In Herman Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” the setting contributes to the tone, the style, the theme and particularly the characterization of Bartleby, a scrivener working for the narrator. The parallelism between the setting and the attributes of Bartleby is suggested in the description of the prison yard, where Bartleby is confined. When Bartleby is imprisoned for vagrancy, the narrator visits him and is directed towards the yard. The description of the yard reflects both Bartleby’s desolate mental and social states as well as his passive resistance against the narrator and what he signifies. The story is about Bartleby’s encounter with the narrator, his employee. The narrator chooses to tolerate Bartleby’s preferences until they interfere with the narrator’s work; the narrator is then forced to dismiss Bartleby and relocate his office. This dismissal later results in Bartleby being arrested as a vagrant and initiates the scene in the prison yard, where the narrator goes to visit him.Bartleby’s isolation and desolate mental state is illustrated by the author’s depiction of the prison. The yard of the prison is surrounded by walls of “amazing thickness, keeping off all sounds behind them,” and the “masonry weighted upon me” (556). This description provides a powerful image of being isolated. The author also uses the image of a pyramid, known as an enclosed and isolated space for burials, to describe the prison and further enhance the effect. The images of enclosure and isolation in the prison yard echo earlier images in the story. When Bartleby first arrives at the office, the narrator erects a working space for him that had him facing a view of the wall from the building next door and uses a “high green folding screen…[to] isolate Bartleby…”(536). The setting in the office, which has Bartleby incrementally isolating himself from others by erecting a sense of walls, is taken to an extreme in the yard, where he reaches a form of complete isolation. It is a form of confinement that the narrator interprets as an indication of madness, “I [narrator] think he is a little deranged” (556). Thus there is a connection between setting and state of mind. The physical setting, which is characterized by isolating walls and gloom, echoes Bartleby’s mental state as the narrator perceives it, namely, as deranged. The setting not only reveals Bartleby’s mental state but also his social state. Bartleby’s position in the prison yard, isolated from other prisoners, as stated in the passage “the yard…was not accessible to the common prisoners,” suggests that he has reached the peak of social isolation (556). This is also reinforced by his refusal to converse with the narrator (544). Indeed, throughout the story, Bartleby has been systematically removing himself from society, an estrangement that is enacted in his treatment of space and setting. His cubicle becomes more isolated and he prefers to work alone. However, this movement away from society is not just a general estrangement from the people who surrounds him; Bartleby is also isolating himself from the values of that society, which are inherently capitalist and are upheld by the narrator. The narrator is a lawyer and wealthy man who believes in the US capitalist system. Jacob Astor, America’s first millionaire, is the narrator’s hero. When Bartleby isolates himself through strategic spatial development, he is in fact refusing to follow the norms of Wall Street in the same way he refuses to “copy” the documents (546). In effect, Bartleby’s spatial isolation in the prison yard begins to suggest differing implications, namely, that he is engaging in a form of resistance against these social norms and succeeded to some degree. The implications of his success are also encoded in the setting. Initially, the yard seems dank and dark and Bartleby encased in brick. However, a closer examination reveals that something productive can grow in that environment: “…imprisoned turf grew under foot” and “…by some strange magic…grass-seed, dropped by birds, had sprung” (556). Like the turf, Bartleby refuses to give in to the norms of the environment that he is in, which privileges wealth. The green of the turf and grass here echoes the “high green folding screen” of his cubicle walls (556). But, unlike the cubicle walls, where green is associated with money, here the green suggest the possibility of rebirth and change. Bartleby then, can be seen to engage in a form of passive resistance, encapsulated by the phrase “I would prefer….” (544); this resistance is encoded in the setting, particularly this green turf. Ultimately, the price of this resistance is too high, as it leads to Bartleby’s death. His death suggests that figures like Bartleby, who refuse to subscribe to capitalism, have no place in this society. Indeed, like the dead letters that he once monitored, Bartleby’s message falls on deaf ears, particularly those of the lawyer, who cannot see beyond his own self-interest. However, even though the narrator cannot see it, it is a message that underlies the entire text, even the setting. With a short story, the characteristics pertaining to a character can resonate with the setting of the story. In this case, Bartleby’s social and mental state is mirrored by the isolation of the prison yard, with its thick walls that resemble a pyramid. Bartleby’s passive resistance is also demonstrated through the depiction of the growth of the “imprisoned turf” and grass seeds (556). The characterization of Bartleby seems to seep into the entire text, even the setting.
Strachey, in ‘Eminent Victorians’ reflects on the character of infamous historical heroine Florence Nightingale to cast the past lives of ordinary citizens, primarily women, as unsatisfactory and unfulfilling, and through this negative depiction of Victorian England, the author is able to uphold perceptions of the 20th century, through contrast, as a period of female liberation. Strachey’s presents the female form in Victorian England as one defined by social expectations, perhaps marking it as ‘high art’ for the influence others had in shaping the way in which it was perceived. Whilst the singular female protagonist- Florence Nightingale- may be used by the author to symbolise the upcoming 20th century female revolution of feminism, it could be argued that her desire to reject all social expectations of her characters perhaps acts as a warning of the dangers of radical female individualism.
