesus did or didn’t raise people from the dead at all. He claims that if he has been there to witness Jesus imparting this grace then he would be a different man than he turned out to be. It is in this moment that the grandmother reaches for him and touches his shoulder that he witnesses the grace that he had desired to see but had also been running from. In response to that touch, “The Misfit sprang back as if a snake had bitten him and shot her three times through the chest.” Touched by the hand of grace, The Misfit’s reaction hardly looks like an extension of grace to the grandmother at all, but the reader must remember the differences between the two characters. The grandmother had been entirely self-concerned and vain. She was looking for a good man but she herself was not in any way a good woman. By bringing her to a place where she was facing death, The Misfit’s actions force her to realize where he fault is and her need for grace. When The Misfit pulls back from her and shoots her through her chest, he is releasing her from the vanity and selfishness that she has lived in. The posture in which she dies in that of a child “smiling up at the cloudless sky.”
Suggested Essay Questions:
- Who is the messenger of grace in the story? Why?
- How does O’Connor use language to portray the grandmother as an either likeable or unlikeable character?
- What are the characteristics of “a good man” in the story?
- How does O’Connor use animals in the story? What might these animals represent?
Clark, Beverly Lyon. Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). March 23, 2009.
Meyer Literature, Flannery O’Connor Biography. March 23, 2009.
Liukkonen, Petri. Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). March 23, 2009.
Pence, Katie. The Paradox of the Grotesque and Grace in Flannery O’Connor’s: “A Good Man is Hard to Find”: A Case Study. March 23, 2009.
Short Story Criticism. “A Good Man is Hard to Find” O’Connor Flannery. March 23, 2009.
Votteler, Thomas, ed. Short Story Criticism. March 23, 2009.
|23b: "A Good Man Is Hard to
Find" by Flannery O'Connor
Research Survey Compiled By: James Newberry
“Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by a northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.” –O’Connor
-Born 1925 in Savannah, GA where she attended mass at Cathedral St. John the Baptist
-Moved to Milledgeville, GA at the age of 13 where she graduated from Peabody Laboratory School and Georgia State College for Women (now GC&SU)
-Attended Iowa Writers’ Workshop and Yaddo artists colony in New York
-Diagnosed with Lupus in 1951 and returned to Milledgeville permanently where she lived with her mother on the family farm, Andalusia
-Raised peacocks, wrote fiction and attended mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church
“A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
A grandmother, her son Bailey, his wife and their three children embark on a driving trip to Florida. The grandmother would rather visit Tennessee because she has read about The Misfit, an escaped convict, who is supposedly ‘headed toward Florida.’ Traveling through South Georgia, the family stops at a restaurant called The Tower, and the grandmother discusses how southern society has changed for the worse with the proprietor, Red Sammy. After the family leaves the restaurant the grandmother remembers an old plantation she once visited in the area and insists they visit it again much to her son’s consternation. After they turn down a dirt road, the grandmother’s smuggled cat escapes, pouncing on Bailey and causing him to lose control of the vehicle which tumbles into the ditch on the side of the road. A few moments after the accident, another car approaches with three partially clothed men inside carrying guns. The grandmother recognizes the leader of the gun-wielding trio as The Misfit and confronts him. “It would have been better for all of you, lady, if you hadn’t of recognized me,” he responds forebodingly. Eventually The Misfit’s sidekicks lead Bailey and his son into the woods, leaving the grandmother to plead with The Misfit. She tries to appeal to his Christian nature, asking him to “pray, pray…” When two gunshots ring out from the woods the grandmother’s clarity of mind begins to fade. The convicts reappear with Bailey’s clothes in tow and take the mother, daughter and baby to the woods next. The grandmother realizes what is happening to her family, but her false theology and her sham morals fall away in the face of evil. When she reaches out to The Misfit, calling him “one of my own children,” the escaped convict shoots her in the chest.
The grandmother- She is a selfish and manipulative person, intent on managing her family and getting her way, while acting the part of a gentle southern lady. She discovers grace at the mouth of a gun.
The Misfit- He is an escaped convict and nihilist who sees little distinction between an act of kindness and a heinous crime. He believes his crimes are of little importance because he can’t remember one from the next and that following God means yielding every pleasure in life. He blames Jesus for the grandmother’s predicament.
Bailey- He is the bitter and detached son of the grandmother. His relationship with his mother sheds light on her deluded personality.
John Wesley and June Star- They are the opinionated grandchildren who offer the most biting commentary on their grandmother through insults and sarcasm.
Revelation- When the grandmother realizes that The Misfit is murdering her family in the woods, she experiences revelation. Everything she has believed, everything she has considered important no longer means anything. Revelation leads to truth, and reaching out to The Misfit, while totally unprecedented in her previous life, is her one act of true compassion and grace. When Bailey shouts to his mother, “I’ll be back in a minute, Mamma, wait on me!” another revelatory moment has taken place. The son’s latent love for his mother has finally been unearthed by his impending death.
Alienation and Disillusionment- The Misfit is an outcast. His past is peppered with numerous experiences, one stranger than the other. “I even seen a woman flogged,” he says to the grandmother, highlighting his estrangement from society and his psychopathic nature. His disillusionment leads to his views on religion and the harmlessness of evil. He believes that allegiance to God is pointless in a world where God’s presence is no where to be seen.
Foreshadowing- O’Connor uses foreshadowing in “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” to heighten the effect of the coming revelation. From the beginning when the grandmother reads about The Misfit in the newspaper, to the restaurant where she laments the degradation of southern culture, to the deserted dirt road where no other vehicle is present except for one, foreshadowing plays a large part in the work. The characters’ failure to interpret foreshadowing, especially the grandmother’s, leads to their cruel deaths.
O’Connor’s prose is often sparse and straightforward, devoid of flowery phrases that detract from the action. Her language increases the reader’s anxiety especially when characters walk unknowingly to their fate.
O’Connor also employs comedy to intense effect. As June Star follows The Misfit’s sidekick into the woods she declares “I don’t want to hold hands with him. He reminds me of a pig.” The pair could be preparing for a picnic.
O’Connor’s stories and novels are populated by outcasts and grotesques, repulsive intellectuals and vile reprobates. Her diverse array of characters destabilizes conventional morality and Christian tradition in an attempt to reveal spiritual truth. Her method was often violent, and many of her stories end with murders or grizzly attacks. But violence was necessary to shake characters from spiritual blindness. O’Connor was a Catholic writer in the Protestant south, and most of her works center on southern Baptists who practice a particular brand of fundamentalism.
“Her retrospect on ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find” speaks of her stories’ violence being ‘strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace.’ She alertly points out that the return is costly and seldom understood by casual readers-‘but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world.’”
-George A. Kilcourse, Jr.
Strains of realism and modernism are also present in O’Connor’s fiction because of the misinterpretation of symbols by moral characters and their unusual paths to grace.
In “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the grandmother believes in upholding southern ideals. Ironically, no one around her behaves according to any ideal, least of all her own son, who would gladly leave her at home. O’Connor used cultural assumptions about the south to surprise readers. Characters like The Misfit, an uneducated convict with poor grammar, is a harbinger of truth. The Misfit’s southern vernacular betrays his malevolence.
In other stories like “Good Country People” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” O’Connor played southern provincialism against intellectualism in an attempt to show that grace and truth aren’t necessarily the products of multiple college degrees.
“The landscape of Flannery’s South is at once fantastic and baroque. It represents a point of view and way of life strange and yet familiar, remote and yet as new as tomorrow.”
–Ted R. Spivey, GSU professor
“I wouldn’t take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it. I couldn’t answer to my conscience if I did.” –the grandmother
“She wouldn’t stay at home for a million bucks. Afraid she’d miss something. She has to go everywhere we go.” –June Star
“In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know at once that she was a lady.”
“People are certainly not nice like they used to be.” –the grandmother
“A good man is hard to find. Everything is getting terrible. I remember the day you could go off and leave your screen door unlatched. Not no more.” –Red Sammy Butts
“The grandmother was curled up under the dashboard, hoping she was injured so that Bailey’s wrath would not come down on her all at once.”
“I believe I have injured an organ.” –the grandmother
“Listen, I know you’re a good man. You don’t look a bit like you have common blood. I know you must come from nice people!” –the grandmother
“I call myself The Misfit because I can’t make what all I done wrong fit what all I gone through in punishment.” –The Misfit
“Jesus was the only One that ever raised the dead, and He shouldn’t have done it. He thrown everything off balance. If He did what He said, then it’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him, and if He didn’t, then it’s nothing for you to do but enjoy the few minutes you got left the best way you can – by killing somebody or burning down his house or doing some other meanness to him. No pleasure but meanness.” –The Misfit
“Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children!” –the grandmother
“She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” –The Misfit
The Bedford Anthology of American Literature, Susan Belasco and Linck Johnson
The Critical Response to Flannery O’Connor, by Douglas Robillard, Jr.
Flannery O’Connor: A Study of the Short Fiction, by Suzanne Morrow Paulson
Flannery O’Connor’s Religious Imagination, by George A. Kilcourse, Jr.
"Howl" by Allen Ginsberg
Research Survey Compiled By: Yami Molin
- Written in 1956, as part of Allen Ginsberg’s collection of poetry entitled, Howl and other Poems, it was intended to be a performance piece as part of the Beat Movement.
Inspiration for his works and Howl
- His time spent living in New York as a student at Columbia University where he met Mark Van Doren, Lucien Carr, William S. Borroughs, Jack Kerouac, Times Square heroin addict Herbert Huncke, young novelist John Clellon Holmes, and a handsome young drifter and car thief from Denver named Neal Cassady, with whom Ginsberg fell in love. Together they became progenitors of the Beat Generation, which term was coined by Jack Kerouac in 1948.
- Experimenting with drugs like marijuana and nitrous oxide to induce further visions, or what Ginsberg later described as "an exalted state of mind," he felt that the poet's duty was to bring a visionary consciousness of reality to his readers. He was dissatisfied with the poetry he was writing at this time, traditional work modeled on English poets like Sir Thomas Wyatt or Andrew Marvell whom he had studied at Columbia.
- His travels to various countries, as he experimented with psychedelic drugs, including: Japan, Morocco, South America, Europe and India.
Literary Movement (1950s)
- The Beat Generation or Movement was centered around artists’ colonies such as North Beach of Los Angeles, Venice West of San Francisco and Greenwich Village of New York City. The underlying philosophy was visionary enlightenment, Zen Buddhism and Amerindian culture. The Beat Generation rejected the prevailing academic attitude to poetry, feeling that poetry should be brought to the people. Poetry readings often took place in cafes, accompanied by Jazz. A common theme that linked them all together was a rejection of the prevailing American middle-class values, the purposelessness of modern society and the need for withdrawal and protest.
- Ginsberg felt the effects of the Beat Generation were: spiritual liberation, sexual "revolution" or "liberation," i.e., gay liberation, women's liberation, black liberation, Gray Panther activism, liberation of the written and spoken word from censorship, demystification and/or decriminalization of some laws against marijuana and other drugs, the evolution of rhythm and blues into rock and roll as a high art form ( the Beatles, Bob Dylan), attention to what Kerouac called a "second religiousness" or religion developed within an advanced civilization and respect for land, indigenous peoples and creatures, as proclaimed by Kerouac in his slogan from On the Road, 'The Earth is an Indian thing.'
Part I of Howl:
This section is spoken from the first person about people he has met throughout his various travels, which reflect his view of America. These references include: drug addicts (p 1318, 20) ; students and poets who challenged the norm within academia and are subsequently punished (p 1319); people with mental health issues, as seen in their constant “yaketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospital and jails” (p 1320) and who “presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instantaneous lobotomy, and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol electricity hydrotherapy occupational therapy pingpongs & amnesia” (p 1323); blues and jazz musicians (p 1320, 1323); protestors “who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square weeping and undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down” (p 1321) and those “who threw potato salad at CCNY lectures on Dadaism”—a direct reference to his inspiration for the third and final section, Carl Solomon (p 1323); homosexuals and their sexual encounters (p 1321); the homeless (p 1322); people who worked in the advertising sector who were “burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue […] or were run down by the drunken taxicabs of absolute reality” (p 1322); suicidal people who failed and succeeded in their suicidal attempts (p 1322, 1323); and people looking for religion, “who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for each other’s salvation,” which implies a sense of disparity in their searching as if to say they were trying to make amends for their previous actions (p 1323).
Ginsberg calls these people, as stated in the opening line of Howl, “the best minds of my generation,” although they are “destroyed by madness, starving hysterical.” This statement conflicts with the idea of success or greatness represented by the status quoi or middle class that the Beat Generation wanted to challenge in their poetry.
The many references he makes to people with mental health issues comes as a result of the time his mother spent in mental hospitals enduring shock treatments and a subsequent lobotomy and the time he spent at a mental health clinic, himself, as an alternative to a jail sentence.
He uses the term “pingpong”, with the omitted dash, as a symbol, satirizing the futile methods of treatment for people with mental issues as if it were a game to the medical facilities.
Part II of Howl:
The structure of this third and final section is based on the constant repetition of Moloch—a biblical and historical reference to the Canaanite fire god whose worship required that parents offer their children as propitiatory sacrifice.
In this section Moloch represents America. Like parents sacrifice their children to Molech, Ginsberg is criticizing middle class America in that they have sacrificed themselves by conforming and adhering to the structure of society. Moloch represents the confines wherein the majority of people—who contrast with those addressed in the first part—live:
“Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgment! […] Moloch the stunned governments! […] Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money! […] Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrapers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose factories dream and croak with fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and antennae crown the cities! […] Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius!” (p 1325)
This excerpt reinforces Ginsberg’s perception of the America which the people—with “the best minds”—are forced to live in. And when they stay true to themselves and follow their own passion and desires society labels them crazy and inferior. Here, Ginsberg—more blatantly than before—criticizes the country in which he lives.
Part III of Howl:
The last part of this poem refers to an encounter Ginsberg had with Carl Solomon during a visit to see his mom in a psychiatric hospital called “Rockland” where Solomon was a regular.
In comparison to the first two parts, here Ginsberg reemphasizes his view of the people—“the great minds”—mentioned in Part I, which contrasts his criticisms of middleclass America in Part II. Being that he says “I am with you in Rockland,” at the start of each line he emphasizes that both he and Carl Solomon are members of this new breed of people who challenge social norms—though doing so leads them both to mental institutions at some point in their lives: “I am with you in Rockland where we are great writers on the same dreadful typewriter” (p 1326).
1. This link is to a book review of John Raskin’s, American Scream: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and the Making of the Beat Generation. Here, Raskin addresses the label Beat Generation and or Movement which defined the writers like Ginsberg and he states: “They have been covered over with an accumulating residue of mythology: they have become “prophets of [spiritual] awakening,” or radical “personalists,” frequently viewed from within the limited constraints of a larger ideological perspective not entirely akin to their own. What has been lost in the shuffle is the Beats themselves, a group who took great pride in their own lack of polish and deliberately unpresentable manner.” His overreaching concern is that while being painted in this glorious light for their contribution to American literature, their essence has been misrepresented. http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdf?vid=4&hid=112&sid=3d170473-85ab-49ee-830e-7c4d88adc169%40sessionmgr103
2. The following link is to an article written by Mark Hillringhouse on his first poetry reading, featuring Ginsberg where Ginsberg reflects on the poetry of his inspiration William Carlos Williams.
|24b: "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg
Research Survey Compiled By: Parks Miller
“Howl” is an intensely long, three part poem that upon its first reading in 1955, gave its creator Ginsberg national fame. Those in attendance considered the event to mark a new definition of American poetry. Among the various praising and testimony of that night, Michael McClure’s recollection famously included a feeling that “at the deepest level that a barrier had been broken, that a human voice and body had been hurled against the harsh wall of America.” “Howl” remains one of Ginsberg’s most read works and its popularity today gives credit to the lasting influence of the “Beat Generation.”
“Howl” is first dedicated to Carl Solomon, a fellow patient and later friend at the Columbia Psychiatric Institute. The two spent eight months together as patients following Ginsberg’s recent decision to pursue poetry whole-heartedly. Solomon was among the many friends and characters that Ginsberg met in his next six years; many of these people’s lives provide the substance of the poem’s first part.
The first section starts famously with the line, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked…” The “I” can refer specifically to Ginsberg himself, as the following character sketches and scenes tend to come from Ginsberg’s experiences traveling across America. The lines are streaming and lengthy, though not necessarily rambling, as Ginsberg noted that "Ideally each line of 'Howl' is a single breath unit. My breath is long -- that's the measure, one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of a breath.” The structure takes influence from Walt Whitman’s use of “long line,” however Ginsberg creates his well-defined style through his incorporation of jazz and bop rhythms. Most “line-breaths” in the first section use the word “who” as an anchor, allowing for the poet to return to this word after a completed idea. The repetitions reference the jazz performer, in which the soloist would tend to improvise a variety of lines all based upon the song’s chorus. The “who” refers back to the first line, describing numerous examples of his “best minds destroyed” observation.
The following lines in the first section are a relentless descriptions of these “who.” Included are road trips and destinations, bleak descriptions of urban New York, heavy and varied drug use, explicit sexual imagery, confrontations with authority, suicide, topical cultural references and religious imagery. T.S. Eliot was an influence on Ginsberg, and no doubt “Howl” contains a similar mark to that of “The Wasteland.” Unlike the cryptic references found in “The Wasteland”, Ginsberg instead focused on mythologizing his own personal experiences and relationships. Gregory Stephenson noted:
The personal nature of the references in "Howl"[, however,] do not make it a poem a clef or a private communication. Nor is the poem reduced or obscured by its personal allusions. To the contrary, as images the persons, places, and events alluded to have great suggestive power. They possess a mythic, poetic clarity. The result is a fractured view of America, the experience of Ginsberg’s generation becomes mythologized.
Ginsberg described the first section as "a lament for the Lamb in America with instances of remarkable lamb-like youths.” Thematic descriptions include crying/wailing, gorging/bleeding, falling, doing drugs and having sex. This giant “list” describes the various desperate paths people take while searching for a meaningful existence. By 1955, American suburbia was in full swing, yet those who supported and pursued a suburban idea of prosperity were also those who opposed the lifestyles described in “Howl.” Ginsberg gives a voice to those who felt alienated and displaced by suburbia. Ginsberg often referenced his own homosexuality, and it was his uncensored mentions of anal sex and “the sweetened snatches of a million girls,” that so many found to be refreshing or reviving in poetry. The explicit homosexuality became infamous due to the 1957 censorship case.
In keeping with his idea of the lamb, Ginsberg stated that part two "names the monster of mental consciousness that preys on the Lamb." The section constantly references through declaration Moloch, a fire god in the book of Leviticus to which parents burned their children as sacrifice. Blame falls in rapid-fire towards a range of people (“whose love is endless oil and stone”) ideas (“sexless hydrogen” -reference to the atomic bomb) and places (“invisible suburbia”). Ginsberg creates a complex metaphor in which the first part details the suffering of these “children” who are to be burned in sacrifice. The second part follows with Ginsberg’s naming of the various aspects that comprise Moloch. Ginsberg refers to his own Jewish heritage as he fervently defends these suffering children. His distinct voice can be found through his innovative subversion of religious themes and ideas. Many of the actions described within the first section are traditionally considered to be sinful. The second section continues by designating these “best minds” as the sacrificed children, and Moloch as a variety of factors, roughly summed up by Ginsberg as “[America’s] military-industrial-nationalist complex.”
The third section refers again to Carl Solomon and their time spent in an institution. Again Ginsberg employs constant repetition to anchor his work, this time the phrase, “I’m with you in Rockland” acts as a chorus. Rockland refers to the Columbia Psychiatric Institute. While the lines are again filled with grim descriptions and ideas of life, the “I’m with you” refrain gives this last section an uplifting sense of support and companionship. Following the excited second part, the tone has now calmed. While these horrors still occur, the third section brings a sense that one does not have to be completely alienated in his suffering.
Ginsberg makes many references to his mother, who spent the last fifteen years of her life in institutions undergoing electroshock and eventually lobotomy. In interviews Ginsberg felt that he did not properly say goodbye to his mother when she died. Haunted by his mother’s condition, he makes various references to her in Rockland (“fifty more shocks” & “Hebrew socialist revolution”).
“Howl” is certainly a manifestation of postmodern ideas. Within the poem are serious forms of fragmented lives, yet Ginsberg does not end with total despair at this fact. He was praised for vocalizing a generation’s experience, creating a new and relevant inclusion into poetic form. Ginsberg celebrates this apparent discord through his ability to encompass so many emotions and viewpoints into his work. The result ends with what Ginsberg described as the “litany of affirmation of the Lamb in its glory.” The Rockland repetition acts as a counterpoint to the fiery “Moloch!” The poem acts as a work with which many Americans could indentify; a common bond existing through terrible madness.
|25a: The Sandbox by Edward Albee
Research Survey Compiled By: Christy Lindahl
Edward Albee was born in March, 1928 and was adopted two weeks after by Reed A. Albee and Frances Cotter Albee. Albee’s father owned a chain of vaudeville theaters, and Albee was frequently exposed to actors/ actresses and the theatre as a child. Albee did not get along well with his adoptive parents, but was quite close to his grandmother. He left home permanently in 1949, and his parents eventually disowned him. In The Sandbox, Albee parodies his adoptive parents with Mommy and Daddy. He also models Grandma, the protagonist in the play, after his own beloved grandmother; in the first edition of the play, Albee stated that the show was “A Brief Play, In Memory of My Grandmother (1876-1959).”
The stage is set with two chairs on one side, a large sandbox in the middle, and another chair facing stage-right with a music stand in front of it. The Young Man, who is actually the Angel of Death, is alone on the stage doing calisthenics with his arms; he continues to do the calisthenics until the end of the play. Mommy and Daddy enter the stage and decide that this particular spot on the “beach” is suitable. The Musician enters and begins to play, and Mommy and Daddy leave to go get Grandma. They return carrying Grandma and dump her in the sandbox. Grandma makes noises in the sandbox that sound like a mix of screams and laughter, and Mommy and Daddy sit in the chairs and try to make conversation as they wait for Grandma to die. Grandma sits in the sandbox and complains to the audience that she gets no respect, and makes small talk with the Young Man. Nighttime comes and Mommy begins to weep as a rumble is heard off stage, which she says means the “time has come” for Grandma. Grandma screams at them that she is fine, but Mommy and Daddy do not respond to her. The lights come back on and Grandma is still lying in the sandbox, hastily covering herself in sand with a toy shovel. She plays dead when Mommy and Daddy come over to look at her. Mommy and Daddy comment on how peaceful she looks, congratulate themselves for doing things well and being brave, and leave the scene. Grandma mimics them when they leave, and she tries to get up only to realize that she is stuck. The Young Man stops doing his calisthenics, walks over to Grandma, and tells her to be still. He says he is the Angel of Death and that he has come for her, and he kisses her on the forehead. Grandma compliments the Young Man on the delivery of his line, and the play ends.
Mommy – Mommy is Grandma’s daughter, however, she shows little affection for the other characters in the play, especially Grandma. Portrayed as controlling and inauthentic, Mommy shows no real emotion; she is simply “playing funeral,” impatiently waiting for Grandma to die so that she can go do something more interesting. She is 55 and described in the play as “A well-dressed, imposing woman.”
Daddy – Daddy is Mommy’s husband, and is oblivious to what is going on throughout the play. He is continuously given orders by Mommy and is portrayed as whiny and not able to think for himself; he acts more like Mommy’s child than her husband. Daddy’s meek personality serves as a foil to Mommy’s authoritarian figure. He is 60 and described in the play as “A small man; gray, thin.”
Grandma – Grandma is Mommy’s mother and the protagonist in the play. She is a humorous and vivacious character, providing a sharp contrast to Mommy and Daddy (who are seen as flat, inauthentic characters). Grandma symbolizes the “vigorous old frontier spirit,” the first generation, who is killed by the cliché-infested middle generation (Mommy and Daddy). Grandma also acts as a narrator “interpret[ing] the action for an audience which might be confused by players who provide their own stage directions.” She is 86 and described as “A tiny, wizened old woman with bright eyes.”
The Young Man – The Young Man is on stage for the entire play, doing calisthenics behind the sandbox and observing the other characters. He continues the calisthenics until the end of the play, moving his arms in a fluttering motion that is supposed to look like the movement of wings. The Young Man is actually the Angel of Death, and he acts as a “benediction-giving priest.” This role is illustrated through his calisthenics (similar to a priest holding up his arms and giving a benediction), and the comforting words he offers to Grandma as she dies. He is 25 and described as “A good-looking, well-built boy in a bathing suit.”
The Musician – The musician is a continuous presence throughout the play. He stands off to one side of the stage and plays in most of the show. Hired by Mommy and Daddy, the musician adds to the absurdity of the play by illustrating that it is all an act. This can be seen through his tendency to take stage directions and orders from the other characters. His presence also adds to the idea that Mommy and Daddy are “playing funeral”; he is there to add to the effect of Grandma’s passing. He is described as “No particular age, but young would be nice.”
Theater of the Absurd and Postmodernism
Theater of the Absurd can be defined as “a form of drama that emphasizes the absurdity of human existence by employing disjointed, repetitious, and meaningless dialogue, purposeless and confusing situations, and plots that lack realistic or logical development.” This concept is similar to postmodernism because both forms call attention to the idea of “fabulation,” or the idea that fiction is created simply for the purpose of having a structured system to live by. Another similarity between the two concepts is reflexivity. Works of postmodernism often pay close attention to the idea of self-consciousness and reflexivity of thought. In Theater of the Absurd, forms of self-reflexivity are employed through “use [of] the space of the stage and temporal ambiguities in the narrative to play with the ideas of the constructedness of reality and the systems that create it.” Postmodernism and Theater of the Absurd also both focus on ambiguity, incoherence, and the arbitrary nature of language (seen through the characters inability to communicate).
Key Elements in the Theater of the Absurd
1. Plays are “theatrical” and unrealistic. They usually illustrate impossible situations with highly fictitious characters.
2. Plays are usually solemn but comic in a way, frequently in a satirical form.
3. Common themes are: life as meaningless, the powerlessness and dehumanization of people in a bourgeois society, lack of communication or the inability of characters to communicate, and the loneliness of people in a God-less world.
4. “Characters behave illogically, speak in clichés, rarely if ever communicate with each other, and seem to have no clearly defined coherent characters.”
5. Not much happens in the plays (plotless).
American Life – Albee satirically criticizes American life in this play. He uses the American family as an icon for the life and culture in America during the 1950s. He portrays the clichés of the middle class in America, and implies that this leads to the death of Grandma, who is a symbol for “the vigorous old frontier spirit.” The play also mocks society by showing hypocrisy; the characters are portrayed as playing roles that they do not really care about. Not only are they going “playing funeral,” but they are also playing social roles. These social roles are seen as more important than relationships, and, because of this, the characters lose the ability to form their own emotions and thoughts. This is especially evident in the “Note” at the beginning of the play that states, “When, in the course of the play, MOMMY and DADDY call each other by these names, there should be no suggestion of regionalism. These names are of empty affection and point up the pre-senility and vacuity of their characters,” (pg. 1336). Albee describes the play by stating, “The play is an examination of the American Scene, an attack on the substitution of artificial for real values in our society, a condemnation of complacency, cruelty, emasculation and vacuity; it is a stand against the fiction that everything in this slipping land of ours is peachy keen.”
