A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins in the city that was, to the Renaissance imagination, the center of ancient Greek civilization. (Romanticized) Athens stands as a testament to what human beings know and are able to know. But throughout this play, Shakespeare delights in decentering the world mortals take for granted; soon the audience learns that the dark forest is the center of the play’s world, relegating Athens, center of the civilized Greek world, to the periphery. Day gives way to night, and mortal rulers leave the stage to be replaced by fairies. Night-and nighttime in, of all places, a forest-with its darkness and unseen horrors, seems a strange setting for a comedy. But in the world the play constructs, the special properties of night make it the perfect vehicle for the four lovers to set out on a project of self-discovery. Shakespeare plays on the same tensions as the trans-cultural phenomenon of the blind fortune teller: a belief that in darkness, reliance on senses other than eyesight leads to true seeing. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the nighttime forest, by disrupting and transforming vision, forces introspection and improvisation that help the four lovers on their way to self-understanding. The darkness of the night setting seems particularly important in a play (and a culture) where the language of love relies so heavily on sight imagery. Fairy magic literalizes the connection between love and sight: appropriately, Oberon’s love juice is applied to the eyes. In the language of the play, to look on or at someone is the most common metonymic expression for falling in love with a new person, or for spending time with the one you already love. Lysander steels himself and Hermia against the trial of separation with a call to “starve our sight / >From lover’s food till morrow deep midnight” (1.1, ll. 221-2). Vision and hunger together become the elements of Lysander’s metaphor about lovers and separation; to see is to be with, and a lover’s company is elevated in importance to the need for food and drink. But Hermia and Lysander are not going to see each other by the light of day. The scant light of midnight-midnight, when dawn and dusk are both equally far off-will provide all the necessary illumination for their “lovers’ food.” The darkness of night is only intensified by the forest location, and yet these lovers are expected in the course of the play to come to see each other more fully. “Setting eyes” on someone is also an expression for falling in love. Note Helena’s tortured complaint that “ere Demetrius looked on Hermia’s eyne / He hailed down oaths that he was only mine” (1.1., ll. 242-3). Vision as a key part of love plays itself out fully in this line: eye contact is vital, because looking at someone looking at you is perhaps the most basic physical confrontation of another person’s subjectivity (compare the experience of eye contact to the impossibility of hearing someone hear you, or smelling someone smell you). Demetrius looks into Hermia’s eyes and falls in love. At the end of the same monologue, Helena uses more sight imagery in her resolution to get Demetrius back: “But herein mean I to enrich my pain, / To have his sight thither and back again” (1.1 ll. 250-1). What has wandered must be made to come back, and so Demetrius’ gaze becomes shorthand for Demetrius’ love. Sight, eyes, looking-all are part of a vocabulary of love that would seem to require the light of day rather than a setting in the darkest of all places at the darkest of all hours. But if Lysander’s plan gives the first hint about the play’s setting (aside from the play’s title), Helena gives the first hint of a way to negotiate the tension between a nighttime setting and the visual language of love. Although the language of love makes extensive use of sight imagery, Helena asserts that real love has little to do with the eyes: “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, / And therefore is winged Cupid blind” (1.1 ll. 234-5). The gaze of the mind, therefore, gives love its true shape (although even in making this assertion Helena is forced to rely on sight imagery). What kind of gaze, then, is at work in the night world of the forest? Throughout the course of the night, the gaze becomes, at different times, introspective, non-visual, or enchanted, twisting the meaning of “love is blind.” By cutting away or transforming the sense humans rely on most, the night world forces new kinds of looking. Cupid’s blindness, described by Helena as a handicap, becomes a strength. Consider the passage in which Lysander describes the time when they will implement his plan: “Tomorrow night, when Phoebe doth behold / Her silver visage in the watr’y glass . . . ” (1.1 ll. 209-10). This short poetic description shows the potential ways that the normal mechanics of the gaze might be changed. Phoebe, or Diana, is the goddess of the moon and of transformation, particularly the unseen and mysterious transformations that happen under cover of darkness. The moon, the only source of light by which lovers can behold each other, is not shedding light on the activities of others but looks instead at her own reflection. The night world is therefore one that inverts the gaze from an out-looking action to an in-looking one, from a window to a mirror, from observation to introspection. The idea of a dream plays with the same transformation of vision: a dream is only visible when the eyes are closed, when vision is inward-looking. The characters themselves try to make sense of the night’s events through the framework of the dream: “Why then, we are awake. Let’s follow him, / And by the way let us recount our dreams” (4.1 l. 195). From the title of the play onward, the dream establishes itself as an important kind of vision. But dream does not just negotiate the tension between a language of love saturated by sight imagery and an incidental nighttime setting: dream and introspective vision are themselves made possible by night and darkness. The physical darkness impairs normal vision: the dark is intense enough for characters to fear being alone. Helena cries out to Demetrius not to abandon her “darkling,” or in the dark (2.2 l. 93). Hermia seems certain that her abandonment in the dark by Lysander could lead to her death: “Speak, of all loves. I swoon almost with fear. / No? Then I well perceive you are not nigh. / Either death or you I’ll find immediately” (2.2. ll. 160-2). The dark forest is far from hospitable to Hermia’s imagination, but Shakespeare’s night actually protects and instructs the lovers. Hermia’s line give a clue to how they must learn to cope without their eyes: she does not see that Lysander is not near, but rather “perceives”-her hearing is the sense on which she comes to depend. Hearing and sight operate quite differently: while sight can be controlling (consider Foucault’s panopticon, and the use of observation as power), listening requires openness. The temporal element of listening necessitates patience (Tu Wei-ming, 2/11/99). Hermia is able to find her lover eventually by using her hearing to its full potential: Dark night, that from the eye his function takes, The ear more quick of apprehension makes. Wherein it doth impair the seeing sense, It pays the hearing double recompense. Thou art not by mine eye, Lysander, found; Mine ear, I thank it, brought me to thy sound. (3.2 ll. 178-183) Here is the power of night to transform the gaze. The eye’s power is taken, but the ear’s is augmented. This Hermia seems far more confident than the Hermia of only a few scenes ago, who was certain she would perish without her lover. She speaks with a kind of triumph about her own ability to improvise: her ear paid “double recompense” has been more than adequate to the task. The night “pays,” rewards, gives gifts in place of what it takes away. Hermia, thrilled to see her lover and to discover her own ability to improvise, goes so far as to thank her own ear. Relying on different kinds of perception leads Hermia to Lysander, just as the night world brings all four lovers to a truer understanding of themselves and their loves, making possible a happy ending for everyone by the end of the play. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the nighttime forest, by disrupting and transforming vision, forces introspection and improvisation that help the four lovers on their way to self-understanding. A dream can be interpreted, and skills learned are not forgotten. The experience of the night will not fade with dawn. Oberon assures Puck that they are a special kind of fairy, whose magic does not evaporate with the coming of light (3.2, ll. 389-96). The act of interpretation also ensures a lasting relationship with their nighttime vision. In daylight, the four go on to recount their dreams together, struggling to make sense of the night (4.1 l. 195). Demetrius calls attention to the permeability of the barrier between night and day, and the ability of night visions to carry over into the daylight hours: “It seems to me / That yet we sleep, we dream” (4.1 ll. 189-91). In his speech to Egeus, Demetrius speaks with wonder about his new understanding. Daylight, rather than cause his love for Helena to vanish, has seemed to strengthen it. In reference to Helena, gone is the word “dote,” which connotes shallow feeling (Garber 10/13); the word “dote” is instead reserved for description of his former feelings about Hermia (4.1 ll. 163-73). His feelings for Hermia are the ones that have metaphorically been snuffed out by the dawn, “melted as the snow” before the sun (4.1 l. 163). What began in night as magic, as introspection and improvisation, has in daylight solidified into deep feeling. Although he speaks of Helena being “the object and pleasure” of his eye, the visual metaphor is accompanied by a proclamation of the faith and virtue of his heart’s devotion (4.1 ll. 166-7). Introspection allows keener observation; new ways of looking enrich more ordinary types of sight. Night teaches the four lovers how to see more clearly during the day.
One may read between the lines to conclude the Bennets’ marriage in Pride and Prejudice was an act of convenience, lacking love. As a result of this incompatibility, their relationship is fraught with flaws. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813), many of Mary Wollstonecraft’s sentiments expressed in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) are expressed through Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship—as seen in Mr. Bennet’s finding humor in his wife’s actions, Mrs. Bennet’s failure to charm her husband, and the Bennets’ indifference to one another in place of love.
