Thursday, December 15, 2005
After reading Mari Sandoz’s book, Cheyenne Autumn, I was left with many thoughts and feelings for a long time afterwards. As I read each chapter, I felt as though I was with the Cheyenne people in their incredible quest to return to their homelands. Sandoz expresses the anger and the anquish of these brave people that is not patronizing, but in an honest and believable way.
The characters in the story are also believable and very human–not at all “savage” as the white people of those days considered them to be. Sandoz shows that the Cheyenne people were loving and loyal to their families and to their community as well as very spiritual in their beliefs. Sadly, yet understandably, many of the Cheyenne were made bitter by the horrific treatment that they received from the white soldiers and the U.S. government. The emotional and psychological changes that occurred in these people are not surprising considering all that they were forced to endure.
The Cheyenne were finally provided with land for a reservation, but this does not make for a happy ending. I have been on a few Indian reservations (Navajo in New Mexico, Blackfoot in Montana, Apache in Arizona and “Cherokee” in Oklahoma) and the lands they were given seem to be no prize (except for the ones who struck oil in Oklahoma...the U.S. tried to reclaim the land when that was found!) Cheyenne Autumn is a sad story–sad in the fact that supposedly “civilized” human beings could treat other people in such an inhumane manner. Since reading this novel, I am looking forward to reading more of Mari Sandoz’s works.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
BLINDNESS by Jose Saramago
Imagine if the entire world went blind at one time. What would happen to us all? Imagine the chaos, the horrors of not being able to see . . .of not knowing where you are . . .not able to find your way home. Not being able to find food, or even a place to go to the toilet. Jose Saramago brings these terrifying consequences to life in his disturbing novel, BLINDNESS.
An epidemic of "white blindness" takes over and spares all but one person. The first victims of this unexplainable nightmare are forcibly taken away to an abandoned mental hospital where they are quarantined from the rest of the population to prevent the spreading of the "illness," however, nothing seems to prevent the blindness from spreading and soon everyone is stricken and forced to try and survive the best way they can. Humans find themselves reverting to primitive and animalistic behaviors in order to live. Modern technology and medicine are useless. The entire world comes to a standstill except for the accumulating garbage and human excrement in the streets and even inide places where people take shelter.
Despite horrific scenes of carnage and unthinkable violence, I HAD to keep reading. I had to find out what would happen to the main characters. Would this group of seven survive? Would they get their sight back? What was going to happen to their world?
Saramago's writing style fits perfectly with this novel. He uses few paragraphs, very little punctuation, and no quotation marks to indicate dialogue, however, I had no problem with knowing who was talking and to who. As one critic pointed out, the chaotic way in which the story is written fits well with the chaos that is happening in the story itself.
Saramago portrays human's at their very worst, as well as our will to survive the worst imaginable things that may happen to us in life. If I say more, it will ruin the story for you. It must be experienced totally for yourself. On a 1-5 scale, I give this novel a 5+ and thinking I should raise the numbers on the scale so I can give it a much higher rating than that. I can understand why Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Doris Lessing's fiction is commonly divided into three distinct phases, The Communist theme: 1944-1956 when she was writing radically on social issues, The psychological theme 1956-1969 and after that The Sufi theme which was explored in the Canopus series. In recent years, Lessing has worked in all three areas. Her 1998 novel, Mara and Dann combines all three of these areas, as well as her experiences on the African veld, into one gripping, page-turning story.
Born Doris May Taylor on October 22, 1919 in Kermanshah, Persia, Lessing's family moved to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia (modern Zibabwe) in 1925. It was her father's idea to farm maize which never worked out to his expectations. Unfortunately, the thousand acres of bush failed to yield wealth, thwarting her mother's desire to live the life of a Victorian in "savage lands". Life on the veld wasn't nearly as exotic or romantic as she had imagined. Despite a difficult and unhappy childhood, Lessing's writings about life in British Africa are filled with a compassion for both the sterile lives of the British colonists and the plight of the indigenous inhabitants. Her African stories are some of her finest work and provide the reader with first hand description of what it was like to live in such a rough and dangerous land, while at the same time shows the great beauty of the African veld and its indigenous people.
Many of Lessing's childhood experiences in Zimbabwe influence her story of Mara and Dann. Even though it is set thousands of years in the future, the brother and sister live in much the same surroundings as Lessing did in her childhood. Drought, large insects, deadly ants, wild beasts, famine challenge these two children on their quest to find the icy North where it is rumoured there is water and enough to eat.