Throughout the prose, Strachey presents the identity of the protagonist as utterly defined by both external social influences, and public perceptions of how she should behave. There is a semantic field of spirituality which filters through the verse, portraying religion, for the Victorians, as a guiding force throughout life, and this is made particularly evident through the rhetorical question ‘What was the secret voice in her ear if it was not a call?’: here, the author suggests a complete disruption of female identity, as her ‘secret’ mental thoughts are attributed to divine force rather than her own personality, and the series of exclamttives- ‘Ah! To do her duty in that state of life unto which it had pleased God to call her!’- further present the path of her life as chosen by forces other than herself, in contrast to the increasing force of feminism post-WW2 which saw many women begin to make more decisions in how they lived. In light of this context, Strachey’s presentation of Nightingale as confined not only by religious force, but by social influences, particularly portrays how ‘human character changed’ during the early 20th century through juxtaposing the later religious and social liberation of women.
Despite the primary topic of the analysis being Nightingale herself, Strachey begins the first two paragraphs in reference to other characters, to mirror the great extent to which public perceptions shaped our own view of Nightingale. The first paragraph opens through stating that ‘EVERY one’ knew the women as ‘saintly, self-sacrificing’, and the sibilance paired with the capitalisation of the first word is used to mirror the passivity of females in Victorian England, with the setting of ‘the horrors of the hospital’ further presenting the character as literally entrapped within the walls of the building, to mirror the limitations placed on Victorian females. Whilst that author continues to claim that ‘the truth was different’, the next paragraph similarly opens in reference to the social surroundings of the figure (‘Her family was extremely well to do’) and then progresses to name catalogue of locations, from the ‘New Forest’ to ‘London’: whilst the form of syndetic list here may work to portray the character as possessing more freedom than first presumed as able to move from location to location, reference to Florence herself within the list is absence, thus suggesting that these were choices made for her rather than decisions made by herself. Indeed, whilst the passage is concerned with the character of Florence Nightingale, the third-person narrative in addition to the date of the novel as years after her deaths further presses limits on the character’s own voice and perspective in how she is perceived, yet, nonetheless, emotive language used throughout the passage suggests a character struggling against social limitations: it is this multi-layered perspective of the female condition that perhaps deemed critics to label the novel a ‘high literary art’ through presenting both the oppression of victorian women and eventual escapism from this situation.
Nonetheless, the author foretells of a future in which females enjoy further liberation through characterising his protagonist as a proto-20th century feminist, and yet this excessive freedom is progressively portrayed in a negative light. Strachey states that ‘the dream of her life had been shattered’ which suggests Florence’s intellectual awareness of her fate as a Victorian women, and desire to not remain submissive to men, which might be seen as a warning to women and indeed all citizens of 20th century Britain to seize opportune and chance, and follow their dreams- a common motto of rising economics of capitalism. Indeed, this is again made evident in the declarative ‘But no! She would think of nothing but how to satis that singular craving of hers to be doing something’, in which the italicised verb paired with the opening exclamative might be read as an encouragement to modern readers to ‘change’ perceptions of the human condition through refusing to act on others terms. Nonetheless, the presentation of Nightingale as utterly adverse to the confinements of domestic life, from the ‘reading to her father; to the ‘china to look after’, may suggest a radical subversion from prior female submission to a complete rejection of household life: the erratic syntax and emotive language used by the author to describe this mindset might be read as a warning to 20th century women not to abandon their duties towards family and the household due to increased reliance of electrical appliances used to ease household chores, labelled by the author as ‘demon[ic]’, perhaps foretelling the chaos of a near future in which ‘Europe would [socially] go up in flames’.
Overall, in this extract of ‘Eminent Victorians’, Strachey explores the effect of social influence on the female identity, whilst also considers various consequences for future female liberation: whilst the prose might be read as a celebration of 20th century female freedom, it is made evident, through characterisation of ‘Florence Nightingale’, that the author is concerned with a future in which the absolute freedom of women is proven to be destructive through underpinning the very fabric of society and ‘chang[ing] human character’.
Without a doubt, Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses stays true to many common tropes within the Western genre. However; what makes this novel so unique is how McCarthy manipulates some of these important tropes. They are still present throughout the book, in fact, some of them are magnified through each part but as a whole, McCarthy openly manipulates some of the most popular ones in an attempt to highlight the development of the protagonist: John Grady Cole. Most importantly, McCarthy works the image of the cowboy, the importance of horses, a sense of lawlessness, and the gunslinger trope into All the Pretty Horses and alters the impact of them throughout the novel. As a whole, McCarthy implements these tropes to ensure that the novel stays true to the western genre but he manipulates them to highlight the psychological and physical journey of John Grady Cole.
