Friday, May 4, 2012

Digital project on "The Waste Land"

As a digital project for English 2653(the class for which I am writing this blog), I put together a website on the various revisions that occurred as T. S. Eliot edited his poem, "The Waste Land." This website attempts to detail the revisions in a concise manner, as well as my comments on why the changes occurred.

Here is a link to the website.

Thank you for reading!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Themes in The God of Small Things

Photographer: Sajetpa. Meenachil River, the river from God of Small Things.

In The God of Small Things, there are two central themes. One of these themes is memory, or the act of forgetting, most specifically Estha’s deliberate forgetting. Related to the theme of memory is time and its different aspects, specifically captured time and the subjectivity of time. 

Salvador Dali. The Persistence of Memory. 1931.

I found Estha’s forgetting (or as he calls it, "hoovering" his mind) to be one of the most compelling themes within The God of Small Things. He performs this task because of one particular memory, the memory of his telling the police that Velthua kidnapped him and Rahel, and the resulting brutality which the police unleashed against Velthua in retribution. It is that memory that he cannot get rid of, despite his efforts. This event is foreshadowed in the story when he tells Rahel to obey Amma because she is bringing back negative memories of their father. Estha is said to have sea-secrets in his eyes, and it is because of his forgetting that he has this knowledge. The emphasis on personalized memory, memory as subjective, is addressed here, and repeated in the way that Baby Kochamma changes her memories of when Velthua comes to the house, warping her story so that it appears that he threatened them, when in fact he did nothing of the sort.

Fob watch from the Titanic. 2010

The theme of time is symbolised by Rahel's plastic wristwatch that has the time "ten to two" painted on it. She wants a real watch someday, "on which she could change the time whenever she wanted to(which according to her was what Time was meant for in the first place." Here, we receive an idea of the childish sense of time as fluid, and shaped subjectively. Her watch is forgotten behind the History House after the policemen arrest Velthua and take back the children, symbolising the way in which the twins in particular, dwell on this one tragedy, unable to move forward, unable to move backward. They cannot choose their time, even though Rahel hoped that she might, one day.

Salvador Dalí. The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory. 1952-54.

While the other members of the family remember "The Loss of Sophie Mol," (the death of their treasured, golden cousin) the twins only remember the day that they "loved a man to death." This memory haunts both of them, in different ways. This theme shows memory as subjective, and personal: no one person sees the same event in the same light. Conversely, time traps all the characters in different ways. Baby Kochamma is sequestered in her house, locking the doors and windows compulsively, and leads a hermitlike existence. The "The Loss of Sophie Mol" has marked her, just as it has marked Estha and Rahel, even though she is presented as the story's most unlikeable character. In this way, the inescapable bonds of time and memory are shown to have their hold on every character, changing them in subtle, uncanny ways.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

W. H. Auden's Subversion of the Romantic Ideal in "Lullaby"

Gustav Klint. The Kiss. 1907-1908.

At first glance, W. H. Auden's "Lullaby" seems to be about the relationship the speaker shares with his lover. But upon further analysis, it becomes clear that Auden is defying the Romantic ideals of nature as a transcendent thing, the notion of the sublime, and the Byronic Hero.
      Auden begins his"Lullaby" by emphasising the human attributes of his lover, and characterises himself as faithless. These qualities would be frowned upon and vilified by the Romantics, yet here Auden is presenting these traits as acceptable. He goes on to say that the "individual beauty" of each child will fade, turning into a different, adult beauty. The Romantics considered a child to be closer to a natural state, capable of wisdoms that adults were unable to comprehend, as exhibited in William Wordsworth's "We Are Seven." Here, Auden says that while his lover may be "mortal, guilty," to him, his lover is "entirely beautiful," thus saying that these things do not detract from love, but in fact make the loved one the more precious.

Alexandros of Antioch. Venus de Milo. c130-100 BCE.

  In the next stanza, Auden presents the idea that between two lovers, "soul and body have no bounds," as they lie together in their "ordinary swoon." The Romantics considered lovers to be anything but ordinary, believing in the sublime eye that allowed for supernatural insights. Auden goes on to further stir up the Romantics, calling the ideal that Venus represents of "Universal love and hope" a grave one, an abstract insight without any basis in reality. The Romantics often featured hermit-like figures in their works, and Auden calls Venus' ideal a "hermit's carnal ecstasy," a dream brought on by fasting and living in extreme conditions, a direct dig at their ideal.

Thomas Phillips. Lord Byron in Albanian dress. 1835.