The story of Mara and Dann begins with a power struggle in the land of Ifrik (Africa) and when Mara and Dann are very young. Their parents are killed by the opposition, and the children are taken away and protected, a reason for which we don't find out until the very end of the book. Lawlessness and social disintigration prevail all across Ifrik, and danger awaits the two young people at every turn. Mara takes on a sort of caretaker role for her younger brother, and he is a handful. He often runs off on his own, leaving Mara to worry about him as she herself is trying to survive. But the two find each other again and again and each time they come together their brother-sister bond grows stronger.
The children's journey to the north is filled with danger. Many of these dangers that Lessing creates appear to be exaggerations of the dangers she, herself experienced in the African bush. Whenever there is a sudden and rare flood in the story it is reminicent of the heavy rains on the veld, when animals of all variety come to drink and fight at the watering holes. In Lessing's African stories she often writes of the ants that can consume a body of a deer in a matter of minutes, eating it alive. Ants appear in Mara and Dann as "earth insects" and horned beetles become "water stingers'. There are also oversized scorpions, giant lizards and other creatures who eventually kill off the "milk beasts" (cows) and all sorts of other mutant creatures lurk behind rocks, inside empty cisterns, and any variety of hiding places. But the greatest dangers were the various races of people, who instead of working together to find solutions to the problems they all face, they war against each other, not wanting to help and wanting whatever little resources are left for themselves.
Not only is this an adventure story of survival against all odds, it is also a coming of age story for two young children who grow into strong and steadfast adults. The siblings encounter crime, power struggles, and corruption and learn much about human nature and how societies function. Lessing provides us with a vision of the human condition through this story of imagination mixed with realism. This is a fascinating read. The underlying message is universal. It is a message of hope for a better world.
I wrote my graduate thesis on Doris Lessing and Mara and Dann and I give this novel a rating of 5+ stars. Excellent!
Friday, December 02, 2005
LITTLE CHINESE SEAMSTRESS
by Dai Sijie
The Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong changed Chinese history in the 60's and 70's Hundreds of thousands of Chinese intellectuals were forced to leave their homes and families and sent to work farms for "re-education." This short novella is the story of two boys who were sent to a small Chinese village for their "re-education." One the son of a doctor, the other a son of a dentist must haul buckets of excrement up the mountainside and mine coal. The boys endure this nightmarish existence until the villagers discover the boys' talents for storytelling. The villagers give Luo and the unnamed narrator a reprive from their disgusting duties in order to go on monthly treks to town to watch movies and then coming back and relating the details of what they have seen when they return. It is in the town where they meet the little seamstress from the novel's title, and Luo falls instantly in love with her.
The plot gets even more interesting when the two boys find a suitcase of forbidden books hiding in the floor under the bed of a friend. Knowing that the friend would be afraid to report the theft to authorities, the two steal the books for themselves. Enchanted by the prose of a host of European writers, they dare to tell the story of The Count of Monte Cristo to the village tailor and to read Balzac to his shy and beautiful young daughter. Luo dreams of transforming the little seamstress from a simple country girl into a sophisticated lover with his foreign tales. He manages to captivate the young girl, however, things don't work out as he had hoped.
Dai Sijie movingly captures Maoism's attempts to imprison the minds, hearts and even bodies of the people of his country, while at the same time he tells the story with humor and emotion. The sheer delight that books offer a downtrodden spirit is a reminder that though one may be imprisoned physically, the mind can go wherever you want. One's thoughts are always one's own.
This is an EXCELLENT book. I give it a rating of 5 stars.
Monday, November 21, 2005
Greek tragedies are some of the most compelling and interesting works of literature. The plot usually follows a common patten in which a heroic lead meets an unhappy or catastrophic end. This end is usually brought about by some fatal flaw of character, circumstances beyond his or her control, or by sheer destiny. In Medea, a tragedy written by Euripides, the focus is on conflict in human spirit between Medea’s love for her children and the desire for revenge. The story of Oedipus Rex, written by Sophocles, is very different and more complex. He uses dramatic irony and close comparison to make the audience think and to try to figure out the meanings behind the words. By closely analyzing the plays of Medea and Oedipus Rex one can see that Oedipus Rex is the better of the these two Greek tragedies.
According to Aristotle, “Tragedy is a representation of an action that is worth serious attention, complete in itself, and of some amplitude: in language enriched by a variety of artistic devices appropriate to the several parts of the play; presented in the form of action, not narration; by means of pity and fear bringing about the purgation of such emotions.” Three parts of the play that Aristotle was referring to are the plot, character, and thought.