In typical Western novels, the image of a cowboy is what drives the entire plot; a lawless, tough, gunslinger protagonist with a penchant for horses is the common archetype and it never changes throughout western novels. The common cowboy archetype is first exhibited by John Grady Cole when Rawlins asks him why he is leaving St. Angelo, Texas as he replied that he was “already gone.” (27) signifying the reason for John’s quest, which is also a common western trope as well. At that moment, the reader then assumes that John Grady’s journey by himself will occur since the idea of a lone traveler is often associated with westerns. However; that is not what occurs, which only makes John Grady’s growth much more significant. Instead of being a lone traveler, John Grady starts off his quest by being accompanied with two other people in the first part of the book: Rawlins and Blevins.
What makes this important is the fact that McCarthy manipulated the image of a cowboy by splitting one’s common traits between the three of them. For example, John’s role in the trio’s collective image of a cowboy is his love for horses since he is claimed to be “the best” (59) riders according to Rawlins. Rawlins’ role in their image of a cowboy is predominantly his lawlessness, or his ability to openly express his beliefs. Through dialogue, especially between John Grady Cole, Blevins, and Rawlins, the reader is aware of the fact that Rawlins is opinionated. For example, whenever Rawlins shares his opinion, it is relatively harsh like when he told Blevins that he’d, “Get shut dead for horse stealing” and that, “It don’t mean a damn thing to him. He expects it.” (80) Finally, Blevins’ role in McCarthy’s collective image of a cowboy is one of the most obvious: the gunslinger trope.
In fact, Blevins’ skills with guns is what helps John Grady Cole and Rawlins make the decision to accept him, especially since he was confident with them by telling John and Rawlins that if they, “wanted to throw something up, I’ll [he’ll] hit it.” (48). In the first part, they all collectively build this image of a cowboy and they all share common traits associated with them, which is very uncommon for western novels. In regards to John Grady’s development, this collective image lets the audience get insight on the fact that due to his upbringing and background, John Grady is unable to fit the image of the cowboy at first. The collective image that McCarthy created in the first part of All the Pretty Horses does not last as long as some readers would assume. In fact, the image between the three of them slowly dissipates throughout the next three parts of the novel. This is first seen in the second quarter, when the three of them are separated for the first time and John Grady is seen as more of a charismatic front man than the others. For example, John Grady built up so much notoriety at La Purísma after he’d broken in sixteen horses that when “John Grady pointed and asked that tortillas be passed there came hands from both sides of the table to take up the dish and hand it down in this manner like a ceremonial bowl.” (110) John Grady’s growth in regards to him separating from the previous collective image of a cowboy can also been seen when he and Rawlins were talking the night of when Don Hector gave John that special task as Rawlins mentioned that, “It’s an opportunity for you. [John Grady] Ain’t no reason for you to turn it down that I can see.” (116) From that point on, John Grady is seen as a separate entity from his companion, which only grows throughout the book.
Also in the second part, John Grady slowly becomes more lawless, which was previously Rawlins’ assigned trait in the collective cowboy image, as he faces criticisms from people within the ranch because of his newfound relationship with Alejandra. Specifically, Alfonsa is the first to advise John Grady that, “it is not proper for you [John] to be seen riding in the campo with Alejandra without supervision.” (136) and that John Grady should be, “considerate of a young girls’ reputation” (136) since that is “all she has.” (136). Although seeing Alejandra may seem harmless to John Grady, this is the first time he receives disapproval from a majority, and that point expands at the end of the part, when John Grady and Rawlins are arrested. From the perspective of John Grady’s development, McCarthy still manipulates the image of a cowboy trope so that it is gradual rather than instantaneous, and the second part in particular highlights that.
The final two portions of All the Pretty Horses can be identified as very significant in regards to the manipulation of western tropes to amplify John Grady’s development as a character. Previously, the image of a cowboy was manipulated by McCarthy by being split between three different characters and when that dissolved, John Grady gradually fit some of the traits associated with a cowboy’s typical image. What occurs in the last two parts is all buildup of John Grady morphing slowly into that image; in the third part, he becomes much more lawless and in the final part, his lawlessness only amplifies as he becomes a lone traveler. For example, in an act of self-defense, John Grady ended up murdering a man in the prison he and Rawlins were in by, “sinking a knife blade into a cuchillero’s heart.” (201). This can also be seen when John is separated from Rawlins in the final part and holds the captain hostage in order to get his horses back by threatening, “When I die you die.” (270). This creates a stark contrast with the John Grady presented to the reader in the first part of the novel, and the contrast is drastically accentuated in the last portion of the novel as John Grady “Passed and paled into the darkening land, the world to come.” (302) as he continued to travel by himself, searching for something because he cannot find anything for him in his old town.
In regards to western tropes throughout the novel, they are still manipulated; John Grady just fills some of the characteristics because it is necessary due to the setting. He is generally a humble character who holds an unwavering honor code, but due to his circumstances, John had to fit the image of a cowboy. For example, the reader is aware that John Grady “Never thought I’d [he’d] do that.” (215) after he had killed the assassin in the prison. But Rawlins comes to his defense by claiming that he “didn’t have no choice” (215) due to the violent atmosphere within the prison. Also, John never intended to travel alone; Rawlins wanted to leave since the emotional toll of witnessing Blevins’ death and being within the prison began to consume him. Therefore, with the idea of western tropes in mind, McCarthy constantly manipulated them because in common westerns, death does not take a negative emotional toll on cowboys nor does the cowboy want to travel with a companion. McCarthy most likely did this to show how John’s personal philosophies persist throughout each part and specifically how they had to waver due to the circumstances he was in, which gives the reader an understanding of his physical journey in comparison to his psychological journey.