The Sandbox – the sandbox represents Grandma’s grave. In the play, she is literally buried alive when Mommy and Daddy drop her in a sandbox and then wait for her to die. Grandma pretends to die at the end of the play, and partially buries herself in the sand to humor Mommy and Daddy. She then realizes that she is stuck, and the sandbox becomes her grave when she accepts her death summons from the Angel of Death.
Grandma – Grandma represents the “old American pioneer spirit,” the first generation who is killed by the shallow, inauthentic middle generation.
The Sandbox is very similar to Albee’s other play, The American Dream, in its theme, satirical style, and characters. Albee states, “For The Sandbox, I extracted several of the characters from The American Dream and placed them in a situation different than, but related to, their predicament in the longer play.”
Grandma: (Righting herself to a sitting position; her voice a cross between a baby’s laugh and cry) Ahhhhhh! Graaaaa! (pg. 1337)
This quote illustrates elements of Theater of the Absurd, because it shows the inability of the characters to communicate.
Daddy: (Pause) What do we do now?
Mommy: (As if remembering) We …wait. We … sit here … and we wait… that’s what we do. (pg. 1337)
This quote is significant because it shows how the play is plot-less. Much of the show is spent waiting for Grandma to die.
Mommy: (Before the sandbox; shaking her head) Lovely! It’s… it’s hard to be sad… she looks… so happy. (With pride and conviction) It pays to do things well. (To the Musician) All right, you can stop playing now, if you want to. I mean, stay around for a swim, or something; it’s all right with us. (She sighs heavily) Well, Daddy … off we go.
Daddy: Brave Mommy!
Mommy: Brave Daddy!
This quote is important for several reasons. First, it shows the inauthentic quality of the Mommy and Daddy. They are pretending to mourn, but are really just happy to be rid of Grandma; so happy, that they don’t realize that she’s hasn’t actually died yet. It also shows the characters giving each other stage directions, which is a common characteristic of The Theater of the Absurd.
Questions to Consider
1. Rachel Blau Duplessis, a literary critic, states, “[Critics] who follow Albee say that at the end of his plays illusions have been broken and ‘reality’ recognized.” What reality, if any, is recognized at the end of The Sandbox? Explain.
2. Matthew C. Roudane acknowledges the “contrast of Grandma’s earlier values versus the newer values of Mommy and Daddy in The Sandbox.” What contrasting values are evident throughout the play? Do these values create binaries? Are there any other binaries evident in the play?
3. Do you see any similarities between Grandma’s character in The Sandbox by Edward Albee and the grandmother’s character in A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor? Do they serve similar functions in the two stories? Explain.
Albee, Edward. “The Sandbox.” The Bedford Anthology of American Literature,
Volume 2: 1865 to the Present. Ed. Susan Belasco and Linck Johnson. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martins, 2008. 1336-1341.
“Absurdism.” Historical Dictionary of Postmodernist Literature and Theater. Ed.
Fran Mason. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press Inc, 2007. 2-3.
Duplessis, Rachel Blau. “In the Bosom of the Family: Contradiction and Resolution
in Edward Albee.” Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 13. Ed. Dedria Bryfonski. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Company, 1980. 6-8.
Graham, Carol A. AP Literature and Composition, Questions for Discussion –
Edward Albee’s ‘The Sandbox.’ 2008.
Trudeau, Lawrence J, ed. Drama Criticism, Volume 11. Farmington Hills, MI: The Gale Group, 2000.
Cohn, Ruby. “The Verbal Murders of Edward Albee.” Lawrence J. Trudeau, 66.
Roudané, Matthew C. “Rejuvenating the American Stage.” Lawrence J. Trudeau,
Roudané, Matthew C. “Death and Life: Seascape.” Lawrence J. Trudeau, 355.
Vos, Nelvin. “The Process of Dying in Plays of Edward Albee.” Lawrence J. Trudeau,
Yates, Mary Susan. “Changing Perspectives: The Vanishing ‘Character’ in Albee’s
Plays.” Lawrence J. Trudeau, 107.
“theater of the absurd." The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language,
Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 25 Mar. 2009. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/theater of the absurd>."
|25b: The Sandbox by Edward Albee
Research Survey Compiled By: Ian Lovejoy
This one act play takes place on a beach. There are five characters. They are Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, the Musician, and the Young Man. The play portrays Mommy and Daddy bringing Grandma to a beach where they basically sit all day and wait for her to die. All the while the musician is intermittently playing music and the young man is doing calisthenics. The play ends when Mommy and Daddy leave Grandma who they assume is dead on the beach. Grandma is however not dead until touched by the Young Man who we find out is the Angel of Death.
Edward Albee had a troublesome childhood. He didn’t get along well at all with his adoptive parents. He was expelled from two different schools and eventually was disowned by his parents. His rebellious and homosexual nature was a stark contrast to his parents conservative views and was the basis for most of their conflicts. Although he eventually graduated from high school he only lasted three semesters at college before being expelled for skipping too many classes. He began working odd writing jobs to support himself and did so until the great success of his first play The Zoo Story. After his initial success he went on to enjoy similar results with plays such as The Sandbox, The Death of Bessie Smith, Fam and Yam, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. He won multiple Pulitzer prizes as well as Tony awards for his plays. He still writes today and up until 2003 gave special guest lectures at the University of Houston.
Mommy – it is said that the character Mommy was based on Albee’s adoptive mother. She is a very shallow, unlikable figure who throughout the play says nothing of real value.
Daddy - Like Mommy, Daddy is based on Albee’s adoptive father Reed Albee. He too lacks any real depth. He weakly goes along with everything Mommy says and seems to not have any real joy or emotion in life.
Grandma – Also based off of someone in Albee’s life Grandma is a depiction of his maternal grandmother Anna Loring Cotter. She provides us with some humor in the otherwise bland conversation between Mommy and Daddy.
Musician – We don’t hear much from the musician but he provides breaks in the action as everyone seems to want to tell him when and when not to play.
Young Man – He spends the entire play excercising until Mommy and Daddy leave Grandma who they assume is dead on the beach. It is then that we realize his true identity as the Angel of Death.
The major theme is the vacuity and overall lack of meaning Albee sees in everyday life. He is providing a broad commentary on the way he views the current state of values, relationships, and morality in America. Another theme in this play is death. It seems that Albee is also commenting on the lack of emotionality in day to day relationships. This stems from his troubled relationship with his ultra conservative adoptive parents. By centering the action of the play around Grandma’s death he is addressing the shallow, sometimes cold ritual of one’s passing.
Albee’s The Sandbox is a perfect example of postmodern literature. While modernists sought to break from traditional forms many postmodern writers parodied these same standards. In this work we see a traditional form with untraditional conventions. The characters, for instance, seem aware of themselves as actors. Grandma speaks directly to the audience at times breaking the fourth wall and some of the characters give orders to other cast members on lines and stage directions. So Albee takes the form of a one act play and makes it postmodern by taking traditional ideas about theater and twisting them to provide a different take on an old form.
Daddy: (after a pause) Shall we talk to each other?
Mommy: (with that little laugh picking something off her dress) Well, you can talk if you want to …if you can think of anything to say…if you can think of anything new.
Grandma: (to the audience again)I’m smart that way. Anyhow, I had to raise…that over there all by my lonesome; and what’s next to her there…that’s what she married. Rich? I tell you … money money money. They took me off the farm…which was real decent of them…and they moved me into the big town house with them…fixed a nice place under the stove…gave me an army blanket…and my own dish… my very own dish! So what have I got to complain about? Nothing, of course. I’m not complaining.
"She Unnames Them" by
Ursula K. Le Guin
Research Survey Compiled By: Meg Murphy
Ursula Le Guin was raised in an environment of thinking, whether it be books, intellectual conversations. She’s written twelve children’s books, nineteen novels, and eleven volumes of short stories so far. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon. Her childhood moderately started her writing career. It took place during WWII, where she was rather bored and lonely when her brothers all went into the service. “Those summers of solitude and silence, a teenager wandering the hills on my own, no company, "nothing to do," were very important to me. I think I started making my soul then.” When asked in the F.A.Q.’s on her website what inspired her to be a writer, she simply replies, “Learning to write, at five.”
The story begins by describing how different animals reacting to the unnaming. The narrator then describes how close she feels to the animals, once the names are gone and there’s nothing really separating them. Their names were like a barrier separating them. Names can create fear. Without the names, there’s not way to distinguish between hunters and eaters and the hunted and eater. This is exactly what the narrator intended. She then realizes that she must do the same thing, so she goes to Adam and gives back the name that his father gave her. This confirms that the narrator is Eve from Genesis. He is not really paying attention to her and just tells her to put it down. The narrator explains the reason she unnamed everything was because “talk was getting us nowhere.” She also admits that she was slightly disappointed that Adam didn’t question her decision, as she was willing to argue her reasoning. She hangs around for a little bit, waiting for Adam to notice, and eventually leaves, telling him, “Well, goodbye, dear. I hope the garden key turns up.” He inquires when dinner is and she eventually leaves to go be with the nameless animals.
Character Descriptions and Analysis
Eve-Eve possesses a kind of quiet power. While she wasn’t actually given the power that Adam was, she nevertheless manages to undo everything that Adam did. She seems a bit more in tune with nature, and she desires to be closer to all the animals, which is accomplished by her removal of the names.
Adam- Adam is rather clueless. He had previously named all the animals, and is thus content and not very productive currently. He doesn’t even realize when Eve is leaving.
Animals: Whales, dolphins, seals and sea otters- graceful, consenting, easy going.
Yaks- A bit argumentative and more stubborn.
Horses- apathetic to the unnaming.
Cattle, sheep, swine, asses, mules, goats, chickens, geese, turkey-enthusiastic and don’t mind the unnaming.
Pets- more attached to names, but eventually understanding.
Insects- very unattached to names
Fish- silently submissive to the unnaming.
This story is very much Post-Modernism. Post-Modernism deals with silence and deconstructionism, both of which are very important to the story. Eve deconstructs the previous hierarchy of the universe and unnames everything, which makes it harder to talk, or makes things almost silent, however theses are both intentional and desirable things, rather than negative ones.
Deconstruction: Deconstruction is a very prominent theme in “She Unnames Them.” There is a clear deconstruction of the natural hierarchy that was created in the creation of the world. When God created the world, he created Adam first, then the animals, and then Eve. Adam then was at the top of the hierarchy. However, when Eve undoes everything that Adam did, not only did she create no reason for him to be above the animals as all the animals don’t possess names anymore, but she also displayed her power as an equal.
Idea of the Signifier: This story also deals heavily in the idea of the signifier and the signified. The idea is the separation between a thing and what represents it, such as a word, symbol or sign. Eve unnames all of the animals and thus removes the signifier. Animals are not yaks, horses, and cats anymore, but simply what they are.
Idea of Crisis of Language: The story also deals with the “Crisis of Language” that is popular in Post-Modernism. “One of the reasons for doing what I did was that talk was getting us nowhere.” It’s the idea that words have lost their meaning in the modern world. They are only symbols. This is tied with the signifier/signified idea. However, Eve attempts to fix this with her unnaming of everyone.
Connections between works / Intertextuality:
The main connection to another work, is the stories connection to the Bible, mainly Genesis. Adam and Eve are both from Genesis and the story is almost like a sequel to it, or a “deleted scene,” undoing events that occurred in the original story.
There is also a reference to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, where the horses try to be called by a word in their own vocabulary, instead of human’s.
There is also a reference to T.S. Elliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, where “as the pet named Eliot said, they spend long hours daily contemplating though none of the contemplators has ever admitted that what they contemplate is in fact their name.”
Role of Feminism:
The story is a strong feminist one. It displays the power of females, and not just women. The yaks are very much against loosing their name, but the older female yaks are able to convince them that it was silly to hold on to the name, as they never use it themselves. Not only do the females make the decisions in the councils of elderly females, but they also find the logic and display a higher intelligence than the males.
In addition to the yaks, Eve also displays a feministic power, by being the one that undoes everything that Adam did. God may have given Adam the power to name all the creatures, but Eve manages to destroy that and thus, displays an even greater power.
“Most of them accepted namelessness with the perfect indifference with which they had so long accepted and ignored their names.” (p. 1351)
“None were left to unnamed, and yet how close I felt to them when I saw one of them swim or fly or trot or crawl across my way or over my skin, or stalk me in the night, or go along beside me for a while in the day.” (p. 1352)
“This was more or less the effect I had been after. It was somewhat more powerful than I had anticipated, but I could not now, in all conscience, make an exception for myself. I resplutely put anxiety away, went to Adam, and said, ‘You and your father lent me this- gave it to me, actually. It’s been really useful, but it doesn’t exactly seem to fit very well lately. But thanks very much! It’s really been very useful.’” (p. 1353)
“One of my reasons for doing what I did was that talk was getting us nowhere…” (p. 1353)
Suggested Exam Questions
Why does Eve unname the animals and what effect does it have on the current system?
Describe Adam and Eve’s relationship. How is it different than your previous idea of them? What does it say about the role of males and females in the story?
Sources/ Further Reading:
Belsco, Susan, and Linck Johnson. “Ursula Le Guin’s “She Unnames Them.””The Bedford Anthology of American Literature. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin's, 2008. p. 1349-1353
Cornell, Doretta. "Mother of All the Living: Reinterpretations of Eve in Contemporary Literature." crosscurrents.org. Winter 2004. Cross Currents. 29 Mar 2009 <http://www.crosscurrents.org/Cornell0404.htm>.
Le Guin , Ursula. "FAQ." Ursula K. Le Guin. 2007. Urula K. Le Guin. 22Mar 2009 <http://www.ursulakleguin.com/FAQ.html>.
Le Guin, Ursula K.. Gifts. 1st. Orlando: Harcourt Inc. , 2004.
Lynch, Jack. "Signifier and Signified." Lych, Literary Terms. Jack Lynch. 28 Mar 2009 <http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Terms/signifier.html>.
The Critical Anarchist, "The Crisis of Language and the Languae of Crisis." AticleDashboard.com. 2007. Article Dashboard. 28 Mar 2009 <http://www.articledashboard.com/Article/The-Crisis-of-Language-and-the-Language-of-Crisis/768040>.
|26b: "She Unnames Them" by
Ursula K. Le Guin
Research Survey Compiled By: Joe Hart
Born October 21, 1929 in Berkeley, California
Submitted a story to Astounding Science Fiction at age 11, rejected
BA in French from Radcliffe College, MA in Romance Languages from Columbia University
Fulbright scholar, met husband en route to study in France
Marriage put an end to graduate study and marked the beginning of two-decade effort to establish herself as a writer
Began as a sci-fi writer, submitting to various popular magazines, including The New Yorker, Playboy, and Redbook, as well as sci-fi mags like Fantastic and Amazing
Best known as a fantasy/sci-fi writer
In this story, Eve "unnames" all the animals which Adam has named, a Biblical reference to the Judeo-Christian creation myth in which Adam is given the responsibility of naming all the creatures that God has placed on the Earth. At the end, after having unnamed all the creatures, Eve gives her own name back to Adam and goes to live with the animals, with whom she now feels a closer bond. Adam seemingly does not even hear what she is saying, simply asking her as she goes when dinner will be ready.
This is a post-modern work. In the work, Le Guin is very interested in talking about the qualities of language and how the act of naming a thing changes it in our minds in some subtle way. At the end of the story, rather than wrapping everything up tidily, questions are left for the reader to ponder. For instance, what is it she gave back to Adam? Some people would argue that she gave back her own name, as a final act of unnaming. Others have argued that it is the name "woman", and is in fact freeing all women from the control of men. I read one article in which someone argued that she was actually returning Adam's rib, which was taken from him in order to make her, and that she is in fact unmaking herself by doing so. One interesting idea is the distinction drawn between personal names of individuals and the species name; dogs are reluctant to give up their names, until they are made to understand that they are to part with "dog" and not with "Rover". So one kind of word is acceptable, but another is not. One stands as a barrier, but one draws us closer.
In class, we discussed this story as a pastiche. While telling the story as a whimsical fantasy on the one hand, Le Guin is tackling some pretty heady issues of linguistics, feminism, and the existential crisis that Eve is working through. While this is on the surface a retelling of the biblical creation myth, Le Guin's Eve references modern writers like T.S. Eliot and Dean Swift, as well as the system of bionomial nomenclature developed by Linnaeus to categorize all of the animals, people and things that Eve obviously would have had no way of knowing about.
"Most of them accepted namelessness with the perfect indifference with which they had so long accepted and ignored their names."
"...all agreed enthusiastically to give their names back to the people to whom -- as they put it -- they belonged."
"None were left now to unname, and yet how close I felt to them when I saw one of them...."
"They seemed far closer than when their names had stood between myself and them...."
"...the hunter could not be told from the hunted, nor the eater from the food."
"I could not chatter away as I used to do, taking it all for granted. My words now must be as slow, as new, as single, as tentative as the steps I took going down the path away from the house...."
According to Le Guin herself, she meant the story "partly as a joke" but wrote it because she was very interested in the way in which the words we choose to describe a thing give it power, or sometimes change the meaning. Different words have different connotations, regardless of the denotation of the word. "In the language of war, we don't talk about killing or even casualties anymore. We use strange euphemisms instead, like 'body count' and 'friendly fire.'"
An interesting tidbit from an interview with the author reveals something about why she is so interested in names:
"I grew up in the Napa Valley without learning the English names for many of the plants and animals. When I started writing Always Coming Home, which takes place there, I had a wonderful time learning the flora and fauna of the area. For a while, I knew the name of every wildflower. But what you learn late doesn't stick. Now when I come across a flower whose name I've forgotten, I say, "How do you do, little yellow flower, whatever your name is." I used to crave to know the names, and I enjoyed learning them. It's funny, by naming a thing, do we think we get control over it? I think we do. That's how magic works. If you know the name of a thing, then you know its essence. At some level, I think we all must believe that."
LeGuin also makes a distinction in the story between a personal, individual name, like "Rover, or Froufrou, or Polly, or even Birdie", making the point that a personal name is different from a name for a group of things. Rover is a dog, but not all dogs are Rovers. She seems to be making a point here about how a generic name can strip someone of their individuality; if you think of a dog, you summon in your mind a generic picture of what a dog should look like, but if you picture Lassie, you think of a very specific dog. This of course leads us to wonder: what name did she return to Adam, and if the name that she returned was "Eve" rather than "woman", then why in particular did she do that? It may have been that she in some way resented the fact that Adam named her, and felt that she should choose her own name. This would seem to indicate that she is not only trying to return the animals' individuality in some way, but that she is also trying to determine in some way exactly whom she is. LeGuin never actually makes it clear in the story which moniker is being returned, so we are left to wonder.
It seems easiest to read this as a feminist work. In the story, Eve is in a way stripping Adam of the power over the animals that he took by giving them names. In the end, she frees herself of Adam's control by returning the "gift" that he gave her, which allowed her to wander away with the animals. As for the yaks, the females are shown to be the ones with the real power, as it is the "council of the elderly females" that finally make the argument that even though "yak" is a universal name for them, it is redundant, and since they never actually spoke it themselves, they might as well dispense with it. They present the argument to the bulls and reach an agreement, but the feeling I get from reading this is that the female yaks are really the ones in control. When she has her final exchange with Adam, he barely even seems to notice her, and you are left with the idea that he has just been taking her for granted for a while, confident in the control he exerts over her by having named her.
From "Mother of all the living: reinterpretations of Eve in contemporary literature.":
Ursula Le Guin's Adam is also lost in the abstractions of his mind, in "She Unnames Them"; while Eve prepares to leave Eden, Adam, content that his naming has settled each being into a comfortable and forgettable niche, fiddles with some invention. Eve first "unnames" the animals and, like Adam and Eve of Clifton's early poem set before the naming, discovers that she and they have regained some lost community, which she says was "more or less the effect I had been after." (33)
Eve then returns her own name to Adam: "You and your father lent me this--gave it to me, actually. It's been really useful, but it doesn't exactly seem to fit very well lately. But thanks very much. It's really been very useful," she says again, as if to soften the blow of its uselessness. Adam pays no attention, says "Put it down over there, OK?," convincing Eve that her actions were right: "One of my reasons for doing what I did was that talk was getting us nowhere." For Le Guin's Adam, language has become a barrier, relegating Eve, the animals, and the garden itself to generic functions in service to his needs; he cannot see them as individual selves.
Eve dawdles, hoping he will wake up and hear her, but she finally leaves, saying, "Well, goodbye, dear. I hope the garden key turns up." Adam replies absently, "OK, fine, dear. When's dinner?" (34) Le Guin's Adam has not really understood the garden, has not got the Key to paradise--to communion with the animals or with Eve--or, most likely with himself. He continues "fitting parts together" but misses the whole point of creation.
Are we to consider that this is in some ways a judgement upon Adam by Eve, that she believes that the naming of the animals contributed to the Fall? In the biblical story, Adam and Eve lived closely with the animals in Eden, neither fearing the other. Afterward, though, humans and animals are largely at odds and in competition with each other in the wild, aside form those few animals that we have domesticated, like the dogs that refused to give up their names. Eve is often blamed for the Fall, because she was the one initially tempted to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. However, was it Adam's own act of naming the creatures of the land and sea that brought about the Fall? If so, this story should be read as an attempt by Eve to mend the destruction that has been caused by erecting barriers of language and get closer to the initial godly state of perfection that she and Adam enjoyed when they were first brought to life in the garden of Eden.
At the end of the story, Eve has lost all her names, and finds that she must choose her words carefully and slowly. Not knowing any more the word for a "tree", she must choose individual words to describe everything that she sees, "going down the path away from the house, between the dark-branched, tall dancers motionless against the winter shining." By losing the words for things like "tree" and "sky" she must find new words to describe these things, and the words seem less like prose and more like poetry.
Some interesting articles:
"Coming back from the silence - interview with Ursula Leguin" (long interview, mention of this story specifically in pg. 4, but a fascinating discussion of linguistics throughout)
"Mother of all the living: reinterpretations of Eve in contemporary literature."
From a sermon by Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Riviera Presbyterian Church
"Beyond Omelas: Utopia and Gender" by Lee Cullen Khanna (this one can be found using Galileo -- I was unable to find a live web link for it)
Also, since this story has so much to do with the nature of language, read "Course in General Linguistics" by Ferdinand de Saussure:
"The School" by Donald
Research Survey Compiled By: Andrew "Smitty" Smith
Donald Barthelme was born on April 7, 1931, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Both of his parents, Donald and Helen, were very educated intelligent people. While Donald Barthelme was a boy, his mother encouraged him and his siblings to engage in literature. The fact that his mother encouraged literary interest is one reason Donald Barthelme turned out to be the great author that he was. His father was an architect, but also taught at the University of Houston. Similar to his father, Donald Barthelme taught at the University of Houston, and later became the director of the Creative Writing program at the University of Houston. Throughout his life Mr. Barthelme spent a great number of days in schools and classrooms, and those experiences helped him to write the short story “The School.” Pg 1360-1361
Everything kept dying in Edgar’s class. The class just cannot seem to get anything right. The whole ordeal started off with Orange trees, and then the life cycle was shown for the class many times over. It did not matter if the class had an herb garden or a dog everything they had died. It was no surprise when the tropical fish died, but when Kim the orphan, Matthew Wein, and Tony Mavrogordo all died the class started to get a little devastated and frightened that they were next. Then the class got a little curious on how the whole life cycled worked, they wanted a demonstration.
• Edgar- Teacher of the class. He is a fun loving teacher that wants the best for his class, and is willing to make sacrifices for them. For example, he let them have a dog even though he was not supposed to.
• Helen- the teacher’s assistant. This is the person who the class wants Mr. Edgar to make love with. An example of Donald Barthelme’s parody.
• Edgar- A dog one of Edgar’s students found. They name him Edgar to make fun of the teacher. The kid’s way of making fun of their teacher. The dog dies after two weeks, but he gets rid of it before the class gets there so it is no big deal. Another form of parody.
• Kim- a Korean orphan the class decides to donate money too. Everyone brings in one quarter a month to help save this child’s life, but apparently the adopted him a little late because he dies. More parody.
• Matthew Wein and Tony Mavrogordo- two children who we suspect is in Edgar’s class that die on a nearby construction site. Edgar talks about how the parents are going to take the company to court, it gets passed off like no big deal once again.
• Billy Brand’s father and other student’s parents- stabbed to death, two heart attacks, two suicides, one drowning, and four others all killed together in a car accident.
• Salamander, tropical fish, gerbil, Orange trees, snakes, and herb garden- all killed while the students were in Edgar’s class. Pgs 1362-1364
“Of course we expected the tropical fish to die, that was no surprise.” Pg 1362
This quote is important to the class’s mentality. It showed that by now the kids are almost getting used to everything dying on them.
“One day, we had a discussion in class. They asked me, where did they go? The trees, the salamander, the tropical fish, Edgar, the poppas and mommas, Matthew and Toney, where did they all go? And I said, I don’t know, I don’t know. And they said who know? And I said nobody knows. And they said, is death that which gives meaning to life? And I said no, life is that which gives meaning to life. Then they said, but isn’t death, considered as a fundamental datum, the means by which the taken-for-granted mundanity of the everyday may be transcended in the direction of-
I said yes, maybe
They said we don’t like it.
I said, that’s sound.
They said, it’s a bloody shame!
I said, it is.
They said, will you make love now with Helen (our teaching assistant) so that we can see how it is done? We know you like Helen.”
This quote is important because it shows the class does not get what is going on. They understand that these dead animals, plants, and people are no longer with them, but they do not get where everything went. They also do not have a clear idea of what making love really is because the class wants Edgar to make love to his assistant. The class gets that things go away. They die; now the class wants to see how things (people, trees, salamanders…) come into existence. As the reader, we see how confused the kids are, but we are too because it is almost like death is no big deal.
In the short story, “The School”, Donald Barthelme uses a couple of strategies to get his point across. For one, he talks to the reader. It is like he wants the reader to stop and think about what he just said. For example, “you remember, the boiler was shut off for days because of the strike.” It is like he wants the reader to feel like they are right there with Edgar and the class in the story. He also does a very interesting thing with ellipses. Donald Barthelme uses ellipses multiple times in the first few paragraphs. This is just another way for the reader to have to stop and think about what they have just read, and it gives the reader time to picture the situation that Barthelme is describing in the story. Another element he uses is parody. It is like he is making fun of death throughout the entire story saying things like “I bet it will live for two week” talking about the dog, and then it dies. When the dog dies it is like oh well, what is next. Or the Korean orphan the class tried to adopted, when he died Edgar says” maybe we adopted him too late or something.” Barthelme not only makes fun of death in the story, he also makes fun of birth. For example, Edgar kissed Ellen on the brow a couple of times, this in turned produced a new gerbil. Overall the entire story should be sad talking about death, but Barthelme’s great use of parody makes death and birth seem like no big deal. Barthelme also has a break at the very end of the story. The whole time while the class and Edgar are talking there were no breaks in punctuation, but at the end of the story the correct form of punctuation come into play. The reason for this is because Barthelme wants to show he is no longer talking about the dark side of death, he is now talking about the good side of life, birth. For such a sad subject, Barthelme does a great job in making light of the situation through his use of parody.
Possible Exam Question
Is this work modern or postmodern?