The plot is the most important aspect of the tragedy. Aristotle tells us that a plot is a representation of an action and must be presented as a unified whole. The plot of Oedipus Rex has a beginning, middle and an end. One thing always follows something else as a “necessary or as a usual consequence, and is itself not followed by anything.” (Aristotle) According to E.M. Forester, “The plot is a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality.” The plot that contains an element of mystery is “capable of high development.” (Forester) In the play Medea, the reader can see the possible outcome of the tragedy in the very beginning. There is not much higher development in this play.
In the beginning, the nurse of Medea’s children is afraid that Medea may harm them in some way after Medea is abandoned and betrayed by her husband, Jason. Medea is driven by grief and despair, and although we do feel her grief and sense of loss, she remains basically the same throughout the play. She is obsessed with grief and the need for revenge. She does struggle with her feelings of her children when it comes time for her to kill them. The character of Medea is predictable and leaves no element of surprise, which makes her more of a flat character. Oedipus is also predictable in many ways. He is impulsive and often reacts before he thinks. On the other hand, his feelings and moods change throughout the play. His life is turned upside-down and he ends up losing all in the end. These changes in Oedipus, along with his final realizations, makes him a round character.
The endings of each play ties in with their beginnings, but Oedipus Rex takes a more creative and interesting path to reach the conclusion. Clues are presented throughout the tragedy to build suspense in a creative and artistic way. There is a mystery to be solved in Oedipus Rex. As the play progresses, facts and information continue to grow as the audience tries to predict the outcome in their minds. The choruses in between scenes give the audience time to calm down and think about what may happen next. One has time to contemplate what will happen in the end. As Oedipus determines to solve the mystery of who he really is and vows to punish the murderer of the king, he says, “Whoever he was that killed the king may readily wish to dispatch me with is murderous hand.” This will be a terrible irony, which the play later reveals. The denouement is the outcome, solution, unraveling, or clarification of a plot in a drama, story, etc. Edgar Allan Poe tells us, “It is only with the denouement constantly in view that we can give a plot its indispensable air of consequence or causation, by making the incidents, and especially the tone at all points, tend to the development of the intention.” Oedipus Rex is written with this kind of unraveling and clarification. The audience sees the causes and effects more clearly as the play progresses.
In the beginning of Oedipus Rex, the blind Prophet, Tiresias, knows but cannot see, and Oedipus sees but does not know. Tiresias says “You live together with those nearest you, / And see not in what evil plight you stand.” Eventually, after several events unfold, Oedipus finally realizes the situation he is in. After the death of his adoptive father Polypus, he understands that he has killed Lairus, and that Lairus is his father. When Jocasta finds that she has been married to her son, she hangs herself. Oedipus finds her dead and is consumed with humiliation and guilt over what he had done by marrying his own mother and having children with her. He gouges out his eyes with the pins from her dress. He does this so that his eyes may never see the crime he has committed, but nothing can change his knowledge of what he has done. Oedipus finally “sees” the truth of who he is, and the meaning when the Prophet Tiresias said, “Also to his own sons he shall be found/ Related as a brother, through sire, / And of woman from whose womb he came / Both son and spouse; one that has raised up seed / To his own father, and has murdered him. / Now get you in and ponder what I say. . .then say that I am no true seer.” The denouement in Oedipus Rex is the proving of the truth of the god’s oracles. This tragedy was brought about by Oedipus’ own flaws in character and also from a destiny of which he was unable to escape.
By analyzing the plots, characters and connected wholeness of the tragedies of Medea and Oedipus Rex, it can be determined that Oedipus Rex is the better of the two plays. As Wolfgang Clemen tells us, “Insignificant touches which seemed insignificant when they were introduced for the first time, acquire real meaning with the progress of events. In a truly great drama nothing is left disconnected; everything is carried on.” The denouement is constantly in view, and climax of Oedipus Rex does not come suddenly. It is unraveled as “we ourselves have gone the whole way and have followed the separate threads which lead up to the climax.”