A big part of the significance of All the Pretty Horses comes from McCarthy’s ability to manipulate the common tropes within the western genre. In comparison to other westerns, McCarthy’s novel is very uncommon in regards to character development and its relationship with other western tropes, which could be intentional. Overall, the western tropes within McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, are implemented to stay true to the western genre, but are later manipulated in order to show the relationship between the psychological and physical journey of John Grady Cole.
The construction of subjectivity in relation to the “real” world of objects has long been a concern for critics of Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. In his seminal work, Mimesis, Eric Auerbach argues that the novel inverts the conventional relation in fiction between inner and outer events: “In Virginia Woolf’s case the exterior events have actually lost their hegemony, they serve to release and interpret inner events, whereas before her time…inner movements preponderately function to prepare and motivate significant exterior happenings” (Auerbach 1). According to his analysis of the novel, events external to characters are subordinate to the subjective thoughts or “chains of ideas” (Auerbach, 477) they evoke, as if the function of the outer world were to provide merely a stimulus for the inner one: “the exterior objective reality of the momentary present . . . is nothing but an occasion . . . The stress is placed entirely on what the occasion releases, things which are not seen directly but by reflection, which are tied to the present of the framing occurrence which releases them” (Auerbach, 478). In this way, the very notion of reality is transformed. That which happens as “exterior occurrence,” though indisputably concrete and actual in its own right, becomes merely the context or frame in which “a more real reality” unfolds (Auerbach, 477). A range of critical study has further elaborated on the philosophical implications of Virginia Woolf’s work. Jane Duran maintains “some of Woolf’s best known work—especially To the Lighthouse—exemplifies a concern for time, reality and a sense of interior life-as-lived that is overtly philosophical in its construction” (Duran, 300). Both Lucio Ruotolo and Heidi Storl employ Martin Heidegger’s existential analysis of Dasein, or “being there,” found in his seminal work Being and Time. In interpreting Mrs. Dalloway, Ruotolo uses the concept “to illuminate Clarissa Dalloway’s complex interaction with nothingness, ‘the void that borders meaning’” (Ruotolo, 17) while Storl argues that in To the Lighthouse “Woolf illustrated the nature and implications of being” as proposed by Heidegger (Storl, 303). In The Singing of the Real World: The Philosophy of Virginia Woolf’s Fiction, Mark Hussey links Woolf’s perpetual attentiveness to moments of sensation to the phenomenological theory of Maurice Merleau-Ponty to analyze the various senses in which “self” or “soul” are used in order to define its reality. Also using the work of Merleau-Ponty in addition to Emmanuel Levinas, Justine Dymond argues in “’The Outside of its Inside and the Inside of its Outside’: Phenomenology in To the Lighthouse” that the novel effectively performs “the phenomenological challenge to the inside/outside dichotomy as theorized by Levinas and Merleau-Ponty” (Dymond, 140). In Virginia Woolf and Postmodernism: Literature in Quest and Question of Itself Pamela Caughie explores Woolf’s work in terms of “a conceptual model” rooted in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language, “for narrative discourse [. . .] in terms of the multiple and shifting relations among signifying systems” (Caughie, 81). Lastly, in The Phantom Table Ann Banfield argues that the theory of knowledge formulated by G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell had a profound effect on Woolf’s conception of reality and through the work of Roger Fry, her artistic expression of it. Despite of, and in response to, this scholarship, Michael Lackey maintains in “Modernist Anti-Philosophicalism and Virginia Woolf’s Critique of Philosophy” that “philosophy was a discipline in crisis during Woolf’s day, and a casual glance at philosophy and the philosopher in Woolf’s works indicates not just that she was aware of the unparalleled assault on philosophy’s most treasured axioms and methods, but that she was also trying to deliver the deathblow to philosophy itself. Given Woolf’s blatant critique of philosophy, I argue that using philosophy to analyze and interpret her corpus places the critic at odds with Woolf’s political and aesthetic agenda” (Lackey, 76). While rightly noting that in Woolf’s time the discipline of philosophy was in a profound state of crisis, Lackey misinterprets the position of this crisis within Woolf’s work. Regardless of Woolf’s inclination toward or against philosophy, I find that her politically motivated feminist deconstruction of gender identity within To the Lighthouse remains indebted to philosophical shifts in the understanding of the masculine subject in relation to the external object, both material and female. In effect, these shifts constitute the intellectual underpinnings of Woolf’s reformulation of gender identity and relations and are thus responsible for opening up a space that made such a re-imagining possible. In this way, philosophical interpretation of Woolf’s work does not undermine its political or aesthetic intent, but rather confirms and illuminates the framework that allowed for its development. The thematic importance of philosophy in To the Lighthouse is embodied in the character of Mr. Ramsay, a professional philosopher referred to as the “greatest metaphysician of the time” by his disciple, Charles Tansley (Woolf TL, 59). His son, Andrew Ramsay, responds to the painter Lily Briscoe’s query on the topic of “his father’s books…’Subject