In A Vindication of the Rights of WomanWollstonecraft states: “[Woman] was created to be the toy of man, his rattle, and it must jingle in his ears whenever, dismissing reason, he chooses to be amused.” In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet finds humor in his wife’s fickle emotions and foolish actions. Mr. Bennet’s use of his wife can be seen in this excerpt: “I wish I could say…the establishment of so many of her children, produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly” (Austen 295). This statement conveys the joy Mr. Bennet gleans from observing his wife’s insensibility. He could have easily left the house if he so wished, but instead he often casually played with Mrs. Bennet’s emotions to enjoy her reaction. Mr. Bennet’s toying with his wife’s naïve feelings in Pride and Prejudice is an example of Wollstonecraft’s sentiments expressed in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
In Pride and Prejudice, Austen characterizes Mrs. Bennet as a woman with few, if any, redeeming qualities. The false sense of emotion that was once evoked from Mr. Bennet is no longer present, and she lacks charm. Wollstonecraft explains the situation: “The Woman who has only been taught to please will soon find that her charms are oblique sunbeams, and that they cannot have much effect on her husband’s heart when they are seen every day, when the summer is passed and gone.” One may assume there was some semblance of emotion from either party in the Bennets’ relationship at one time, or else they wouldn’t have married. Time has rendered Mrs. Bennet quite unattractive to her husband now that she is not as young and green as she once was. Austen candidly relates the cause of their incompatibility: “Her father captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour, which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind, had early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her” (180). Once the wedding vows were said, Mr. Bennet had undoubtedly dug his grave. Wollstonecraft knew that a marriage based on physical attributes does not result in happiness, which the reader sees in Pride and Prejudice. The absence of romance and charm in Mr. and Mrs. Bennets’ relationship is justly explained by Wollstonecraft’s remarks in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
The Bennets’ marriage can be summed up in one phrase from Wollstonecraft: “Friendship or indifference inevitably succeeds love.” Austen clearly depicts the indifference Mr. and Mrs. Bennet feel towards each other. Mr. Bennet’s character is described: “Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had been insufficient to make his wife understand his character” (3). This description is a stark contrast to the picture the reader is given for Mrs. Bennet: “She was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented she fancied herself nervous” (3). These clashing personalities result in very little effort from either individual to breed romance. Over the course of twenty-three years, the Bennets’ have learned to live with each other, and to deal with their spouse’s respective faults. The Bennets’ choice to remain indifferent to one another is condensed by the simple choice given by Mary Wollstonecraft “Friendship or indifference.”
Overall, the reader can infer the various causes of the tense Bennet relationship as aligning with Mary Wollstonecraft’s observations. Wollstonecraft remarked, quite accurately, on the fickle nature of relationships and the frivolous upbringing of women. One may assume that Austen drew from these same concepts when characterizing Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Thus, in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, many of Mary Wollstonecraft’s sentiments expressed in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman are expressed through Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s relationship—as seen in Mr. Bennet’s finding humor in his wife’s actions, Mrs. Bennet’s failure to charm her husband, and the Bennets’ indifference to one another in place of love.
In Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, navigating the American establishment as an African immigrant is a constant struggle for Ifemelu and others like her. Ifemelu soon starts to experience that the power in America is held not by the few, but by the collective mass of white Americans, who by virtue of being seen as the norm get to dictate the dominant culture. The mechanism in which white Americans power is exercised is not through dramatic moments but through everyday interactions. White America exacts crippling pressure on Africans to conform to a European standard of beauty as well as a disregard for understanding individual immigrants stories– instead applying a generalized idea of the African immigrant as a whole to everyone. Ifemelu and others face an immense pressure in their everyday lives to conform to the message of a non-ethnic, white outwards presentation. Many immigrants give in and change themselves to be acceptable to the white standard, but Ifemelu goes through multiple personal battles to not sterilize herself– keeping essential features of her as a person intact.
One way in which the non-ethnic, white ideal is enforced is through the inadvertent policing of foreign, in particular African, accents by ordinary white Americans. One of Ifemelu’s first sobering interactions on an American campus comes while attempting to register for classes. The student directing her, Cristina Tomas, speaks so condescendingly towards her that Ifemelu thinks she has an illness. It’s not until Ifemelu’s second exchange with her that she comes to the realization that, “Christina Tomas was speaking like that because of her, her foreign accent, and she felt for a moment like a small child, lazy-limbed and drooling (163). When Ifemelu tells her she speaks English, Tomas replies: “I bet you do. I just don’t know how well” (163). Through infantilizing Ifemelu based purely on her foreign accent, Tomas is indirectly communicating that any accent she deems “foreign” –that is, not white– is less educated and inferior. Humiliated, Ifemelu “shrinks like a dried leaf” (164). Even though her voice had been a source of confidence for Ifemelu ever since she “led debate society in secondary school” (164) and had thought of American accents as “inchoate” (164), Ifemelu is humiliated by Christina Tomas’s judgment of her accent. Unthinkingly, Tomas is able to assert her power over Ifemelu through the security that comes from considering yourself the norm– as a nondescript white girl she doesn’t think twice about the effects of her words. The pressure to conform to the accent of the rank-and-file white American is readily acknowledged by Ifemelu’s peers in the African Students Association. After Ifemelu firsts joins the ASA, her fellow member Mwombeki gives a spiel about how to adapt to life in America as an immigrant from Africa. Included in his speech is the statement that, “Very soon you will start to adopt an American accent, because you don’t want customer service people on the phone to keep asking you ‘What? What?’” (172). It is recognized by these young immigrants that a phase in their adjustment to America includes reaching the point where they’re so exhausted by being the “other” that they’d rather acquiesce to the anonymous voice over the phone than keep an important marker of their home culture. Not only will Africans assume an American accent, but as Mwombeki states, they will also “… start to admire Africans who have perfect American accents…” (172). The sway of the white culture in America is so much so that not only do foreigners feel the compulsion to make their accents more palatable to the average American, but doing so convincingly is seen as praiseworthy. Ifemelu herself buys into the mindset that sounding like a white American is not only easier but preferable to her natural accent. She only realizes the problematic nature of her and her fellow African students’ attitude when a young telemarketer tells her she “sounds totally American” (215) upon learning that Ifemelu grew up in Nigeria. Ifemelu wonders, “Why was it a compliment, an accomplishment, to sound American? She had won; Cristina Tomas, pallid-face Cristina Tomas under whose gaze she had shrunk like a small, defeated animal, would speak to her normally now” (215). Ifemelu is wrestling with the idea that her accent being deemed “American” should equate to a “win” because Christina Tomas, the original judge of her accent, would now not speak down to her. But, as Ifemelu notes, it isn’t a true victory because to attain it she had had to take on “a pitch of voice and a way of being that was not hers” (216). Ifemelu almost plays right into one of the key mechanisms of the power structure in America that disguises assimilation (in this case, one’s accent) as a positive. In reality, when Ifemelu and her peers give up their accents they give up part of themselves– one step in the process of making their identities as “pallid” as Cristina Tomas’, a representation of bland, conformist white America.
Another way in which a white image is imposed as the ideal is through the discouragement of natural hair in the workplace, so much so that black women not only submit themselves to painful procedures in the hair salon, but deride natural hair themselves. When Aunty Uju gets the letter in the mail notifying her that she is now a licensed medical professional, after her initial happiness, she immediately expresses to Ifemelu her intention to relax her hair because “they will think you are unprofessional” (146). Ifemelu is mystified, asking, “So there are no doctors with braided hair in America?” (146) But later, when Ruth, the career counselor, tells her to straighten her hair before an interview a less naive Ifemelu doesn’t bat an eye and gets her hair relaxed in a salon. When the hairdresser irons the ends, Ifemelu experiences a piercing sense of loss from “the smell of burning, of something organic dying which should not have died…” (251). The hairdresser, downplaying Ifemelu’s physical burns, excitedly says, Wow, girl, you’ve got the white-girl swing!” (251) Ifemelu is sacrificing the vibrancy and soul of her hair, an essential aspect of many African women’s identity, for a lifeless “white-girl swing”– just because of the unwritten rule that states that natural hair is unprofessional. Just as Ifemelu’s once-dynamic natural hair is restrained into falling rigidly down her back, so too does the stringent European beauty standard limit the freedom of expression of women with ethnic hair. The notion of white hair being attractive and business-like is not only forced on Ifemelu and other African women, but is internalized and enforced by these women– the ones who are being repressed. After being told by white society that it was undesirable, Ifemelu is one of a number of women who have been empowered by going natural with their hair, learning to love her hair through the supportive, affirming members of sites like HappilyKinkynappy.com. But Ifemelu and her fellow proud wearers of natural hair in America face both subtle and overt judgments of their choice from members of their communities. When Ifemelu brings Curt, her white boyfriend, with her to visit Aunty Uju, Uju remarks to her niece, “he really likes you…even with your hair like that” (269). When Ifemelu points out that Uju would probably be “admiring my hair now” if “every magazine you opened and every film you watched had beautiful women with hair like jute” (269), Uju replies, “I am just saying what is true” (269). Aunty Uju is inadvertently aiding the enforcement of the harmful belief in the superiority of European hair– she truly believes that Ifemelu’s natural hair makes her less desirable. Aunty Uju is not merely commenting on the social standing of natural hair, she genuinely believes in its inherent ugliness, saying: “there is something scruffy and untidy about natural hair” (269). Women like the hairdresser and Aunty Uju have absorbed the sometimes implicit, but frequently explicit attitude of white culture that black hair is not only physically unattractive, but representative of unsavory character traits. The existence of the ideal of European hair, coupled with its imposition not only by white people, but by the very population which it is oppressing, combines to create a culture of self-repression that even captures Ifemelu.
The influence afforded to the white people around Ifemelu by the collective thinking that they are average allows them to generalize about Ifemelu’s personal story (as well as other African immigrants,) causing Ifemelu to feel emotionally abused. Overwhelmed from yet another failure to secure a job that she was more than qualified for and faced with being late with her rent yet again, Ifemelu’s frustration comes to a head when she tells off her roommate Elena for allowing her dog to eat her bacon. Elena responds with a smirk on her face, “you better not kill my dog with voodoo” (187). Ifemelu, feeling “acid in her veins,” almost hits Elena before retreating to her room, curling up on her bed, and contemplating what she had almost done. She realizes that she had not wanted to slap her roommate because of the lost bacon “but because she was at war with the world, and woke up each day feeling bruised, imagining a horde of faceless people who were all against her” (187). Elena’s thoughtless use of an offensive stereotype is the last straw for Ifemelu who has been experiencing the pokes of many small microaggressions since landing in the United States–leaving her “bruised.” The constant barrage of white people in Ifemelu’s life asking her and her fellow members of the African Students Association, “How bad is AIDS in your country” and telling her, “it’s so sad that people live on less than a dollar a day in Africa” (170)– essentially assuming that is her story– leaves Ifemelu feeling as if she’s not valued. One day, before the bacon incident, a “credit card preapproval, with her name correctly spelled and elegantly italicized” comes in the mail; Ifemelu feels “a little less invisible, a little more present. Somebody knew her” (162). Ifemelu feels so unnoticed and lonely from the white Americans lack of interest in her life that just for her name to be acknowledged means something to her. People like Elena who don’t even try to get to know Ifemelu and just lump her into their preconceived and ignorant notions of an African immigrant are exercising power obtained merely from being not the “other.” Ifemelu feels as if she is not being seen as an individual, that the “horde of faceless people who were all against her” are looking inward to their own preconceived notions and reflecting outwards their ill will.