Sunday, November 20, 2005
Charles Chesnutt's, The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales
Anthropologist, Bronislaw Malinowski developed a theory of magic and its psychological value. “Where there is uncertainty of practical success of the outcome of uncontrollable events, magical acts reduce the anxieties involved, thus widening the apparent range of an individual’s ability to deal with the environment.” (Kottak 338) By examining the stories in The Conjure Woman, we can see how the slaves were so desperate to defeat their cruel and inhuman white owners, they often turned to a conjure woman for assistance with unbearable problems and predicaments. By closely examining these tales, as told by old Uncle Julius, we can see that there is an important, yet unobvious theme of desperation and hope in each of these stories.
What the slaves hated most about slavery wasn’t the hard work to which they were subjected, but their lack of control over their own lives and their lack of freedom. In the story of Po’ Sandy, Sandy’s woman is swapped for another woman while he was lent out to another plantation. After a month or two he returned to his owner’s plantation to find his wife was gone. He didn’t even get to say goodbye. All slaves knew of the possibility of being separated from loved ones. However, that knowledge did not make it any less heartbreaking when it happened. Yet somehow they persevered and life went on. Julius tells Annie and John that “ Sandy tuk on
some ‘bout losin’ his wife, but he soon seed dey want no use cryin’ ober spilt merlasses, en bein’ es he lacked de looks er de noo ‘oman, he tuk up wid her atter she’d be’n on de plantation a mont’ er so.” (Chesnutt 46) His attempt at a relationship with another woman was again disrupted by unfeeling slave owners when he is to be sent away again. Tenie, his new woman, resorts to magic to keep her man with her. She decides to use magic to escape the pain of separation. She asks Sandy, “is I eber tol’ you I wuz a cunjuh ‘oman?” (Chesnutt 47) After Sandy learns about Tenie’s powers, he wishes to be something permanent like a tree or a stone. Tenie goophered Sandy and turned him into a tree so they could stay together and not be separated. At the end, it seems her magic has backfired and Sandy is sawed up in a saw mill by his unknowing owners. However, Sandy still lives on as a spirit, haunting the school building which was built from the lumber of his tree. In the minds of these determined people, the white man does not prevail.
“Masters continuously intervened in the lives of their slaves, from directing their labor, to approving or disapproving marriages.” (Hughes 250) The most heartbreaking aspect of control the slaveowners had was the power to separate children from their mothers. In Sis’ Becky’s Pickaninny, Becky’s owner is a compulsive gambler and he trades her for a racehorse. She is tricked into thinking she is going away for a couple of days, when in fact she was traded away like a livestock creature, while leaving her baby behind. She longs to see her baby and he fails to thrive without her. Aun’ Nancy, who was caring for the child, took him to Aun’ Peggy, the conjure woman to ask for her help. Aun’ Peggy uses magic to cause something to be wrong with the horse, which in turn will make Becky’s former owner want to call off the deal and demand her return. At the end of the story, the agreement is declared null and the horse went back to its owner and Becky was reunited with her baby Mose. Once again, through their own beliefs, the slaves gained the upper hand over the whites through the use of magical powers.
As stated in the above paragraph, masters were constantly interfering in the lives of their slaves. All too often, this interference included unspeakable cruelty. Many were whipped, tortured mercilessly and even killed, for even the smallest of offenses. “The psychology involved reflects the interaction between personality and environment resulting in a neurosis based on fear.” (Hughes 46) This fear of physical harm forced many slaves into paranoid behavior and a delusional belief in magical powers in an attempt to protect or deliver themselves from their hostile situations. Mars Jeem’s Nightmare is an illustration of the wish of the slaves for the white slaveowners to experience the pain and suffering they inflict upon the black people whom they own. Mars Jeems was a very cruel master. Uncle Julius gives us an example of his meanness as he says, “His niggers wuz bleedzd ter slabe fum daylight ter da’k.”(Chesnutt 58) Mars Jeems did not allow any singing ,dancing or any other things humans do for enjoyment to counter the long hours of work. He allowed no relationships to form and when people crossed him he administered severe physical punishment. Julius goes on the explain that, “Ef any er de niggers eber complained, dey got fo’ty; so co’se dey didn’ many un ‘em complain.” (Chesnutt 58) Solomon turns to Aun’ Peggy, the conjure woman for assistance. Aun’ Peggy made a potion and told Solomon to have the cook put it in the soup for Mars Jeems to ingest. The concoction gave him a terrible nightmare. He dreamed that he was a slave and experienced the cruelty that he had inflicted on his black captives. He returned to his plantation a changed man. This is yet another example of how the slaves got the upper hand with the use of conjuring.