This story is postmodern because of the multiple ways of writing. One moment he is talking to the audience, or the reader, like we are in the story with him, and the next minute he is talking about death like it is a joke. Throughout the entire story Barthelme uses parody to convey his point. The story is very postmodern in the essence that life comes and goes, but he never says that, he leaves it up to the reader to make that call. Through his writing he gives a story, but the words on the paper do not convey the message. Which is everyone and everything dies, so do not take life too seriously.
|27b: "The School" by Donald
Research Survey Compiled By: Patrick Tilley
Brief Author Bio:
Donald Barthelme was a prominent postmodern author who was born in Philadelphia in 1931 and moved to Texas shortly after where he spent his early years. His father was a professor of architecture at the University of Houston after owning his own architect firm which became known for innovative modernist buildings including local schools (possibly the inspiration for the short story The School). Barthelme attended the University of Houston until he was drafted into the Korean War in 1952, which he did not fight in, but rather served as the editor of an Army newspaper. He was married 4 times and had two daughters. He held numerous newspaper and magazinepositions (including the New Yorker) and was the founder of Forum magazine. He taught at Boston University, University of Buffalo, and the College of the City of New York (where he was the 1974-75 Distinguished Visiting Professor). The School was first published in the collection of short stories called Amateurs in 1976.
The School is a short story written by Donald Barthelme which examines death in the world today, centered at a seemingly normal elementary school. The story plays out as the narrator, a teacher named Edgar, speaks to an unidentified person about the recent goings on at the titular school. Death seems to surround the children and faculty at this school for some bizarre reason, the narrator going so far as to justify it as a “run of bad luck.” As Edgar discusses the events with the listener, the reader is presented with a laundry list of things that have died in the recent past, all linked to this school. Thirty orange trees, all the snakes, the entire herb garden, the gerbils, Edgar the puppy, a group of tropical fish, Kim the Korean orphan, nine parents, numerous grandparents, Matthew Wein, Tony Mavrogordo, and Billy Brandt’s father all fell victim to this unknown curse. Once Edgar finishes the list of losses he retells a conversation that he and his students have; the students ask him where all these things have gone and if death defines life. These children are wiser than their years, but lack experience in the world, and in their fear of mortality plead with Edgar at the close of the story to make love to Helen (his teacher assistant). Just as Edgar embraces Helen there is a knock on the classroom door heralding the arrival of the new class gerbil.
This short story fits neatly into the postmodernism Ism. Rather than searching for meaning through the confusion and depressing events happening around them, the students eagerly forgo their existential thoughts as soon as the new gerbil is brought into the room. The end of the story makes the rest of it seem cheerful and happy, making light of all the morbidity. Another postmodern element found throughout the story is the irony. The teacher is rather emotionally withdrawn from the events around him, when the average person would have much cause for alarm.
Edgar, the narrator- Edgar is the second grade teacher who lets the reader in on the goings on at his school. Bizarre, yet lighthearted, deaths occur all around him and he remains un-phased.
The Listener- An unidentified person is listening to the story of this school as given by Edgar. This character never speaks, possibly being used as a device to further the parody of the story. The listener sits speechless and appalled at what he/she is hearing, much like how modernists would feel when being presented with postmodernism.
Death, and its meaning, is the main theme of The School. Then entire story is one thing dying after the next. With all the rapid death surrounding the children of the school, it is easy to see that the new gerbil introduced at the end of the story will too meet a quick end. Although death is a very serious matter, it is treated in a silly absurd manner within the story. The children express a fear of what may happen to them, a fear which is forgotten when their new pet comes to the class.
“They asked me, where did they go? The trees, the salamander, the tropical fish, Edgar, the poppas and mommas, Matthew and Tony, where did they go? And I said, I don’t know. And They said, who knows? And I said, nobody knows. And they said, is death that which gives meaning to life? And I said, no, life is that which gives meaning to life. Then they said, but isn’t death, considered as a fundamental datum, the means by which the taken-for-granted mundanity of the everyday may be transcended in the direction of-”
“I said I would be fired and that it [making love] was never, or almost never, done as a demonstration.”
1- Is the narrator trustworthy? Could he be putting a twist on the information he is giving to his listener? Compare and contrast this narrator with the narrator from The Yellow Wallpaper.
2- How does Barthelme’s interpretation of death relate to the portrayal of death in Albee’s The Sandbox or Frost’s poem Design? Is it more serious or less serious?
3- Like Fitzgerald’s Ice Palace, the title of the story sets the tone and stage for the narrative. How is the setting of The School important to its story? Would the story be as effective in another place or time? Use examples from both works to make your argument.
"Recitatif" by Toni
Research Survey Compiled By: Meghan Takacs
“-it was something else to be struck in a strange place with a girl from a whole other race.”
“I liked the way she understood things so fast”
“I don’t know why I dreamt that about that orchard so much. Nothing really happened there. Nothing all that important, I mean.” (foreshadowing)
“Things are not right. The wrong food is always with the wrong people”
“Howard Johnson’s really was a dump in the sunlight”
“Maybe it was the thing itself. Just being there, together. Two little girls who knew what nobody else in the world knew- how not to ask questions. How to believe what had to be believed. There was politeness in that reluctance and generosity as well”
“Maybe I am different now, Twayla. But you’re not. You’re the same little state kid who kicked a poor old black lady when she was down on the ground. You kicked a black lady and you have the nerve to call me a bigot.”
“It was just that I wanted to do it so bad that day- wanting to is doing it”
Postmodernism: Recitatif displays many elements from the postmodernism movement. Dismissing the idea of creativity, invention and originality, Morrison uses self-consciously appropriated writing techniques that are parodied with earlier styles of writing. Morrison also gives us broad generalizations of time, such as how the women’s relationship consists of several gaps of time; what happened in those years to change their relationship? Morrison’s main interest is in the local and provisional rather than universal; she focuses on their relationship and does not give a lot of information on what is going on outside of their past and how they feel about each other. The social role of culture in literature is constantly challenged in this short story; Morrison challenges the social role in these women’s life and its capacity to represent reality by making it seem impossible to bring social change to a chaotic and racist world. Morrison broadly generalizes the issue of race in order to reflect the previous breakdown of earlier systems.
Author biography (relevant to story): Toni Morrison grew up with a strong sense of the importance of African American culture and history. She helped African American writers Angela David, Muhammad Ali and June Jordan publish works. Her strong interest in Black history and black rights led her to ultimately be he first black woman to receive Nobel Prize in literature.
In the short story Recitatif, Toni Morrison portrays two women who constantly struggle with the issue of race and its affects on their friendship from childhood to adult hood. Beginning with their adolescence, Twayla, the white girl, and Roberta, the black girl, meet in “St. Bonny’s”, a shelter. Both are abandoned by their mothers for different reasons and even though they are of different races, the naiveness that childhood brings covers their fears of opression and they form a beautiful friendship. However, the two eventually leave the shelter and endure on their own journeys. Later down the road, the two have several encounters, each of which is completely different. When Roberta and Twayla encounter each other each of these times, their reactions and attitude toward each other is formed by what is going on in history at that moment. The run-ins constantly inhibit their friendship with a racial divide, and at the end the problem is never really fixed, only realized.
Toni Morrison’s characterization and description in the story underscored the reader’s ability to specifically define which character is black and which is white
The events of the story are described by Twyla, the narrator, in first person. The point of view in the story is most recognizable when Twyla describes her memories of the controversial character Maggie.
The story is set up with a sense of rhythm. The word “recitatif” refers to a style of musical declamation between song and ordinary speech; it is often used in interludes during operas. Furthermore, the term “recitatif” suggests the story’s episodic nature and how each of the five encounters the women have is different from the last. In a sense the story is Twyla’s “recitatif” because each of the 5 encounters the women have are all different rhythms and the short moments these women have serve as breaks in the song.
Black –vs- white: Morrison illustrates how the divide between the races in American culture is dependent on black and whites actually defining themselves as “Black or “White”, ultimately defining themselves in opposition to one another
Racial divide: Twyla and Roberta’s relationship is inhibited by the sense of a un-erasable racial divide; this divide is based on society’s thoughts and national racial tensions that result from those thoughts
Racial codes: Morrison attempts to break the theme of racial codes by creating a narrative about two girls who are unaware of how much their race plays in their friendship and their social roles in society. Since we are never really told which character is which, the reader is left to contemplate themes of race and discover how the opposition between white and black people is defined. She plays with the roles of black and white people in order to disrupt the reader’s perspective on how society portrays race.
The theme of a mother figure: "Recitatif," the archetypal mother figure is embodied through a domestic servant named Maggie; the female protagonists' continually revised memories of an incident in which Maggie is attacked attempt to negotiate a traumatic mothering situation that is both absent and present”
Friendship: “This is because Maggie embodies Twyla's and Roberta's intersecting pasts. Rather than dealing directly with their maternal realities of absence and presence, memories of Maggie become the center of strife between them. The racial difference between Roberta and Twyla is insufficient to counter the "dumped" aspect of their identities.”
(Revised Memories and Colliding Identities: Absence and Presence in Morrison's "Recitatif" and Viramontes's "Tears on My Pillow.".Preview By: Androne, Helane Adams. MELUS, Summer2007, Vol. 32 Issue 2, p133-150, 18p; (AN 25852844))
Race and identity: “By replacing the conventional signifiers of racial difference (such as skin color) with radically relativistic ones (such as who smells funny to whom) and by substituting for the racialized body a series of disaggregated cultural parts- pink-scalloped socks, tight green slacks, large hoop earring, expertise at playing jacks, a taste for Jimi Hendrix or for bottled water and aspargus- the story renders race a contested terrain variously mapped from diverse positions in the social landscape”
Black writing, white reading: Race and the politics of feminist interpretation.Preview By: Abel, Elizabeth. Critical Inquiry, Spring93, Vol. 19 Issue 3, p470, 29p; (AN 9502073019)
How it relates to history at that time: When Recitatif was published in 1983 in the same time frame that Reagan was reelected as president and tensions between the police and black people were building across the country and riots were breaking out in Brixton, Toxteth, Birmingham, Preston and Hull. During the 1980’s non fiction books were most popular.
|28b: "Recitatif" by Toni
Research Survey Compiled By: Adriana Jaume
The story is about the two main characters, Twyla and Roberta. One is an African American girl and the other is a Caucasian girl, though Morrison never establishes which is which. The story opens up with the two girls meeting at an orphanage at age 8, where they both have been abandoned by their parents; Twyla is there because her mother “dances all night,” and Roberta is there because her mother is sick. Though the girls appear to be complete opposites, they are very much alike. The two girls are secluded from all the other children, so they form a strong bond. Twyla remembers their experience at St. Bonny’s, the orphanage, and revisits memories, including Maggie, a mute worker. The two girls later meet again years later, while Twyla is working at a diner and Roberta is there with her friends. Twyla feels as if she does not even know Roberta because she was so cold and short towards Twyla, which is later explained as a result of the struggles between blacks and whites. The girls then meet for the third time, years later, after we hear of Twyla’s family; her husband, James, and her son, Joseph. Twyla meets Roberta at a restaurant and the two exchange stories of their lives. Roberta is wealthy and Twyla is middle class. They speak of Maggie and Roberta informs Twyla that Maggie did not fall that day in the orchard, she was pushed. The two leave each other awkwardly and angerly. The two meet again later during struggles with black and white school integrations and busing. Twyla sees Roberta picketing against integration, so Twyla begins picketing for the busing and school integration directly across from Roberta. This brings up anger, and Roberta tells Twyla she has not changed and is the same person that kicked the innocent mute worker, Maggie. Years pass, and the women meet again in a coffee shop. They begin to talk about their last meeting and Roberta apologizes for what she said to Twyla about Maggie. The conversation is lighter, but at the end, their friendship still does not seem revolved.
This story deals with the constant struggle between blacks and whites in history. The two main characters show how important racial identity was and their attempts to fight it. The two girls try to remain friends over the twenty years of the story, but their racial differences tear them apart, even after their last encounter. The bus integration Twyla and Roberta encountered was an attempt to desegregate schools by busing children to schools further away, in order to desegregate in the 1970s.
This story would definitely be considered in the Post- Modern literary movement. The story fits this movement because it details the two girls’ constant struggle towards an ultimate truth; the truth about what really happened with Maggie and why they cannot be friends. It also is challenging race, ethnicity, and social class structures, as the girls are complete opposites in each of these categories.
Sarah Madsen Hardy critique:
- Maggie is a constant reoccurring character, though it never tells what really happened to her or why she is so important.
- Maggie really is not a character, as much as she is a metaphor. She represents the problems and the bond between Twyla and Roberta’s friendship throughout the years.
- Maggie never has a huge part in the story, just that she fell in the orchard, which Twyla even comments about, saying nothing really happened at the orchard, just that Maggie fell, and neither of the girls helped her.
- The girls can’t even determine whether Maggie was black or white, which shows even more differences between the two girls and shows that race was not important to the girls at St. Bonny’s, but now it’s a huge issue that determines their life. “Race lies not in the skin of the subject but in the eye of the observer.”
- Both girls saw traits in Maggie that reminded both of them of their despised mothers. Twyla calls Maggie her mother and Roberta comments that she was raised in an institution like her mother.
- The girls also relate themselves with Maggie.
- Maggie once brought them together when they were younger, in the later years of their lives, she seems to separate them.
Sarah Madsen Hardy, “What Happened to Maggie,” in Short Stories for Students, The Gale Group, 1999. http://www.answers.com/topic/recitatif-story-8
- Race and Racism
- Black vs. White
- Differences (we never know which girl is black and which is white)
- Social Class Structure (rich vs. poor)
Several American Literature works use interracial friendships, which then indicates an imbalance of power in the relationship, which is exactly what this work shows.
|29a: Sylvia Plath's Poetry
Research Survey Compiled By: Carol Kim
- Largely influenced by Robert Lowell and Theodore Roethke, also by T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, W. S. Merwin, W. B. Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Marianne Moore, J.D. Salinger
- Plath's works echo that of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "The Yellow Wallpaper" in that the reliability of the speakers' narration is questionable – in Gilman’s case because her narrator is insane and in Plath’s case because she mixes elements of fiction with her personal life.
- Plath's works can also be connected to Edward Albee's The Sandbox in that both authors' works involve a preoccupation with death. Both writers also stylistically share a comic treatment of death.
- Plath born in the midst of the Great Depression. Her anxiety over status and her family's financial state while growing up was hidden by her outward literary and academic successes.
- 1957 Peak of postwar baby boom
- 1958 NASA founded
- 1959 Alaska and Hawaii become the 49th and 50th states
- 1959 Barbie dolls launched by Mattel
- 1960 Plath publishes The Colossus and Other Poems. FDA approves the sale of Enovid, the first birth control pill.
- By 1960, 87% of American homes have a television, spurring on the idea of hyperreality
- 1961 Berlin Wall erected
- 1961 Edward Albee publishes The Sandbox
- 1963 President Kennedy sends military advisors to Vietnam; assassinated the same year and Lyndon B. Johnson assumes the presidency. Betty Friedan publishes The Feminine Mystique. Sylvia Plath commits suicide in her London apartment.
- 1966 National Organization for Women (NOW) founded.
- Born in Jamaica Plain in Boston, Massachusetts on October 27, 1932
- Elder of two children of a former high school teacher (Aurelia Plath) and a professor of German and biology at Boston University (Otto Plath), father was an immigrant from Prussian area of Germany, died 1940 after amputation of gangrenous leg, Sylvia only 8 years old
- Very bright student, first poem published in a Boston newspaper at age 8, published poems in several national magazines as an undergraduate, attended Smith College
- Awarded coveted position of guest editor at Mademoiselle magazine in New York City during summer of her third year at Smith, but Plath grew severely depressed there and made her first documented suicide attempt for which she was committed to a mental institution and received electroconvulsive shock therapy
- Returned to Smith and graduated with honors, won a Fulbright scholarship to attend Cambridge University where she met poet Ted Hughes
- Married Hughes in June 1956 after a short courtship; marriage began to fall apart in 1961 when Hughes began having an affair, which Plath immediately noticed; separated in 1962
- Died in London, England on February 11, 1963 by sleeping pills and inhalation of toxic gas fumes in the kitchen of her apartment in London
- First poet to posthumously receive Pulitzer Prize
Summaries & Literary Criticisms
- The date at the end of the poem indicates that Plath's daughter is 10 months old, and Plath is not yet pregnant with her son.
- Expresses speaker's conflicted feelings at the birth of what is probably her first child. Feels natural affection for her child while at the same time is unable to ignore the feeling of servitude brought on by motherhood
- Harshly regards the baby as a "New statue./In a drafty museum..." opening up a distance between herself and the child.
- Reflects the speaker's reluctance into motherhood, attempts to cut the bond between mother and child, saying "I'm no more your mother/Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow effacement at the wind's hand."
- Possible bitterness toward the baby for the deterioration of the speaker's body, which is still "cow-heavy" from pregnancy.
- Speaker in the end still shows affection, or at least responsibility, for her child, shown by her immediate response to the baby's "one cry" by stumbling out of bed to attend to it.
- The poem begins in an isolated setting where there is "nothing but blackberries."
- The juice of the blackberries is compared to blood, and when the juices get on the speaker's fingers, (s)he refers to it as a "blood sisterhood.” The speaker expects that the road where the blackberry bushes end will open up to the sea but instead finds "nothing, nothing but a great space/Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths/Beating and beating at an intractable metal."
- One critic’s interpretation of this poem is that the speaker is looking for love anywhere she can find it, thus immediately and desperately asserting that the blackberries must love her, for they have formed a blood sisterhood with her with their juices.
- Another critic’s interpretation of this poem is that the speaker is referring to motherhood. The speaker's hopes and expectations of motherhood fall flat once she experiences it, which is signified by the "great space" of nothingness, and the "din like silversmiths beating and beating at an intractable metal" can be interpreted as the reluctant speaker hearing her child's cries for its mother.
- Another interpretation of the poem is that the speaker fails to connect with nature because of industrialization and is surprised to see that the sea she expected to find is replaced by a cityscape.
- A mirror is personified in this poem; it is the speaker.
- The mirror says it reflects back exactly what it sees; it is "not cruel, only truthful," and calls the flattering light of candles and the moon "liars."
- In the second stanza the mirror is a lake, and a woman is introduced who frequents her reflection in the lake ever since she was a young girl until now when she is an old woman.
- One critic suggests that the woman herself is the mirror. To look into the glass is to look inwardly for herself. She wants to see the flattering distortion of herself, which is why she wants to stay near the "liars" -- the candles and the moon, but she knows she cannot forever stay the ideal of a young woman as defined by the expectations of men. She cannot remain young forever, even more so if she has a child. The mirror represents the woman’s choice of how she wants to reflect herself – between becoming a reflection of her child or insisting for herself an autonomous identity. However, to choose the autonomous identity is to face the reality of seeing the unpleasant "terrible fish" as her reflection.
- Speaker addresses her Prussian father, cast as a Nazi, with whom she is both connected and at enmity
- Speaker exhibits an Electra complex; "black shoe" in which speaker claims to have lived is deliberately phallic
- One critic states that by making her father a Nazi and herself a Jew, she metaphorically portrays the emotional distance between them and her internal conflict between being an independent self and having closure with her father's death
- Tries to join her father by attempting suicide ("At twenty I tried to die/And get back, back, back to you")
- Realizes the way to be independent from her father is to kill or replace his memory, which she attempts to do by marrying, setting her father as the model for all men ("And then I knew what to do./I made a model of you...And I said I do, I do.")
- "Daddy" contains elements that portray a reaction against the part of the Modernist world that embraces the overthrow of established traditions. The speaker here seems at first to be desperately seeking a return to traditional roles of father and daughter, but the poem goes on to contain contradictory material in which the speaker begins to realize the need to reject those roles
- "Daddy" also contains elements of Postmodernism because the speaker eventually achieves acceptance of her relationship with her father and replacement father figure when she silences both by metaphorically killing them and attaining closure.
- However, speaker realizes the man she married is an impostor; relieves herself of him and of her father's memory ("If I've killed one man, I've killed two --/The vampire who said he was you/And drank my blood for a year,/Seven years, if you must know...There's a stake in your fat black heart" Note: Plath was married to Hughes for 7 years)
- The title alludes to the story of Lazarus in the Bible, who is a man resurrected by Jesus. Regarding this poem, Plath wrote that the speaker has "the great and terrible gift of being reborn. She is the phoenix, the libertarian spirit...She is also just a good, plain, very resourceful woman."
- One critic argues that the speaker is someone who is prone to attempting suicide and has evidently already attempted it three times ("And like the cat I have nine times to die./This is Number Three"). There is a tone of triumph in the speaker's voice regarding her ability to die and yet survive. ("I have done it again./One year in every ten.../A sort of walking miracle"; "Dying/Is an art, like everything else./I do it exceptionally well.")
- Critics praise Plath's ability to control her painful experiences and objectify them, ritualize them, and manipulate her fears into a seemingly lighthearted poem.
- As a phoenix, the speaker in the last stanza spurs her defiance onward as an effort of the mind to triumph over terror (the ashes) and rise out of them and not to victimize herself with her fears.
- Rejection - In "Daddy," Plath's speaker rejects the modern world, family, society, and self
- Black – “Blackberrying;” In "Daddy: " the black shoe, the swastika "so black no sky could squeak through," the man in black with a Meinkampf look, the man at the blackboard; suggestions of absence, also death.
- Absence - "Blackberrying" - "Nobody in the lane, and nothing, nothing but blackberries." Also toward the last few lines of the poem it reads: "A last hook brings me/To the hills' northern face, and the face is orange rock/That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space."
- Death - Her own impending death and her father's death show up throughout Plath's work.
- Death as escape - always regresses back to this as a potential ultimate solution
- Motherhood - "Morning Song" - sense of diminishment and servitude that motherhood brings
- Gender conflicts, misandry and the painful lot of women, entrapment by men, living in "black shoe," the "terrible fish" that rises toward women day after day as they get older and less desirable.
- Overthrow of dominance in "Daddy" when she drives the stake through his heart and says "Daddy, you bastard, I'm through."
- Confessional poetry "Daddy," "Lady Lazarus," "Morning Song"
- “Morning Song” consists of six, three-line, unrhymed stanzas.
- "Blackberrying" consists of three, nine-line, unrhymed stanzas.
- "Mirror" consists of two, nine-line, unrhymed stanzas.
- "Daddy" consists of sixteen, five-line, irregularly rhymed stanzas.
- "Lady Lazarus" consists of twenty-eight, three-line, irregularly rhymed stanzas.
- Light-verse technique - melding of comic and serious elements in tone works to disguise feeling, esp. in "Lady Lazarus" - the morbid "peanut-crunching crowd" coming out to see her raised from the dead contrasted with her recovery from another suicide attempt; tone is hysterical, triumphant, defiant while content is morbid and grotesque
- Near and slant rhymes in a free-form structure "I have done it again,/One year in every ten/I manage it" ("Lady Lazarus")
- Free-flowing imagery - Examples: "The peanut-crunching crowd/Shoves in to see/Them unwrap me hand and foot -- /The big strip tease." ("Lady Lazarus"), elicits auditory and visual sensory responses; "Blackberries/Big as the ball of my thumb, and dumb as eyes/Ebon in the hedges, fat/With blue-red juices." ("Blackberrying"), elicits visual sensory response and almost taste as well; "All night your moth-breath/Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen:/A far sea moves in my ear." ("Morning Song"), sight and hearing.
- Metaphors – Example: "The vampire who said he was you" ("Daddy")
- Similes - Examples: "Love set you going like a fat gold watch," "We stand round blankly as walls," "Your mouth opens clean as a cat's," "The clear vowels rise like balloons." ("Morning Song"), "Ghastly statue with one gray toe/Big as a Frisco seal," ("Daddy")
- Personification - Examples: "With blue red juices. These they squander on my fingers...they must love me," ("Blackberrying," the blackberries ‘squander’ and ‘love’); Mirror is the speaker ("Mirror")
- Enjambment – Examples: "A blackberry alley going down in hooks, and a sea/Somewhere at the end of it, heaving. Blackberries/..." ("Blackberrying"); "The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry/Took its place among the elements." ("Morning Song")
- Allusions (to folklore--vampires, cat with 9 lives, Holocaust, Bible)
- Colloquial language – "Chuffing," "Achoo," and "gobbledygoo," in "Daddy" shows the child's perspective through language
- "Love set you going like a fat gold watch." ("Morning Song")
- "One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral/In my Victorian nightgown./Your mouth opens clean as a cat's. The window square/Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try/Your handful of notes;/The clear vowels rise like balloons." ("Morning Song")
- "...fat/With blue-red juices. These they squander on my fingers./I had not asked for such a blood sisterhood; they must love me." ("Blackberrying")
- "A last hook brings me/To the hills' northern face, and the face is orange rock/That looks out on nothing, nothing but a great space/Of white and pewter lights, and a din like silversmiths/Beating and beating at an intractable metal." ("Blackberrying")
- "I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions./Whatever I see I swallow immediately/Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike./I am not cruel, only truthful - /The eye of a little god, four-cornered." ("Mirror")
- "Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon./I see her back, and reflect it faithfully." ("Mirror")
- "In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman/Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish." ("Mirror")
- "You do not do, you do not do/Any more, black shoe/In which I have lived like a foot/For thirty years, poor and white,/ Barely daring to breathe or Achoo./Daddy, I have had to kill you." ("Daddy")
- "I was ten when they buried you./At twenty I tried to die/And get back, back, back to you./I thought even the bones would do./But they pulled me out of the sack,/And they stuck me together with glue./And then I knew what to do./I made a model of you,/A man in black with a Meinkampf look/And a love of the rack and the screw./And I said I do, I do." ("Daddy")
- "If I've killed one man, I've killed two -- /The vampire who said he was you/And drank my blood for a year,/Seven years, if you want to know." ("Daddy")
- "And I a smiling woman./I am only thirty./And like a cat I have nine times to die./This is Number Three./What a trash/To annihilate each decade." ("Lady Lazarus")
- "The peanut-crunching crowd/Shoves in to see/Them unwrap me hand and foot -- /The big strip tease." ("Lady Lazarus")
- "Dying/Is an art, like everything else./I do it exceptionally well./I do it so it feels like hell." ("Lady Lazarus")
- "It's easy enough to do it and stay put./It's the theatrical/Comeback in broad day/To the same place, the same face, the same brute/Amused shout:/"A miracle!"/That knocks me out." ("Lady Lazarus")
- "Out of the ash/I rise with my red hair/And I eat men like air." ("Lady Lazarus")
Suggested Exam Questions
- Plath's poetry is difficult to examine without acknowledging the influence of her personal life. However, to read her as a legitimate poet, consider the style and form of her writing and write an essay that analyzes how these elements work in enhancing her angst-driven content.
- Plath's poems "Daddy" and "Lady Lazarus" are companion pieces. Compare and contrast at least two recurring themes and motifs in the two works and explain how they function from part to whole.
Bedford Anthology of American Literature 1865-Present
The Monster in Plath's 'Mirror'
Critic: William Freedman
Source: Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 108, No. 5, October, 1993, pp. 152-69. Reproduced by permission
Criticism about: Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), also known as: Victoria Lucas, Mrs. Ted Hughes
Sylvia Plath and Confessional Poetry: A Reconsideration
Critic: M. D. Uroff
Source: Iowa Review, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1977, pp. 104-15. Reproduced by permission
Criticism about: Sylvia Plath (1932-1963), also known as: Victoria Lucas, Mrs. Ted Hughes
|29b: Sylvia Plath's Poetry
Research Survey Compiled By: Hannah Samet
Sylvia Plath’s work is extremely autobiographic and it’s often hard to separate
her tragic personal life from her poetry and prose. Plath was born on October
27, 1932 in Boston, Massachusetts to Otto and Aurelia Plath. In 1940, her father
died of a curable form of diabetes at a young age. Otto Plath had been a
professor of biology and Boston University specializing in bees. Plath had
adored her father and his death would have a deep effect on the rest of her life.