The power of the ordinary white American is shown through the understated enforcement of the American accent and the degradement of the African accent. Ifemelu is mortified when Cristina Tomas judges her based on her accent, and despite disliking American accents, adopts one. Ifemelu is not alone– her peers in the African Students Association say that they themselves get so tired repeating themselves that they take on fake American accents. But the sway of the prevailing idea of the superiority of the American accent is so much so that students look up to people with flawless fake accents. Ifemelu reclaims some of the power she has given up by faking an accent when she reverts back to her Nigerian accent– by speaking in her own voice she is recovering a piece of herself that she had lost by conforming to the authority of white mainstream society. Just as Ifemelu loses part of her identity when she changes her accent so to does she cede part of herself when she relaxes her hair. The iron relaxing her hair burns away a living part of herself–all in service of reaching the American beauty standard of European hair. And just as Africans admire a well executed American accent, they themselves value the white ideal for appearance, and enforce it themselves as seen through Aunty Uju’s surprise that Curt would find Ifemelu’s natural hair attractive. By going natural, Ifemelu again regains the power she relinquishes when she relaxed her hair. The inconsiderate stereotyping of Ifemelu’s life by her white peers makes her feel as if she isn’t viewed as her own person leading to her depressed and volatile emotional state. The sense of security gained attained through feeling absolutely normal allows the white masses to attempt to bend to their will African immigrants, leaving people like Ifemelu battling to keep intact vital parts of their identities.
There is ample dispute over L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables: whether it is a feminist novel, whether is it supposed to be a feminist novel and what it is actually suggesting about women. Montgomery disassociated herself from the feminist movement; nonetheless she believed that women ought to have the right to vote (Cecily, 27). We can see evidence of her views in the women of Avonlea. Anne of Green Gables was written primarily as a ‘girl’s novel,’ in which women are expected to behave a certain way and embody certain characteristics. In this novel, gender difference is affirmed, but inequality is not (Montgomery and Cecily, 26). The women in Avonlea are primarily traditional, remaining in the home and raising families, but they are strong and have quite a bit of power in their restricted domestic spheres, suggesting elements of the modern women as well. Anne is likewise a strong woman, able to take a life of disadvantage and turn it around. Anne’s life is largely influenced by women- it is Marilla who decides that she can stay and who takes responsibility for her upbringing, while Matthew watches silently from the sides, only stepping in when Marilla isn’t around. The knowledge, direction, advice and examples that Marilla and other women provide are the most prominent factors in Anne’s development into a socially accepted woman.Anne’s wild imagination is something that makes her special and unique as a child, but there is no place for it in society, so Marilla feels that it is her duty to repress it. If Anne had the same personality and imagination as an adult, she would have been considered a frivolous scatterbrain (Weiss-Town, 15). As a child, though, Anne can get away with saying and doing things that she would not otherwise because she has “never been taught what was right (Montgomery, 66).” The adult women in Anne of Green Gables do not have any imagination; when Anne asks Miss Barrie to try to imagine, she says, “I’m afraid my imagination is a little rusty- it’s so long since I used it (Montgomery, 158).” In order for Anne to grow up and have her place in society, she too must put her imagination away. Thus Marilla and the rest of the community are trying to fit her into the mold of a young lady by repressing her imagination. Anne’s imagination is a source of both good and evil in her life, but because of the negative elements, Anne learns that sometimes it is better not to imagine at all. As one chapter suggests, it is a “good imagination gone wrong” (Montgomery, 0). One night Marilla tells Anne to walk through the “Haunted Woods,” to get something from Mrs. Barrie. Anne is terrified on the walk, thinking of all of the ghosts that could be living there… Upon her return, she tells Marilla that she’ll be content with “common place names after this” (Berg, 126). “Bitterly did she repent the license she had given to her imagination (Montgomery, 165).” Anne has learned about the dangers of the imagination and the consequences it can have, frightening herself with her own made-up names and stories. Anne’s wish to have beautiful auburn hair is similarly squelched when she mistakenly dyes her hair green, teaching her a lesson about vanity. As her caregiver, Marilla makes sure to insert a moral or lesson anywhere she can, helping Anne to realize how she can learn from her mistakes. Anne does learn from her mistakes, and does not repeat them again. With time she makes fewer and fewer, until she has been completely socialized and conforms to society’s expectations without even having to think about behaving properly as she does as a child. This is when Anne is successfully integrated into the community. Miss Stacy is another very influential model in Anne’s life. As her teacher, she helps Anne to develop academically, yet as a woman, she helps her to develop socially as well. Anne proves how much she has learned when Miss Stacy asks her to stop reading a certain novel, and she obeys. The book “was one Ruby Gillis had lent me,” she explains to Marilla. “It was so fascinating and creepy; it just curdled the blood in my veins. But Miss Stacy said it was a very silly unwholesome book, and she asked me not to read any more of it or any like it” (Berg, 126). Anne does not question Miss Stacy’s judgment; she looks up to her, wanting to become like her someday. The Gothic novel was considered improper for girls to read, as it could seriously modify their comprehension of reality. It would be particularly hazardous for girls with brilliant imaginations, like Anne. It was chiefly girls who read Anne of Green Gables, so the novel functioned as a sort of instruction book for them, so they could learn from Anne’s slip-ups too (Carol, 10). Anne’s educational progress is quite astounding, going from an uneducated orphan girl to placing at the top of her class. As her teacher, Miss Stacy helps to prepare Anne for a career in teaching, providing a way for her to support herself and make her own way in the world if necessary. Miss Stacy, perhaps even more importantly, believes in Anne, accepting her and encouraging her to do her best, providing opportunities like the after school lessons to gain even more knowledge and increase her possibility of higher education (Montgomery 242). Women could either choose career or family, but not both; it was considered immoral for a family to have two incomes. When Anne is talking about her classmate’s ambitions, she says “Ruby says she will only teach two years after she gets though, and then she intends to be married. Jane says she will devote her whole life to teaching, and never, never marry because you are paid a salary for teaching; but a husband won’t pay you anything and growls if you ask for a share in the egg and butter money (Montgomery 244). Ruby, like Anne, is postponing marriage, but Jane is more the New Woman, opting not to marry at all and support herself. Although these girls are all aiming for careers, the teaching career was generally one that was acceptable for women at the time, so they are not making any progress in that sense; both Anne’s parents were teachers.Mrs. Allen likewise affirms Anne, encouraging her “to do some good in the world (Montgomery, 211).” When Anne is ‘in the depths of despair,’ humiliated in her room after the liniment incident, it is Mrs. Allen who comes up to comfort her, telling her that it wasn’t her fault. “I’m trying to be as much like Mrs. Allen as I possibly can, for I think she’s perfect (Montgomery, 207)” Anne tells her friends. At the Ladies Aid society meeting, when Mrs. Lynde says something negative about Anne, Mrs. Allen is quick to defend her, saying she is the “brightest and sweetest child she ever met (Montgomery, 214.)” Mrs. Allen is much better at expressing her love than Marilla is; she serves as a mother-figure, fulfilling Anne’s emotional needs. Because of Mrs. Allen’s acceptance, Anne has more self-confidence, and wishes to be good, partly to please her. “I hope I shall be a little like Mrs. Allen when I grow up (Montgomery, 211)” Anne says to Marilla. Mrs. Allen, as the minister’s wife, would also be a good example to Anne in matters of religion. She has been an enormous influence on Anne, just by her kind acceptance of her. By this, Anne learns to accept others as well.Rachel Lynde represents another powerful influence in Anne’s life. Because she prides herself so much on speaking her mind (Montgomery, 64), people are careful of what they say to her or around her. Through Mrs. Lynde, Anne learns the importance of “holding her tongue.” When Mrs. Lynde first meets Anne, she chides her about her looks and Anne flies at her in retaliation, criticizing her to her face. In order to regain acceptance from Marilla and the other women of the community, she must succumb to Marilla’s punishment and apologize to Rachel Lynde, humiliating and humbling herself (Montgomery 72-74). Once Anne gives in to the women of higher authority she begins to find her place in society. Before this incident with Rachel Lynde, Marilla tells Anne to hold her tongue and she goes right on talking (Montgomery, 57). In contrast, when Josie Pye later calls Anne a scarecrow, Anne does not react. Having a place in society means having rules and consequences for breaking them. After Anne has experienced the consequences of not holding her tongue, when Marilla tells her to do so on the way home from Rachel Lynde’s house, she complies (Montgomery, 76). This is a key point in Anne’s development. Rachel and Marilla are both very strong women- female heads of their homes. Rachel believes women should have the right to vote. A group of women all go out to meet the prime minister, and take Thomas along to take care of the horses. Although they do not have the opportunity to vote, they still care very much about politics and what is going on in Canada. In this sense, the women of Avonlea are very much models of the New Woman.