When people find themselves in dire straits, many call to a supernatural power to rescue or release them from their miseries. The black slaves called upon a power that was instinctive to them, reminiscent of another time and another place in the history of their culture. Their belief system was a combination of a forced white man’s religion combined with past cultural beliefs to form a very unique way to cope with the oppression and anguish they experienced on a daily basis. We can learn from these stories of how these remarkable human beings endured the horrors of slavery with forbearance and fortitude while retaining a sense of their own unique culture and, amazingly, their sense of humor.
Bloom, Harold. Major Black American Writers: Through the Harlem Renaissance New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1995.
Chesnutt, Charles W. The Conjure Woman and Other Conjure Tales. Duke University Press, 1998.
Hughes, Carl Milton. The Negro Novelist: A Discussion of the Writings of American Negro Novelists. New York: Citadel Press, 1953.
Kottak, Conrad. Anthropology: The Exploration of Human Diversity - Seventh Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.
Starke, Catherine J. Black Portraiture in American Fiction. New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1971.
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Candide, the main character in the story by Voltaire, possesses qualities which make him a round character. According to E.M. Forester, the test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. While most of the other characters in the story remain the same, Candide shows feelings, surprises, and changes his philosophy on life. This does indeed make him a round character. When living in the castle of Westphalia, Candide is described as “ a youth, whom nature had endowed with the most gentle manners."
The first surprising thing Candide does is to kiss Cunegonde and is caught by the Baron of Thunder-ten-Tronckh. He is then is driven from his home to find his way in the world. He is sad and forlorn when “weeping, walked a long while without knowing where, raising his eyes to heaven.” His love for Cunegonde is undying throughout most of the story. However, once he finds his Cunegonde and sees that she has grown ugly “at the bottom of his heart Candide had no wish to marry Cunegonde.” His feelings for Cunegonde have changed. Candide also grieves for Cunegonde and Pangloss when he thinks they are dead. He feels anger when Baron does not allow him to marry Cunegonde. Candide’s emotions and feelings are constantly changing throughout the story.
In the beginning of the story, Candide seems incapable of violence. However, when Candide finds himself and Cunegonde in mortal danger kills Issachar and the Inquisitor. Cunegonde is surprised at his actions and says “How could you do it? you, naturally so gentle, to slay a Jew and a prelate in two minutes!” Candide responds, “when one is a lover, jealous, whipped by the Inquisition, one stops at nothing.” When the Baron would not give Candide permission to marry Cunegonde, he sent the Baron back to the slave ship “ the thing was executed for a little money, and they had the double pleasure of entrapping a Jesuit, and punishing the pride of a German baron.”
When in the castle of Westphalia, Candide heard the lessons of Pangloss, the philosopher “with all the good faith of his age and character.” As the story progresses, Candide questions the philosophy of Pangloss. Pangloss believes “ things cannot be otherwise than as they are, for all being created for an end, all is necessarily for the best end.” Even in the face of danger and disaster, Pangloss holds fast to his philosophy that “there is no effect without a cause.” Candide’s experiences in his travels made him reconsider what Pangloss had taught him and his own opinions begin to form. During his ordeals in this travels Candide wonders “if this is the best of possible worlds, then what are the others?” Upon arrival in El Dorado and sees all the beauty and wealth there, Candide doubts that Westphalia is the best of all possible worlds. Candide says, “This is vastly different from Westphalia and the Baron’s castle. Had our friend Pangloss seen El Dorado he would no longer have said that the castle of Thunder-ten-Tronckh was the finest upon earth.” Upon finding Cunegonde and seeing how ugly she had become, Candide regrets leaving the comforts and luxuries of El Dorado.
In the end, Candide settles down with his ugly wife, Cunegonde and life is dull. He no longer believes Pangloss’ philosophy that this is the best of all possible worlds. When Pangloss would discuss it, Candide would respond only with “let us cultivate our garden.” Even though the characters acquire wealth and are in a position to try to change some of the misery in the world, they keep to themselves and ingore the way things are. Which is pretty much how human being are, in general.
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Frances Burney's Evelina was written in the late 1700s and is a story about a young girl coming of age and her introduction into London society. The novel is written in letter format . . . Evelina writes letters to her guardian, the Rev. Arthur Villars about her activities with her cousins and friends which include wild escapades, embarrassing predicaments and other bizarre situations which leave the reader wondering just how "innocent" Evelina really is despite her secluded upbringing in the country with her very "proper" protector.