    Auden goes on to target the Byronic Hero, that extolled Romantic ideal, calling them "fashionable madmen," who raise a "pedantic boring cry." Here, by calling such men "pedantic" and "boring," he is highlighting how overused such figures are in both literature and the real world. Some of the Romantics were practically Byronic heroes themselves, so this cut would have gone deeper than the rest. Auden goes on to tell lovers to ignore such madmen, and instead make sure:
"from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost."

     The concluding stanza of Auden's poem begins with an admonition that is a nod to his previous stanzas: "Beauty, midnight, vision dies..." and in these deaths, he is telling us that the Romantic ideal is dead as well. Auden goes on to in order to be happy without Romanticising everything, we must "find our mortal world enough."  Auden follows this sentiment in "Lullaby," and he finds more than enough reweard in the beauty of an ordinary human being that is more natural and possible than anything that the Romantics could dream.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith: Two Unlikely Parallels

Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey at Garsington, 1923

      In Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway, two central characters who have a great impact on the storyline are the titular Clarissa Dalloway, and Septimus Warren Smith. Clarissa is a socialite who is trying to reconcile her rich emotions with her shallow life, and Septimus Smith, a veteran of World War I and former poet, is experiencing what we would call post-traumatic stress disorder today. Clarissa and Septimus seem like opposites, yet, when one looks more closely at their individual motivations and thought processes, they share a few integral qualities, primarily a Romantic outlook on life, a disillusionment with the past, and a dislike of showy behaviour, even when they exhibit such behaviours themselves.

Parisian flower-sellers, 1898.
At the opening of the novel, Clarissa is off to buy flowers, and she regards waking London with awe.

"In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June"(Woolf 2339).

This passage exhibits Clarissa's Romantic outlook: she loves all of London in June, and feels as if this love transcends personal boundaries: the bustling people, the cars, and the aeroplane seems to  only enhance her love of life. On the other side of this exuberant happiness, when Peter Walsh comes to visit Clarissa, she feels regret at her realisation that by marrying Richard Dalloway, she closed herself off emotionally, yet that is the only road she could take. In a melancholy mood at this revelation, she takes time to reflect.

"She would not say of any one in the world now that they were this or were that. She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged… she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day"(2341).

This attitude of looking at life with caution can be seen in Septimus' attitude toward the beautiful trees in Regent's Park- he appreciates their beauty, as well as the beauty of the letters above, yet feels they have the power to drive him mad.

"Happily Rezia put her hand...on his knee so that he was weighted down... or the excitement of the elm trees rising and falling, rising and falling with all their leaves alight... so superbly, would have sent him mad. But he would not go mad"(2348-2349).

The Broad Walk at Regent's Park today

 Before the war, Septimus used to identify himself with the Romantic poet Keats, and Anthony and Cleopatra was his favourite Shakespeare play. He was a poet, and went to fight for an England "which consisted almost entirely of Shakespeare’s plays and Miss Isabel Pole in a green dress walking in a square"(2382). In short, he saw himself as a Romantic. When he returns, he tries to reclaim the old feelings he had on reading Anthony and Cleopatra, and finds the work "shrivelled utterly"(2382). This moment is comparable to Clarissa's feelings of joy she would have as a teen at knowing Sally Seton was in the house, when she would quote Othello's sentiment "if it were now to die ’twere now to be most happy”(Shakespeare 73). She tries to reclaim this feeling upon learning that Sally Seton is coming to her party, but finds that "the words meant absolutely nothing to her now. She could not even get an echo of her old emotion"(Woolf 2385). Both Septimus and Clarissa experience a sense of disillusionment when they think of their past loves, and find that they are completely different people now.

Caspar David Friedrich. Woman at a Window. 1822.

    Septimus equates the crudeness and lowness of human nature with Dr. Holmes, and he throws himself out the window to prevent him from getting him. He seems almost Byronic in his evaluation of his suicide as "the tiresome, the troublesome, and rather melodramatic business of opening the window and throwing himself out"(2414). Before he falls, he realises that he does not want to die, and appreciates nature one more time, before he drops. Clarissa hears of his suicide at her party, and realises that in light of this occurrence, her worries about her party seem silly and petty. 

"A thing there was that mattered; a thing, wreathed about with chatter, defaced, obscured in her own life, let drop every day in corruption, lies, chatter. This he had preserved. Death was defiance. Death was an attempt to communicate; people feeling the impossibility of reaching the centre which, mystically, evaded them; closeness drew apart; rapture faded, one was alone. There was an embrace in death"(2432).