‘Brains over beauty’ is a running theme throughout Anne of Green Gables. Marilla describes Diana as “good and smart, which is better than being pretty (Montgomery, 58).” Anne is very preoccupied with beauty and looks. She loathes her red hair and freckles, lashing out at anyone who points them out (i.e. Gilbert and Rachel Lynde). Marilla had had a similar experience as a child, overhearing her aunts saying “what a pity she is such a dark, homely little thing (Montgomery 68.)” It has taken Marilla 50 years to get over this. She is imparting her wisdom to Anne, so that she will learn there are more important things in life than beauty, and not spend 50 years wishing she was beautiful. “I’d rather be pretty than clever” Anne admits to Diana (Montgomery, 152). After Anne receives a compliment on her nose and taking it to heart, she asks Marilla what her thoughts are. Marilla thinks she has a pretty nose, but she does not want Anne to be a vain girl, so she does not tell her so; she does not want Anne to be so preoccupied with beauty (Montgomery, 151). The fact that intelligence is privileged over beauty shows how the culture of the New Woman is intermingled with the traditional one in Avonlea. In the past, beauty was important because it guaranteed a husband to care for and support women; now that they could support themselves, the relative importance of beauty was changing. Although Matthew and Marilla are so somber and were brought up in a strict, “joyless” home, they do not have a limited view of women and allow Anne more freedom to become the “New Woman.” Marilla places a high value on woman’s education; she felt it was important that “a girl be fitted to earn her own living whether she has to or not (Montgomery, 242).” It is her who first broaches the subject about being a teacher to Anne after Miss Stacy came to talk to her. She tells Anne that “we resolved to do the best we could for you and give you a good education (Montgomery, 242.)” This is a contrast to Diana’s mother, who believes that education is wasted on women. Mrs. Lynde likewise disapproves of education. The split amongst the community of women in terms of education shows the contrast between the old and new values- signifying this is a transitional stage. Because Marilla approves of her being educated, Anne happily goes along with it. She mentions dreaming about Queens for months, but does not mention anything about it until Marilla does. As the novel goes on, Anne’s imagination becomes more and more suppressed in order for her to have a place in society and be accepted by the women of the community. This is something Anne has to earn; it is not given to her. At the hotel concert, Anne is applauded for subscribing to society and reciting someone else’s words, instead of her own. It has been Marilla’s task to modify Anne’s voice, and an extremely difficult task it is. Before Anne goes off to Queens College, Marilla gives her a dress, not one of the plain ones she usually makes, but a beautiful green one. “Anne put it on one evening for Matthew and Marilla’s benefit, and recited “The Maiden’s Vow” for them in the kitchen” (Montgomery, 304). Anne here is fashionable, reciting someone else’s words for the benefit of Matthew and Marilla, consideration for others, and is doing so in the kitchen- a very domestic place. She has basically become “the angel in the household.” Marilla remembers what Anne used to be like and it brings tears to her eyes (Montgomery, 304). Anne assures her “I’m not changed- not really. I’m only just pruned down and branched out… (Montgomery 304).” The words “pruned and branched out” have a very artificial sound. It is as if Anne is repressing her real self, no longer letting herself go wild; but restraining herself. Perhaps Marilla realizes this and is a little bit saddened by it. She wishes for the old, younger Anne who had not yet subscribed to society, although it was Marilla, Rachel Lynde and the other women of the community who pressured Anne to conform to their own ideals and view of womanhood in a predominantly female community (Weiss-Town, 13). In Avonlea, women’s values were cherished more than men’s values, making them the larger influences on Anne’s development (Berg, 127). Anne was been taught how to be a good wife and mother ever since she was little, working in homes, looking after children at the age of 11. This too influenced her development as a woman; Anne has no false fantasies about what raising a child would be like. She is able to save Minnie May’s life because of this knowledge from past experience. Anne does not make any ultimate choices about her life in this book, but in subsequent books Anne’s dreams eventually lead to marriage and motherhood, not literary fame. Anne postpones this “fate” for a while, experiencing what it is like to be a New Woman. Anne is a New Woman in many ways: getting a higher education, wearing divided skirts, biking around chaperoned, and so on, but she still retains the traditional values of family and home. She is not completely traditional, yet not quite a New Woman. Although Anne wins a prize, it is the English prize, a traditional feminine subject. Gilbert takes all the other prizes. The main influential women in Anne’s life have, with the exception of Miss Stacy and Marilla (although she still brings up Anne), are married and had children; Rachel Lynde, for example, “brought up ten children and buried two (Montgomery, 66).” It is no wonder that Anne follows suit. After Anne marries, her life is rather dull compared to the exciting surprises of her childhood. One interesting view of Anne that lines up very much with the thinking of Mary Wollstonecraft is that because Anne becomes an ideal woman at the end of the book: she never stops being a child (Weiss-Town, 12). She is no longer encouraged to think for herself and be imaginative; but is encouraged to memorize and recite other people’s prayers and poetry. Marilla begins to enforce this right from the beginning, making Anne learn the Lord’s Prayer instead of inventing her own (Montgomery, 55). The one contestation with this idea is that Anne actually did obtain a decent education, especially for a girl, and she did have the opportunity to a higher education. The presence of this choice is what is truly important.The lives of women in Anne of Green Gables revolve around the home and domestic ambitions. The chapter titles themselves illustrate the prominence of stereotypical female domestication and religion (Carol, 11). “Anne says her prayers”, “Anne’s bringing-up is begun”, “Anne’s impressions of Sunday school”, ”A Tempest in the school teapot”, “Diana is invited to tea with tragic results”, “Anne is invited out to tea”, etc. (Cecily, 15). Just by considering the chapter titles, we can see that tea parties and concerts seem to be an important part of Anne’s life. Tea parties and concerts are generally considered to be feminine, and the abundance of them in the novel outlines the importance of femininity. Marilla tells Anne she can have Diana over for tea while she is at the Aid society meeting, Anne is overjoyed. She exclaims; “It will seem so nice and grown-uppish” (Montgomery, 163). “Oh, Marilla, it’s a wonderful sensation just to think of it!” (Montgomery, 164). Anne’s enthusiasm over a tea party and being “grown-uppish” indicate she is gradually conforming to society’s standards; whether she inherently likes tea parties or likes them because that is what all the girls at her age like does not matter. Anne is encouraged to engage in activities that are feminine. When she goes to Rachel Lynde’s house to make her apology, Rachel tells her “you can pick a bouquet of them white June lilies over in the corner if you like (Montgomery, 74).” Rachel automatically assumes that Anne, as a girl, would wish to engage in ‘feminine’ activities. While Marilla is gone Anne’s main responsibility is to get supper for Matthew and Jerry, the role traditionally performed by a woman (Montgomery, 163). Anne is a woman-in-training, eager and proud to take on the responsibilities of the older women- people she respects. Anne, as a woman is very feminine, always up on the latest fashion and stylesOverall, although Anne does not make any ultimate decisions about her life in this novel, it still portrays the stereotypical feminine lifestyle that girls in the late 19th, early 20th century were expected to have. Anne starts out as a little, “ugly”, misbehaved, imaginative orphan girl; but is transformed by Marilla and the community of women in Avonlea into a model woman. Her imagination is restrained, she is “pruned and branched out,” and she is able to save Marilla from having to sell Green Gables, her childhood home. Anne of Green Gables is setting up separate worlds for men and women, portraying the woman’s world as much more interesting (Berg, 127). The world of women is not presented as completely confined as it had been in the past- women had more options by Anne’s time. The 1896 Halifax Herald said “only remarkable and highly motivated women such as [Montgomery] had any business venturing beyond motherhood” (Cecily, 32). This shows the dominant view of the time. Montgomery agreed, saying women should not have any career other than wife and mother, unless they could accomplish their work without interrupting these responsibilities (Cecily, 26). Although Anne avoided making any definite decisions by the end of this novel, her decisions eventually led to motherhood and the domestic life. The maternal women in Anne of Green Gables aided Anne in her development by being examples, correcting her and guiding her in the right direction. It could be argued though, that this ‘growth’ is actually decay in the sense that Anne lost her individuality by conforming to the standards set by society. Thus the conclusion we can draw is one of ambiguity: Anne was not a traditional woman, nor fully a “New Woman;” she is an ambiguous character whose transformation over the course of the novel parallels the gradual societal change in women’s expected role in society.Works Cited:Berg, Temma F. “Anne of Green Gables: A Girl’s Reading.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 13.3 (1988): 124-128. Project MUSE. 17 Aug. 2010
In Garcia Marquez’s novella Chronicle of a Death Foretold, the different roles of men and women in this 1950’s Latin American society are prominently displayed by various characters. The named perpetrator of a young bride is murdered to save the honor of the woman and her family. Apparently, in Colombia during the 1950’s, men were expected to take care of the family and protect family dignity, while women were brought up to marry and maintain the household. In this novel, Garcia Marquez uses his characters as tools to display the cultural gender roles within the Chronicle.