The story is told via correspondence between Evelina and Rev. Villars, and his letters in response to her. She also writes to a few others, but her letters to them are more to the point than the long, rambling and exrememly detailed journalistic letters to Villars. The length of the "letters" Evelina writes to him would leave her little time for participating in the shenanigans and family outings she writes about. Therefore, I find the format highly unbelievable and very boring. I found myself having to skim through much of the book to prevent myself from losing interest and falling asleep.
I perked up a bit when the mean-spirited Captain Mirvan and Evelina's uncouth grandmother, Madame Duval would get to bickering. I know it's not very nice, but I found this excerpt particularly amusing when the two were slinging insults at each other about their respective countries:
"Pardi, Monsieur," returned she, "and so I shall; for, I promise you, I think the English a parcel of brutes; and I'll go back to France as fast as I can, for I would not live among none of you."
"Who wants you?" cried the Captain: "do you suppose, Madam French, we have not enough of other nations to pick our pockets already? I'll warrant you, there's no need for you for to put in your oar."
"Pick your pockets, Sir! I wish nobody wanted to pick your pockets no more than I do; and I'll promise you you'd be safe enough. But there's no nation under the sun can beat the English for ill-politeness: for my part, I hate the very sight of them; and so I shall only just visit a person of quality or two of my particular acquaintance, and then I shall go back again to France."
"Ay, do," cried he; "and then go to the devil together, for that's the fittest voyage for the French and the quality."
"We'll take care, however," cried the stranger with great vehemence, "not to admit none of your vulgar unmannered English among us."
"O never fear," returned he, coolly, "we shan't dispute the point with you; you and the quality may have the devil all to yourselves."
Why did I keep reading if it was so tiresome and absurd in many parts? Because I belong to an online discussion group and this is the read of the month and I want to be part of the discussion. I usually don't like giving up on a book, but if it wasn't for the discussion group, I would have chucked it half-way through.
My rating of Evelina = 1.0 for effort and the use of all that ink and paper to write and print it.
by Tracy Chevalier
Tracy Chevalier’s short novel, Girl With a Pearl Earring is an artistically written novel about a young girl, Griet, who is hired as a maid in the house of Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer to support her family after her father is blinded in a work-related accident. The characters in this novel are well described as the author provides vivid detail about each one’s personality and characteristics.
In the beginning, the story seems to me to be a novel for adolescent girls, but as the story progresses, the plot deepens and becomes more complicated with things that only a mature woman would understand. This maturity begins to evolve after Vermeer himself is introduced into the story and then the scenes between the artist and Griet take on an erotic quality when Griet develops a passionate infatuation with the painter who is old enough to be her father. Nothing physical ever happens between the girl and her master, yet I felt the desire they felt for one another. A young man enters the story early in the novel when Griet goes to the market to buy meat for the Vermeer household. This young man is the son of a butcher who can provide her with a good life as well as food for her father and mother. He seems like a boring young man, but one who would be loyal and who can supply Griet with a comfortable life.
Griet is a potential artist who is a victim of her own times. She has a natural ability to “see” colors and how things should be arranged, offering Vermeer ideas for his own compositions. She poses in one of his portraits at the demand of a womanizing patron. In the portrait she wears the pearl earrings of her Master’s wife. Her mistress finds out that she has worn her earrings and she senses there was something between Vermeer and the young maid . Vermeer's wife never wears the earrings again. Eventually the magic Griet experiences in the studio of this great master must come to an end. Griet is forced into a life of dullness when she marries the butcher’s son and gives birth to his children.
After the great artist dies, Griet is summoned to the house of Vermeer by his wife who then gives the pearl earrings to Griet. Griet, in turn, sells the earrings and takes the money for her family. She is resolved that she was just a maid doing what a maid is supposed to do and has finally received her pay for the service of posing for the painting.
The Remains of the Day
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro is a brilliantly written novel about loss, regret, dignity and greatness. Ishiguro’s protagonist, an English butler by the name of Stevens is from a more refined and dignified era in British history. He is extremely devoted to his employer, Lord Darlington for many years.
The narration of this story is so "formal" that when I first started reading this novel, I almost stopped after only a few pages, however, I forged ahead and am glad now that I did. Once I understood that Stevens lives every minute of his life for his employer, I understood why he did not even break from his formal way of speaking even in relaying his story in his “diary” about his six-day adventure to find his former housekeeper, Miss Kenton.
As I have already said, Stevens sacrifices family, friends, love, and freedom to serve Lord Darlington. He places himself in a kind of self-imposed slavery. He is deeply entrenched in the ways of the past. He does his very best to uphold traditions of the butlers who worked for great households but he cannot stop the changes that are taking place in England after WWII.