Her mother reported in an interview many years later that upon hearing the
news of her father’s death, Plath retreated and said, “I will never speak to god
again.” When she was eight years old, the same year her father died, Plath’s first
poem was published in The Boston Herald. She was a top student at the public
schools she attended in Wellesley and was granted a scholarship to Smith
College. At this point, Plath had already had a number of stories published in
magazines such as Seventeen and Mademoiselle. After returning form an
internship with Mademoiselle, Plath learned that she had not been accepted to a
fiction writing course at Harvard the she had longed to attend, and subsequently
fell into a depression that would lead to her first attempt at suicide.
After returning to and graduating from Smith, Plath was awarded a Fulbright
scholarship to attend Newnham College in Cambridge. Here, Plath met Ted
Hughes, her future husband and father of their two children, Frieda and
Nicholas. In 1961 Plath’s marriage began to fall apart. Hughes had become
involved with Assia Wevill, the wife of the tenant renting Plath and Hughes
London flat. After Plath separated from Hughes, she began a slow decline into
depression that would eventually lead to her suicide on February 11, 1963 by
putting her head inside a gas oven and breathing the fumes. It is said that as
one final thoughtful gesture, Plath left two mugs of milk and a plate of buttered
bread out for her children. The Colossus was her only published book of poetry
in her lifetime; all subsequent writings were published posthumously.
Plath’s entire life story is long and convoluted, and many times confused with
certain aspects of fiction in her semi-autobiographic novel The Bell Jar, making
research on Plath somewhat of a challenge.
-Landscapes, seascapes, the natural world
-The role of women in society
Summary and Analysis of Poetry
Plath was primarily a free-verse poet, usually adhering to a certain number
of lines per verse in her poems. Occasionally we see rhyming patterns in her
work. She adhered to common poetic forms (couplets, quatrains, etc.). Because
of the deep nature of her writing, it is often difficult to summarize and interpret.
She often uses sensory imagery to emphasize her poetry. She will also often
include German phrases or words. Much of her poetry is autobiographical in its
roots, layered many times with elements of fiction that make it her art. That is
why it is so often difficult to completely separate Plath’s poetry form her
This poem is comprised of six tercets and is not characterized by any
rhyming but contains a lot of enjambment. Each stanza describes the next
moment in the birth process chronologically. The themes of this poem other
than the obvious theme of birth are natural elements, the role of a mother,
mother nature, purity, and the power of purity. When Plath writes about a baby,
it can be assumed she is basing the character on her youngest child, her son
Nicholas. He was a salvation to her and is thus the subject of some of her
This poem is also about motherhood, specifically childbearing. It is
comprised of three nine-line stanzas. Again, major themes in this poem include
nature, the sea, and motherhood. The poem concludes with imagery of the sea,
open expanses that represent the feeling of relief Plath’s children gave her.
This poem is comprised of two nine-line verses. It is has a dark and
pessimistic tone, more characteristic of the poems found in her posthumous
volume Collected Poems. Personification, imagery, and metaphor heavily
characterize this poem. The themes in this poem include self-awareness,
reality, perceptions of others, nature, age, and parts of the body. This poem is
literally and metaphorically a reflective poem, characterized by Plath’s own self-
awareness and insecurities.
In a script to be broadcasted for BBC, Plath explained that Daddy was about
a girl with an Electra complex whose father died when she thought he was God.
The character in the poem claims that her father was a Nazi and her mother half
Jewish, and she cannot seem to free herself from the two strains until the
allegory is played out. However, it is impossible to ignore Plath’s own
experience’s influence over the poem. Her father, having died when Plath was
young, left her feeling abandoned and betrayed; perhaps always trying to
replace him as the character does in the poem. This poem in particular has an
air of arrogance that makes it hard for many people to accept in that
metaphorically Plath’s speaker is claiming that her betrayal by her father makes
her comparable to a holocaust victim. Though it is dark in nature, it reads in
some parts like a nursery rhyme. The themes include conflicts between love and
hate, war, death, abandonment, and betrayal.
Plath explained in a script for BBC that the speaker in Lady Lazarus is a
woman with the gift of being reborn, a gift that can be considered both great
and terrible. She has to die before being reborn however, and is compared to the
phoenix and the libertarian spirit. Above all, she is a resourceful smart woman.
The themes in this poem include death, birth, the human body, time, and self-
awareness. It is comprised of tercets. While it is dark, it also has an enlightening
element contained in the idea of rebirth. There is a youthful feeling in some of
the end rhyme and internal rhyme that propels the narration forward.
The Colossus and Other Poems (1960)
Ariel (1965), includes the poems "Tulips", "Daddy" and "Lady Lazarus"
Three Women: A Monologue for Three Voices (1968)
Crossing the Water (1971)
Winter Trees (1972)
The Collected Poems (1981)
Selected Poems (1985)
Plath: Poems (1998)
The Bell Jar (1963)
Letters Home (1975, to and edited by her mother)
Johnny Panic and the Bible of Dreams (1977)
The Journals of Sylvia Plath (1982)
The Magic Mirror (1989, Plath's Smith College senior thesis)
The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath (2000, edited by Karen V. Kukil)
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing
guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is
“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; I lift my eyes and all is born
“Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels
like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you could say I've a call.”
“I talk to God but the sky is empty.”
“Is there no way out of the mind?”
“Kiss me and you will see how important I am.”
“Perhaps when we find ourselves wanting everything, it is because we are
dangerously close to wanting nothing.”
“Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences.”
“Can a selfish egocentric jealous and unimaginative female write a damn thing
Other Interesting Facts
Ted Hughes’ lover Assia Wevill would later commit suicide in more or less the
same way as Plath in order to spite Hughes, as she had discovered his
involvement with another women. She took her daughter's life along with her
Last month (March, 2009) Plath’s son Nicholas Hughes also committed suicide.
It is said that as one final thoughtful gesture before her suicide, Plath left two
mugs of milk and a plate of buttered bread out for her children.
"Blackberrying Analysis." Elite Skills Classic. 6 Apr. 2009
Lewis, Joan J. "Sylvia Plath Quotes." About.com: Women's History. The New York
Times Company. 5 Apr. 2009
"Morning Song by Sylvia Plath." PoesÃ­a Inglesa de los Siglos XIX y
XX. 6 Apr. 2009
"Sylvia Plath." Poets.org. Academy of American Poets. 6 Apr. 2009
"Sylvia Plath." The Bedford Anthology of American Literature: 1865 to the
Present. Comp. Susan Belasco and Linck Johnson. Vol. 2. Boston: St. Martin's,
"Videotape" by Don DeLillo
Research Survey Compiled By: Hadley Robins
Don DeLillo was born on November 20, 1936 in New York City. Originally a student of history, philosophy, and theology, he became bored of his collegiate studies and instead focused on the literary work of Hemingway and Faulkner as a source of inspiration. After graduating college in 1958 and failing in to get a job in the field of publishing, his intended career path, he then focused on writing while working on several side jobs. With the publication of his first novel Americana in 1971, DeLillo turned to writing full-time. DeLillo is credited as one of the most important writers of postmodernism and has influenced the work of many later American authors. One of his most common topics is the saturation of media in people’s everyday lives. He gives the impression that mass media such as television have overtaken the written word as the having the greatest impact upon society. This topic is one that appears in his short story “Videotape,” which was first published in 1994 and was republished in an edited form in his 1997 book Underworld.
“Videotape,” on the surface at least, is the story of a young girl on a family road trip that records the man driving behind her family’s car being shot by a serial killer that targets commuters on highways. However, none of these characters are really the main characters of the story. Rather, the story is told from the viewpoint of a neutral third-party that has viewed the videotape of the killing. The narrator tells the story from the perspective of the tape, filling in details such as the rambunctious nature of the young girl and the horror that she must have experienced as soon as the man is shot. The narrator makes these judgments based upon the camerawork. The impending doom of the shot is contrasted by the viewers’ excited disposition, even forcing his wife to come to watch it.
This piece is solidly a work of postmodernism. As discussed earlier, DeLillo explores media often in his pieces and “Videotape” is no exeception. DeLillo describes a very brutal event as a commonplace occurrence and seems not to place any sort of value judgment upon it. Instead he, just like the unnamed distributors of video in the story, is bound to show the reader what happened in an attempt to make them make judgments about it. If anything, DeLillo makes judgments about the nature of video itself. “They show it because it exists,” he says, “because they have to show it, because this is why they’re out there” (1426). It seems that he is showing that regardless of why or how the video exists and regardless of the moral qualities of the video, by existing, it has to have some effect upon us.
“You know how children with cameras learn to work the exposed moments that define the family cluster. They break every trust, spy out undefended space, […] It is not a joke. They will shoot you on the pot if they can manage a suitable vantage.” (1423)
“It is not just another video homicide. It is a homicide recorded by a child who thought she was doing something simple and maybe halfway clever, shooting some tape of a man in a car.” (1424)
“There’s something about the nature of the tape, the grain of the image, the sputtering black-and-white tones, the starkness – you think this is more real, truer-to-life than anything around you.” (1424)
“She wandered into it. The girl got lost and wandered clear-eyed into horror.” (1425)
“Are you making a little statement? Like I’m going to ruin your day out of ordinary spite. Or a big statement? Like this is the risk of existing.” (1426)
“Seeing someone at the moment he dies, dying unexpectedly. This is reason alone to stay fixed on the screen.” (1426)
“They show it because it exists, because they have to show it, because this is why they’re out there. The horror freezes your soul but this doesn’t mean that you want them to stop.” (1426)
DeLillo seems to use this piece as an example of how media such as video has changed society forever. By describing the images on the tape rather than the events themselves, DeLillo gives the piece a strange sort of hyperreality. Even as he is describing it, the fact that DeLillo is describing a tape (albeit fictional) gives the feeling that the reader is at time unable to form their own view of the events. By using a concrete medium such as video to bring a horrifying scenario to life, the reader feels trapped an unable to get any sort of understanding of motive or reason, and instead is only able to make judgments on what it seen.
DeLillo makes it a point not to describe the events themselves, but instead what is viewed on the videotape. The narrator makes some educated guesses behind the motive of the young girl that is videotaping the event, but it is clear that these are not facts. Instead, the only thing that is known for sure is that the video exists and the events are recorded. Everything included outside of it is conjecture. This tunnel vision seems to go back to DeLillo’s main theme, media’s influence on society. Viewing simple images cannot always give the full story and oftentimes, in videos such as this, the understanding of the event is lost because the viewer is just seeing it and is unable to see anything but that. In a way, DeLillo seems to be making a point about his own choice of media, suggesting that writing, just as video, cannot fully express reality because they are just words. As critic David Cowart describes in his book Don DeLillo: The Physics of Language, DeLillo uses “a camcorder [to link the worlds of home and death], [but] the relation among the actuality (a highway murder), its representation on film, and the representation of the representation in the words of the author remains puzzling. The reader finds that neither the words nor the footage can compel the event to make sense. At every level, a terrible opacity prevails.” (Cowart 98)
Possible Exam Questions:
What is the role of the narrator in this story? Does he change the impression the reader gets about the tape or is he inconsequential to the story?
How does DeLillo use the tape as a representation of “reality?” Can it fully represent what truly happened? Why or why not?
<a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_DeLillo”>DeLillo, Don. </a> Wikipedia, used for background.
<a href=”http://books.google.com/books?id=k3gl0pycL6wC”> Don DeLillo: the physics of language by David Cowert</a>
DeLillo, Don. “Videotape.” Found in Bedford Anthology, pgs. 1423-1426. Other instructional materials on pgs 1421-1423 also used.
|30b: "Videotape" by Don DeLillo
Research Survey Compiled By: Brett Johnson
“The Twentieth century is on film. It’s the filmed century. You have to ask yourself if there’s anything about us more important than the fact that we’re constantly on film, constantly watching ourselves. The whole world is on film, all the time. Spy satellites, microscopic scanners, pictures of the uterus, embryos, sex, war, assassinations, everything.”
-Don DeLillo, The Names
A man driving a medium sized Dodge car is captured on videotape being shot in the head by a serial killer, the Texas Highway Killer, while driving down the Interstate. His death is caught on tape by a young girl whose amateur video has been aired repetitively on the news.
“It shows a man in his forties wearing a pale shirt open at the throat, the image washed by reflections and sunglint, with many jostled moments.”
“It is not just another video homicide.”
“… you think it is more real, truer-to-life than anything around you.”
“It is crude, it is blunt, it is relentless.”
“There is crude power operating here.”
“The tape is searing realness”
“Of course if she had panned to another car, the right car at the precise time, she would have caught the gunman as he fired.”
“You don’t usually call your wife over to the TV set. She has her programs, you have yours. But there is a certain urgency here. You want her to see how it looks. The tape has been running forever and now the thing is finally going to happen and you want her to be here when he’s shot.”
“You want your wife to see it because it is real this time, not fancy movie violence—the realness beneath the layers of cosmetic perception.”
“It is instructional, watching a man shot dead as he drives along on a sunny day. It demonstrates an elemental truth, that every breath you take has two possible endings.”
“The horror freezes your soul but this doesn’t mean that you want them to stop.”
Connections Between Works
“Vidoetape” as well as Sandbox by Edward Albee show a victim’s process of dying albeit in very different ways. Albee uses humor in his play while DeLillo uses Video Kid in the back seat of the car. However, both show an agent and victim of death, and both show people around the victim accepting or rooting for the death that is looming. This homicidal trend in postmodernism connects to “The School” and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” The lack of sensitivity caused by technology characterized in “Videotape” could roughly parallel the lack of feeling for slaves dictated by tradition characterized in “Middle Passage.”
Character Descriptions and Analysis
The characters are nameless except for the wife Janet, the Texas Highway Killer, and Video Kid. They have no faces and no real, definable characteristics. The only appearance we know is the vague description of the man who is shot. The lack of detail and names allows DeLillo to paint a picture of the “everyman.”
“They are famous without names or faces, spirits living apart from their bodies, the victims and witnesses, the underage criminals, out there somewhere at the edges of perception.”
By keeping the characters so vague, he leaves the door open for any reader to see them self. He creates driving suspense by using foreshadowing (i.e. “the thing” and “to see it when it happens”) and sentence structure as tools for creating suspense. He uses short quick sentence or sentences that read quickly to provide a very fast-paced mood leading into the action, briefly mentions the purpose of the video, drifts back and forth between the video, then slows his pace to reflect the resolution of the suspense. His form is a mimicking the anticipation of watching the video (Mimetic). The narrator jumps from within the video to a house that represents to society as a whole and back and forth. The narration sometimes sounds like a news anchor commenting on the video then drifts into a house in everyday America. He clips different images together in a similar fashion that a video can edited to reflect a desired story line. By showing the situation that unfolds in the house between Janet and her husband, he mocks societies’ lust and fascination for gore and reality television.
The story addresses…
The brevity of life: “It is instructional, watching a man shot dead as he drives along on a sunny day. It demonstrates an elemental truth, that every breath you take has two possible endings.”
Society’s fascination with death: “Seeing someone at the moment he dies, dying unexpectedly. This is reason alone to stay fixed to the screen.” “The horror freezes your soul but this doesn’t mean that you want them to stop.”
Hyper-reality: “This tape is superreal, or maybe underreal is the way you want to put it.” Baudrillard’s hyperreality: inability to separate fantasy from reality
Chance/Forces Beyond Our Control: “The chance quality of the encounter. The victim, the killer, and the child with a camera. Random energies that approach a common point. there’s something here that speaks to you directly, saying terrible things about forces beyond your control, lines of intersection that cut through history and logic and every reasonable layer of human expectation.”
Texas highway killers did exist and prey on passersby, although these murderers usually preyed on stranded motorists and hitchhikers mainly between 1976 - 81.
DeLillo portrays a man calling his wife to watch the latest footage about a man shot on the highway. . By showing the situation that unfolds in the house between Janet and her husband, he mocks societies’ lust and fascination for gore and reality television. He comments on how technology has detached us from the fact that the man in the video lost his life. Seeing it over and over desensitizes us from the gravity of death.
The JFK assassination video circled in and out of the public eye. DeLellio wrote a book, Libra, based on the assissnation of JFK.
“To mark the passing of 40 years since the assassination, Frontline has posted a question and answer forum entitled Oswald: Myth, Mystery and Meaning with responses from DeLillo, Edward J. Epstein and Gerald Posner (DeLillo's comments only were later published as "The American Absurd" in Harper's, Feb 2004) couple excerpts from DeLillo responses:
‘What happened during that moment in Dallas, and in the months and years before -- in Oswald's life -- that we can determine with certainty? How did such a vivid fragment of reality, caught on film before hundreds of witnesses, with trained security personnel on the scene, become so deeply lost in the maze of documentation, dispute, rumor, paradox, lies, dreams, illusions, ideologies, absurdities, murders, suicides and endlessly suggestive human involvements?
‘Something happened. Oswald fired three shots from the sixth-floor window. But was there something else -- a clear motive, a larger design, a second gunman? The truth is knowable. But probably not, ever, incontrovertible.
‘Oswald changed history not only through his involvement in the death of the president, but also in prefiguring such moments of the American absurd. He was not media-poisoned, as many of the others have been, and his crime was not steeped in the supermarket cult of modern folklore and dread. But think of the outrages and atrocities that flowed from the psychic disorientation of the 1960s -- the assassinations, the cult murders, the mass suicides. It was surely the assassination of President Kennedy that began to give us a sense of something coming undone. This was vintage American violence, lonely and rootless, but it shaded into something older and previously distant, a condition of estrangement and helplessness, an undependable reality. We felt the shock of unmeaning.’ ” [http://www.perival.com/delillo/ddarticles.html]
DeLillo comments on the use of techonology in America in 2001:
“Technology is our fate, our truth. It is what we mean when we call ourselves the only superpower on the planet. The materials and methods we devise make it possible for us to claim the future. We don't have to depend on God or the prophets or other astonishments. We are the astonishment. The miracle is what we ourselves produce, the systems and networks that change the way we live and think.” [http://www.perival.com/delillo/ddarticles.html]
“DeLillo’s novels anatomise the media and technological obsessions of America, finding a mix of modern paranoia and primitive fear at the heart of the contemporary self which he explores by writing about terrorism, celebrity, writers, mathematicians and the crucial shaping events of America’s recent history.”
“This peripheral status seems appropriate because DeLillo has argued that the writer’s true position lies “on the margins of culture,” neutrally observing the dead centre of things.”
“DeLillo’s belief in the power of the outsider filters down to mould the lives of the characters at the centre of his work.”
Burn, Stephen. "Don DeLillo". The Literary Encyclopedia. 3 October 2003._[http://www.litencyc.com/php/speople.php?rec=true&UID=1214, accessed 7 April 2009.]
Interesting Facts About/ quotes from the Author
In 1999, he became the first American recipient of the Jerusalem Prize, awarded to writers "whose work expresses the theme of the freedom of the individual in society." (http://www.k-state.edu/english/nelp/delillo/)
An excerpt from the acceptance address given by DeLillo on the occasion of being awarded the Jerusalem Prize in 1999:
“The novel of ideas. The novel of manners. The novel of grim witness. The novel of pure dreaming. The novel of excess. The novel of unreadability. The comic novel. The romance novel. The epistolary novel. The promising first novel. The sad, patchwork, grave-robbing, over-my-dead-body posthumous novel. The suspense novel. The crime novel. The experimental novel. The historical novel. The novel of meticulous observations. The novel of marital revenge. The beach novel. The war novel. The antiwar novel. The postwar novel. The out-of-print novel. The novel that sells to the movies before it is written. The novel that critics like to say they want to throw across the room. The science fiction novel. The metafiction novel. The death of the novel. The novel that changes your life because you are young and open-hearted and eager to take an existential leap.” [http://www.perival.com/delillo/ddarticles.html]
“It's no accident that my first novel was called Americana. This was a private declaration of independence, a statement of my intention to use the whole picture, the whole culture. America was and is the immigrant's dream, and as the son of two immigrants I was attracted by the sense of possibility that had drawn my grandparents and parents.”
Don DeLillo, from the 1993 interview with Adam Begley:
“The writer is the person who stands outside society, independent of affiliation and independent of influence. The writer is the man or woman who automatically takes a stance against his or her government. There are so many temptations for American writers to become part of the system and part of the structure that now, more than ever, we have to resist. American writers ought to stand and live in the margins, and be more dangerous. Writers in repressive societies are considered dangerous. That's why so many of them are in jail.”
Don DeLillo, from the 1988 interview with Ann Arensberg:
“When I get together with writers I know, we don't talk about books. We talk about movies. This is not because we see the mechanism of the novel operating in certain films, ranging from Kieslowski to Malick. It's because film is our second self, a major narrative force in the culture, an aspect of consciousness connected at some level to sleep and dreams, as the novel is the long hard slog of waking life.”
“When reality elevates itself to spectacular levels, people tend to say, ‘It was like a movie.’ ”
Paul Auster dedicated Leviathan to Don DeLillo.
Referenced several times in popular culture according to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_DeLillo.
Research Survey Compiled By: Satoria Ruiz
Post-modernism is a reaction against the principles and practices of modernism; a celebration of fragmentation, provisionality, or incoherence. It’s also characterized by experimentation.
Instead of looking for meaning in literature, post-modernists play with the possibility of meaning at all.
“Language itself can never be original, there’s nothing left to say, and even if there was, no one would get it.”
-plurality of meaning, there can be many absolute truths, or none
-“the distrust of [meta]narratives”
-the blurring of genres/form, a disruption of language
-a crisis of language
-post-modern writers focus on silence and absence
The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E P=O=E=T=S
-are the most modern of the post-modern
-they try to mess up language
-“we need to be skeptical, not everything that’s been said is true”
-language is an arbitrary tool, it’s man-made, faulty, should not be trusted, but rather challenged
Gertrude Stein tried to loosen words from the things they represent
(Signifier/Signified)…a picture of a tree DOES NOT EQUAL an actual tree, it’s just a word that’s been paired with the image
Post-modernism is different from other literary movements in that it does not have any fixed central figures or exact dates. Just like the actual writing, this movement is arguable, chaotic, and has many potential influences/meanings, or rather, none at all.
There are no definite dates for the beginning and end of Post-modernism, it ranges from the 1940s-1960s.
Post-modernism is a break from the earlier Modernism. The difference between the two is that Modernists see fragmentation as a crisis, a problem that must be solved, but Post-modernists like to “play with the chaos”; modernists try to create new styles, post-modernists appropriate, mix, and parody earlier styles of writing.
1940s—Beat Generation “It’s beautiful to be so unfortunate”
-believed there was nothing for them in their society
-characterized by rebelliousness, transcendence, opposition to convention
-they tried to shock people!
Many people see Post-modernism as a reaction to WWII and post-war events. With so many bad things going on, people just wanted to break free, to be in a new world, an “altered reality.” Most writers, primarily those from a racial/ethnic background, wrote about political and social issues. After the war, the marginalized groups made a huge comeback and were responsible for a large part of literature.
HTML—Highway to (Post)Modern Literature
Post-modernism is characterized by the acceptance of alternative views, lack of certainty, and reluctance to accept a given reality. HTML, the computer based language has the potential of changing the way that literature is composed. Characteristics of post-modern writing are strikingly similar to those of computer “hypertext.” Many people see HTML language as computerized post-modernism.
Style of post-modern writing:
Crooked cosmology—there is meaning in the writing but things don’t end up exactly, they’re bent/warped
Meta-narrative—sometimes known as “grand-narrative”; an explanation of historical experience or knowledge
Fragmentation—disconnection/break down of writing
Playfulness—the use of irony and humor in many post-modern works
Pastiche—a piece of art or literature consisting of motifs or techniques borrowed from one or more sources; an incongruous combination of materials/forms taken from disparate genres; the blurring of boundaries (among genres and between high and low culture; a homage or parody of past styles; sometimes criticized for unoriginality.
Intertextuality—one literary work depends on and/or is a response to some other literary work; a piece of literature is not an independent, isolated phenomenon; any text is the “absorption and transformation of another.”
Metafiction—fictional writing that does not let the reader forget that they are reading fictional work
Plurality—an explosion of voices, forms, styles, breaking of boundaries; a multiplicity of voices and meaning
T.S. Eliot— “The Waste Land”
Elizabeth Bishop— “In the Waiting Room”
Robert Hayden— “Middle Passage”
Flannery O’Connor— “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
Allen Ginsberg— “Howl”
Edward Albee— The Sandbox
Ursula K. Le Guin— “She Unnames Them”
Donald Barthelme— “The School”
Toni Morrison— “Recitatif”
Sylvia Plath— “Daddy”
Other associated people:
Ferdinand de Saussure—
“The father of modern linguistics”
-language is a social contract, it’s not stable
-language itself is inherently negative, we are taught to think that names and things go together, but it’s not true. The reason things have certain names is because all the other potential words were already chosen.
-names fall into place randomly, by chance
-words are not naturally associated with the things they describe
EX: there’s no connection between the word “tree” and an actual tree
-founder of deconstruction: pursuing the meaning of a text to the point of undoing the oppositions on which it is apparently founded, and to the point of showing that those foundations are irreducibly complex, unstable, or impossible.
-known for the concept of “meta-narrative”
Potential exam questions:
Do you consider post-modernism a legitimate form of literature? Further, is it fair to use other writer’s work for the benefit of your own? Why or why not?
Give an example of a post-modern work. Although post-modern writing is characterized by unoriginality, tell how the work is different from others.
Journal of Constructivist Psychology; Oct2008, Vol. 21 Issue 4, p355-366, 12p
Belasco, Susan, and Linck Johnson. The Bedford Anthology of American Literature Volume Two: 1865 to the Present. Boston, New York: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008. (Pages 1067-1078)
Class handout— ISMS: Literary Movements in American Literature Since 1865
|31b: American Postmodernism
Research Survey Compiled By: Samantha Adair
"There's this expression called postmodernism, which is kind of silly, and destroys a perfectly good word called modern, which now no longer means anything." -Twyla Tharp
Literally translated, postmodernism means after modernism. Although simple, it basically sums up the definition of the literary movement that has encompassed the population since 1945, although it does leave a few key elements behind. Postmodernism is the acceptance of the principles of modernism—yes, things are missing, but this is all right. It takes the fragments lamented by the modernists and figures out a way to use them or to find beauty in the broken shards of what is missing. There is no one right answer, no objective truth. Instead, there is only the piecing together of what is broken, not in a way that no one understands, but in a way that everyone understands differently.
Although it doesn’t seem like it has been around for long, postmodernism is the longest running literary movement of any time period. Postmodernism includes everything from the end of WWII to the explosion of the Internet, and all the influential moments in-between that has been crucial to the development of the characteristics of the nation and the people in it as they both stand today.