The men depicted by Garcia Marquez are expected to uphold the honor of the family no matter what the cost. With this premise in mind, Garcia Marquez created the Vicario twins, the brothers of Angela. Garcia Marquez stresses the theme of “twins” with the Vicario brothers to convey a duality motif. This double-sided sense deals with the fact that there are two brothers (twins), yet also has a deeper meaning; the boys have two ways of thinking about the murder. On the one hand, they believe killing Santiago is necessary to redeem their family’s honor. On the other, the Vicario brothers don’t really want to murder Santiago; the gravity of the situation (determined by their cultural norms) practically forces them to. Clotilde remarks, “She was certain that the Vicario brothers were not as eager to carry out the sentence as to find someone who would do them the favor of stopping them” (Marquez 57). The boys attempt to avoid killing Santiago on numerous occasions, first announcing at the market that they were actually going to perform the murder (a ploy that could lead to the murder’s prevention). They also conveniently tell twenty two people about their plan. Despite their struggle, upholding their sister’s honor is more important than going to jail for murder. The Vicarios are mainly concerned with matters of family reputation, while Pablo’s girlfriend and the other members of society are concerned with being associated with them. Pedro Vicario, “the more forceful of the brothers” (28), almost refuses to go through with the plan to kill Santiago. Pablo, surprisingly, steps up to the plate and convinces his brother to go along with the plan: “So he put the knife in his hand and dragged him off almost by force to search for their sister’s lost honour” (49). This shows that cultural norms come even before the emotional welfare of the twins. In precisely this manner, Garcia Marquez uses the Vicario brothers to exemplify the expectation of men to uphold honor in this society.
Garcia Marquez also employs various other male characters to put into effect the theme of men being dominant over women. One of the most relevant characters here is Santiago Nasar, the protagonist of the story. Though we never truly discover whether of not Santiago is guilty of deflowering Angela, his reputation doesn’t do much to help his case. Santiago is known for his pushy passes at the young women of the village, including Divina Flor. Divina’s name is symbolic for her purity, which can be juxtaposed sharply against Santiago’s aggressive sexuality. In fact, Santiago’s sexual advances towards the women demonstrate the normality of men using women as objects in this society. Another important character in light of this theme is Bayardo San Roman. Bayardo practically forces Angela to marry him when the two don’t even know each other. He buys her love with expensive things, but doesn’t take the time to actually get to appreciate her; he thinks that his money and good looks will be enough. This maneuvering shows how men expected women to only want to marry them because of wealth and looks, once again demonstrating a woman’s expectation of marriage.
There are other respects in which Garcia Marquez draws on the Vicario family as the primary example of gender roles. Angela Vicario is possibly the character in Chronicle of a Death Foretold who most clearly demonstrates the expectations on women in the community. Angela’s name literally means “angel”, a fact which is extremely ironic in light of her situation. However, Angela’s name isn’t simply a contradiction of her real self; it also reflects on the expectations of the people around her. The villagers assume that Angela is pure and angelic; one of the most important values in this society is virginity. Women were expected to remain chaste until marriage, and this sacred idea held a crucial place in this town. The prime example of the importance of virginity was Angela’s discretion. Angela Vicario’s name symbolizes the expected gender role placed on young women in the society of the Chronicle. Garcia Marquez also uses Pura Vicario to develop this theme. Pura has a social obligation to look after her daughter, and make sure that her household follows the rules of society. Her name is symbolic as well, and means “pure.” Naturally, Pura’s frustration and anger towards Angela could be based on the importance of purity to her.
Garcia Marquez utilizes various other, somewhat more minor female characters to exemplify the theme of female virtue and its social importance. One other character of interest here is Prudencia Cotes. Prudencia’s name means cautious, a quality which can definitely be applicable in her situation. Prudencia declares during the narrator’s interview: “I never would have married him if he hadn’t done what a man should do” (62). Prudencia’s very name suggests that her belief is considered wise, shrewd, and good judgement by the people of the town. This further emphasizes this society’s muddled value of upholding honor. It also further demonstrates the expectation of men to uphold honor. A final woman character who exemplifies cultural gender roles is Clotilde Armenta. Clotilde shares ownership of a milk shop with her husband. By day, milk is the main product of the shop. Garcia Marquez uses milk to symbolize female nurturing; Clotilde watches over the twins in a way, telling them not to kill Santiago in front of the bishop, and confiding in the Colonel that neither of the boys really wants to commit the murder. By night, the milk shop turns into a bar, with alcohol being the main product. Alcohol generally symbolizes violence and turmoil, and is known as a “man’s drink”. Clotilde’s shop symbolizes the contrast between men and women in this society. A third female character employed is Divina Flor, whose name actually means “Divine Flower”. Divina is another example of the expectations of society upon women; she is pure and chaste and rejects Santiago Nasar’s aggressive advances. Through the use of female characters, Garcia Marquez demonstrates the cultural gender roles placed on women.
In almost every culture, a series of basic gender roles have influenced the lives of everyday people since youth; in some cultures, these rules are as concrete as law. Garcia Marquez’s depicted culture exemplifies traditional roles of cooking, cleaning, and child-raising that have been carried out by women in similar societies in the past. In this society and time, a woman’s main role is to become a wife; “Women were reared to be married” (27). Women also have other traditional roles in the Chronicle. The narrator describes these roles when speaking of Angela and her sisters: “They knew how to do screen embroidery, sew by machine, weave bone lace, wash and iron, make artificial flowers and fancy candy, and write engagement announcements” (27). Despite the traditional gender roles in this novel, there is also an example of a more interesting role that isn’t as prevalent in this society. Angela and her sisters belong to the “Cult of Death”, which involves “sitting up with the ill, comforting the dying, and enshrouding the dead” (28). It is said that none of the other girls in the village participate in this so called cult. This demonstrates Angela’s deviation from the cultural traditions, foreshadowing how she breaks the sacred rule of remaining a virgin later on in the novel.
Garcia Marquez utilizes the characters of his book to portray traditional and cultural gender roles in this Colombian society. He uses the Vicario twins to display the role of men to uphold honor, Angela and Pura to demonstrate the expectations placed on women, Santiago and Bayardo to describe male dominance, and Clotilde, Prudencia, and Divina to put to use the theme of females in this society. Through his use of name symbolism and motifs, Garcia Marquez is also able to employ the gender role theme (duality motif, milk symbolizing female nurturing). Thus, Garcia Marquez meshes together characters and symbolism to create a society in which the most important value is the distinguished gender roles of males and females.
In Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Foer uses three different narrative voices to bring life to his story. The first and most prominent, as well as the one used to narrate the ongoings of the present day, is that of Oskar Schell. The other two, which serve mainly to buoy Oskar’s story and explain the past, are the voices of the boy’s Grandmother and Grandfather. These different narrators each respond to the story’s integral tragedy, and express themselves- both to the reader and to the other characters- in very different ways.
Oskar’s grandfather, Thomas Schell Sr, is likely the most perplexing character in the book, who is truly characterized by his inability to speak and the highly apparent fact that his mind is stuck in the past. His lack of human communication embodies and defines how he express himself in the book. His narration seems quite normal at first, however it soon becomes apparent that this complex, flowing train of though is being laid down in the form of a letter to his son. This is how the reader gains insight in to Thomas’s thoughts. These letters are the only time that the he communicates his true feelings and articulates thoughts about his life. Yet, as the reader sees, he is never able to send them, and thus his thoughts are stuck forever inside his head, never to be shared with another human. In communication with others, his day book notes are rarely longer than 5 words, which means he is able to avoid any meaningful conversation. Even in written “talking” with his wife, he only discusses factual information, and never touches on his past or his feelings. It seems that Thomas can only accommodate one-way communication: letters to his son, never to be read; short, impersonal written commands, and factual communications which need no response. This lack of human connection characterizes Oskar’s grandfather, making him truly appear as a broken man who cannot maintain a relationship with anyone in the present. This, it is revealed, is because he is a man living in his tragic past.
The loss of his parents, his first love, and his son are the events that define Thomas’ life. After those childhood deaths, he closes up to the outside world, isolates himself from those near to him, and avoids meaningfulness in interactions with other humans. Even as the rest of the world moves on, Thomas lives perpetually in the past, leaving a dysfunctional shell in the present. His mind is so stuck in Dresden that he cannot think anything of the present or future. When he arrives back in New York after his 40 year absence, he has no plan and a complete inability to react to his new surroundings. Later, after gaining some form of closure by buying his letters in his son’s grave, he tries to leave but realizes he is incapable to making decisions in the present, and as such is neither able to stay nor leave. His withdrawing reaction to these scarring losses exposes the empty, dead character of a man who can no longer live because of how removed he is from the world around him.
Though she commands a large amount of “screen time,” we seem to know the least about Oskar’s Grandmother. Because of her complete lack of deep expression to anyone, including the reader, and the fact that she holds her pain inside and away from other characters, she appears in the book almost oblivious to the happenings around her, seeming conspicuously normal in very abnormal circumstances. Even in her own personal letters to future Oskar, she reveals virtually none of her deep thoughts about her past or present situations, purposefully avoiding any discussion of the tragedy that has surrounded her life. As Oskar noted, he knows very little about her, despite spending much time in her company. Instead of dwelling on her past losses like Thomas, she does the opposite and expresses herself through love and time with the people she does still have- namely Oskar- while avoiding the past altogether. Because she avoids expressing any feeling at all, it is harder to see how she has responded to the tragedy in her life. But upon further examination, we see that is it just this lack of willingness to face the past that defines her self-expression and her relationship with personal tragedy. She appears to have buried her sorrows so deep within her, she does not even recognize that they exist. She shields Oskar, the reader, and herself from the loss she has experienced, affecting her from within yet showing very little on the outside. This is what creates the loving yet distant grandmother Oskar knows, and the broken soul fixed patched with band-aids that tied Thomas to reality.
Finally, the voice of Oskar rings the loudest and most fully throughout the novel. Our best ways of understanding his character, and how he expresses himself most strongly, are through his actions and thoughts, rather than through his words. His response to his father’s death is the creation of a void within himself which needs to be filled by his thoughts and actions in order that he may be whole again- or at least closer to it. This need and the things he does to fulfill it are what bring his character to life. Oskar’s wide emotional spectrum and jumping thoughts are most directly expressed through his actions- going through his Dad’s belongings to strengthen his memories, searching for the lock to bring him solace, giving himself bruises when he was disappointed in his actions, or yelling at his mother for not grieving the way he did. His honesty, longing for connection, and hopeful, childish mind were also exposed through his conversation with the Blacks, expressing himself far more freely with them than with his own family. Lastly, he expressed himself to the reader in the emotional outpouring he experienced, whether in thought, language, or action. In this way, we gained a fuller picture of Oskar than we did of his grandmother and grandfather.