and object and the nature of reality,” Andrew had said. And when she said Heavens, she had no notion what that meant. ‘Think of a kitchen table then,’ he told her, ‘when you’re not there.’” (Woolf TL, 38). This episode alludes to one of the basic problems of Western empirical thought, which Bertrand Russell describes in The Problems of Philosophy: “It seems to me that I am now sitting in a chair, at a table of a certain shape, on which I see sheets of paper with writing or print” (Russell, 7). Ann Banfield identifies the table as “the paradigmatic object of knowledge” that “any philosophy addressing our knowledge of the external world first addresses” (Banfield, 66). In this episode, then, we find the novel’s engagement with “the topics of the British empiricists, Locke, Hume, Berkeley—the survival of the object without a perceiver, the nature of identity and non-entity, the skepticism about substance—“ that “”lie beneath the activity of the narrative” (Beer, 32). Woolf critiques this empirical strand of metaphysical speculation through the characterization of both Mr. Ramsay and his wife, who observes the philosophical fallacies of her husband: Indeed he seemed to her sometimes made differently from other people, born blind, deaf, and dumb, to the ordinary things, but to the extraordinary things, with an eye like an eagle’s. His understanding often astonished her. But did he notice the flowers? No. Did he notice the view? No. Did he even notice his own daughter’s beauty, or whether there was pudding on his plate or roast beef? He would sit at a table with them like a person in a dream (Woolf TL, 107). This passage demonstrates how “reality…is ever haunted by its spectral negation, unreality” so that probing into the realness of the object turns it “into something strange, unreal, and yet so insistently present one wonders whether its strangeness is its reality” (Banfield, 60). In this sense, despite his speculative labours, Mr. Ramsay remains paradoxically estranged from the reality of the world he seeks to comprehend. Storl’s reading of To the Lighthouse in conjunction with Heidegger’s Being and Time is illuminating in connection to Mr. Ramsay’s detached subjectivity. Heidegger was primarily concerned with the recuperation of the question of the “Being” of human life and the failure of Platonic Idealism to reach the real ground of “Being”: In the history of Western thinking, indeed continually from the beginning, what is, is thought in reference to Being; yet the truth of Being remains unthought, and not only in that truth denied to thinking as a possible experience, but Western thinking itself, and indeed in the form of metaphysics, expressly, but nevertheless unknowingly, veils the happening of that denial (Heidegger IM, 20). According to Heidegger, Western philosophy had thus far formulated the ground of philosophical inquiry from the perspective of the thinking subject. His aim was to reverse “the Cartesian suggestion…’I think, therefore I am’” through a new understanding in which “my being (the fact that I am) makes possible my various modes of being, including that of thought or thinking” (Storl, 306). The consistent fallacy within Western philosophy was to ascribe “Being” to an immaterial essence, the “Form” of which the object comprises a mere representation of, thus reducing the world to an object for the thinking subject. This perspective is found in Mr. Ramsay with the alternative posited by his wife who, when seeing “the first pulse of the full-throbbing star,” wants to shows her husband and have him look at it, “for the sight gave her such keen pleasure. But she stopped herself. He never looked at things. If he did, all he would say would be, Poor little world, with one of his sighs. At that moment, he said, ‘very fine,’ to please her, and pretended to admire the flowers. But she knew quite well that he did not admire them, or even realize that they were there” (Woolf TL, 108). Instead of seeing the flowers he only “notic[es] something red, something brown” (Woolf TL, 93). In this passage, rather than comprehending nature’s “Being” in its fullness, Mr. Ramsay has chosen the reductive perspective of narrow conceptual or empirical analysis and the belief that the world is a mere shadow image, a “poor[er]” and “little[r]” version of the truth. For these reasons, he can only see one aspect of the object in question. In this sense, Mrs. Ramsay effectively acts as the foil to her husband’s subjectivity and a model of Heidegger’s alternative connective “being there.” In the novel’s opening scene, Mr. Ramsay insists that a lighthouse trip is impossible in present weather conditions, pressing single-mindedly for truth despite the harm this does to the feelings of James, his son. In contrast, Mrs. Ramsay processes multiple factors in the same situation, linking them associatively rather than by cause and effect: James’s eagerness to make the trip; her husband’s rational approach to the weather predictions; the barometer reading; the stockings that she knits for the lighthouse keeper’s son; her desire that her husband and find some common ground; the look of the sea and sky; the mood of the day (Woolf TL, 49-51). Unlike her spouse, the historical perspective and the distant future do not interest Mrs. Ramsay. Rather, the immediate sensations of life’s flux engage her completely. Assembling disparate foci into an organic whole and moving from one image to another, Mrs. Ramsay remains more aware of the present than its relation between past and future. Watching family and guests around the dinner table, she “unveils each of these people, and their thoughts and feelings…without effort, like a light stealing under water so that its ripples and the reeds in it and the sudden trout are all lit up hanging, trembling” (Woolf TL, 160). Reading poetry after dinner, she envision climbing upward through a blossoming tree, “…swinging herself, zigzagging this way and that, from one line