At the end of the novel, when he finally meets Miss Kenton, who is now married, he has regrets about his life, but pulls himself together and continues on in dignity as he prepares to serve his new employer, an American who has bought Darlington Hall. There is more than one moral to this story, and it is quite a complex story considering how thin the book is. I found it quiet an enjoyable read.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
"A Sunrise on the Veld"
(Doris Lessing is one of my favorite authors. Her first-hand descriptions of life in the African bush as a British colonist are vivid and vibrant as any photograph or painting.)
"A Sunrise on the Veld" is a short story written by British author Doris Lessing. It tells the story of a boy who is filled with the excitement and wonder of life and the world around him. However, he soon discovers the darker side of reality, which is that living things must die. "A Sunrise on the Veld" has significant meaning for all readers. It explores feelings of invincibility that many people have had in their youths. It also describes feelings of fear, anger and grief that most humans feel when they must face the reality of suffering and death. After witnessing the death of a small helpless buck, the boy comes to the realization that there are events and circumstances in life that he cannot control.
At the beginning of the story, the boy awakens early in the morning and feels like he has control over himself and his environment. He has trained himself to wake at half-past four without the use of his alarm clock. He thought of staying in his warm bed awhile longer. “But he played with it for the fun of knowing that it was a weakness he could defeat without effort: just as he set the alarm each night for the delight of the moment when he woke and stretched his limbs, feeling the muscles tighten, and thought: Even my brain--even that! I can control every part of myself.". He was feeling invincible and full of life.
After getting dressed in the cold of the early morning, the boy crept quietly through the house so as not to wake his parents. He took his gun and went outdoors, taking his dogs with him. He was aware of every sensation he felt; the cold ground beneath his feet, the dew covered grass, and the chilled steel of his gun. He was filled with a fascination of the world around him. “Then he began to run, not carefully, as he had before , but madly, like a wild thing. He was clean crazy, yelling mad with the joy of living and a superfluity of youth." He thought he could “contain the world and make of it what I want." He soon learned otherwise.
While in his state of exuberance, his celebration of life was interrupted by the small cries of a creature in pain. As the boy went to investigate the source of the cries, he saw a buck in the grass dying, and covered in black ants. “As he drew in his breath and pity and terror seized him, the beast fell and the screaming stopped." He realized there was nothing he could do for the poor animal. He had no control over this. As he looked at the dying buck he said under his breath, “I can’t stop it. I can’t stop it. There is nothing I can do." The boy was “suffering, sick, and angry. He expressed himself verbally, using language that he had heard his father use. The ants were around him and he shouted defiantly at them saying, “Go away! I am not for you--not just yet at any rate. Go away.” “And he fancied that the ants turned and went away." The boy still wanted to believe that he had control over things concerning his life.
After the buck’s skeleton had been stripped clean by the ants, the boy went over to examine it closely. He thought about how it looked when it was alive. Perhaps it was running and romping in the veld earlier that morning, just as he had. He thought of how it must have sniffed at the cold morning air and walking through the grass. The boy discovered that the buck’s leg had been broken. Trying to think of how it could have happened to a young and sure-footed animal as this, he determined that it had to be that some adversary had broken the buck’s leg. “A buck was too light and graceful. Had some rival horned it?" The boy came face to face with death, and knew it happens to all living creatures. He also realized that even though he could control what he does to some extent, there were things in this world that no one can control. The knowledge of fatality, of what has to be, had gripped him and for the first time in his life; and he was left unable to say: "Yes, yes, this is what living is."
As in her novel, Q.E.D., Gertrude Stein’s external reality does not seem to depend on detail in her novel Three Lives. There is a similar structure in all three stories of Three Lives, which include: presentation of the character, something of the character’s present, something of the character’s past, introduction to the character’s acquaintances and family members, observation of the character in a few quickly developed situations, and finally conclusion with the death of the character.
There is a difference between the three stories, however, “The Good Anna” and “The Gentle Lena” are more similar in that they illustrate the mundane, everyday incidents of common life, while “Melanctha” contains mainly movements of passion. All three stories of Three Lives illustrate Stein’s belief of psychological determinism by assigning inherited characteristic traits to her characters that make up their personality, which in turn determines their actions and behavior patterns.