Oskar’s response to the loss of his father was far more unique than that of his grandparents. He neither lived in the past nor blocked it out- instead, he actively sought to continue his relationship with his father and his father’s memory through his actions. We see that through his search for the lock, his compulsive letter writing, his emotional withdrawal from his family, and his active, often self-inflicted depression, he is trying to grow closer to his father, or complete his memory of him as a person to gain closure. Oskar needed to become closer to his Dad in order to let him go and accept death. Once he felt as though he had done his father right in death, Oskar was ready to face life once more with the memory of his father whole and cemented firmly in his heart.
As a popular and widely loved novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and, Through the looking Glass and What Alice Found There has been translated to well over a hundred languages and is a household tale that most people have enjoyed in their childhood. With a seemingly lighthearted storyline full of imagination and adventure, the novel also intended to have depth and share the author Lewis Carroll’s thoughts on the Victorian society. Carroll uses the picaresque aspect of Alice’s narrative to produce effective social commentary on the Victorian lifestyle through playful use of words, rhyme, and even the characters themselves; these elements aid in Carroll’s criticism of the victorian way of life and 19th century England’s politics. The characters that Alice meets on her adventure along the way show different parts of the Victorian lifestyle that allow for those defective features to be emphasized and highlighted. A picaresque novel is one that is usually a first-person narrative, relating the adventures of a rogue or lowborn adventurer as he or she drifts from place to place and from one social environment to another in an effort to survive.
Though Alice is obviously not from a low class family due to her somewhat educated responses, once Alice is in the rabbit hole her social background become irrelevant. Carroll uses Alice’s education to contribute to the perception of Victorian England. Throughout the novel Alice refers to her lessons and education, usually proud of the knowledge she’s gathered during them. However, when Alice applies this knowledge it is either useless or wrong. For example, She can remember the how many miles to the center of the earth, but she mistakenly thinks that everything will be upside down when she passes through to the other side.Down, down, down. Would the fall never come to an end? “I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?” she said aloud. “I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think —” (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the school-room, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) — yes, that’s about the right distance — but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I’ve got to?” (Alice had not the slightest idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but she thought they were nice grand words to say.)(Carrol 10-11).
Carroll also mocks tales that Victorian children were forced to read for educational purposes. He criticizes these tales repetitive morals of consequences for foolish actions. . . . she had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that, if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked “poison,” it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later. (Carroll 13) This also alludes to the fact that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and it’s accompanying “densely woven masterpieces” do not follow the same path as the other children’s books of that Victorian era (Hunt, 49). Carroll conveys “ the challenge of realizing that understanding how different readers read (even two very generalized groups labelled “adults” and “children”) is not to bring them to the same understanding but to appreciate (and value) their different understandings” (Hunt, 41). This ultimately underlines a flaw in his society.
Another social comment that Carroll makes is on the importance of class in Victorian society through the Garden of Live Flowers in Through the Looking-Glass. Alice encounters these flowers that attempt to represent the plants as different levels within the British social class structure. In this miniature garden world that Carroll creates, the finer and rarer specimens (i.e. the tiger-lily, and the rose) are in a higher class than the more common and simpler daisies. The characteristics of each type of flower alludes to its rank and class in the garden.
And here they [the daisies] all began shouting together, till the air seemed quite full of little shrill voices. “Silence, everyone of you!” cried the Tiger-lily, waving itself passionately from side to side, and trembling with excitement. “They know I can’t get at them!” it panted bending its quivering head towards Alice, “or they wouldn’t dare to do it!””Never mind!” Alice said in a soothing tone and , stooping down to the daisies, who were just beginning again, she whispered “If you don’t hold your tongues, I’ll pick you!”There was silence in a moment, and several of the pink daisies turned white.”That’s right!” said the Tiger-Lily “The daisies are the worst of all. When one speaks, they all begin together, and its enough to make one wither to hear the way they go on!” (Carroll, 137)
When Alice first enters the garden, she sees and speaks to the tiger-lily first, while the daisies interrupt and chatter away until threatened to stop by Alice. The rose assumes some sort of authority over Alice as it criticizes her from the very beginning of the conversation even showing traces of racism with reference to Alice’s color. As this relates to the issue of class structure and how power is divided among the classes,it also shows the stupidity of it. Normally in British society, power is divided unequally with the higher classes getting most of the share. In the Garden of Live Flowers there seems to be existing class levels, but because all of them are planted into the ground and none can reach another no flower can in fact assume more power than another. This makes the tiger-lilly delusional to think its ‘kind’ is better that the others and highlights the same issue in Victorian society. Capitalism is an economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. This was well practiced in the victorian era which enriched the pockets of the elite while impoverishing the already less fortunate of England.
In capitalism, as in Through the Looking Glass, this practice translates into both relentless pursuit of the unattainable and a lack of appreciation for the attained.The image portrayed here by Carroll of someone reaching for a desired object, obtaining it but continually seeing something else apparently even more desirable just beyond the horizon of availability, represents the heart and soul of the capitalism which thrived in Victorian England as it does in the world today.”The prettiest are always further!” she said at last, with a sigh at the obstinacy of the rushes in growing so far off, as, with flushed cheeks and dripping hair and hands, she scrambled back into her place, and began to arrange her newfound treasures.What mattered it to her just then that the rushes had begun to fade, and to lose all their scent and beauty, from the very moment that she picked them? Even real scented rushes, you know, last only a very little while- and these, being dream-rushes, melted away almost alike snow, as they lay in heaps at her feet-but Alice hardly noticed this, there were so many other curious things to think about (Carroll 178) Use of superlatives such as the “prettiest “are the object of this unquenchable desire and are capitalistic desires as it is impossible to obtaining anything superlative. For Alice this fact translates into a physical distance (“further”) that can’t be crossed. For the Victorian capitalist money translates into the distance between different levels of material wealth. Just as Alice does not care that her “new found treasures…melted away almost alike snow”, the true materialist never appreciates what they have because they are caught up in the quest for “other curious things to think about.” Carroll uses Alice’s innocence to show how this capitalist was of thinking in unknowingly embedded in the Victorian mind.
Overall, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; and, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There was more than just a nonsense tale but rather one of “complexity, ambiguity, and flexibility”(Hunt, 49). Carroll uses the picaresque aspects of the novel to emphasize flaws in the Victorian society as well as their effect on the members of the society. Carroll effectively conveyed his message without breaking the amusement of the children’s novel. As a great artwork, it is unsurprising that this novel remains a cherished tale.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking- Glass and What Alice Found There. Edited by Hugh Haughton, Penguin Classics, 2009.Print.
Hunt, Peter. “The Fundamentals of Children’s Literature Criticism: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass.” The Oxford Handbook of Children’s Literature, Edited by Julia L Mickenberg and Lynne Vallone, 29 Nov. 2012, pp. 35–51.Print.