 She recalls her line from Othello, and wonders if the man fell in the same manner. Clarissa feels revulsion at the idea that she must return to her party, and leaves the room in deep thought. 

Edvard Munch. The Storm. c1893

While Septimus and Clarissa never meet, they are connected through their Romantic outlooks on life. They are wholly dissimilar characters, and yet their struggle with emotion, their love of nature, and their reflective personalities tie them together, making them the two central characters of Mrs. Dalloway.

>Shakespeare, William. Othello. Washington Square Press: New York. 1993. Print.

>Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. The Longman Anthology of British Literature, Vol. 3. Ed Kevin J. H. Denning. New York: Longman, 2010. Print.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land: The Exiled

John Everett Millais. Ophelia. c1851

In The Waste Land, many references to other works of literature are made, but there are two central references to characters from Shakespeare that are integral to the poem. The first referenced is from the Tempest, a tale that takes place on an island, and references the king of Naples, Ferdinand's father, who was complicit with the plot of Antonio, who exiled Prospero and Miranda to the island for being in his way to the throne. The second play referenced is Hamlet, most specifically the character of Ophelia, who drowned after going mad as a result of her father's death. Both of these characters are exiles in some way, like the poem's speaker, and as such play a significant part in the poem.

William Bell Scott. Ariel and Caliban. c1865.

                       Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!
                                    -The Waste Land, part I

Ariel's song tells of the King of Naples who his son assumed to be drowned in the tempest. This song is quoted by Madame Sosotris in part I, and by the unnamed lover in part II. The first time, the speaker is told to 'fear death by drowning.' The second time this line is quoted, it is in reference to being 'in rat's alley.' In part III, the "drowned" King is called brother by the Fisher King, who mourns his death. This King, who is assumed to be drowned, is not actually drowned, only exiled on an island, and Prospero the magician is manipulating the island so that he draws ever closer to the magician's cave. By using this character in such a prominent way, Eliot is saying that a waste land need not always be a literal one, but if one is manipulated in this way, one's life is as dry and featureless as a desert. if he had been drowned, it would be better for him, as he is released from the wheel of time.

Odilon Redon. Ophelia. c1902.

          The other character is Ophelia, who is separated from normal life because of her madness, triggered by her father's death and the banishment of Hamlet. She is not physically exiled, but she is treated as an outcast because of her madness, which could be seen as another waste land.

Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

                                      -Shakespeare, Hamlet

Another place where Ophelia may be referenced is in part I, when Eliot speaks of the "hyacinth girl."

“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; 
They called me the hyacinth girl.”
—Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden,
Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not

-T.S. Eliot, part I

These could be the flowers of madness that Ophelia picks.  Her wasteland is not physical, but mental, and it is her wasteland that results in her drowning. In this way, water in the Waste Land could be seen as a release from the desert, but in it is a loss of self.

Both of the characters presented here are exiles in some way from normality or their country of origin, and give another meaning to the use of the image of the exile in the waste land. While the exile and speaker of The Waste Land may long for water, to release himself from the endless wandering, too much of it can mean his death, and a loss of self.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Dead: An Exploration

 James Joyce. 1918

In James Joyce's short story, "The Dead," there are a few different ways in which the unlikely title ties into this story of Irish hospitality and music. One way is in the memories held by the living of the literal dead: the death of the boy that Gretta Conroy loved as a girl, Michael Furey. Another is in the death of Gabriel's plans. Lastly, the snow falling through the course of the story is both a symbol of death, and one of life, as it covers both the churchyard and the church.

Joshua Veitch-Michaeli. 2010

Gabriel is planning a romantic evening with his wife in the hotel when she tells him of a boy she knew once, who she had loved. He died at the age of seventeen, for love of her. Gabriel is completely shocked by this fact, that she should have loved someone in such a way. This motif appears earlier in the story, when guests at the party tell of Patrick Morkan and his horse, going around and around the statue in the park. In "The Dead," the dead are not allowed to die fully because memories keep them alive, and Gabriel contemplates this fact as he stands looking out at the window.

Kjetil Ree. 2009

Another way in which a sort of death enters the story is through Gabriel's plans, which have a way of failing. First, he talks to Lily, the caretaker's daughter, in the coatroom, planning on having a nice chat. However, he asks her if she is interested in anyone, and she tells him,"The men that is now is only all palaver and what they can get out of you." Because he relies on his words and does not take Lily's past into consideration, he vexes her, and himself. Similarly, his plans with his wife fail because he does not know of her dead lover, and so, because he does not understand the dead past and why it can forever mark a person, his plans fail.