to another as from one branch to another” (Woolf TL, 179). These individual images and the larger pattern they suggest illustrate Mrs. Ramsay’s spatially centered perception that sees and connects things in motion—disparate parts of life’s flux—into a weblike cluster of associations where “the whole is held together” for brief moments of synthesis (Woolf TL, 160). In opposition to this perspective of connectivity, Mr. Ramsay seeks security and safety in the linearity of an objectifying masculine perspective, against the nagging worry that time will efface his work. His walks through local lanes and commons always lead him to the sea, a symbol to him of confusion and reflective of time’s violent destruction of his contribution of knowledge. Images of the sea emphasize his fear of ignorance, a forceful chaos surrounding intellectual history that resists the fragile structures of human thought. Throughout “The Window” section of the novel, Mr. Ramsay’s fear that history will erase his work translates into images of his guarding the land’s edge, watching the sea erode the ground under him: It was his fate…whether he wished it or not, to come out thus on a spit of land which the sea is slowly eating away, and there to stand, like a desolate sea-bird, alone. …and so to stand on his little ledge facing the dark of human ignorance, how we know nothing and the sea eats away the ground we stand on… (Woolf TL, 68-69). Separation and opposition thus define Mr. Ramsay’s perspective. In opposition to this conception of the thinking subject, Heidegger maintained that “[s]elf and world…belong together in the single entity, the Dasein,” translated literally as “being there.” In short, “[s]elf and world are not two entities, like subject and object…but self and world are the basic determination of the Dasein itself in the unity of the structure of being-in-the-world” (Heidegger BPP, 297). The “empirical sense” of “the human body” that is “distinct from the desk and chair within which it is situated” remains, but the underlying “being of the human being merges with, or becomes indistinguishable from, the keyboards at its fingertips” (Storl, 306). Storl sees To the Lighthouse as illustrating this “subject-object collapse” and “convergence of being” that is “traditionally construed as a collection of independently existing subjects and objects” (Storl, 306). The novel’s dinner party scene illustrates such a fusion of “Being”: “Light the candles,” and they jumped up instantly and went and fumbled at the sideboard…Now eight candles were stood down the table, and after the first stoop of the flames stood upright and drew with them into visibility the long table entire…Now all the candles were lit up, and the faces on both sides of the table were brought nearer by the candlelight, and composed, as they had not been in the twilight, into a party round a table, for the night was now shut off by panes of glass, which, far from giving any accurate view of the outside world, rippled it so strangely that here, inside the room, seemed to be order and dry land… (Woolf TL, 96-97). The critique of the metaphysical division between the subject and the object is likewise identified within Gillian Beer’s essay “Hume, Stephen, and Elegy in To the Lighthouse” as the foremost philosophical fiction that is “passionately explored” in novel, “not only by the painter Lily Briscoe, but by the entire narrative process” (Beer, 60). Beer cites the comments of Leslie Stephen, Woolf’s father, on Hume, the eighteenth-century philosopher he most admired: The whole history of philosophical thought is but a history of attempts to separate the object and the subject, and each new attempt implies that the previous line of separation was erroneously drawn or partly ‘fictitious’ (Beer 30- cite original)This division is the foundational assumption of the tradition through which Mr. Ramsay and Mr. Bankes, a friend and houseguest of the Ramsays, regard themselves as “knowing subjects that examine and manipulate the order of nature—conceptually (as in the case of Mr. Ramsay) or empirically (as in the case of Mr. Bankes)” (Storl, 305). Over the course of the novel, this division and its associated philosophical tradition are deconstructed and replaced by an alternative vision of perception that renders the “thinking subject” unnecessary. As Banfield outlines with thorough detail, Woolf’s understanding of philosophy was in large part influenced by the work of Bertrand Russell and G.E. Moore. Russell sought to reconcile the basic problem of the relation between subject and object in epistemological terms: “That the mind can ’know’ its own private experience is not contestable, but that it can have a knowledge that goes beyond immediate experience, a knowledge of the external world, is subject to doubt” (Banfield, 22). Woolf’s comprehension of philosophy was largely defined by the conflict between “two versions of a knowledge of the external world, one direct apprehension of it through the senses and the other scientific knowledge, chiefly modern physics.” Both made certain empirical claims: “All we ever know immediately is not matter, but our own sensations. The object of science is beyond immediate knowledge. But sensation remains the evidence for it. The empirical basis for objective knowledge thus rests on subjective foundations” (Banfield, 6). Truth, then, cannot be perceived from a singular and detached perspective. Russell formulated this position in a 1926 lecture given at Cambridge University: All empirical evidence consists, in the last analysis, of perception, since it is the latter which supplies the evidence of the law of physics. In the time of Galileo, this fact did not seem to raise any very difficult problems, since the world of physics had not yet become so abstract and remote as subsequent research has made it…The problem arises because the world of physics is, prima facie, so different from the world of perception that it