Age of Affluence/Suburbia
The Media and Mediums
Tools and Techniques of Postmodern Writers
Blurring together of different art forms, high and low culture; using different sources or genres in one work of art or literature
No one system
Telling individual truths
Focus on style
Process not product
Not worried about the finished subject
Subjective vs. objective
Everything has his or her own opinion
Basis of the counter-culture revolution
Language is arbitrary
Multiple voices telling a truth
No absolutism, dislike of meta-analytical theories
There is no one answer to something; everyone has their own opinion of it
Deconstruction of the self
There is good in the fragments
Chaotic fractures of self identity
Aesthetic of something not normally beautiful (strange, death, absurd…)
Identifying the “wrong” in America
Hyperreality-nothing is real
Jean Baudrillard and the Simulation/Simulacra
Everything is simulated, nothing is real (The Matrix)
Blurring cultural, sexual, racial boundaries
In Class Readings:
In class reading: “In the Waiting Room”
Expression of what is real and the plurality of meanings
Uses postmodern themes in a traditional way
In class reading: “A Good Man is Hard to Find”
“Crooked cosmology”-things don’t line up the way the reader thinks they will
Aesthetic of the grotesque and strange
In class reading: “Howl”
Beat Generation: counter culture of the youth/WWII generation
Addresses the problems of America through shocking language and unusual metaphors, again contradicting with the pristine picture given of America
Ursula K. Le Guin
In class reading: “She Unnames Them”
Blends together a familiar story (Adam and Eve) with a feminist perspective (pastiche)
In class reading: “The School”
Images of death and life; different perspectives on what things really mean; death is “hypperreal”
In class reading: “Recitatif”
Blurring cultural, racial, and gender boundaries through two characters never identified as black or white, even though the reader is aware that both are one or the other
In class reading: “Daddy”
Confessional poetry; feminism, pastiche of cultural events with social criticisms
In class reading: “Videotape”
Marshall McLuhan, media theorist
Media and technology change how we process information and who we are; the videotape medium supersedes the content
In class reading: “The Things They Carried”
Represents the Vietnam War veterans; social criticism on America
William Faulkner (cross over)
Most influential work: As I Lay Dying
Faulkner had the ability to cross genres and bring about different elements from all literary genres, especially when it came to blurring the lines between life and death
Most influential work: Slaughterhouse Five
A critique of war through the eyes of a WWII soldier; a use of pastiche through the blending of the familiar background of WWII with the seemingly unrealistic science fiction
Most influential work: Fight Club
Brought a gruesome reality along with a hyperreal concept of a double sided narrative telling the same story through completely different perspectives
Along with Tim O’Brien, gave a voice to the disenfranchised Vietnam veteran generation
Most influential work: Death of a Salesman
Proved that surbubia had its negative effects on the population through his main character’s eventual downfall because of cultural expectations
Most influential works: Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Streetcar Named Desire
Playwright; like Arthur Miller, brought a new look at the real suburbia and how the images being portrayed of the happy family and perfect home weren’t really what was going on in America
Most influential work: On the Road
Beat Generation like Allen Ginsberg
Most influential work: Invisible Man
Told through the perspective of an anonymous, “invisible” narrator
Most influential work: The Color Purple
Showed the oppression African American women were forced to endure not only by members of the opposite race, but members of their own race, even of their same gender, and how her narrator was able to overcome this oppression
Most influential work: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Gave a voice to African American women during a time when both were fighting for their own recognition
(Incomplete) List of Postmodern Authors
He Really Did Paint Like That...
Warhol's Advertising Gimmicks
The First Artificial "Thing" In Space
OUR Visit to Space
Peace, Love, and Music
A Voice for a Generation
I Want My MTV
A Serious Look at the Internet
Belasco, Susan, and Link Johnson. "American Literature Since 1945." The Bedford Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Susan Belasco and Linck Johnson. Vol. 2. Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008.1036-1065.
Belasco, Susan, and Link Johnson. "From Modernism to Postmodernism." The Bedford Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Susan Belasco and Linck Johnson. Vol. 2.Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008. 1066-1078.
"List of postmodern authors." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 8 Apr 2009. 10 Apr 2009. <http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=List_of_postmodern_authors &oldid=282527336>.
“Overview of the Contemporary Period.” The Heath Anthology of American Literature. Vol. E. 1883-1890.
"The Things They Carried"
by Tim O'Brien
Research Survey Compiled By: Ben Pereski
"A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.” -Tim O'Brien
I. Plot Summary:
“The Things They Carried” is a semifictional or verisimilitude type narrative about the realities of war and its impact upon the human heart. Straying away from romanticized accounts of war, the narrator plunges the reader into the depths and language of the daily duties of the “common grunts”. While the narrator is described as “Tim O’Brien”, the excerpt we read is focused on First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross and his relationship with a girl named Martha and his platoon of seventeen men. The story describes, in a sequence of vignettes, what some of the men in the platoon are carrying and later describes the significance of some of these tangible objects with the more dense, spiritual, and intangible qualities these men carry with them through the harrows of war. Mark Webster, a reviewer for MIT’s “The Tech” put it like this, “The first story, which lends its name to the book, starts as a list of the equipment that the average American foot soldier carried into battle. The list becomes longer in the end and encompasses the hopes, dreams, and fears that each man carried. The impression is one of weight, dragging them into the mud.”
II. Character List
Tim O’Brien: The narrator of the story who shares his personal thoughts and surveys First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross and his platoon by describing what they carry.
Jimmy Cross: A First Lieutenant in the United States Army, Jimmy Cross is a platoon leader and protagonist. Jimmy consistently fantasizes with the idea that he has a lover back home. This yearning is also symbolized by the equipment that Jimmy carries; the equipment which Jimmy eventually would “dispose of”. This equipment represents the last bit of humanity he sees while in war (O’Brien 1471).
Martha: The platonic and complex pseudo-companion to Jimmy Cross. Martha is English major, and although Martha sends Jimmy letters and mementos from school nothing else is revealed to signify a relationship deeper than friends. Jimmy Cross sees Martha as a future wife or lover, but the narrator explains this is not the case.
Ted Lavender: A grunt stoner who is the first casualty in Jimmy Cross’ platoon.
Kiowa: A talkative Native American who compassionately cares for his fellow soldiers. Kiowa describes Ted Lavender’s death as stoic, concrete, and emotionally neutral, which seemed “unchristian” for him to be thinking in such ways(1467).
III. Author Information:
William Timothy O’Brien Jr. was born on October 1, 1946, in Austin, Minnesota. After much contemplation and just having graduated from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, Tim received a draft notice. After “agonizing” over the decision to draft or run, O’Brien chose to serve. During his thirteen months there, he served with an infantry brigade that was engaged in constant combat in Quang Ngai Province, and O’Brien was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, a Purple Heart, and the Bronze Star. But he was appalled by the brutality of the conflict, the devastation of the country, and the dislocation of the Vietnamese, and O’Brien was even more fiercely opposed to the war by the time he ended hi tour of duty in Vietnam (Belasco 1457).
IV. Social and Historical Context:
O’Brien and his contemporaries were influenced by the introduction in the 1960s of the New Journalism, a style popularized by journalist Tom Wolfe, who used a stream-of-consciousness narrative, creative details, and a conversational narrative, creative details, and a conversational style to transform what had to that point been a traditional, objective news story into something that reflected the chaotic, surreal qualities of the subject- in this case, the Vietnam experience. The literature that resulted, Stewart O’Nan observes, expressed a “pronounced split in methods or modes of portraying the war. While some authors choose a documentary realism, others, hoping to come closer to the emotional and intellectual effect of the experience, shoot for a more poetic or metaphorical truth…When an author purposefully mixes real and metaphorical forms, the results can leave the reader with more questions than answers”. Such is the nature of O’Brien’s work. The chaos in the words themselves is a linguistic metaphor for war, and Herr, Caputo, and other take full advantage of the quasi-fictional aspects of the memoir to further explore their Vietnam experiences. In assessing the art and literature that came out of the Vietnam War, whether created by those who had experienced the war firsthand- O’Brien; memoirists Philip Caputo, Michael Herr, and Ron Kovic; poet Bruce Weigl; dramatist David Rabe; and novelist Stephen Wright and John Del Vecchio, for instance- or by those who had stayed behind for various reasons, Freedman writes, “To the usual chemistry of combat, the Vietnam War added even more volatile elements. Vietnam was America’s ideological civil war, pitting hawk against dove, hard hat against peacenik. Patriotism gave way to revulsion, to a questioning of the national character. And most important for the men who fought the war- as it seemed to be for the country- Vietnam had no clear ending, neither victory nor surrender. Their art is a search for that final, missing piece (“War and the Arts” 51)(Smith 13).
V. Literary Movements:
“War is the best subject of all,” Ernest Hemingway once wrote. “It groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all sorts of stuff that normally you would have to wait a lifetime to get.” –Samuel G. Freedman, “The War and the Arts”
O’Brien takes license to mingle fact and fiction in his memoir, giving him access to deeper levels of observation and expression. O’Brien “exploits conflicting codes of violence to get at disparate ‘truths’ about Vietnam which involve the depiction of process rather than action”. Things displays heavy examples of postmodernism by emphasizing its barrage of pastiche, it’s explosive and corrosive blend of irony and fragmentation. O’Brien, at several times in Things, accentuates his destructured, decentered, and dehumanized subject by displaying Jimmy Cross and his final decision to “not tolerate laxity. He would show strength, distancing himself.” (Belasco 1471). This blend of boundaries between what is conscious and unconscious, what is right or wrong, or what is real or unreal is revealed by O’Brien when, Jimmy Cross burning his last memento of Martha states, “Everything seemed part of everything else, the fog and Martha and the deepening rain”. In other words, Martha was not what she used to be to Jimmy, O’Brien is very explicitly showing us how a soldier eventually loses himself to forces he cannot withstand and is broken; The only way to shut the fires out being to isolate and to subvert one’s self. This is no better displayed by O’Brien and his explanation of how war divides a soldier as when Jimmy soliloquizes with himself, “He was a soldier, after all” (Belasco 1471).
VI. Intertextuality: “Relating to or deriving meaning from the interdependent ways in which texts stand in relation to each other.”
The literature of war is as old as war itself- Homer’s epic The Illiad, for instance, dates back 3,000 years or more- though descriptions of war in America up to World War I are confined primarly to general’s accounts of battles and military strategies, leaving much of war’s confusion and chaos to imagination. In 1895, Stephen Crane published The Red Badge of Courage, a journal of a young soldier’s introduction to battle in the Civil War, illustrating how battlefield exploits (despite the fact that Crane had never been on the battlefield) might make viable literature in a society more inclined to write and read forward-looking tomes of hope, expansion, and country building. But it was not until the horror of World War I- in which new ways of fighting war meant new ways of dying for hundreds of thousands of young men on the cusp of advances in science and technology that would bring the world into the modern era- that writers began to take wholesale a revised, more cynical attitude toward war. That notion is corroborated by the journalistic style of Ernest Hemingway who, despite his participation in World War I, would become better known for his writing on the Spanish Civil War and social commentary in general; John Dos Passos’s stinging indictment of the war specifically and society in general in Three Soldiers (1921); and the poetics of Robert Graves and his British counterparts Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, men disillusioned by the war and frightened by its possibilities. World War II, a conflict much more popular with the American people than any other of the century’s wars, produced a number of powerful works of literature ranging from correspondent Ernie Pyle’s war dispatches, James Jone’s The Thin Red Line (1962), and John Hersey’s Hiroshima (1946) to Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five (1972). Richard Hooker’s MASH (1968) came out of the brief Korean conflict and became a popular television show for more than a decade in the 1970s and 1980s. With the advent of new ways of expression in writing-particularly the modernism that had been translated to an American idiom after World War I and allowed American writers to describe war in all its sublime violence- the literature of war began to express meanings outside the traditional sphere of “war stories” Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is that of war novel. The book is often characterized as such and is treated as a major text in several recent critical studies of American war fiction,” Robert Merrill writes. “Yet Heller has done everything possible to dissuade us from reading his book as a war novel ‘about World Warr II”. Instead, explains Heller, Catch-22 deals with “the contemporary regimented business society”. In the same way, O’Brein’s work, which has become the Vietnam literature of record for many students introduced to contemporary fiction, challenges the boundaries of genre writing (Smith 12).
VII. Themes and Motifs:
The Things They Carried deals primarily with themes tracing the movement from innocence to experience, the pathology of courage, and the passage of loss to redemption (Smith 110).One theme out of many in Things is the search for order and control conducted by characters, storytellers, the narrator, critics, and readers (Herzog 106). This is exhibited by Jimmy Crosses’ inward struggles to overcome the mental and physical hardships of war by clinging to Martha’s picture and trying to further the inescapable acceptance of Kiowa’s realization of numbness, “how the poor guy just dropped like so much concrete. Boom-down, he said. Like cement”.(Belasco 1462). Tim O’Brien also consistently returns to the theme of the fight-or-flight story, as well as other incidents, from various perspectives to create new insights and emotional impacts; the readers attempt to arrange, connect, and understand the recurring events within the story’s episodic structure. as exemplified by the breaks in the form of paragraphs and the repetition of “The things they carried”. As O’Brien notes, “The element of perception has to do with uncertainty….The whole stew of variables determines what we perceive and what we call real” (Herzog, Interview). O’Brien details life and war experiences, war stories, and passages and separate chapters of commentary – with recurring images, characters, and events. O’Brien mixes story telling with his technique of enumeration to introduce objects memories, fears, dreams, hopes and – most important – stories that the narrator and other soldiers carry with them ( the physical and emotional baggage of life) on their tour of duty both in the Vietnam War and the war of life, which is exhibited by Jimmy Crosse’s breakdown over his fallen friend and subordinate Ted Lavender as observed by Kiowa, “ One thing for sure, he said, The lieutenants in some deep hurt. I mean that crying jag – the way he was carrying on – it wasn’t fake or anything, it was real heavy-duty hurt. The man cares.” (Belasco 1467) As O’Brien notes, “Things is framed around the burdens we carry, not just in war, not just physical, but spiritual as well” (Herzog, Interview). Consequently, a central activity in the book involves the narrator and characters telling stories about these burdens (Herzog 108) . In Things, O’Brien points to themes of courage, fear, the interplay of memory and imagination, the nature of war stories, a separate peace, and the ever-present soldier’s heart and mind, or the numbing of this heart and mind as a result of war as symbolized in the disposal of Jimmy Crosses’ pebble representing the last fraction of humanity; the humanity that is eventually “turned off” as said by the narrator, “He would dispense with love; it was not now a factor.” and Jimmy’s own thoughts, “It was very sad, he thought. The things men carried inside. The things med did or felt they had to do.” (Belasco 1471). In other words, O’Brien expresses how men of war become broken physically and mentally with the efficiency of a machine (Smith 111). These things that they carried “implied burdens far beyond the intransitive” ( Belasco 1460).
VIII. Style and Form:
“My goal was to write something utterly convincing but without any rules as to what’s real and what’s made up….In this new books I force myself to try to invent a form. I had never invented form before”. Michiko Kakutani, who also favorably reviewed Cacciato, (another one of O’Brien’s works) writes, “ In prose that combines the sharp, unsentimental rhythms of Hemingway with gentler, more lyrical descriptions, Mr. O’Brien gives the reader a shockingly visceral sense of what it feels like to tramp through a booby-trapped jungle” (“Slogging Surreally”C21). The plethora of detail in Things suggests O’Briens unwillingess to get too close to his memories, preferring the journalistic style over a more intimate, subjective portrayal of the events (Smith 103). .”. Like in De’Lillo’s Videotape, we follow and experience Jimmy almost cinematically because of O’Brien’s form and style; like a trap we find ourselves stuck in a well planned tripartite of subjects (the I, we, and the art of writing a story )in O’Briens story, we find the camera is actually on us as well as on Jimmy, the camera of life, “It’s like you’re in a movie. There’s a camera on you, so you begin acting, you’re somebody else” and this results in not only the inevitable change in Jimmy but ourselves as well. The surface disorder of this story is part of the meaning; like Marshal McLuhan, “the medium is the message”, and this medium transform and reaches to us-(Smith 111) (Herzog).
“The Things they carried were largely determined by necessity.” (O’Brien 1459)
“To carry something was to hump it, as when Lieutenant Jimmy Cross humped his love for Martha up the hills and through the swamps.”(O’Brien 1460)
“Boom-down, he said. Like cement.” (O’Brien 1462)
“They took up what others could no longer bear.” (1466)
“They carried diseases…They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.” (O’Brien 1466)
“…the hump was everything, a kind of inertia, a kind of emptiness, a dullness of desire and intellect and conscience and hope and human sensibility.”
“…- the resources were stunning” (O’Brien 1466)
“…there was at least the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss for things to carry.” (O’Brien 1466)
“They used a hard vocabulary to contain the terrible softness.” (O’Brien 1468)
“They were tough” (O’Brien 1649)
“They made themselves laugh” (O’Brien 1469)
“They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die.” (O’Brien 1469)
“They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing.” (1469)
“Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to.” (1469)
“By and large they carried these things inside, maintaining the masks of composure.” (1469)
“He was realistic about it.” (1471)
“He would be a man about it.” (1471)
“It was very sad, he thought. The things men carried inside. The things men did or felt they had to do.” (1471)
“He would dispense with love; it was not now a factor.” (1471)
“He was a soldier, after all.” (1471)
The end and key point of the story, the narrator recognizes that being a soldier, being in this horrible, wretched thing called war, one of the first causalities is the heart.
X. Literary Criticism:
“If there is a theme to the whole book it has to do with the fact that stories can save our lives…. The livingness that’s there as you read and that lingers after” (Coffery, Interview, 61). This means that in Tim O’Brien’s short story, “The Things They Carried”, there is a sense of realness even when you are reading a semi fictional or even an entirely fictional account of these soldiers lives and their related events; in a very real way, you can “feel exactly what he felt” (Herzog, 102). This thing that we call story, this epic way of storytelling, exists entirely to give you, the reader, the inner spirits and feelings of the author; in essence, you become one with the author’s experience and one with the author himself; in other words, I see no better example in reader-response criticism than in Things. As its name indicates, reader-response allows the reader to participate in the act of interpretation by bringing his or her own experiences to the fore and grounding those experiences in the text. Because of the fragmentary nature of Things and the importance that O’Brien places on his own responses to the war experience, the text lends itself to such analysis, inviting readers to consider their own circumstances, war-related or not, and subsequently base their interpretation of the text on analogous events in their own lives (Smith 114). The onus is on the reader to determine the value of the work in her own life, to make sense of the connections arising from intense conflict as exemplified by the narrator’s complex relationships in Things. As Things lends itself and is a prime example for reader-response critics, some critics charge O’Brien with perceived racism (absence of the fully developed Vietnamese perspective or the absence of this perspective entirely) and sexism (objectifying, excluding, or silencing women). If, for the most part, O’Brien excludes the Vietnamese from meaningful roles in this novel, he does include more women in this book when compared with their presence in earlier war narratives; specifically the presence of Martha, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’s “girlfriend”. Such inclusions do not diminish some feminist criticism of this book. Significantly, Martha is told from the perspective and through the words of a male storyteller. This limited perspective results in a few critics viewing O’Brien’s portrayal of the female characters in Things as antifeminist, in particular because they lack an “agency and sensibility of their own” and instead are “projections of a narrator trying to resolve the trauma of war” (Smith 1994, 19).
XI. Suggested Exam Questions:
1. What themes does “The Things They Carried” contain? How does O’Brien convey these ideas to the reader?
2. What does the pebble that Martha gave him symbolize? What does Martha symbolize?
3. What is the significance of Kiowa to the story?
4. Pick a character from “The Things They Carried” and describe how he/she is essential to developing the theme within this story.
5. Why did Tim O’Brien choose the title “The Things They Carried”?
6. How does Tim O’Brien use phrase and form to contribute to the overarching message of “The Things They Carried”?
7. What literary movement would this be considered part of? How could this work be similar to Ambrose Bierce’s work “Chickamauga”?
8. What is the significance of the “grunt lingo”?
XII. Links to Further Information:
Smith, Patrick A. Tim O'Brien a critical companion. Westport, Conn: Greenwood P, 2005.
Tim, O'Brien,. Things they carried a work of fiction. New York: Broadway Books, 1998.
Heberle, Mark A. Trauma artist Tim O'Brien and the fiction of Vietnam. Iowa City: University of Iowa P, 2001.
Herzog, Tobey C. Tim O'Brien. New York: Twayne, Prentice Hall International, 1997.
Tim, O'Brien,. Tomcat in love. New York: Broadway Books, 1998.
Belasco, Susan, and Linck Johnson. The Bedford Anthology of American Literature: Volume One Beginnings to 1865. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2006.
Coffey, Michael. “Tim O’Brien: Inventing a New Form Helps the Author Talk about War, Memory, and Storytelling.” Publishers Weekly 16 Feb. 1990:60-61
|32b: "The Things They Carried"
by Tim O'Brien
Research Survey Compiled By: Chief Fell
I. Author Bio
Author Tim ‘O Brien was born in Minnesota and raised in “The Turkey Capital of the World”, a small Minnesota town named Worthington. O’Brien’s early childhood and life would have an effect on his writing (as many of his novels involve Minnesota), but it would not take as monumental a role in shaping him as did the Vietnam War. In 1968, just after O’Brien had received a BA in Political Science, he was drafted by the Army and entered the Vietnam War. O’Brien’s tour of duty lasted for two years, from 1968-1970. These two years proved to be instrumental in influencing O’Brien’s writing, as over half of his eight books deal with issues concerning the Vietnam War. After the war, O’Brien attended graduate school at Harvard University, and in 1973 released his first book If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. If I Die in a Combat Zone was a memoir of O’Brien’s experience in Vietnam, and was also one of the first books written about Vietnam by a soldier who had actually been there. O’Brien continued to write and released three more books up until 1990, when he released arguably his most famous novel, The Things They Carried. The Things They Carried grabbed O’Brien critical acclaim on many levels. O’Brien has been divorced once, married twice, and now teaches at a small school in Minnesota, and also holds a creative writing chair at Southwest Texas State University.
The Things They Carried is unique in its form and style because of its use of what critics deem “metafiction”, a branch of postmodernism that strives to blur the line between fiction and reality. The Things They Carried is the title of the first short story in the novel, as well as the novel itself. The Things They Carried is actually comprised of about 22 short stories all about O’Brien’s experiences in the Vietnam war. The multiple stories in Things are not separate short stories, but a series of stories strung together with a distinct story throughout. One critic describes the connection “It is not a collection of short stories, but it is not one story with a beginning and an ending. It is perhaps closest to listening to a soldier storyteller over a long period time.” (Knapp). This form distinguishes The Things They Carried because of its unique sequencing of stories. The book has a distinct beginning and end, but all the stories in between seem to change setting, place, and mood, just as an old veteran telling war stories would do.
Many of the stories in Things are fictitious, and O’Brien even himself considers Things to be a work of fiction. However, many of the stories come from true experiences and as O’Brien himself says “a story is true if it makes the stomach believe” (Knapp). This type of writing can also be considered as “Creative Nonfiction” in the fact that though it is indeed fictitious, the characters, events, and themes are all based on real experiences dealt with in war. O’Brien again, states “Good movies—and good novels, too—do not depend upon "accurate portrayals." Accuracy is irrelevant. Is the Mona Lisa an "accurate" representation of the actual human model for the painting? Who knows? Who cares? It's a great piece of art. It moves us. It makes us wonder, makes us gape; finally makes us look inward at ourselves” (Knapp). O’Brien’s formula is not to trick readers or make his experience in Vietnam see more fantastic than it actually was. With “metafiction”, O’Brien seeks to illustrate a point, and use the stories of TTTC to evoke the same emotions he felt about and during the war from the reader.
Fear/Cowardice- The soldiers in the story are constantly struggling with their fear of being killed in battle, or seeing their friends killed. These fears are even further instilled in the case of Ted Lavender, who was killed during coming back from urinating. This constant fear of death and annihilation takes a toll on each of the soldiers in Vietnam, even driving some of them to shoot off an appendage simply to get away from the war. O’brien writes “They were afraid of dying, but even more afraid to show it.”
Human nature amidst tragedy- O’brien’s opening description of the numerous physical things the soldiers carried throughout their tour of duty helps to illustrate the basic human nature that transcends even amidst heavy situations and certain death. Many of the men carry old love letters, m and m’s, marijuana, comic books, and various other comforts of home throughout their journey. The things they carry, the games they play, and their thoughts all illustrate the normality of the men at war. These are not ancient heroes, killers, or superhuman people. These soldiers are everyday people with the same fears, joys, and emotions. Another aspect of this theme can be seen in which the men deal with death in various ways. Throughout the story and the book, each way (humor, sadness, anger, fear) is seen in how the men deal with death (sadness/guilt in the case of Ted Lavender).
Loss of Innocence/coming of age- The loss of innocence can be seen in most all of the soldiers, but seems to take most hold in Lieutenant Jimmy Cross. Cross’ love for ‘his’ girl overseas and his eventual burning of the letters is a symbol of his loss of innocence. Every night, Cross wonders about Martha’s virginity and purity, and fantasizes about their love together. Eventually, after Cross loses some of his own innocence when experiencing Ted Lavender’s death, he burns Martha’s letters and moves on. He leaves his boyish love behind and realizes that he must concern himself only with the matters of commanding his unit on a tighter ship to minimize casualties in the future.
Chaos/turmoil of war- O’brien describes the transient nature of his men as they “hump” from camp site to camp site aimlessly searching for ‘Charlie’. O’brien writes “They had no sense of strategy or mission.” The soldiers seem completely lost in the jungle, voyaging from rice patty to rice patty always on alert for a potential ambush by the VC. The young Vietnamese boy the group finds dead, with flies in his mouth, is also a symbol of the barbaric nature of war. The action of Mitchell Sanders, who cuts the boy’s thumb off and gives it to company member Norman Bowker, further illustrates the lawlessness and turmoil of war. The fact that O’brien describes Bowker as ‘otherwise a very gentle person’ also illustrates the fact that war can even corrupt and distort even the most docile of humans.
Loneliness and Isolation- Again, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross is an example of another theme in TTTC, isolation from society. Cross’ chooses to carry his ‘love’ letters from Martha, because they remind him of his connection with the outside world, and another human being outside of the jungle. Though he knows almost for certain Martha does not love him back, Cross thinks about her as his girl in a way so that he has something to keep him motivated throughout the war. The company’s isolation can also be seen in the fact that they rarely encounter any other human beings other than themselves. When they do encounter humans in fact, they are dead, in the case of the small Vietnamese boy. When the soldiers encounter other live humans, they are typically VC, who are hostile and attempt to kill them.
Lieutenant Jimmy Cross- Cross is the leader of the company of soldiers, and the one the reader seems to understand the most throughout the story. Cross’ most prized possession is his letters from Martha, a girl in New Jersey who he is in love with. He stays up at night reading her letters, and fantasizes about their life together. However, Martha does not seem to love him back in a romantic way, and Cross seems to know it as well. Cross still chooses to look up at the sky though, and wonder if Martha is a virgin. Cross is technically the authoritarian figure, though he is made to seem fairly unsure of his authority and what to do. After Ted Lavender is killed, Cross decides to burn his letters from Martha, and become a better leader, who runs a tighter ship.
Ted Lavender- Lavender is a drug-loving soldier who takes tranquilizers on the “reg” in order to calm his fear of the war down. Lavender’s eventual demise is when he takes some tranquilizers and decides to urinate in the woods, where he is shot in the head by an enemy VC sniper.
Rat Kiley- Rat is the medic for the group, thought not much is known about him except that he carries comic books and all sorts of medical supplies
Kiowa- Kiowa is a non-white, religious man who is only described as “large” and is therefore exempt from tunnel duty. Kiowa always carries a New Testament bible and moccasins. Kiowa also carries his grandfather’s hunting hatchet, and his grandmother’s “distrust of the white man”. He is one of the few to witness the death of Ted Lavender, and seems to be fairly unaffected by seeing Ted shot dead in front of his eyes.