Mike Pennington. Winter sunset over Rattray graveyard. 2009

Finally, Death is in the snow that falls throughout the story, forming slush on the ground, but triggering Gabriel's reverie at the end of the story on life and death.
"It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight."
 The way in which the flakes both hold light or life, and darkness or death, parallel the close relationship that these characters hold with death.
"Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain...It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried."

Luca Casartelli. 2012.
In "The Dead," the dead cannot die, because the living hold onto their memories so tightly, that the deceased mark the course that the living choose to take. There is no way to escape Death, Gabriel reflects.
"One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Easter 1916 by WB Yeats: A Critique

The General Post Office in Dublin. c 1908.

Easter 1916 is a meditation on the 1916 Easter Rising, when Sinn Feinners(Irish for "we alone") seized the British-controlled post office in Dublin, and held out for six days there. The British punishment for the rebellion resulted in the execution of ninety people. Yeats was friends with some of the rebels executed, and this poem devotes a stanza to them.

Sackville Street, Dublin, after the 1916 Easter Rising.

The poem starts with a depiction of the speaker meeting the city workers "coming with vivid faces" as they head for home. The workers are described coming from "among grey/Eighteenth-century houses." Here, there is a direct contrast between the flushed faces of the workers and the grey old houses from which they are coming, foreshadowing the ultimate attempt to cast off England's reign. Yeats goes on to speak of how the people go about their routine of "polite meaningless words" and look forward to sharing a joke with a friend "around the fire at the club." This routine may seem good to the people at first, but Yeats reflects wryly that they all "lived where motley is worn." Motley is the clothing of a fool, so Yeats is saying before this "all changed, changed utterly," the Irish lived in the land of fools, content with their second-class status.

Walter Paget. Birth of the Irish Republic. c. 1920
In the next stanza, Yeats reflects on the women and men that were persecuted for the rebellion, and tries to reconcile their images as he knew them to the images they portrayed during the rebellion. Constance Markievicz was jailed, and Yeats contrasts her "shrill," argumentative voice to the one she had when she was a young woman. He also contrasts the prideful image that Pádraig Pearse displayed to the public with the Pearse he knew: "So daring and sweet his thought." While Yeats detested John McBride, he appreciates what he did in the rebellion, and so he says, " I number him in the song," for "He, too, has resigned his part/ In the casual comedy," again relating these revolutionaries' sacrifices to the carefree existence portrayed in the opening stanza. Yeats takes note of the fact that in being prosecuted, who these men and women are and have been in the past has been changed:
"He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly..."

British soldiers searching the River Tolka for ammunition after the Easter Rising. c1916.

The next stanza uses the symbol of a stone to represent the revolutionary fervor and love of Ireland that the revolutionaries had. While horses pass by, moorcocks and moorhens cry, and dust seeps into the stream where the stone is, it does not change the fervor of the stone. While everyone keeps going on with the mundane, nothing will affect the stone: "Minute by minute they live:/The stone's in the midst of all.

Mary Shannon. "Irish Republic" flag flown over General Post Office during the Easter Rising. c1916.

The final stanza meditates on the fact that "Too long a sacrifice/ Can make a stone of the heart," indicating that sacrifice can take over one's entire life, and can drive one to death. Yeats compares it to a mother whispering to her child as he falls asleep, but these revolutionaries sleep not the sleep of night, but that of death."Was it needless death after all?" Yeats asks. "For England may keep faith..." The question he asks here is if they died, did they die for nothing, or is it "enough/ To know they dreamed and are dead"? He writes out the names of the dead freedom fighters, and notes again that they are changed, not just to him, but forever, "wherever green is worn." One may think that here Yeats means the celebration of St. Patrick's Day, but this phrase actually references an earlier Irish rebellion, the rebellion of 1798, in which the soldiers wore green uniforms in the hopes of catching public attention. Alternatively, "the wearing of the green" means to wear a shamrock on one's clothing, so this phrase means that these freedom fighters will become major figures in Irish history for what they have done.

The Garden of Remembrance. Opened in 1966, it commemorated the anniversary of the Rising, and honored those who died for Ireland's freedom.

 Yeats concludes his poem with the phrase "A terrible beauty is born." This phrase is repeated at the ends of all the stanzas in this poem but one, which further underlines its significance. This "terrible beauty" represents the spirit of the Irish people , which, like the stone, is "in the midst of all." In fact, the 1916 Easter Rising changed the attitude the Irish held toward the British, and the executions of the revolutionaries, far from having an adverse effect on the nascent revolution, instead resulted in the strengthening of the Irish Republican movement.