is difficult to see how one can afford evidence for the other (Banfield, 6). Russell responds to “doubt” of the external world by restoring the possibility of a reality independent of subjective perception through his argument that we can logically infer knowledge of the unobserved object not directly from observed experience of it, but by means of “the seeming paradox of unoccupied perspectives and unsensed sensibilia.” That is, through the fact that any human perspective can perceive it (Banfield, 59-107). The consequence for Woolf was an “impressionistic” mode of narration in which the individual “I” is effectively unnecessary. Banfield thus characterizes Woolf’s novels as a Leibizian “monadology”, an atomized universe—not an “unbroken whole”—in which the “table is not one table, but many” (Banfield, 108). This universe “grounds itself on a philosophical system, a theory of knowledge” in which “[o]bjects are reduced to ‘sense-data’ separable from sensations and observing subjects to ‘perspectives.’ Atomism multiplies these perspectives.” From this viewpoint, “the idea of death” is “the separation of subject and object” that is otherwise interconnected (Banfield, 1). In this context, we can understand Lily Briscoe’s difficulty in comprehending the topic of Mr. Ramsay’s work: So now she always saw, when she thought of Mr. Ramsay’s work, a scrubbed kitchen table. It lodged now in the fork of a pear tree, for they had reached the orchard. And with a painful effort of concentration, she focused her mind, not upon the silver-bossed bark of the tree, or upon its fish-shaped leaves, but upon a phantom kitchen table, one of those scrubbed board tables, grained and knotted, whose virtue seems to have been laid bare by years of muscular integrity, which stuck there, its four legs in the air” (Woolf TL, 23). The inadequacy of a singular perspective is further observed following Mrs. Ramsay’s death, in Lily Briscoe’s musing that “[o]ne wanted fifty pairs of eyes to see with…Fifty pairs of eyes were not enough to get round that one woman with, she thought” (Woolf TL, 294). In order to penetrate the essence and identity of Mrs. Ramsay, one set of eyes would need to “steal though keyholes and surround her where she sat knitting, talking, sitting silent in the window alone” (Woolf TL, 294) and capture a successive external portrait of Mrs. Ramsay in all her settings. Another pair would pass into Mrs. Ramsay’s consciousness to see what “stirred and trembled in her mind” and unveil responses to questions of perception: “What did the hedge mean to her, what did the garden mean to her, what did it mean to her when a wave broke?” (Woolf TL, 294). Yet to fully embrace Mrs. Ramsay’s being, even these “fifty pairs of eyes” are insufficient, as Lily contemplates the “chambers of the mind and heart” of Mrs. Ramsay, imagining them as “treasures in the tombs of kings, tablets bearing sacred inscriptions, which if one could spell them out, would teach one everything” (Woolf TL, 79). In her coordination of narrative perspectives, Woolf effectively constructs multiple “pairs of eyes” in her portrait of Mrs. Ramsay, including the omniscient eyes of the narrator, the external eyes of the characters, and the internal eyes of the character herself. Banfield describes this method in terms of an “infinite number of possible perspectives” that constitute Woolf’s universe and “like London at night, out of a multitude of rooms and houses, it is punctuated by points of light, private worlds” (Banfield, 109). Although Woolf enacts this privilege of traversing the spatial and temporal boundaries of her characters, she also acknowledges that “fifty pairs of eyes” cannot satisfy the breadth and depth of any identity. Lily, without access to more than one perspective, wonders early in the novel how “did one know one thing or another thing about people, sealed as they were?” (Woolf TL, 79); yet, even “unsealed” in the eyes of the narrator identity is slippery, as Lily herself eventually discovers and finally wonders “how many shapes one person might wear” (Woolf TL, 290). The possibilities for identity are thus expanded and multiplied, and this is in large part due to the deconstruction of the rigid separation between subject and object. Moreover, dominance that the subject holds over the object is diffused, as the subject must recognize that understanding reality occurs in power-with, rather than power-over, additional perspectives. The philosophical shifts outlined above in which the division and power relation between subject and object open up the space of aesthetic possibility that furthers Woolf’s political concerns. In A Room of One’s Own, she protests the mystification of the objectified female image: Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size…Mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action. That is why Napoleon and Mussolini both insist so emphatically upon the inferiority of women, for if they were not inferior, they would cease to enlarge (Woolf ROO, 44). The real “object” of this projecting vision is obscured—but how this male perspective be altered so as to recognize this obscurity and consequently improve the status of women? As Nancy Armstrong points out, in the Modernist period “the gendering of human identity provided the metaphysical girders of modern culture—its reigning mythology—[I]nstead of a ‘soul’—Locke’s word for what exists before the process of self-development begins—the essential self was commonly understood in terms of gender.” Consequently, men and women were divided into separate spheres according to the determining “essence” of their apparent masculine or feminine characteristics. Public employment, earning an income, public interaction, and verbal articulateness were masculine, whereas domestic work, private interaction with family, modesty, and verbal inarticulateness were feminine (Armstrong, 18-19). In brief, masculinity was associated with “economic and