Mitchell Sanders- Radiotelephone operator; carries condoms, and all the large technical equipment. On both occasions of the company encountering a dead body, Sanders says “there’s a moral here”.
V. Literary Criticism
An interesting criticism of The Things They Carried involves what critic Marilyn Wesley calls “postmodern morality”. Wesley examines the dilemma many of the men, especially Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, experience regarding what they actually do versus what the romantic depiction of war tells them to do. Wesley states “In the space between these two opposed representations--experiential disorder, the way the events of war feel to the soldiers in the field, and fictive order, the way popular representations suggest they should respond--emerges the ‘truth’ about Vietnam as a constant process of ‘humping’ or carrying the impossible responsibility of power through a violent landscape.” A perfect example is Lieutenant Jimmy Cross after Ted Lavender is shot dead, as he then decides to adopt a stoic, hero-type leadership, because that is what the country’s romantic depiction of war tells him to do. Lieutenant Cross burns his letters from Martha, which he usually uses to block out the harsh violence of the war, and accepts the blame for Lavender’s death (Wesley). Wesley further goes on to say “Like the rest of the men, the lieutenant responds to the random violence in largely unproductive ways. He doesn't set any superior standard because, like the others, he can find no relevant standard to set”. The ambiguity of morals plays a large part in TTTC and in the war, as most all normal standards are thrown out the window. This fragmentation and blurring of morals makes this criticism a postmodern view.
Similar literary criticism of TTTC dealing with moral uncertainty and ties to the Trojan War:
VI. Connections with other works read in class
TTTC can be likened with Ambrose Bierce’s “Chickamauga” because of the stories grim depiction of war and its atrocities. Though the two are very far apart in time and movements, one realist and the other postmodern, they both contain the theme of moral upheaval.
Other books by Tim O’Brien dealing with Vietnam:
If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973)
Northern Lights (1975)
Going After Cacciato (1978)
In The Lake of the Woods (1994)
VII. Haikus inspired by The Things They Carried
Lavender is dead Letters from Martha
He took the tranquilizer The memories to ashes
Made him sleep for good tender to stoic
Dead boy with rifle
Why not take his gruesome thumb?
“There’s a moral here”
VIII. Works Cited
“Bloom’s Guides: The Things They Carried.” Wesley, Marilyn. 2005. P120-125. April 9th, 2009.
“Tim O’Brien, Novelist.” Marilyn Knapp. April 6th, 2009. http://www.illyria.com/tobhp.html.
“Tim O Brien.” Belasco, Susan, and Linck Johnson. The Bedford Anthology of American
Literature. Vol. 2. P1457-1458. Boston: Bedford, 2008.
Dreams by Robert Olen
Research Survey Compiled By: Frances Backus
“I understood that [tabloids] were getting the headlines right and the stories all wrong. This book sets the record straight. Twelve issues of burning importance in human life” –Butler
Robert Olen Butler was born January 20, 1945 in Granite City, Illinois. Originally a theater major at the Northwestern University, he later switched and earned a degree in playwriting from the University of Iowa. From 1969 to 1971, Butler served in Vietnam as translator, an experience that would later serve as inspiration for his work, The Alleys of Eden. After his service, Butler joined Fairchild Publications where he worked as the editor-in-chief of Energy User News from 1975 to 1985. In 1981, Butler published his first novel The Alleys of Eden and has since written nine more novels. In 1993 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his first short story collection, A Good Scent From a Strange Mountain. In 1996, he published Tabloid Dreams and he later explored non-fiction writing in From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction, published in 2005. Butler has been married four times and has one son, Joshua Robert Butler. His latest marriage to playwright and novelist Elizabeth Dewberry ended in July 2007. Currently, Butler is a professor at Florida State University, holding the Chair in Creative Writing.
“Titanic Victim Speaks Through Waterbed”:
This short story follows a man who died in the sinking of the Titanic through his afterlife experience as he reflects on his current state and last hours of life. While alive the man remembers himself as an old bachelor who enjoyed a good cigar and was involved in the Civil Service in India. After the Titanic crashes into an ice burg, he encounters a woman who immediately recognizes the danger as she says simply, “were doomed now” (7). The narrator becomes immersed in his own thoughts and does not notice when the woman leaves, however, he soon makes it his mission to find her. After finally finding her, he helps her aboard a lifeboat. Although the narrator never touches the woman or reveals the connection he feels, he spends his time in the spiritual realm thinking of her. After he dies, the narrator drifts through many water mediums “fully conscious that [he’s] dead” (1). He travels through lakes, streams, clouds, tea, a woman’s body, pipes, and finally ends in a waterbed. As a couple thrashes about above him, the man finally yells out realizing that his spirit died long before he actually drowned.
“Woman Uses Glass Eye to Spy on Philandering Husband”:
In this short story, Loretta, the narrator, wears a glass eye and during a fight with her husband, Rob, she hits herself and it pops out. She subsequently realizes that although the glass eye is detached from the rest of her body, she can continue to see out of both of her eyes from different perspectives. Because she is suspicious that Rob is having an affair, she decides to use the glass eye to spy on him. Loretta tells Rob that her doctor wants her to place the eye in water at night to give her socket a rest. After a few weeks, she leaves the eye in the glass of water to watch Rob after she has left for work. Loretta works as a stenographer who records divorce proceedings in court. With one eye watching the keys and one watching her husband, Loretta becomes very distracted during the trial as she gasps and records what she is seeing at home. She types that her husband and his mistress “rip at each others clothing” instead of the writing plight of the woman on trial. Eventually, Rob’s mistress notices the eye, grabs it, and places it in her belly button. Rob then takes the glass eye and throws it in the bed sheets. The judge notices that Loretta is acting strange and thinking her glass eye is bothering her, excuses her from court.
“Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot”:
In this short story, the narrator dies falling from a tree he climbed to spy on his wife. He was a jealous man during his life and was constantly suspicious his wife was having an affair. The narrator returns in the afterlife as a parrot and is purchased by his widowed wife. He spends his time in his cage in his old house that unfortunately for him is situated so that he cannot see into his former bedroom. The narrator watches as many different men come to the house. He hears the noises coming from his bedroom, but he can never see what exactly occurs. Overcome by jealousy, the narrator decides to fly away, only to hit a glass door and be comforted by his wife. One day while with one of her male suitors, his wife leaves the bedroom and comes to his cage naked. The narrator talks to her saying simple phrases like, “hello”, “pretty bird”, “bad bird”, however never finds the will to tell her how he really feels (80). He wishes to express his guilt and that he wants to protect her and make her feel whole with him. Her male friend then appears and the narrator’s wife leaves with him. The narrator then decides that he will “spread [his] wings…and fly now” (81). He realizes that despite the glass that separates him from freedom, he will willingly throw himself at it in order to escape.
Human need / Yearning:
“Fiction is inevitably and inescapably about human yearning…and the one thing I need to know about that character before I can begin to write is that I intuit what the yearning is of that character” - Butler
All three of the shorts stories we read in Tabloid Dreams speak to the fundamental need all humans have for another. In “Titanic Victim Speaks Through Waterbed”, Butler shows us a man who realizes his need for another only after it is too late and he is destined to drift through the waters of the afterlife thinking of her. The narrator tries to understand this unexplainable urge as he explains, “my wish to comfort her came from an impulse stronger than duty would strictly require…I simply wished for a companion to comfort her on a troubling night” (9). Although he may not grasp why he feels such a strong connection to a stranger, his feelings cannot be denied.
In “Woman Uses Glass Eye to Spy on Philandering Husband”, Loretta realizes that her marriage to Rob is falling apart, however, she still wants to salvage the remains. She longs so desperately for companionship that she is touched even by the simplest of deeds when Roy’s sleeping arm falls around her waist as they sleep. She wonders how their lives can transition from infatuation and love to indifference as she remembers how Rob flew “figure eights over sunlight scattered on a pond and [now he’s] lying on a bed in a dark room and [he doesn’t] care to touch and [he doesn’t] care that no life at all has come from [him]” (34). Although their love has dwindled and Loretta knows Rob is having an affair, she clings to the need for her husband until she realizes, “’I can leave’” (38).
The narrator in “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot” wishes to be with his wife even after his death. Although he suspected that she cheated on him when he was alive, the narrator continues to yearn for her company. He remembers, “I was the man in her life. I was whole with her” (75). He realizes that even “at that moment, holding her sweetly, there was this other creature inside me who knew a lot more about it and wouldn’t quite put all the evidence together to speak” of her other lovers. As the narrator watches his wife go to bed with different men, he realizes his wife no longer yearns for him and therefore decides to escape even if it means death.
Form / Style:
Repetition: Butler employs a lot of repetition in his work to enforce different ideas to his audience. In order to highlight the loneliness the narrator feels in the Titanic story, Butler repeats the word ‘nothing’ as the woman leaves and he is alone. He remembers that the woman “had said nothing more, either. Not good-bye. Nothing” (13). In the parrot short story, the man’s inability to communicate effectively is repeated. In the first line he states, “I never quite say as much as I know” (71). The narrator realizes later that his inability to talk with his wife arises from fear and insecurity that she will leave him. He explains, “I felt like a damn fool whenever I actually said anything about this kind of feeling and she looked at me like she could start hating me real easy and so I was working on saying nothing, even if it meant locking myself up” (74). By continually reinforcing the character’s emotions to his audience, Butler provides insight in their actions.
Literary Movement: Post-Modern
“These so–called post modernists have approached popular culture as well with their own kinds of gimmicks but it’s almost always from a position of sarcasm or scorn, and I think that you have to use the popular culture as a way into those enduring themes of art” – Butler
Butler employs many different techniques of postmodernism in his short story collection Tabloid Dreams. There is an element of reflexivity and self-consciousness present in his works, particularly in “Titanic Victim Speaks Through Waterbed” when the narrator states, “I’m fully conscious that I’m dead. And yet not so, somehow. I drift and drift” (1). This disconnect between the narrator’s understanding that he is in a spiritual world and his confusion reflects the post modern idea of subjectivity in which what is reality versus representation is questioned.
Postmodernists’ delight in the chaos of the life can be seen in “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot” through the ironic situation the man finds himself in. The narrator was suspicious of his wife extramarital affairs during his life, and now has been subjected to hearing them from his cage in his afterlife as a parrot. The idea of a reflexivity is present again as narrator wonders “how we can be whole together if you are not empty in the place that I am to fill…you have yearned for wholeness too and somehow I failed you. I was not enough” (80). Realizing his inadequacy, the narrator cannot grasp his identity anymore and wishes to succumb to death.
The idea that Loretta in “Woman Uses Glass Eye to Spy on Philandering Husband” can watch her husband while in an entirely different place is absolutely absurd. However, the postmodern characteristic of the story lies in its strange aesthetic. Although the idea is ludicrous, Butler makes the story relatable because the conflict and the character’s emotions of dejection and loneliness are so real.
“Titanic Victim Speaks Through Waterbed”
- “And now I feel something quite strong, really. Tough I have no body, whatever I feels suddenly quite profoundly empty. Ah empty” (13)
- “This woman and I had spoken together of life and death, and we had not even exchanged out names. That realization should have released me from my search, but in fact I grew quite intense now to find her” (16)
- “In a few moments she stepped into the boat. I shrank back into the darkness, terribly cold, feeling some terrible thing.” (19)
- “These two above me were floating on the face of this sea and they were touching. They had known to raise their hands and touch each other” (20)
“Woman Uses Glass Eye to Spy on Philandering Husband”
- “It struck me once that a lot of time had gone by since the last gesture like that and I figured out how much and then I waited and counted. It’s pretty sad, really, waiting those years and noticing it all along and you don’t even have it in you to say something” (23-24).
- “No, not till we’re married, Roy. I realize that was the last time I really felt I had some control over my life” (26)
“Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot”
- “I fluffed up all my feathers, made myself about twice as big, so big he’d see he couldn’t mess with me” (73)
- “I get this restlessness back in my tail, a burning thrashing feeling, and it’s like all the times when I was sure there was a man naked with my wife” (73)
“Titanic Victim Speaks Through Waterbed” and “Titanic Survivors Found in Bermuda Triangle are powerfully tender stories that just happen to depart from realism. They’re so poignantly loving and longing that they transcend their groaner titles, which try to hard to make the tabloid connection. But for the most part, Butler creates great opportunities with his tabloid scheme: both sensibilities – self conscious genre play and open – faced truth telling – are working at the same time in disturbing and pleasing ways”
– Ed Peaco
“Butler vaults off these trash premises into wild yet genuine explorations of things that have always mattered to him: inhabiting distinctive voices with convincing passion; consequences of isolation; longing for love”
– Ed Peaco
“Through his deeply drawn characters, recognizable conflicts, and plain-spoken yet lyrical prose, Butler plays a joke on the joke. With absurd headlines in hand, he dignifies what is intended for exploitation and weaves depth into what was meant for mere shock value”
More Butler Quotations:
“Fiction is a temporal art form. It exists in time. And it’s about human emotion…how difficult it is to exist for even thirty seconds of time as an emotion human being on the planet Earth without desiring something – my favorite work is yearning –without yearning for something”.
“Passion’s failure is certainly an important issue in Tabloid Dreams as well. The striving for self and the striving for intimacy is a redemptive thing in itself in some ways. And when passion fails, even in the striving, there is an expansion of the human spirit.”
“Point of view is as intimate and organic a decision in the specific work as anything else…it’s hard for me to think of myself going back to a third person point of view in a work. Just knowing the nature of how I see the world and how I’m accessing it, first person feels like the point of view I still wish to continue to explore”.
Diskin, Trayce. "From Tabloid to Truth: Using "Tabloid Dreams" to Inspire Powerful Fiction." The English Journal 89 (2000): 58-64. JSTOR. Main Library, Athens. 11 Apr. 2009. Keyword: Tabloid Dreams.
Herzog, Tobey C. Writing Vietnam, Writing Life. Iowa City: University of Iowa P, 2008.
Olen Butler, Robert. Tabloid Dreams. Holt Paperbacks, 1996.
Peaco, Ed. "Review: [untitled]." The Antioch Review 55 (1997): 242-43. Jstor. Main Library, Athens. 11 Apr. 2009. Keyword: Tabloid Dreams.
"Robert Olen Butler." 22 Mar. 2009. 14 Apr. 2009 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Olen_Butler>.
Trucks, Rob. The Pleasure of Influence: Conversations with American Male Fiction Writers. West Lafayette: Purdue UP, 2002.
Leviathan (ch. 1)
Research Survey Compiled By: Mandy Bragg
Paul Auster was born in Newark, NJ in 1947. He became interested in literature when his uncle, a literature professor and poet, left a collection of books in storage at his house while he was traveling in Europe. After reading many of these books, Auster realized that he wanted to write. Auster went to college at Columbia University and studied abroad in Paris in 1967. He dropped out of the study abroad program and lived in a hotel in Paris for a brief time before he returned to the U.S. When he arrived back in the U.S., Auster was put into the lottery for the draft for the Vietnam War but did not have to worry about going to war because he had a high lottery number. He spent the early 1970’s in France working as a translator and working on a few stories. In 1979 Auster’s father passed away and left him and inheritance that enabled him to focus on writing as a career. He has published many novels, essays, and volumes of poetry. His novels often had a focus on finding meaning in life. Leviathan is a novel that focuses on the main character who is very interested in someone else’s life. This was a common theme in more than one of his novels. Auster now lives in Brooklyn, NY and is married to his wife, Siri Hustvedt, whom he had his two children with.
• Peter Aaron- narrator, novelist. His mission is to tell the story of Benjamin Sachs in a timely manner before the police discover that he is the man on the side of the road that is blown up. There is a resemblance between Paul Auster and Peter Aaron in many ways. First, we see that they have the same initials. Also, Auster’s real biography is very similar to the life of the fictional character Peter Aaron.
• Benjamin Sachs- novelist. The whole story is focused around Peter Aaron telling Sachs’ story from what he knows. He is married to Fanny Sachs, and they do not have any children.
• Fanny Sachs- Benjamin Sachs’ wife. Peter Aaron knew of Fanny before he was introduced to her as Ben’s wife because he used to have a crush on her when they both attended Columbia University.
• Iris- Peter Aaron’s second wife that only plays a small part so far in the story. He refers to her as his wife in the current time when the police come to question him, and he also refers to the time before he met her when he spent Thanksgiving with the Sachs’ family.
• Mrs. Sachs- Benjamin Sachs’ mother who has as much attitude as Ben does. She feels it is very important to stand up for what you believe in.
• David Aaron- Peter Aaron’s son. We do not get to know a lot about David except for the fact that he spent Thanksgiving with the Sachs’ family and his parents are divorced.
This story, narrated by Peter Aaron, begins with a very investigative tone where he begins telling the reader about the death of a man who has blown himself up on the side of a road. The police have not been able to identify the man because his entire body was blown in pieces and any identification he had, such as his license and social security card, was either stolen or forged. Peter informs the reader that he must tell this story before the police are able to identify the man in order to defend the dead man.
Next, Peter goes into telling the story of Benjamin Sachs, the man Peter figures out is the man who was blown up. The police then contact Peter because there was a piece of paper in Benjamin Sachs’ wallet with Peter’s number and initials on it. Peter plays it cool when the police arrive and does not let on that he knows anything about what has happened. He tells the reader that he and his wife and daughter are at their summer house, and he is spending his time writing this book.
Peter goes on to describe how he met Sachs fifteen years ago. Peter and Sachs had been invited to share their work at a bar on a day when an enormous snow storm had just blown in. Both men end up at the bar and no one is there for their reading because of the storm. They end up drinking and talking for the rest of the night and make quite a connection. Sachs tells Peter about how he spent seventeen months in prison because he refused to go into the army when they called him. Then, Peter begins to tell what he knows about Sachs’ childhood, which he says he does not know a lot about. Thoreau was Sachs’ role model, and he lived to be about the same age at him. He had three sisters and was closer to his mother than his father.
After Peter’s first marriage broke up, he brought his son to Thanksgiving at Sachs’ mother’s house where he got to know his family better. Sachs’ mother was just as outspoken as her son. She tells a story about when Sachs was young and they visited the Statue of Liberty. Sachs referred to it as a turning point in his childhood and his first lesson in political theory because his mother made him dress up for the visit, and he said that no one dresses up to visit the Statue of Liberty.
Peter begins to describe Sachs’ one novel that he ever published, The New Colossus, which Peter admired from the moment he read it. It is a historical novel about the time inAmerica between 1876 and 1890, and it jumps around wildly from diary entries, letters, newspaper articles, and third-person narratives. Thoreau plays a part in the novel, and the message is that Thoreau was the only man who could read the compass for us and he has lost the compass, so America has lost its way.
Peter tells us how he and Sachs began spending a lot of time together. Peter had just returned from Paris the previous summer and did not have a lot of money, so he spent a good amount of time working. When Peter is introduced to Fanny, Peter’s wife, he realizes that he already knows of her. When he was an undergraduate at Columbia, he used to see her all the time. He had a crush on her and would stare at her during class. Peter informed Fanny about his old crush he had on her, but she let him off the hook.
Author as the narrator: It is very clear that in this story Paul Auster writes himself to be Peter Aaron. There are many similarities to Auster’s real life that Aaron also shares. Auster lives in about the same time period as Aaron and attended Columbia University. Both the author and the narrator spent time in Paris and are both novelists. Auster had two wives and two children as does Aaron. Auster was very into writing suspense novels, and the main story in this book is Aaron writing the story of Benjamin Sachs before the police discover that it was him that was blown up on the side of the road.
Coincidence: Peter refers to Sachs’ fascination with coincidence such as his obsession with the fact that he was born on the day of the Hiroshima bombing. He believes he was the first baby to breathe in the nuclear age. Peter also makes a reference to the fact that Sachs and Thoreau lived to be about the same the age, and Sachs would have found that interesting. There is the coincidence that Fanny is the girl that Peter stared at day after day in college, and he later meets up with her as his new best friend’s wife.
Pride: The very beginning of this story starts off with Peter writing this story about Sachs’ in order to stand up for him because he can no longer defend himself. As we get to know Sachs through Peter’s descriptions, we see that he is all about standing up for himself. Sachs even spent seventeen months in prison to stand up for his right to not go to war. We even see this side of Sachs when he is a young boy trying to stand up for himself when his mother tries to over dress him for their visit to the Statue of Liberty.
Postmodernism in Leviathan:
We see the Vietnam War as a major influence on the attitude of Sachs. From his birthday being on the date of the Hiroshima bombing to his attitude that he carries with him about war, the reader can see this postmodernist attitude in Sachs. He is very antiwar and refuses to go to war when he is drafted which results in him spending seventeen months in prison. The Vietnam War had an influence directly on Auster’s life when he was placed in the lottery for the draft; however, he was never drafted because his number was so high. Many postmodernist writers were affected by the Vietnam War because there was such a division in our country which caused deep political arguments. Auster uses irony in Leviathan when he uses so many coincidences occur such as the fact that Peter already know Fanny, and she turns out to be Sachs’ wife. When Peter begins to describe Sachs’ novel The New Colossus, the reader can see that in Sachs’ writing style he uses a very destructured way about putting together his novel. Peter says that it was very random and jumped around from newspaper articles to letters to third-person accounts. This completely different and decentered structure that Sachs used is very postmodern.
Existentialism is all about the freedom of individual choice and accepting responsibility for one’s own actions. We see existentialism in the attitude of Sachs throughout this chapter of Leviathan. Sachs is all about making his own choices whether they get him in a heap of trouble. We see this when he makes the decision to be put in prison instead of going to war. We can also see this attitude when he takes a stand against his mother as a young boy because he wants to dress more casually.
Potential Exam Questions
• What events are going on in the time period of this story that have a postmodern influence on the work?
• Show how Sachs is an existentialist and give specific examples of when he makes decisions based on his own beliefs.
• How does the trend of rebellion in this story make it postmodern?
• Show how Auster celebrates lack of structure in this novel, therefore, making it postmodern.
• “The first time we met, it was snowing. More than fifteen years have gone by since that day, but I can still bring it back whenever I wish.”
• “‘You’ve put me at quite a disadvantage,’ I said, taking a sip of bourbon from my replenished glass. ‘You’ve read nearly every word I’ve written, and I haven’t seen a single line of yours. Living in France had its benefits, but keeping up with new American books wasn’t one of them.’”
• “He was born on August 6, 1945. I remember the date because he always made a point of mentioning it, referring to himself in various conversations as ‘America’s first Hiroshima baby,’ ‘the original bomb child,’ ‘the first white man to draw breath in the nuclear age.’”
• “Remembering the early days of the friendship now, I am struck most of all by how much I admired the two of them, both separately and as a couple.”
• “I’m shut off from my own thoughts, trapped in a no-man’s land between feeling and articulation, and no matter how hard I try to express myself, I can rarely come up with more than a confused stammer.”
Auster, Paul. Leviathan. New York: Penguin Books, 1992.
"Paul Auster author profile and biography, plus links to book reviews and excerpts." BookBrowse.com: More than 20,000 book reviews, reader reviews, critic's reviews, book excerpts and more. Ed. Bookbrowse.com. 06 Nov. 2006. Book Browse. 18 Apr. 2009 <http://www.bookbrowse.com/biographies/index.cfm?author_number=1243>.
"Paul Auster. Biography and complete works." BOOKS OF THE WORLD. Libros de todo el mundo. Buscador de libros. Books of the World. 20 Apr. 2009 <http://www.booksfactory.com/writers/auster.htm>.
|34b: Leviathan (ch. 1)
Research Survey Compiled By: Gerry Thomas
The novel Leviathan starts in medias res, or in the middle of things. The first page tells the story of a man who has blown himself into twelve pieces trying to make a bomb next to a stolen dodge in non other than northern Wisconsin. From there Auster flashes back to tell the story how he knows the man, how he met the man, and his life connected to the man who has blown up. Benjamin Sachs (not to be confused with the tanking and federally bailed out (which Benjamin would never accept payment for) financial firm Goldman Sachs) is the name of the man who has blown himself up and the narrator is the only man who is aware of this. Our narrator, Peter Aaron, is visited by the FBI when his number is found in Sachs’ wallet along with some fake identification. Then the narrator promises to tell the story in his book before the authorities figure out that it was Sachs and ruin his name forever. Aaron takes us through their drunken meeting after their own poetry reading is canceled to Thanksgiving with Sachs’ family. Aaron and Sachs immediately become good if not best friends and meet for drinks and sports regularly. They both greatly enjoy each other’s writing which only strengthens their friendship. Sachs is described as almost goofy looking and an extreme extrovert at times. Sachs commonly writes about politics or history and is extremely proud that his father was a socialist in the thirties before it was (ironically) socially acceptable. By the end of the chapter, the flashback has progressed to where the two writers are somewhat successful and Sachs’ background is completely displayed.
Postmodernism: “That postmodernism is indefinable is a truism. However, it can be described as a set of critical, strategic and rhetorical practices employing concepts such as difference, repetition, the trace, the simulacrum, and hyperreality to destabilize other concepts such as presence, identity, historical progress, epistemic certainty, and the univocity of meaning.”
In Leviathan the narrator deals with a lot of self identification problems. He claims that he becomes an expatriate and lives in France and comes back because “Whatever I was going to prove by going there doesn’t feel important to me anymore” (17). Whatever he went there to achieve was left undone. He did not find the answer he was looking for. Before this starts to sound too modern, the reader must notice the fact that it’s not important to Peter Aaron anymore. He is no longer bothered by the dilemma that once bothered him. He has come to terms with whatever emptiness was there.
Again, I believe the narrator struggles with identity because he almost writes and lives vicariously through Sachs. There is rare mention of himself, his family, or his past in his writing outside of France. He even expounds greater on his college crush on Fanny, Sachs’ wife, more than he talks about his own wife.
I believe that the greatest example of postmodernism exists in the death of Sachs. In an example of the absurd, Sachs blows up trying to configure a bomb. Although there is definite danger in making a bomb, a novel from a different era would never blow up until the hero arrives or it sits on its target.
Transcendentalism: Despite the fact that the book does not seem to follow the transcendental beliefs. Aaron gives plenty of hints that Sachs may not follow but reads carefully into the transcendentalists’ movement. He talks of Emerson and Thoreau and Walden in his book The New Colossus. Aaron says this of Sachs’ book:
Thoreau’s pocket compass: It’s beautiful moment, very sensitively handled by Sachs, and it plants an important image in the reader’s head that will recur in any number of guises throughout the book. Although it isn’t said in so many words, the message couldn’t be clearer. America has lost its way. Thoreau is one man who could read the compass for us, and now that he is gone, we have no hope of finding ourselves again.
Polarity: In reading Leviathan, I noticed that Paul Auster has set up several polarities. The best examples exist in his protagonists and main character Sachs. First, the narrator says “I don’t think anyone has ever disarmed me as thoroughly as Sachs did that afternoon” (18). With this quote, the reader can assume that Sachs is pleasant and likeable. On the other hand, the narrator claims that “there were times when he let loose in savage fits of anger, truly terrifying outbursts of rage” (20).
Later he describes Sachs as “permanently distracted by obscure thoughts and preoccupations, and yet again and again he would surprise you with a hundred little signs of his attentiveness.”