Saturday, November 12, 2005
A Farewell to Arms
Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms is mainly a love story set in Italy during the first World War. Each of the characters in the novel each has a distinct personality and attitude, yet they all have one thing in common; they all hate the war. The main character, Fred Henry, is good at containing his emotions. He responds indifferently to death, even to the death of friends and comrades. He shrugs off religion, or joins in to make fun of it. Obviously, Henry is not a religious person, and when he turns to God to save his lover, Catherine, his prayers are once again unanswered. The death of his “wife” and child only contribute to his walking away from a seemingly pointless religion. He leaves the hospital numbly while the rain “cries” down upon him.
Friday, November 11, 2005
One thing that I find interesting about the Romantic period in literature is the experimentation with opium by many poets as well as writers of prose, to induce a euphoric state in which to attain a “new level of consciousness”. Opium had a profound inspirational effect on Samuel Taylor Coleridge when creating his poem of mystery and magic, Kubla Khan. “The Romantic interest in the usual modes of experience” as described in Wordsworth’s fifth principle in the preface to the Lyrical Ballads, caused poets to explore “visionary states of consciousness." Coleridge experimented with this “altered consciousness and distorted perception” while under the influence of opium.
Kubla Khan is subtitled, A Vision in a Dream. A Fragment. The subtitle itself verifies that the poem was written “as a psychological curiosity, than one ground of any supposed poetic merits.” It is amazing to me that Coleridge could produce such a magnificent piece of writing after just awakening from a drug-induced “profound sleep."
The results are mind-boggling! Throughout the poem, Coleridge has made the ordinary seem mystical and magical as when he describes scenes of nature. He writes, “Five miles meandering with a mazy motion/ Through the wood and dale the sacred river ran,/ Then reached the caverns measureless to man”. He has also added superstition and demonology to impress upon the reader the sense of “occult powers and unknown modes of being.” The poem, Kubla Khan, provides glimpses of the occult and supernatural in the second stanza when Coleridge writes: “But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted/ Down the green hill athwart a cenarn cover!/ A savage place! As hold and enchanted/ As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted/ By woman wailing for her demon lover!” Superstition and supernatural are also expressed in the poem’s final haunting lines which follows: “His flashing eyes, his floating hair!/ Weave a circle round him thrice,/ And close your eyes with holy dread,/ For he on honeydew hath fed,/ And drunk the mild of Paradise.”
This guy was really trippin' !
Below is the poem in its entirety:
A Vision in a Dream. A Fragment.
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
- Down to a sunless sea.
- So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round :
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree ;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.
But oh ! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover !
A savage place ! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover !
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced :
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail :
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean :
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war !
- The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves ;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
- It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice !
- A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw :
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me,
- That with music long and loud,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome ! those caves of ice !
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware ! Beware !
His flashing eyes, his floating hair !
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
by William Blake - 1794
I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen,
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.
And the gates of this Chapel were shut,
And "Thou shalt not" writ over the door.
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore.
And I saw that was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be,
And Priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my hopes and desires.
Analysis of Blake's "The Garden of Love"
D. Bowden - October 2005
"The Garden of Love" by William Blake is a poem about someone who was once carefree and innocent with the joy of living. He soon finds that life is full of judgement and moral restrictions created and imposed by the "moral few" who created these rules. I interpret this to be a poem to be about the negativity of religious institutions that corrupt innocence.
In the first stanza, the one who is telling the story goes to the "Garden of Love" with great expectations that things will be the same as when he always had gone there in the past. When he gets there, he sees a "chapel" now stands in the way of where he had played and he begins to realize something he has never thought of before. The "Chapel" represents the pious ones who set the rules for society, and brings focus to the dark side of life, stealing innocence away and blocks his way to his dreams and desires for happiness.
The second stanza states "the gates of the chapel were shut." He was shut out of this private world where decisions are made on behalf of society about how he and others should live. He has no part in the creation of these rules. He "turn'd to the Garden of Love", still pursing the joys and desires he was in search of, but when he reaches "the Garden of Love", he is greatly disappointed. Instead of "flowers" (which represent his hopes and desires), he finds the Garden is filled with graves. Tombstones are where flowers should be. The graves represent all of the disappointed souls who were looking for the same things as he is. They are dead, not literally, but spritually. The "priests in black gowns" are the ones who enforce the moral laws and restrictiosn. They prevent people from finding true happiness and contentment. "Binding their joys and desires with briars" they hold them back from doing things they love, or even being in love. The moral few keep people from true happiness. Will he become another soul in the graveyard?