“The Social and Political Contexts of the Alice Books.” Literature, History & Culture in the age of Victoria. victorianweb. 28 May 2005. Web. Feb 12,2018
The measure of a manâs character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.Thomas BabingtonMorality is the very foundation of goodness and the pillar of righteousness. Immorality, however, is the threshold towards conspicuous malevolence. These two extremes are often but a step between which we are baffled and bemused. Morals undeniably establish the confinements of oneâs behaviour in any given society. Should these principles crumble, ethical boundaries would give way to anarchical freedom. Both works explored in this analysis illustrate the succumbing to immoral conduct for selfish purposes. In The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde, we are intrigued by a charming Englishman who discards his innocence and embraces loathsome hedonism. Tennessee Williamsâ A Streetcar Named Desire confronts us with a stout and virile figure who abides to no opposing authority than his own. Two unscrupulous characters surface from different worlds with the equivalent dismissal of moral values common to humankind. Although one is characterised by beauty and the other, by potency, they share the same vivid animation of unrestrained cruelty. It is in their ominous acts that their factual embodiment is exposed. Wilde and Williams reveal, through these depraved beings, the basis of humanityâs intrinsic flaw: the loss of inhibitions. I will further discuss, by means of relevant characters, the yearning for moral ideals as well as the clinging onto immoral philosophies.Oscar Wildeâs The Picture of Dorian Gray is set during the late nineteenth century England, a period marked with the exceeding importance of social stature and personal image. The protagonist, Dorian Gray, rises as the archetype of male pulchritude and youth. His aristocracy and stunning beauty enthral his surroundings. He often poses for Basil Hallward, an artist of great talent whose art is inspired by Dorianâs charisma. While Basilâs most prodigious painting is in the midst of being completed, Dorian is introduced to Lord Henry Wotton, a cynical philosopher and skilful orator. Dorian is easily seduced by his manipulative tongue and his scornful theories. Wotton envisions fashioning, corrupting the vulnerable boy into an unrelenting hedonist. Through him, Dorian faces the harsh realisation that his physical attributes are ever fading. Upon this sudden insight, he dreads the physical burden of ageing. He envies the perpetual attractiveness of Basilâs masterpiece. â…If it were only the other way! If it were I who was to be always young, and the picture that was to grow old! For that – for that – I would give everything! Yes, there is nothing in the whole world I would not give! I would give my soul for that!â? (Wilde p. 31). The materialisation of this wish and the metamorphosis it will ensue are to bring his demise.Dorianâs figure remains immaculate while the picture bears his abhorrent transformation. This is first confirmed following his amorous liaison with Sibyl Vane, an actress he meets at an infamous theatre. Like him, she is characterised by an entrancing beauty and a youthful naivety. Mesmerised by one another, they promptly exchange vows of fidelity. Dorian invites Henry and Basil to the theatre, if only to be dreadfully embarrassed by Sibylâs artificial performance. In a fit of anger yet unknown to him, Dorian reluctantly reprimands his fiance. ââ¦You are shallow and stupid. My God! How mad I was to love you! What a fool I have been! You are nothing to me nowâ¦â? (Wilde p. 98). This vindictive refusal leads to her suicide. Upon returning to his dwelling, he is bewildered by a hideous discovery: his portrait had slightly altered, hinting the sinful transfiguration that would occur throughout his debauched existence.Dorian conveys strong feelings of contrition upon learning of Sibylâs needless death. He is conscious of his wrongdoing and feels profoundly culpable. However, Lord Henry encourages him to discard the incident and to revel in his present freedom. Dorian is torn apart as his egoism weighs heavily over his conscience. By overlooking the death he caused and indulging in pleasure, Dorian incarnates Lord Henryâs philosophy. With the knowledge of his physical imperviousness to the aftermath of any consequence, he adopts hedonistic values. The complete denial of responsibility in Sibylâs death is but the beginning of his moral degradation. He relishes in observing the mutilation of the picture, thus his soul. His further meetings with Henry simply magnify this descent into profligacy. â…You were the most unspoiled creature in the whole world. Now, I donât know what has come over you. You talk as if you had no heart, no pity in you. It is all Harryâs influence. I see thatâ¦â? (Wilde p. 120) From then on, Dorian progressively mingles with sin; provoking scandals, visiting opium dens and frequenting prostitutes.Dorian often gazes at the painting with horror, but is unable to divert from this lifestyle, aroused by its wickedness. He is undoubtedly aware of his ethical dissipation and, despite the beautiful items in which he surrounds himself, is appalled by the ugliness of his soul. â…He knew that he had tarnished himself, filled his mind with corruption, and given horror to his fancy; that he had been an evil influence to others, and had experienced a terrible joy in being soâ¦â? (Wilde p. 241) Dorianâs fear of his predicament being discovered grows as the tableau alters with every misdeed. Although it is hidden from prying eyes, the bareness of his soul is ever-present in his mind. His hot-tempered murder of Basil not only signifies the peak of his immoral demeanour, but his obliteration of moral barriers. His iniquitous act throws him in a state of guilt-ridden paranoia. He is world-weary and borne down by the weight of this infamy.Wildeâs protagonist was not a villainous nor unprincipled man, simply pliable and somewhat narcissist. Under Lord Henryâs overwhelming influence and the portraitâs enticing protection, he succumbs to a world free of restrictions, tempted by self-gratification. When breaking apart from the moral confines that establish order, Dorian is thrust into a chaotic freedom. Without the ubiquitous prison that symbolises morality, anarchy and evilness reign, destroying the goodness in oneâs nature. When he strikes the diabolical picture, beleaguered by remorse and maddened by regret, he wishes to purge his soul and reacquire the proper values that once governed his life. Therefore, by destroying the wantonness that marred his spirit and the guilt that plagued his conscience, he kills himself.Lord Henry is an extremely patronizing and cynical character. His actions are not as overtly sinful as Dorianâs, since he is not shielded from their repercussions. Although preaching hedonism, he never acts on his philosophies, remaining within the boundaries of what society deems tolerable. He thus has little knowledge of the pragmatic effects induced by his philosophy. He is portrayed as a coward, utilising Dorian to make flesh of his theories, but not venturing on them himself for fear of ruining his social figure. He is a brilliant intellect, although he has a narrow understanding of human behaviour. For instance, when he asserts : ââ¦ All crime is vulgar, just as all vulgarity is crime. It is not in you, Dorian to commit a murder…â? (Wilde p. 234), he is entirely oblivious to Dorianâs tragedy.While most of humanity is constrained to moral hindrances, there are those who drift away from these ideals, and become the source of misdemeanours2E Although morality and ethics are restraining concepts, they shelter the individual and thus, mankind. Without them, there could only be degradation and self-destruction, as illustrated by Oscar Wilde in The Picture of Dorian Gray. As Mahatma Gandhi once said : âThe human voice can never reach the distance that is covered by the still small voice of conscience.â? One may enjoy life and have no fear from death if he obeys his scruples.Tennessee Williamsâ A Streetcar Named Desire formulates a medium to reflect upon the morbid aspects of humanity and the result of these societal downfalls. Stanley Kowalski emerges from an impoverished rural setting in New Orleans as the epitome of flagrant barbarity. His speech is coarsely uneducated and his actions display instinctive crudeness. He adheres to mankindâs most primitive rule and basic code: to hunt or be hunted. His household symbolizes his territory and anyone who menaces this tenure should be eliminated. The metaphorical episode in which he casually tosses to Stella, his wife, a bundle of bloody meat emphasises his ape-like qualities. He has little notion of courteousness, which understandably repulse his pampered sister-in-law, Blanche.The image of a delicate flower amongst a mound of litter is comparable to Blanche Duboisâ arrival at the Kowalski household. ââ¦Her expression is of shocked disbelief. Her appearance is incongruous to this settingâ¦â? (Williams p. 15). She appears inherently refined and somewhat ostentatious, having seemingly never witnessed indignity. However, her false decorum is a rather deliberate effort to save herself from misery. Blanche exists in a self-fabricated universe in which she blinds herself from realityâs bleakness. Her haughty manners contrast with Stanleyâs uncouth behaviour and clash from their first encounter.Stanley imposes his animalistic vigour upon Blanche since he feels threatened by her presence. He despises her aristocratic ways, her diminutive expressions concerning his origin and her dallying about with his friend Mitch. His hatred of Blanche is intensified by her unflattering dialogue with Stella. âHe acts like an animal, has an animalâs habits! Eats like one, moves like one, talks like one! Thereâs even something – sub-human – something not quite to the stage of humanity yet!â¦â? (Williams p. 72). This culmination of anger is manifested in his enquiry of her promiscuous past and in his spiteful birthday gift. He relentlessly thwarts her relationship with Mitch, sabotaging her illusions of rescue. In his vile quest to bring Blancheâs ruin, he brutally exposes her to the harshness of her position.Stanleyâs final effort in tarnishing Blancheâs image is animated by chauvinism. Although his past attempts were strictly psychological blows, he now wishes to exert physical power upon her. In Blancheâs state of vulnerability, he rapes her, devastating the remainder of her sanity. His degenerate character, first insinuated after hitting his pregnant wife, is given full evidence following this acrimonious sin. The concluding scene consists of Blanche being ostracised to an asylum and the depiction of Stanley as the dedicated husband, soothing his wife as she embraces their newborn child. The fallaciousness of this image, given what we have learned throughout the play, paradoxically brings into perspective societyâs erroneous conception of right and wrong.The settings of The Picture of Dorian Gray and of A Streetcar Named Desire differ immensely. Dorian is immersed in a tumultuous social environment, caught in the intricate web of social demeanour. Stanley, on the other hand, resides in a modest yet impecunious milieu. In Wildeâs work, the innocent is poisoned, succumbing to immoral growth and subsiding into internal deterioration. In Williamsâ play, remorseless animosity is the dominating asset, as modern manâs conduct is banished. Although these events take place at nearly a centuryâs interval, one remaining constant is observed : the consequences on the self and on others resulting from the dismissal of morals.Dorian and Stanley are above all human, and as every human, are subjected to the similar dilemma: to remain within the borders of moral beliefs, or to venture across into immoral conditions. The laws of ethics impose restrictions and greatly limit humankindâs actions, but allow the worldâs proper functioning. Both characters break free from this psychological incarceration and therefore, represent the dark side of human nature. It is critical that we, as a community, comprehend the necessity to abide by the restraining order of morals. Only then will violence and havoc cease to exist. Is it not in our power to differentiate the good from the bad? This question lies not underneath a compulsory set of rules, but rather within the depths of our conscience. Wilde and Williams have magnified, through their enlightening characters, the step between morality and immorality. In the end, it is in our hands to decide on which to stand.