Auster gives the reader an even more character contradicted with polarities when he writes, “I’ve rarely met anyone who was so clumsy, so physically inept, so helpless at negotiating the simplest operations….As I later discovered, however, Sachs was an excellent athlete” (19).
To top it all off, the narrator claims that he is arrogant and “sloppy” in his speech but his writing was the opposite. I think that we are given a character that lives in the contradiction.
In Hebrew the word translates strictly to whale and can mean any great sea monster in Biblical terms. Thomas Hobbes used the word to mean a social contract for people to exist in an ideal state (Wikipedia). I think Leviathan takes on many meanings and symbols in the book. One of the most important stories of Sachs’ childhood involves visiting the Statue of Liberty. While the statue of liberty can take be the literal translation of the title of Sachs’ book The New Colossus, it could also apply to the title of the real book, Leviathan. The Statue of Liberty could be considered a great sea creature that lives in the New York harbor.
In a much more metaphorical way, Leviathan could be translated to mean America. America is often considered the most recent great sea power or monster of the sea or Leviathan. Sachs’ and Auster included are obsessed with American literature especially around the time of the Transcendentalists movement, as mentioned earlier.
Journalistic: From what I have read, I believe that the writer uses a journalistic novel style. His purpose, description, and kickoff express a style often read in magazines or newspapers.
To begin, Aaron’s purpose is solely to tell the story of another man. He remains in the work but functions somewhat as a filter for the way he wants others to see Sachs.
Secondly, the descriptions for Sachs go on for pages. We learn more about his demeanor, family, lifestyle, and appearance than about the narrator. The narrator lives vicariously through Sachs just like a journalists lives through his subjects.
Finally, the beginning of the book is what really gives away the style. The narrator immediately tells us the cause of death before he goes back and explains who the person is.
The Author’s Connection to the Work (If you want to assume that there is one)
“The first time I read it (The New Colossus), however, I walked into it cold. After listening to Sachs in the bar, I assumed that he had written a conventional first novel, one of those thinly veiled attempts to fictionalize the story of his own life” (41) (See A Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms).
I found this quote extremely ironic after reading the Auster’s biography. He is a writer that studied at Columbia University. He then moved to Paris, France where he worked as a translator as he began to write. To top it all off, he has a son from his first marriage and has happily remarried since.
2-3) by Paul
Research Survey Compiled By: Jocelyn Kessler
“Everything is connected to everything else, every story overlaps with every other story”
The Author as Related to Peter Aaron
Paul Auster was born in New Jersey, graduated from Colombia University, and then spent some time abroad in France as a translator. His first marriage failed, but he remains married to his second wife, Siri, and they live in Brooklyn (Pilkington). Auster finds his counterpart in his character, Peter Aaron. Joseph Walker writes of this relationship between author and character, “Auster finds his counterpart in Peter Aaron, who shares with Auster not only a set of initials but also the broad outlines of a biography (considerable time spent in France and a disastrous first marriage followed by a happy second)” (Walker). Furthermore, Iris, Peter’s wife, is Auster’s wife’s name spelled backwards, just as the name Delia resembles the name Lydia, that of Auster’s first wife.
Literary Movement: Postmodernism
Postmodern literature often involves characters that experience a crisis of identity and an unstable sense of self. Characteristic of postmodernism is the “identity as fractured” and “the self as a social and ideological construct endlessly in process” (handout). The self is made up of fragments. This postmodern idea applies to Paul Auster’s Leviathan, in which the author creates characters that question their identities. For example, in a moment of clarity, Ben realizes that he “was already dead,” and that he was already “past the moment of shattering into pieces” (Leviathan 131). He feels that he has always been made up of fragments and that these fragments have already broken apart to leave him with no real identity. In order to return a sense of identity to himself, Ben asks Maria to take pictures of him. In this way, she treats him as an object, something to photograph. By seeing himself as Maria views him, Ben finds an identity again. Auster writes, “With this camera, I believe that Sachs’s soul was gradually given back to him” (145). These photographs cause Ben to see himself as a whole, rather than as a fragmented object. Peter, as well, questions his identity. He realizes that “[they] were no longer young, that [their] lives were slipping away from [them]” (Leviathan 121). He longs for a sense of purpose, which is the foundation of developing an identity. He negatively views getting older, for there is less time for them to leave their mark and to develop stable identities.
Another characteristic of postmodernism is the belief that language is arbitrary and manmade (worksheet). In Leviathan, Sachs does not feel the need for language after his fall. He does not speak to anybody for weeks. Auster writes of Sachs, “To be silent was to enclose himself in contemplation” (134). Auster makes the point that though Sachs could have expressed himself with words, he did not feel the need to do so, for language is inadequate, while silence is a natural state of contemplation.
The blurring of others and self is a common theme in postmodern works. In Leviathan, Maria impersonates Lillian. She stands in for her job as a prostitute, something she would have never done before she came into contact with her. As well, the lines between Ben’s character and that of Peter become increasingly thin. Mark Osteen writes, “[Peter] and Sachs have now crossed over into the other’s life, and their relationship becomes infinitely muddy and complex” (Osteen). Peter tells stories about Sachs’s childhood as if he were actually present when Sachs was a child. Furthermore, Peter develops a relationship with Sachs’s wife, which might represent his desire to be more like Sachs, rather than his desire for Fanny.
Within Auster’s postmodern work, Maria’s art represents postmodernism, itself. Auster purposefully makes her an artist, whose art is a pastiche, in which the boundaries between art forms are unclear. Auster writes of Maria, “I do not think she can be pigeonholed in any way. Her work was too nutty for that, too idiosyncratic, too personal to be thought of as belonging to any particular medium or discipline” (Leviathan 66). In this way, Maria’s art alone represents the postmodern idea of blurred boundaries.
The Dangers of Freedom
The importance of writing
Sachs writes with the intent to change society and to make a statement about politics, whereas Peter believes and accepts that his role as a writer is limited. Walker claims that Sachs is “a writer who defines his occupation largely in terms of political opposition,” while Peter, then, “is a writer reduced to the hope that he will never be read, a writer rendered utterly complaint, incapable of resistance” (Walker). Even Peter’s Leviathan is to inform, not to induce social change. Because of their differences, Auster wrote that Sachs and Peter are “two sides of the same coin” (Auster, La solitude). While Peter does not write to induce change in society, Sachs indentifies as a transcendentalist. He removes himself from society by retreating to a cabin in Vermont while he writes. As well, he believes in the power of the individual; through his books, he hopes to reach people and to spread his ideas to the masses. Transcendentalists defined themselves “by what they were rebelling against, what they saw as the current situation and therefore as what they were trying to be different from” (Osteen). This is why Sachs was obsessed with the Statue of Liberty and freedom—because those things defined him. Thus, because he found himself unable to get through to society through his writing, he slowly began to rebel against freedom and society in a different way, hoping to transcend this world.
Writing is also a way in which a person can leave a permanent legacy. Peter says of Sachs’s death, “The greatest tragedy is that the book was never finished” (Leviathan 159). A work of literature provides the author with something by which he or she can be remembered forever.
In addition, writing is therapeutic for Sachs. Peter tells him, “You can’t live without other people, so you invent them all” (Leviathan 157). As he remains in the cabin in Vermont, he slowly seems to have a more positive outlook on life, and he seems to recover from his fall. His writing seems to be what makes him keep on living. Thus, soon after Sachs stops writing, his death ensues. Auster states, “Writing is no longer an act of free will for me; it’s a matter of survival” (Osteen). Thus, writing is Sachs’s lifeline. When he completely stops work on his novel, he indirectly ends his life.
When reading this, the recurring question is “is the narrator reliable?” He often says that he might not have the story straight, but later he says that if he is wrong, then “nothing can ever be understood about anything” (Leviathan 119). It’s like he’s pulling the reader in by saying that he is not completely sure about every detail, but he tells the story as if he was there for every part of Ben’s life.
Auster’s Leviathan relates to the 17th century work, Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes, which calls for sacrificing individual rights to an authoritative leader. Hobbes believes that too much freedom is dangerous because people do not know what to do with it. Therefore, there is need for a sovereign ruler (Hobbes). Even the cover of Hobbes’s work relates to Auster’s novel. The cover art consists of an absolute ruler, who is immense compared to the landscape, holding a weapon. His image is made up of tiny, fragmented images of the people (Hobbes). This ties in with Auster’s theme of fragmentation, as well as with Sachs’s belief that freedom must be controlled.
Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground relates the story of a man who does not fit into society as it stands, and he is, therefore, unhappy with his identity. Sachs, similarly, does not fit into society as it enters the “era of Ronald Reagan,” during which “his position [as a writer] became increasingly marginalized (Leviathan 116). Because of this, he finds himself unhappy with himself, and unable to form a stable identity because he no longer is able to influence society.
Auster’s Leviathan also parallels Titanic Victim Speaks Through Waterbed by Robert Olen Butler. Both works contain the idea of already being dead, though alive. Sachs states, “I was already dead,” (Leviathan 131) just as the voice of the titanic victim says, “I was already dead. I’d long been dead” (Butler).
The novel, which is dedicated to Don DeLillo, relates to Videotape in that they both deal with death in a detached, desensitized way. In Leviathan, Peter tells the account of Sachs’s death, simply reporting the facts. Though they were friends, his tone is detached. Similarly, in DeLillo’s work, people are detached from the realities of death because it is on videotape, rather than in reality.
Even the term “leviathan” relates to a Hebrew word found in ancient texts. Osteen writes, “The term leviathan comes from the Hebrew ‘leviath’, meaning what is joined or tied together (Osteen). In Auster’s novel, the characters’ stories are intertwined, accurately representing this meaning of the title word.
While reading the newspaper, Peter Aaron learns of a man who accidentally blew himself up on the side of a Wisconsin road. He later discovers that his suspicions are correct—the man is his old friend, Benjamin Sachs. When the FBI pays Aaron a visit, he begins to write the story of Sachs’ life in order to explain the events that he believes led to his friend’s death. He recalls personal details, including Sachs’ relationship with his wife, as well as his own relationships with a woman named Maria Turner and his ex-wife Delia. He relays second and third hand accounts of Sachs’ childhood in order to piece together the identity of a man who left nothing behind but a novel, a few other writings, and a wallet.
Auster, Paul. Leviathan. United States of America: Penguin, 1993.
Auster, Paul, and Gerard de Cortanze. La solitude du labyrinthe: Essai et entretiens. Arles: Actes Sud, 1997.
Butler, Robert Olen. Tabloid Dreams: Stories. New York: H. Holt & Co, 1996.
DeLillo, Don. “Videotape.” Harper’s Magazine, Dec. 1994.
Handout. “ISMS: Literary Movements in American Literature Since 1865.”
Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan. Oxford: Clarendon, 1909.
Osteen, Mark. “Phantoms of Liberty: The Secret Lives of Leviathan,” Review of Contemporary
Pilkington, Stuart. Paul Auster: The Definitive Website. 28 Oct. 2008. 24 Apr. 2009
Walker, Joseph S. “A Kink in The System: Terrorism and The Comic Mystery Novel.” Studies
in the Novel, Fall 2004.
|35b: Leviathan (ch.
2-3) by Paul
Research Survey Compiled By: Melissa Jackson
“If not for the breakup of my marriage to Delia Bond, I never would have met Maria Turner, and if I hadn't met Maria Turner, I never would have known about Lillian Stern, and if I hadn't known about Lillian Stern, I wouldn't be sitting here writing this book.” -Peter Aaron, pg. 57
“I had already done some fairly excessive things by myself then. The New Orleans project, the 'Naked Lady' project, I was pushing myself a little farther along each time, testing the limits of what I was capable of. But next to Lillian I felt like some spinster librarian, a pathetic virgin who hadn't done much of anything. I thought to myself: If she can do it, why can't I?” -Maria Turner, pg. 82
“The truth as they saw it, perhaps, but nevertheless the truth. Neither one of them had been out to deceive me; neither one had intentionally lied. In other words, there was no universal truth. Not for them, not for anyone else.” -Peter Aaron on Ben and Fanny's relationship, pg. 109
“He pretended not to care, but I could see that the battle was wearing him down, that even as he tried to take comfort from the fact that he was right, he was gradually losing faith in himself.” -Peter Aaron on Ben Sachs, pg. 117
“But if that's true, it would mean that human behavior makes no sense. It would mean that nothing can ever be understood about anything.” -Peter Aaron on Ben Sachs, pg. 119
“His body mended, but he was never the same after that. In those few seconds before he hit the ground, it was as if Sachs lose everything. His entire life flew apart in midair, and from that moment until his death four years later, he never put it back together again.” -Peter Aaron on Ben Sachs, pg. 120
“I've never been so certain of anything in my life. First I realized that I was falling, and then I realized that I was dead. I don't mean that I sensed I was going to die, I mean that I was already dead. A dead man falling through the air, and even though I was technically still alive, I was dead, as dead as a man who's been buried in his grave.” -Ben Sachs, pg. 130-131
“I want to end the life I've been living up to now. I want everything to change. If I don't manage to do that, I'm going to be in deep trouble. My whole life has been a waste, a stupid little joke, a dismal setting of petty failures.” -Ben Sachs, pg. 137
“If he had learned how to love himself a little more, he wouldn't have had the power to cause so much unhappiness around him.” -Peter Aaron on Ben Sachs, pg. 147
There are many similarities between the Paul Auster and the characters, particularly Peter Aaron. Paul Auster graduated from Columbia University like both Peter Aaron and Fanny Sachs. After graduating from Columbia, Auster moved to France and translated French literature. In the novel, Peter Aaron also moves to France and tries to make a living off translating works. Auster's life appears in several of his novels, almost like memoirs. Also, Paul Auster's initials are the same as the narrator's, Peter Aaron. Auster's wife's name is Siri, which is Iris, Aaron's wife's name, backwards. In the very last line of chapter three, Aaron indicates that he names his book Leviathan, just as Ben was naming his that. It is ironically similar that the narrator is naming a book he's writing Leviathan, while the readers are reading a book titled Leviathan. This simple fact showcases the eerie similarities between Paul Auster and Peter Aaron and the overlap between the two different mediums of literature: reading and writing.
Ben and Fanny Sachs move to Brooklyn, New York. At the same time, Delia, Aaron's first wife, discovers that she is pregnant. The Aaron's decide that they should move as well, and with the help of a loan from Delia's father, they move to the country. After struggling financially, the Peter and Delia continue to grow farther apart, only staying together for their son, David. After reading Delia's open journal describing her feelings toward Peter, he moves out in an abrupt and matter-of-fact style. Peter, then, finds a humble apartment with the help of Fanny in lower Manhattan.
To help acclimate Peter into New York, Ben and Fanny throw many parties in their apartment, many of which they invited single women to for Peter. At one party, Peter meets Maria Turner, a twenty-seven year old, intense woman. Peter and Maria continue seeing each other after this night, essentially becoming sexual partners with no strings attached. Maria is different than any other woman in Peter's life. She is an artist, doing paintings to photography to writing. With the help of her father's income, Maria pursued photography while living in New York and stalking strangers, creating stories of their lives to fill her own.
On one occasion, her strange activities led to her randomly reuniting with an old friend, Lillian Stern, her former best friend who presently works as a prostitute. Maria, then, explains her relationship with Lillian to Peter, explaining Lillian's past as the abused girlfriend of a drug addict. Maria and Lillian then pursued another of Maria's activities in which they visited random addresses which they found in a lost address book. Ironically, Lillian meets her future husband in this manner, while Maria was forced to take on the prostitution job and eventually was beaten up for photographing her newest client. Peter, thereafter, explains that he was under Maria's spell, being the first man she slept with after being beaten.
While Maria was out of town, Peter finds out Delia relocated to Cobble Hill, a section of Brooklyn very close to Peter. The close proximity and their child made Peter wonder if leaving his family was the right thing to do. Thus, he moved even closer to Delia and David. Luckily, Peter was able to see David more often, but he was still unsure of his actions toward Delia.
Needing the help of someone, Fanny calls David over for dinner while Ben is in California on business. After Fanny explains that Ben has had several affairs, Fanny comes on to Peter and the two have sex. This goes on for the three weeks that Ben is in California, and Peter falls even more in love with Fanny than before. After begging for her hand in marriage, Fanny indicates that she will never leave Ben even though he's had affairs. Although now realizing how that helped him, Peter was beyond nervous to see Ben again after he returned to New York.
After trying to avoid Ben's calls, Peter finally has lunch with Ben, only to hear that he was not upset about hearing of Fanny and Peter's affair. Ben tells Peter that he has only had a few affairs and that Fanny just likes to think he has them. Peter is then very confused as to what the truth really is. After keeping his distance from Fanny as long as possible, Maria returns to New York and the two continue their relationship. While having several girlfriends, Peter finished his first novel, Luna, and is feeling very successful and confident. He, then, meets his future wife, Iris, at one of Maria's gallery shows. The two were soon married after that night, with Ben as his best man.
It is now the 1980s, with Reagan as president. Sachs is an extreme leftist, and he begins losing faith in himself as people begin ignoring his leftist views. Sachs, then, returns from Hollywood to hear that his book was not going to be made into a movie after all. Although he tried not to act like it was a big deal, Sachs is very discouraged by the unsuccessful fate of his book. Not only did Sachs internalize his feelings toward the Hollywood situation, but Peter believes he starting changing within himself even more.
Peter begins describing the night where it all changed—when Sachs fell. While at a fourth of July party at his house, Ben starts talking with Maria Turner. Ben begins lusting over Maria and tries to find a way to physically be close with her. Deciding his plan, Ben and Maria walk onto the roof of the apartment to look at the fireworks. Ben then puts his legs over the fire escape, like he's about to jump, and Maria grabs hold of him, pressing her body close to his. Ben is happy that his plan worked so well, and just as he is about to come back over to the other side, Agnes Darwin bumps into Maria, shoving Ben off the roof. Ben falls four stories, hit a clothesline, and lands right on his head. Ben is rushed to the hospital and is in a coma for a few days.
After waking up, he does not talk to anyone until David, Peter's son arrives. Fanny stays every day at the hospital, waiting for Ben to wake up. Maria Turner also visits the hospital quite often, offending Fanny. As Fanny did with Ben's previous female friends, she assumes that the two are romantically involved, even though they are not. Once retelling the story to Peter, Ben describes how much he hates himself for what he did and that his fall was the punishment for his actions. Ben had promised himself to not lust after women, so he could fix his marriage. He felt very ashamed since he went to such far measures to get Maria close to him. Thus, he began to slowly hate himself and want to change his life.
Peter, however, tries to convince Ben that the fall was not his fault, that it was a mere accident. Peter assumes that Ben will be fine after starting to write again, but Ben tells Peter that he has no interest in writing anymore, a huge change from his attitude pre-accident. Other changes began coming as well. Ben shaved his beard and head, revealing his gory, numerous scars from the accident. Peter becomes very suspicious of Ben's behavior and chooses to follow him around New York City one day.
After becoming very depressed with his activities, Peter realizes that Ben is still very depressed from the accident. It turns out, however, that that day, Maria Turner was also following Ben around, but with his permission. After the accident, Maria and Ben began seeing each other every Thursday, ten to five, and working on numerous projects such as photography and writing. On this particular day, Ben wanted Maria to take pictures of him around town, wondering what he looked like to strangers. Still in a deep depression, Ben realizes that he cannot stay with Fanny anymore. He believes he is ruining her life by staying married to her and, thus, slowly starts convincing her to leave him. Fanny did not listen to these conversations, assuming it was him simply recovering.
Peter continues to try and help Ben get back in to writing, assuming that that will help him recover fully. After a conversation with his editor Ann Howard, Peter tells Ben to write a novel about his own life and that Ann Howard would publish it. Agreeing to write the novel, Peter felt like Ben was finally eager to recover. Instead, however, writing the novel was simply a way to further ruin his marriage. Soon, Ben moves to Vermont to write, leaving Fanny alone in New York.
Without Peter knowing, this is the final breakup of Fanny and Ben, a mutual agreement to never be with each other again. Peter and Iris, and their newborn Sonia visit Ben in Vermont. This visit goes very normally, and Peter assumes that Ben is getting back on track. Fanny, although not purposefully, is already back on track with a man named Charles Spector, who Ben sees her with in bed one night, making their separation completely real and final. After the visit to Vermont, Peter indicates that nothing will ever be the same again with Ben. In honor of his friend, Peter titled the name of his newest book the same title of Ben's: Leviathan.
Character Descriptions and Analysis-
Peter Aaron- Narrator, author, protagonist. It is from Peter's perspective that readers understand the story of Ben's life. Although he understands that some of what he knows may not be true, it is very difficult to completely trust Peter's story of Ben's life, since most of it he learned from people besides Ben. Peter is the man in the middle, using his ability to write to expose the death of his friend, ensuring it was not in vein.
Ben Sachs- Author, leftist, crazy, not very attractive, free soul. Because the story begins with Ben's death, the entire novel is arguably all about him. Peter's account includes every detail leading up to Ben's death that is needed to fully understand the situation he was in the day he died. Ben serves as the purpose of Peter's novel and, perhaps, Peter's downfall since he lied to the police about what he knew. Many of Peter's adventures in his life began after he met Ben, thus Ben serves as a wake up call for Peter to begin living life.
Delia Bond- Peter's first wife, mother of David, a free-lance copy editor, takes matters into her own hands, cannot stand Peter, stunned by Peter moving out. Delia is the reason why Peter is turned away from settling down. Delia's and his relationship was a failure in the beginning since Delia never loved him. This permanently scars their marriage. It also explains why Peter enjoys his relationship with Maria. Instead of having to deal with the negative attachments of marriage that Peter experienced with Delia, Peter and Maria only enjoy each other sexually.
Maria Turner- Twenty-seven/Twenty-eight, tall, sexual partner for Peter, an artist, very peculiar. To satisfy her own life, Maria feeds off of stranger's lives. She does so by stalking them and taking pictures of them. Thus, Maria feels her life is not good enough to live without the help of strangers. She also acts, even when she is with Peter. Intimately, Maria makes Peter role play with her, indicating that even with Peter she cannot be herself. The fact that Maria finds it easier to act indicates that her own life is not exciting enough without pretending she is someone else.
Lillian Stern- Twenty-four, wild reputation, slutty, actress, confident, prostitute, abused by her ex-boyfriend, beautiful. This far in the novel, Lillian and Maria are foil characters. Lillian represents the wild girl Maria wishes she could be. Maria is only sure of one thing: her ability to live her life through strangers and adventures. Lillian steals one of Maria's adventure, showing how Lillian not only lives her life more intensely than Maria, but also that Lillian lives Maria's life more intensely than she does.
Fanny Sachs- Although she is already introduced, we find out more about Fanny in this section. Fanny realizes that Ben cheats on her, although it is very ambiguous if he actually has these affairs. Fanny is also unafraid to cheat on her husband with his best friend, which shows her courageous, stubborn, and independent side. In this section, we understand that Fanny must live her life for herself. Although she loves Ben, she loves having her own life without him. This is evident in her affair. Also, we understand that Fanny is a pessimist because she assumes the worst in her relationship with Ben, which may be foreshadowing to their divorce.
Literary Movements- Postmodernism
Throughout the entire novel, Peter is trying to find the truth through writing. Sometimes he is more sure of certain events and other times he cannot understand if it's the truth or not. He, then, tries to write it down to figure out if it is the truth. For example, he writes down the situation between Fanny and Ben's affairs to decipher the truth. This characteristic in the novel supports the idea of postmodernism through the distrust of truth.
Fanny as a character deals a lot with the reality of the affairs with Ben. She struggles with what her mind tells her and with what Ben tells her. The difference in the reality of the situation versus the way Ben represents the situation represents a very postmodern characteristic. The reality is that Ben has not had as many affairs as he represents toward Fanny.
Ben begins having a lot of trouble with his identity, a major characteristic of postmodernism. Before his fall, he realizes who he is and knows what he wants. After the fall, however, he understands that he is being punished for falling back into a characteristic he tried to avoid—lust. Hating himself, he needs to change who he is so that he can continue living. Ben changes his identity around Fanny. He begins encouraging her to leave him, which reveals his inability to accept himself as her husband anymore. His identity also changes after the fall with his occupation. Ben cannot see himself as a writer anymore. The idea of writing disgusts him, and even after trying to write again, he cannot bring himself to write again.
The struggling quest for Ben to find himself again is another postmodern characteristic. Peter is using literature (writing this story) to figure out what went wrong with Ben's life and eventually led to his suicide. Thus, by writing out everyone's stories, he is attempting to understand the last line of Ben's story—his death. Because postmodernists stress the adventure and not the final product, Auster is highlighting the events leading up to Ben's death, instead of focusing on his death itself.
The Statue of Liberty- This monument is mentioned several times throughout the novel. The image appears on Ben's first book The New Colossus. Ben's mother was afraid Ben was going to fall down the stairs, or down the Statue of Liberty's arm, when they toured the monument in 1951. The Statue of Liberty was also the conversation Maria and Ben were having just before Ben fell from the roof on the fourth of July.
Art- Most of the characters are somehow involved in some type of art. Peter and Ben write, Fanny works as an art curator, and Maria takes photographs. The circle of friends they all have are also all involved in some type of art. The characters use art as a way to express themselves both positively and negatively. Ben turns to Maria's photography to understand himself after the fall, indicating that photographs are more real than real life itself. Or that art grasps reality better than reality grasps reality.
Maria- The character of Maria is herself a motif because she keeps becoming involved in the main characters' lives. First, Maria is introduced to Peter. The two of them begin having a strictly sexual relationship. Maria, along with Fanny, helps Peter realize that he should not have gone back to his wife, Delia, by distracting him. Maria is also part of the reason Ben fell down the fire escape. If not for her flirting, Ben would not have pursued her onto the fire escape and tried to get close to her. This may be foreshadowing a more important involvement in Sachs life as the novel ends.
Freedom v. Chaos- This theme occurs very often throughout the novel, specifically with Ben. Ben often struggles with the freedom to do whatever he wants, while avoiding the boundary of chaos. The life Ben has before his fall is of freedom; he does whatever he wants, when he wants. He has a carefree lifestyle that he can only control. After the fall, however, he delves into chaos, circling out of control. He leaves Fanny, the only person who could temporarily control him, and he quits writing, his strongest passion. As the novel continues, Ben will continue to struggle with living a chaotic life, unable to accept himself after the fall.
The Past, the Present, and Time- Many of the characters in the novel are thrown back into their past or jolted into the future at some point. Maria is forced back into the past after running in to Lillian. Their relationship picks back up where it left off, making time an unimportant factor in their lives. For Ben, he is jolted into the future after his fall. Instead of picking life up where it left off, he starts a new one over. The time jump in his case represents that time is nothing and can simply stop and start whenever. For Fanny, she experiences a very short time period between Ben's departure to Vermont and her meeting Charles Spector. The short time period also indicates that little time can pass yet a lot can happen.
Ties of Friendship- This theme so often occurs between Ben and Peter. In chapters two and three, many situations transpire that test their friendship. For example, Peter has a three week long affair with Ben's wife, Fanny. Once he found that out, Ben is willing to forgive both Peter and Fanny because he loves them both too much for it to matter in the long run. This idea is something Ben understands very clearly before his accident. Also, it would have been very easy for Peter to stop being Ben's friend after the accident. The self-pity that emerged from Ben was overwhelming and potentially and easily ignorable. Instead of leaving his friends in the complete dark, Peter continued to aid Ben, although without much prevail in the long run. The ties between friendship between the two men even stay connected as they live further apart and rarely see each other. In Ben's crumbling world, it seems the last connection to the real world for him is Peter and that is due to their strong friendship.
During this time period, there was an increase in the rise of suburbia for whites. This is evident in the novel when Peter and Delia move from the city to the country after they realize they are going to have a child. Also, during this time period, there was an increase in students seeking a higher education. Both Fanny and Peter attended Columbia University. Furthermore, a trend that affected postmodern America was a rebelled youth. The character that resembles rebellion the most is Lillian. She does not care what people think about her, which is evident through her job as a prostitute.
Auster, Paul. Leviathan. New York: Penguin, 1992.
"BOOK REVIEW / Trying on terrorist chic for size: 'Leviathan' - Paul Auster: Faber, 14.99 pounds -
Books, Arts & Entertainment - The Independent." The Independent | News | UK and Worldwide
News | Newspaper. 20 Apr. 2009 <http://www.independent.co.uk/arts
"From metonymy to metaphor: Paul Auster's Leviathan." EBSCOhost. 23 Apr. 2009 <http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?vid=3&hid=8&sid=92e1839a-0722-4a24- a1f2-9dea00c42a7a%40sessionmgr8&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d %3d#db=hgh&AN=400519>.
"Paul Auster Profile - Biography of Writer Paul Auster, author of Oracle Night and The Brooklyn
Follies." About.com Contemporary Literature. 20 Apr. 2009 <http://contemporarylit.about.com/ cs/authors/p/auster.htm>.
Unreality.net. 20 Apr. 2009 <http://www.unreality.net/writings/academic/Eng436-1.pdf>.
4-5) by Paul
Research Survey Compiled By: Amanda Wade
Chapter four begins with Peter not having seen Sachs for “close to two years” (Auster 160). He disappeared and the only person who knew where he went was Maria. He came back to New York before he disappeared and saw Fanny in bed with another man (Charles Spector). Fanny went to Vermont to try to find Ben a few days after “the incident,” but she only found the house left as if Sachs was going to “return any minute” (Auster 162). Sachs is not heard from for a very long time and Fanny decides she will not be able to go back to the Vermont house, so she gives it to Iris and Peter. While they are on vacation there one summer, Sachs returns to the Vermont house unexpectedly. Sachs tells Peter the story of his getting lost in the woods while taking a walk and getting picked up by Dwight McMartin. Then, when Dwight is almost back to Sachs’s Vermont house, they stop to help a man in a white truck, Reed Dimaggio. Dimaggio is volatile, and ends up killing Dwight. Sachs kills Dimaggio with Dwight’s softball bat and then flees the scene. Sachs discovers items in the trunk of the car (160-175 thousand dollars, material to make a bomb, a passport, clothes, etc.) and then decides to make his way to Brooklyn because he needs to talk to Fanny (this is where the beginning of the chapter reunites with Sachs story and he sees Fanny in bed with another man). At this point, Sachs tries to turn to Peter, but can not reach him so he turns to Maria. As he explains his story to her, Maria finds out that the man Sachs killed was Reed Dimaggio and she knew him because he was married to her best friend, Lillian Stern. Maria then recalls the details of her friendship with Lillian and the workings of Lillian’s marriage to Dimaggio. She zeros in on one particular story about Dimaggio finding out that Lillian was a hooker before he met her. Sachs stays at Maria’s place for three days and decides he will deliver the bag of money to Lillian and then he must take his own life.
When he gets to Lillian’s, it is difficult for him to talk with her, but eventually he tells her of his plan to give her one thousand dollars a day until a money supply runs out. He gives her five thousand dollars as a down payment. He meets little Maria and they clean the house together. Lillian is not as rude when she approaches him the morning after he shows up on their doorstep, but she is still apprehensive of Sachs. He talks to Maria (Lillian’s best friend) after he has been at Lillian’s home for a few days and they get into a disagreement and she bids him farewell and they end their friendship. Sachs cleans Lillian’s house while Lillian and little Maria are at a friend’s house. He stays at Lillian’s house on her sofa from that night on. Sachs becomes a permanent fixture in the household and he takes great care of Maria and becomes the housewife of their home. Lillian pays very little attention to his presence until one night when she decides to let Sachs in, and she finally starts to explain herself to Sachs. A few days later, Sachs and Lillian have sex and she tells him that she is in love with him. They become a couple and Maria does not like that because she is no longer the center of Sachs’s attention. The three of them go to the park a short while after they become a couple and Maria has a temper tantrum and Lillian slaps Maria twice. Sachs’s and Lillian get into an argument over this, and their relationship hits the rocks from then on out.
This chapter begins by describing the bombings of Statues of Liberty around the United States. They call the bomber the Phantom of Liberty. Peter does not pay much attention to the news of the Phantom, but the Phantom does remind him of Sachs (who he thinks is dead at this point). Peter and Iris go to the Vermont house and Peter works feverishly on his new novel. Iris leaves to go to a wedding, and while Peter is by himself at the house, Sachs comes back to the Vermont house and tells Peter everything that has happened to him. Peter finds out that the Phantom is Sachs and he got the idea from a dissertation that Dimaggio wrote. Sachs had become obsessed with the life of Dimaggio and compares himself to Dimaggio. It is evident that Sachs is still trying to redeem himself for killing Dimaggio. He wants to write a book on Dimaggio to “keep him alive,” but he can’t bring himself to do it (Auster 253). He then tells Peter the story of his hiding out in a used bookstore from an old editor of his that he saw on the sidewalk. As he is hiding he looks up and sees his book The New Colossus on the shelf and buys it. He takes it back to Lillian’s house and then makes the decision to carry out the Phantom of Liberty acts in order to take a stand for what he and Dimaggio believed in. Sachs gets tired and they both go to bed for a few hours. Peter wakes before Sachs and ponders what Sachs has told him. When Sachs wakes, they eat dinner and resume the conversation. Sachs goes into great detail about the workings of the Phantom of Liberty and how he carried out his mission. When they go to bed that night, Peter wakes up in the morning to find Sachs gone, but a letter from him in the work shed. Sachs explains that he is going to finish his mission as the Phantom and by the end of the note, Peter realizes that the letter “had been [Sachs] way of telling [Peter] that he couldn’t say good-bye” (Auster 266). Eventually, Peter meets up with Maria and they discuss what they both knew of Sachs’s story; neither one divulging all of their information. Peter then goes on narrating and ponders the whereabouts of Sachs and his life. He has no idea where Sachs is until he reads the Times one day and finds out about the bomb that went of in Wisconsin (from the very beginning of the novel). The novel then comes full circle and we, the readers, are back to the beginning when Peter began writing this novel. The FBI are following him closely until the case is solved by Harris in the last two pages. Sachs had been signing Peter’s books and when Harris comes to tell Peter this, Peter “leads Harris across the yard…and once [they] were inside, [he] hands [Harris] this pages of this book” (Auster 275).
“We knew [Sachs] was alive, but as the months passed and no message came from him, not even that was certain anymore. Only bits and pieces remained, a few ghostlike facts” (Auster 161).
“All of a sudden, Sachs wished that he hadn’t kept so much to himself over the past months. He should have gone out and mingled with his neighbors a bit more; he should have made an effort to learn something about the people around him. Almost as an ethical point, he told himself that he mustn’t forget the softball game that night…if he had some people to talk to, maybe he wouldn’t be so apt to get lost the next time he went walking in the woods” (Auster 169)
“[Ben’s] brain was already overcharged, and he had gone home to Fanny precisely because he assumed there would be no surprises there, because it was the one place where he could count on being taken care of” (Auster 178).
“There was a forced intimacy to it that both excited [Sachs] and repulsed him. He had been allowed into [Lillian’s] secret realm, the place where she enacted her most private rituals, and yet even here, sitting in the heart of her kingdom, he was no closer to her than he had been before” (Auster 214).
“And the remarkable thing was that early the next morning, when they woke up and found each other in bed, they went at it again, and this time, with the pale light spreading into the corners of the small room, she said that she loved him, and Sachs, who was looking straight into her eyes at that moment, saw nothing in those eyes to make him disbelieve her” (237).
“…from the moment Lillian slapped Maria across the face until the moment Sachs left for Berkeley five weeks later, nothing was ever the same for them again” (Auster 240).
“[The Statue of Liberty] is the best of what America has to offer the world, and however pained one might be by America’s failure to live up to those ideals, the ideals themselves are not in question. They have given comfort to millions. They have instilled the hope in all of us that we might one day live in a better world” (Auster 242).
“‘It’s time to start practicing what you preach. If you don’t want any more statues blown up, prove to me that you’re not a hypocrite. Do something for your people besides building them bombs. Otherwise, my bombs will keep going of. Signed: The Phantom of Liberty’” (Auster 243).
“It fascinated me to think that I’d gone to prison because of that war—and that fighting in it had brought [Dimaggio] around to more or less the same position as mine. We’d both become writers, we both knew that fundamental changes were needed—but whereas I started to lose my way, to dither around with half-assed articles and literary pretentions, Dimaggio kept developing, kept moving forward, and in the end he was brave enough to put his ideas to the test” (Auster 252).
The Statue of Liberty- this is a recurrent symbol throughout the novel; not only does it represent the freedom and democracy America stands for, but it encompasses falling, fear, and frustration—falling because of the fall from the balcony while watching the fireworks and because of Sachs’s fall into depression after his accident, fear because in the first of the novel his mother had terrifying experience inside a tour of the Statue of Liberty and because Sachs feared for the future of America, and frustration because Sachs blows up the statues in order to express his frustration with America and the fact that freedom and democracy are not being respected.
The money in the bowling bag- this is what Sachs uses as a device to help Lillian and little Maria and become the father figure that Dimaggio could not be; it is a way to repent for taking his life; it also becomes the means for Sachs to blow up the statues and carry out the ideas of himself and Dimaggio
Characters in the chapter:
-Charles Spector: The boyfriend of Fanny; described in the book as “a decent fellow. Mid to late forties, an architect, formerly married, the father of two boys, intelligent, desperately in love with Fanny.”
-Iris: Peter’s wife
-Peter: long-time best friend of Ben Sachs; narrator of the novel; we see and hear what he sees and hears
-Fanny: former wife of Ben and lover of Charles Spector
-Sonia: baby of Iris and Peter; born during the time Sachs is working on his novel in Vermont; Fanny and Ben are deemed the godparents of Sonia
-Sachs/Ben: the main character and focus of the chapter; kills Reed Dimaggio; writer; deeply troubled by a fall he took from a fire escape in chapter 3
-Maria: former lover of Peter’s and long time friend of Sachs; only one who knows where Sachs is during his two years of disappearance; Sachs and Maria end their friendship when he begins his time at Lillian’s house
-Dwight McMartin: Teenager that picks up Sachs on the side of the road when he is lost; very friendly and personable; tries to help a man in a white truck (Dimaggio) and is shot three times (the third bullet kills him)
-Reed Dimaggio: husband of Lillian Stern; the man on the side of the road that kills Dwight McMartin; father of little Maria; killed by Sachs with a softball bat after he shoots McMartin; Sachs becomes obsessed with Dimaggio and wants to give his life to the ideas of Dimaggio in order to repent and let Dimaggio live through him
-Little Maria: the daughter of Lillian Stern and Reed Dimaggio; takes a liking to Sachs; is too wise for her age and acts like a tiny adult; has trouble accepting the relationship between Lillian and Sachs
-Lillian Stern: the wife of Reed Dimaggio; best friend of Maria; mother of little Maria; fell in love with Sachs when he lived in her house and she received money from him (the money from the bowling bag he found in Dimaggio’s trunk); very complex woman—described as a “wild person…not just beautiful, but incandescent…fearless, but out of control…ready for anything” (Auster 257).
1. Multiple truths: The post-modern theme of multiple truths is explored in these chapters. For example, Maria is describing the story to Sachs about the night that Dimaggio finds out that Lillian was previously a prostitute. After that night, Dimaggio left Lillian and she explains to Maria why he left. On three different occasions, Lillian gives Maria three different explanations as to why and how Dimaggio left; the first, Dimaggio was seeing another woman and he and Lillian were separating, the second, Dimaggio found out about her past and beat her for it and left, and the third, Lillian said that Dimaggio “had gotten weird on her” (Auster) and she kicked him out of their home (Auster). These were all truths to Lillian at one point during the story and they all have the same result, but not the same path to the result. Another example presents itself when Iris describes the different belief systems of herself, Charles, Fanny and Peter because of their views on the whereabouts and livelihood of Sachs,
“Iris told me that I was turning into a Buddhist, and I suppose that describes my position as accurately as anything else. Fanny was a Christian, Iris said, because she never abandoned her faith in Sachs’s eventual return; she and Charles were atheists…(Auster 164).
Each of the four has their own truth as to what happened to Sachs, and they all accept different religious truths that back up their beliefs. Peter’s truth changes in chapter five when he “comes around to Iris’s opinion (that [Sachs] was dead, that he would never come back)…” (Auster 246). Toward the end of the novel, Maria and Peter are discussing Sachs and they figure out another contradiction; Sachs had said he never revisited Lillian, but Lillian claimed that Sachs had come back twice—again multiple truths.
2. Feeling lost and being alone: This theme is evident through Sachs in chapter four. He does not like being alone, as Fanny points out, he must either be around people or the characters in his books (Auster). Sachs also gets lost in the woods while on a walk. In chapter five, when Peter is alone at the Vermont house, he can not sleep because Iris is not with him; he does not like being alone and it makes him restless. Later on in the chapter, while Sachs is describing his life as the Phantom, the lifestyle he describes makes Peter uncomfortable because of “the loneliness” (Auster 262).
3. Theme of nothing: The existential theme of nothing becomes a factor in chapter four. When Iris discusses the different religions, Peter states, “…I was a Zen acolyte, a believer in the power of nothing” (Auster 164). Also, Sachs, at the crime scene on the small dirt road, wipes away all traces of evidence that he was ever there, wanting to leave nothing behind.
Style and analysis of form:
It is as if in this chapter, and the chapters before, Peter is writing down everything he knows about Sachs, the most important details to the most menial facts. This makes the novel almost like a journal at some points because it recalls the daily lives of the characters, and many of their most important secrets. Auster does this in a unique way through the perspective of Peter, because we are getting the journal aspects, but not from the characters themselves; only from Peter’s point of view. This is also interesting because it explores the reader’s trust and how far it can be taken as the story progresses; did you trust Peter’s rendition of Sachs’s story throughout the entire novel? (This could be a good aspect to analyze for the test!) It almost appears to be a sort of biography of Benjamin Sachs, but then again, it is written by Peter and what he hears from others and from Sachs himself. He is not sure what is true and what is not.
Intended audience of Author:
The author intends to tell Benjamin Sachs story before the police uncover it. He is trying to express everything he knows about the events leading up to the bomb exploding and what he knows about Sachs as a person. For these particular chapters, the author is explaining a piece of Sachs’s life to anyone who will listen. He explains the reasons and workings for his friend’s actions and allows Sachs to live through his words.
Pastiche- The roles of Lillian and Sachs in the household—Lillian is scattered and Sachs puts things together in the house; Lillian is not present for Maria, but Sachs is
Foreshadowing- The death by bombing is foreshadowed when Sachs shows up at the Vermont house with Peter and tells him his story, “Yes, I’m ready to talk. Until I came in here and saw you holding that knife, I wasn’t going to say a word. That was always the plan: to say nothing, to keep it all to myself. But I think I’ve changed my mind now. It’s not that I can’t live with it, but it suddenly occurs to me that someone should know. Just in case something happens to me” (Auster 249).
Triggers to help for the exam
-the multiple truths of the story
-the Paul Auster’s use of Peter as the medium of telling the story of Sachs
-Role of Maria in Sachs life
-Role of any of the characters listed in the character list in the book
-explore the different truths in the novel, what would have been different if certain truths are actually false?
-What was Peter’s purpose in showing the novel to Harris?
How fits into postmodern realm
Fragmented view- the reader only gets the story through the eyes of Peter; Peter does not know every detail to some of the stories, so there are missing viewpoints throughout the novel
Not just one system of knowledge- each of the characters has their own idea as to what happened to Sachs (refer to the themes section under the heading of “multiple truths”)
Celebrate lack of structure- lack of structure represented in Lillian’s home (messy kitchen, no set schedule with Lillian, disorganized household); lack of structure in the life of Sachs as he plays the role of the Phantom of Liberty
Rebel figure- the Phantom of Liberty; wanted America to change and better itself; blowing up Statues of Liberty in protest of the way Americans have become lax to the view of demoracy
-themes of the Vietnam War throughout the novel—how it affects Sachs versus Dimaggio—Sachs went to prison for the war while Dimaggio fought in the war—yet they ended up in the same mental place? (refer to important quotes section)
-Berlin Wall fell in chapter 5
-Cold War ended in chapter 5
-Havel became the president of Czechoslovakia in chapter 5
-Socially, some praised the work of the Phantom while others condemned it—why is this important? What does this show socially in America during the time this novel was written? (could be a good essay topic!)
|36b: Leviathan (ch.
4-5) by Paul
Lecture Notes Compiled By: Valerie Morrison
DEFINE LEVIATHAN: a sea monster symbolizing evil in the Old Testament, said to swallow the damned. A huge marine mammal such as a whale, anything of immense size and power. A philosophical work written in 1651 by Thomas Hobbes dealing with the organization of society, the social contract and the ideal commonwealth. He argued that chaos or civil war could only be avoided by strong central government, and he called for rule by an absolute sovereign. In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan is described as ‘a Leviathan, a ruler of many kingdoms.’
Read aloud opening lines of the novel. How is this postmodern? What does it remind you of? DeLillo, lack of suspense, O’Connor, everything happening by the roadside. An in-between place, nowhere & everywhere. Liminal space. America as not yet arriving at destination. The end of "To Elsie" with no one to witness or adjust, no one to drive the car.
Obliterated body at the beginning. Why does he start like this, what does it allow him (both Aaron and Auster) to do? Destruction, dismemberment of this central figure, a body DECONSTRUCTED. Piecing it together again, reconstituting his friend’s life. How does he go about doing this?
What genre of literature would you call this so far?
Contagion theme. Information as dangerous, coded, encoded with viral properties. Dracula, The Crying of Lot 49, House of Leaves or all of DeLillo. p.5. Competing stories, 2 or more at once.
Awareness and Reflexivity. Postmodern sense of awareness, the book winking at you telling you it’s a story. Read excerpt from Eagleton’s Afterword about postmodern sense of IRONY.
Peter Aaron launches into a character study of Ben Sachs in this first chapter. Is he successful? Do you feel like he’s describing a real person? Someone you can identify with? What is his strategy for doing this? Where does he begin and how does he proceed?
How does the perspective work in this story? How does his position as a writer affect how you read this? p.25, constant claims for truth and authenticity throughout.
Ben’s birthday, when the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. What’s the significance of this? Product of WWII, product of possibly the worst thing our country has done, a postmodern figure.
One of the reasons I picked this book is because it’s postmodern yes, but also very self-consciously American. What themes and symbols have we encountered so far? How could this be about American society? Significance of the Statue of Liberty story, p.35?
Contagion theme. Information as dangerous, coded or ‘encoded’ with viral properties. Competing stories, 2 or more at once. House of Leaves. THIS IS NOT FOR YOU (pass around). Writing as dangerous, anxiety transferred to reader. Coincidences, signs, the Tristero symbol. How things circulate…
Boundaries. Who is the author? What is a text? Who is the reader? We feel IMPLICATED.
The way chapter 2 begins, feels as if Peter is trying to tell us HIS story, not Ben’s. What’s going on with this? Whose story is this?
What genre is this piece of writing? Detective fiction? Memoir? Eulogy (Toni’s comment)? Elegy? Confession? Labyrinth? Kaleidoscope? Collage? Pastiche?
What’s NOT here? Work in stuff about John Cage’s 4:33? Absences. What don’t we know this far? What do the characters indicate it’s impossible to know? p. 107. Ben: “We never know anything about anyone.”
How does fate work in the novel? Do you get the sense that all of this is happening by chance? Random? Pattern? Or is there a feeling of destiny? Things happening for a reason?
How do you cope with the vulgarity of language in the book? Where is it directed and what effect does it have on you as a reader? Or on how you feel about certain characters? Violence. What role does violence play? Violent encounters/acts seem to trigger key character shifts.
Maria – read aloud passage about her on page 70. She’s an artist, what could she represent with her “spirit of investigation”? She becomes a stranger…what does this passage mean?
FATE vs. CHANCE. TIME. PETER SHAPING NARRATIVE. AGENCY. SYMBOLS. READING AS DANGEROUS. FICTION vs. REALITY. IDENTITY.
Explain Subjectivity vs. Objectivity again. Postmodern artists concerned with art as process, not final product. Maria’s performance art, art as a procedure, something that is done, not a final product that can be framed. Inside vs. outside. What is seen by others vs. what is felt inside. Fictional illusion of complete self, Chloe’s circle vs. squiggle in On Love.
Write themes & binaries on board: Betrayal and Loyalty; Guilt and Desire; Liberty and Entrapment; Fate and Chance; Fall(ing) and Recovery; Names and Identity; Presence and Absence; Symmetry and Pattern; Multiplicity of Truth; Transcendentalism and Politics.
BETRAYAL. Of lovers, of spouses, of friends, of promise of freedom, betrayal of faithful narrative. Peter tries to tell BEN’s story but ends up telling his, betraying him. Guilt.
FALLING. Fall of man, fall of language, fall from grace. Mirrored by mother’s fear of falling.
Central chapter – details about Ben’s fall. What details does Peter give us and why? Does Ben deserve it? Does Peter think so? Does Auster think so? Are we to think so?
NAMES. Confluence of names and identity throughout. Peter wrote Luna, and Auster wrote Moon Palace. Wife Iris to Auster’s Siri, his first wife Delia to Auster’s Lydia. Real bound up with fiction. Agnes Darwin? Maria Turner? Statue of Liberty centennial celebration?
SILENCE. Absence, what’s not there. Withdrawal from language. What does Ben realize about himself? Why is he silenced? An AUTHOR as silent, Thoreau, going back to nature, leaving the world behind. When and why are certain characters silent and what effect(s) do these silences produce in others? What is silence for here?
LIBERTY – personal, political. How is this political? More in last chapters about this. Liberty as dangerous, violent. Mother’s fears, too much space. Political and sexual freedom as dangerous and Statue of Liberty somehow represents both (woman + America + French).
SYMMETRY – Maria as catalyst for what happens to Ben, Ben as catalyst for what happens to Peter. How else can we consider Maria and Ben as symmetrical, or binary characters? Silent, didn’t speak. Got close to something sexual, some freedom, freedom as dangerous. She’s beaten up by Jerome for wanting to know what it’s like to be sexually promiscuous and Ben falls off balcony for his desire to flirt with her. Agnes and Jerome as parallel figures. Ben and Peter.
MULTIPLICITY. Multiple stories being told, multiple things true at the same time, p.136. Multiplicity in postmodernism. Book within a book, a potential book within a book, the fragments and notes, unassembled, somehow to be pieced together again.
Fiction vs. Reality. How do these overlap for Auster? For all postmodern writers?
Book = Ben = Leviathan = Bomb = Tomb = Fragments = America = Statue of Liberty...etc.
5 CHAPTERS, like 5 acts of a play. Compare the structure of the book as resting on the scaffolding of ancient Greek tragedy, yet it’s a postmodern detective whodunit – pastiche.
At the beginning of the 4th act, Ben’s gone. Passage on p.164 he represents absence incarnate. The void at the center of this entire endeavor, this book. Void/Absence as a scary thing, nothing, or if taken in Zen Buddhist terms, nothing contains within it the potential for everything.
Dimaggio. Why this name? Killed by softball bat. Joe Dimaggio (America’s favorite son), what does he represent? What details do we know about him and how is he the perfect FOIL for Ben’s character? Ben constantly trying to reinvent himself, striving for a morally meaningful existence. Rewriting his story to make things cohere (like Peter). Reed’s first name is REED – dang, that is so COOL! But he’s not a reader, he’s a doer. He acts…Ben reads him though…
As much about writing as READING here. All these characters desperate to find coherence out of fragments, to read each other’s behaviors, to interpret signs, to make sense out of seemingly random chaos and become storytellers of their own lives. More dangerous publications here…newspapers, the dissertation, Ben encounters his own old New Colossus and it makes his “destiny” clear to him.
Fate vs. Chance. PATTERN. CODES. SYMMETRY. What shape does this take? Last time I think I referred to it as a vortex, but I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment. Labyrinth?
Transcendentalism and 19th century philosophy, political theory. Emerson, Thoreau, etc. Retreat from society to write, to live, Thoreau’s Walden. WRITE ON BOARD: Transcendentalists: a group of 19th century writers and philosophers, literary activists, who protested the general state of culture and society and agitated for a revolution of human consciousness. They believed that one could reach an ideal spiritual state that transcends the physical and empirical, which could only be reached through the individual’s intuition, rather than through established religion. Transcendentalists also known as “American Romantics,” and they overlap with many of the Romantic ideas/ideals/aesthetics.
What kind of America does Paul Auster give us? What does he think of society? Humanity? The Statue of Liberty? Violent vs. peaceful protest, civil disobedience. HOBBES. Liberty and sexual freedom as dangerous. Does he advocate a specific mode of living one’s life here? Does he choose violence? Reed (fought in war, activist) vs. Peter (writer) vs. Ben (writer turned activist)? Is identity found through action or inherent in one’s being?
Phantom of Liberty – is this real? French film, absurd, no narrative unity, disparate images, last one is an ostrich head. The director said “Chance governs all things; necessity, which is far from having the same purity, comes only later. If I have a soft spot for any one of my movies, it would be for The Phantom of Liberty, because it tries to work out just this theme.” (Buñuel, 1983). Bakunin (Russian, founding father of Anarchism), Alexander Berkman (Russian writer, leader of Anarchist movement, jailed for trying to kill Frick), Henry Clay Frick (American industrialist, once called “the most hated man in America,” anti-union, owned steel mills with Carnegie, during the Homestead Steel Strike he ordered the picketers be removed and several were killed).
BOMB - explosion, combustion. Maria says her head might explode from information. When Lillian slaps Maria there’s an explosive fight, revelations explosive and dangerous, and when Ben describes piecing together a bomb, constructed of fragments, similar to the writing process here. Constructed of fragments, reduced to fragments. Bomb = Book.
SUBVERSION – what does Auster want here – to establish order, find a new order, or disrupt the old? Idea of order and subversion, that you have to have an establishment to have a threat to that establishment. Monarchies and dictatorships breed rebellion. The Death Star has a weak point, the Matrix cannot function without Neo, the anomaly.
RESOLUTION – do you get a sense of resolution after having finished, or does Auster deny readers a denoument? We end where we begin – does it feel complete or are there pieces missing?
REVOLUTION – sense of book as bomb, book as exploding ideas into or onto the reader. Does Auster want us to become activists and pick up Ben’s cause, which was Reed’s cause, which goes back and back – carrying on the fight?
CALIFORNIA – significance of going West? Ben leaves to work on turning his novel into a film. Lillian goes there to get married. People going West to find their (Manifest) Destiny.
ABSENCE - We never SEE the explosion, the moment Ben deconstructs. Because we can’t, Peter wasn’t there, and obviously Ben can’t tell anyone what happened. And yet Ben’s explosion is throughout the entire book, it IS the entire book. Present in Absence. So Zen!