Throughout the history of black American culture, the pursuit of dreams has played a pivotal role in self-fulfillment and internal development. In many ways an individual’s reactions to the perceived and real obstacles barring the path to a dream define the very character of that person. This theme has been quite evident in black literary works regardless of time period or writing style. For example, in both Fences, by August Wilson, and Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, dreams enhance the plot and message of the story, though the two stories develop under different circumstances. The importance of dreams in character development is one common thread that unites Fences and Their Eyes Were Watching God, two stories penned by authors similar only in their racial backgrounds.While Their Eyes Were Watching God focuses little on the dreams of men, the author’s attitude toward this subject is clear from the very first paragraph of her novel. She claims that men’s dreams are “mocked to death by Time”, implying that men are so inherently passive that they have less control than the “tide” over their own desires (Hurston 1). Logan Killicks and Joe Starks provide physical representations of this opinion. Logan’s dream seems to be to find a beautiful woman to love. While his marriage to Janie fulfills this wish, the reader witnesses Logan’s inability to hold on to Janie; Janie soon leaves Logan with no control and little hope. Joe, too, fails to succeed, but he is shiftless in another way. While he perseveres in accomplishing his dreams, he spends his life pursuing the wrong dreams. Janie accuses him of not seeing or understanding a “whole heap uh things” he “could have”; how true it is! (Hurston 86) Rather than accepting the facts of life and making plans around them, Joe unrealistically expected everyone and everything to conform to his desires. Tea Cake is the one male who does accomplish his dreams. However, his unique personality explains his success. Tea Cake has priorities and knows exactly what will make him truly happy, and he does not give up on his dreams, no matter how unrealistic they may seem. Even though he “ain’t got no business” getting “familiar”(Hurston 105) with Janie, he comes back “day after day” (Hurston 111) because he realizes that Janie will make him happy. Hurston’s observations of the actions of the male characters in Their Eyes Were Watching God provides crucial commentary on how different characters react to adversity.In Fences, as well, the reader understands Wilson’s view that weak characters, usually men, will allow excuses and roadblocks to interfere in the attainment of their dreams. Troy best typifies the kind of behavior that succumbs to bitterness and inaction rather than persisting in a dream. His defeatist attitude shows in his relations with his son; he tells his son that football “ain’t gonna get” him “nowhere” (Wilson 8). Because Troy’s dream to play professional baseball never materialized, he tells Cory to learn something that “can’t nobody take away” (Wilson 35). However, Troy’s life revolves around baseball; while he may not have played professional ball, it is clear that baseball gave him something priceless. Still, Troy is so upset about his failed dreams that he blames all his failures on others and becomes one-dimensionally focused on tangible goals. He drives those who love him away. In the other male characters of the play the same trends of hopelessness and lack of effort are evident. Wilson clearly demonstrates the self-inflicted pain that Troy and others suffer as a result of the frustrations of their desires.In Their Eyes Were Watching God Hurston provides the antithesis of this male weakness through the strong perseverance of Janie in fulfilling her dreams. At the beginning of her novel, Hurston comments that the “dream is the truth”; women “act…accordingly” (Hurston 1). This contrasts greatly with her indictment of the condition of man. The reader witnesses throughout the novel Janie’s great internal strength as well as her flexibility in accomplishing her goal of finding true love. While she certainly meets failure in the shape of Logan and Jody, she eventually does find happiness because of her resilience. Through two failed marriages she still manages to hold on to her ideal of the “blossoming pear tree” (Hurston 11). Her dreams may have changed in form, but remained the same in substance; as she put it, her “old thoughts” simply needed “new words”(Hurston 32). Joe died too proud to acknowledge his mistakes, but Janie made her horrible experiences little more than a “sobbing sigh” (Hurston 192) due to her endless search and eventual discovery of “peace” (Hurston 193). Janie displays enviable qualities of optimism, a sense of self-worth, and dedication in the pursuit of her dreams.August Wilson also counters his weak male characters in Fences with the strong female presence of Rose. Rose’s dreams center around a hope for a stable, loving family, something that she lacked as a child. Rose sacrifices everything to “hold on” to her family because she realizes how important her strength is to the rest of the family (Wilson 61). She even mothers the child that Troy has with another woman because she knows how much that child will need love. Rose denies herself of her “wants and needs” because her ultimate dream is to build a foundation and a future; she recognizes that this is the most important priority in her life (Wilson 71). While her path is not always easy, Rose sticks to it because she knows exactly who she is and what she wants. She does not condone Troy’s actions, even warning him that he is “livin’ on borrowed time”, but she recognizes that his mistakes should not ruin her dream. Rose shows traits of motivation and adaptability that allow her to accomplish her dream in spite of her circumstances.In both Their Eyes Were Watching God and Fences references to dreams continually appear. It seems logical that the concept of dreams and their attainability would be frequently addressed in writings of black American authors; after all, blacks have always encountered numerous difficulties in accomplishing anything that whites would never face. In Fences especially racial barriers play a great role in the impossibility of dreams; however, Fences also demonstrates that how an individual reacts to adversity can greatly influence his or her life. Their Eyes Were Watching God provides a more universal analysis of whether dreams can be achieved; Janie faces less barriers because of her race than she does because of the people surrounding her. An interesting aspect of Fences and Their Eyes Were Watching God is that the women do display much greater hope and dedication than do the men. One possible argument for this could be that women have historically played a subordinate role to men while also having more responsibilities; because of this, women are forced to ignore many hardships and continue in their dreams while men can simply give up. Regardless of this, it is fascinating to observe how many parallels there are between Fences and Their Eyes Were Watching God regarding dreams. The two books little resemble each other on a purely literal level because Wilson and Hurston use such unique writing styles; however, the message and opinions of the two are remarkably similar.The crucial importance of dreams in one’s life plays a key role in both Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston, and Fences, by August Wilson. The two stories, differing in characterization, setting, and plot, have similar themes of the necessity of discovering one’s true desires and living by the standards of those dreams. Zora Neale Hurston and August Wilson are continually recognized simply as “black authors”; perhaps these similarities in content will lend some meaning to the term.
In her 1773 poem, Thoughts on the Works of Providence¸ Phillis Wheatley considers God’s power through the solar system of the Sun and Earth’s rotational relationship. Almost a hundred years prior to Wheatley’s neoclassical poetic style, Anne Bradstreet would examine the Sun, and its relationship to God and humanity on Earth with equal scrutiny through the fourth and seventh stanzas in her 1678 poem, Contemplations. Their poems mark out the symbolic importance of the Sun in early American poetry as representative of a Christian God and his divine power through rays of emitted light. Although their poems bear certain symbolic similarities, it is also important how Wheatley’s religious poem, and her portrayal of God’s role in the natural world, is influenced by the new scientific knowledge and sociopolitical changes emerging from the American Revolution and the Enlightenment.
Wheatley opens the second stanza by representing the Sun as a “vast machine” (768). In these lines, she vividly describes the arcing movements of the Earth’s rotational patterns around the Sun’s glowing center point. The Sun, which is controlled by God’s unseen hand, is described as having “twice forty millions” miles in height. Wheatley’s astronomical language is deeply rooted in the influences of reason and mathematical calculations of the Enlightenment, yet it is designed to elevate God’s divine power. She employs the scientific knowledge of the day to imagine God’s perspective of the Universe as he guides the planets and to remind the reader of their minuscule mortal presence in the face of God’s massive solar system unseen by the naked human eye. Bradstreet, too, notes the blinding, almost destructive light of the Sun and God’s subsequent power, albeit through a more abstract inquiry: “Art thou so full of glory that no eye / Hath strength thy shining rays once to behold?” (216). After her scientific descriptions, Wheatley quotes Genesis, “Let there be light”, pushing for a compatible balance between Christianity and the Enlightenment’s science (770). Bradstreet speaks of the “annual and diurnal course” of the Sun in its seasonal patterns (216). Her awareness of agricultural ‘science’ would’ve been critical knowledge for surviving the earliest years of the American colonies. Both Bradstreet and Wheatley recognize this divine light emitted by the Sun as an important tool in God’s creation of the natural world as he brought life from darkness
Despite criticisms of Wheatley’s work lacking explicit political discourse, there are suggestions of social and political tension in Thoughts on the Works of Providence. She describes God’s Sun as a “peerless monarch”, unrivaled by the mortal, tyrannical English kings on Earth (768). Her descriptions of God’s magnitude present the possibility of divine power transcending our societal positions, important given that in that year she would gain her freedom from slavery. During this tumultuous time, as the foundations of our government were established, Wheatley recognized the hypocrisy of America’s use of slavery despite its ideology of freedom. She speaks of the Earth surviving “impetuous storms”, “winds and surging tides” under God’s divine providence, suggesting America will triumph (768). Yet, she acknowledges that Reason alone is not enough for the country to succeed, and we need “immortal Love” to act as a companion to this rational way of thinking, not to overshadow our respect for God (770). Her poem suggests that we must love humans and nature because they are part of God’s universal plan, otherwise we will be plunged into darkness. Wheatley’s underlying suggestion is to incorporate Christian belief into our new country and end the immoral practice of slavery, bringing freedom to all mankind. Although the Contemplations are more introspective and focused on the beauty of nature, Bradstreet also acknowledges humanity’s historical inability to differentiate between God’s power and the natural world: “no wonder some has made thee a deity” (216). Here, the Sun is a type of monarch yet she calls for its power to be credited to God’s superior agency.
Lastly, the use of Greek mythological references are evident of the poets’ level of education which carries implicit sociopolitical significance. Both Bradstreet and Wheatley reference Phoebus (Apollo) at the beginning of their poems and gender the Earth as a female counterpart. In Bradstreet’s case, she further genders the Sun as a “bridegroom” (216). This biblical reference implies a marriage between Earth and humanity with the Sun and God, and expresses the inferior social position of women at the time (although she a superior education due to her family’s class). Wheatley’s intelligent Neoclassical reference to Phoebus demonstrates a kind of literary education which would have been completely unavailable to other enslaved women at the time, demonstrating her revolutionary position in American society.
Both Wheatley and Bradstreet describe God’s creative force through symbolic language of the Sun, both through Biblical and Pagan references and quotations. Yet, under the conditions of their respective eras, the way they view God and humanity’s relationship to the Sun differentiates as Wheatley engages with the social changes of her day. While Bradstreet’s work is more romantic in tone and concerned with personal religious experience, Wheatley acknowledges the importance of Enlightenment science and education and confronts the immorality of oppression in American society during the Revolution. Across these poems, we see how God’s divine providence has granted us life on earth, yet we must continue to follow his principals and be loyal, like subjects to a monarch, we will reap the Earthly rewards of his power on an individual and societal scale.
Bradstreet, Anne. “Contemplations.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Volume A: Beginnings to 1820. 1960. Edited by Nina Baum and Robert S. Levine, 8th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1979, pp. 215-222.
Wheatley, Phillis. “Thoughts on the Works of Providence.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Volume A: Beginnings to 1820. 1960. Edited by Nina Baum and Robert S. Levine, 8th ed., W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1979, pp. 768-771.