political qualities” while femininity was associated with “emotional qualities”, and these roles were considered both natural and essential: writing in 1913, Walter Heape, “an antisuffragist zoologist,” could claim that because the reproductive system differs structurally and functionally “in the Male and the Female; and since all other organs and systems of organs are affected by this system, it is certain that Male and Female are essentially different throughout” (Gilbert and Gubar, xvi). In “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” Woolf contests the underlying power relations that dictate the lives of women in terms of knowledge of their apparently innate “nature”: “I ask myself, what is reality? And who are the judges of reality?” (Woolf BB, 239). In this passage we can find Woolf’s critique of the masculine subject who struggles to control the material world through logical thought, as Mr. Ramsay strives to accomplish in To the Lighthouse: For if thought is like the keyboard of a piano, divided into so many notes, or like the alphabet is ranged in twenty-six letters all in order, then his splendid mind had no sort of difficulty in running over those letters one by one, firmly and accurately, until it had reached, say, the letter Q. He reached Q. Very few people in the whole of England ever reach Q,…But after Q? What comes next? After Q there are a number of letters the last of which is scarcely visible to mortal eyes, but glimmers red in the distance. Z is only reached by one man in a generation. Still, if he could reach R it would be something…Q he could demonstrate. If Q then is Q – R— (Woolf TL, 53-4). In “Getting to Q: Sexual Lines in To the Lighthouse” Rachel Bowlby finds in this passage the “structure of masculine subjectivity” as a linear progression of “human development” from which women are excluded: In the psychoanalytic account of human development, there is no subjectivity without sexual difference, and there is no natural, programmed progression for these of either biological sex towards the achievement of the ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ identity socially ascribed. Because the dominant line is that of masculinity, the girl’s understanding of the meaning of sexual difference implies coming to terms with her de facto eccentricity, forced to take up a position in relation to the norm from which she is by definition excluded: as the image of maternal fulfillment seen from the train window, as the ‘woman’ despised for her lack of the masculine attribute, or as an interloper into the compartment reserved for men (Bowlby GQ, 57). In “The Trained Mind” Bowlby comments on a passage from A Room of One’s Own, in which Woolf writes, “For if Chloe likes Olivia and Mary Carmichael knows how to express it she will light a torch in that vast chamber where nobody has yet been. It is all half lights and profound shadows like those serpentine caves where one goes with a candle peering up a down, not knowing where one is stepping” (ROO, 80). Bowlby observes, The subterranean, shadowy imagery of this passage recalls the frequent allusions in one region of contemporary feminist theory to two of Freud’s metaphors for femininity. In his essay on ‘Female Sexuality’ (1931), Freud compares the discovery of the significance of ‘the early, pre-Oedipus, phase to girls’ to that ‘in another field, of the Minoan-Mycenaean civilization behind the civilization of Greece’. And in The Question of Lay Analysis (1926), he says ‘the sexual life of adult women is a ‘dark continent’ for psychology’. The conflation of historical and spatial obscurity in the archaeological analogy suggests that femininity in some way eludes or precedes the parameters of rationalistic representation; the “dark continent” suggests a vast expanse awaiting its enlightenment, but also the enigma of a space which cannot be assimilated to the norms of ‘civilized’ thought (Bowlby TM, 28). This passage points to the problems of knowledge that mark the imbalance of power between men and women. The naturalized norm that is exemplified by men, rather than viewed as its own sexual difference, is upheld as that which is known while the sexual difference of women is mystified and marginalized as that which is unknowable. Yet, as the above interpretations of To the Lighthouse demonstrate, truth can be accessed only through a perspective that is limited by its singularity. Banfield notes that “Moore’s and Russell’s revolt against Idealism…allow[ed] the possibility that there is an unknowable truth…denying…the Berkeleyan proposition ‘nothing can be true without being known,’ as Russell says in The Philosophy of Leibniz” (Banfield, 153). In this sense, the loss in the philosophical assumption of absolute access to the knowable allows for the possibility of an autonomous female subjectivity. It is within this context that we can understand Mrs. Ramsay’s retreat into her own private space as an expression of such a possibility. Mrs. Ramsay finds this imagined blank space strangely comforting. When she enjoys solitude, sitting alone before dinner, she shrinks down into herself in the “wedge-shaped core of darkness” (Woolf TL, 95-96). Here, Mrs. Ramsay removes herself from public or social identity and sinks down into a “dark”, “all spreading,” “unfathomably deep” place where the “horizon [seems] to her limitless.” Rising “not as oneself…but as a wedge of darkness,” a person can go anywhere, “for no one [sees] it” or can stop it: “There [is] freedom…peace…a summoning together, a resting on the platform of stability” (Woolf TL, 96). This free space is liberating, allowing Mrs. Ramsay to cast off identity at the surface and sink down where she can be and see anything. Freud’s “dark continent” of unknowable female sexual identity is thus recast as a space of possibility in which a female subjectivity is not limited by the domination of the masculine norm of development or “knowability.” In other words, “[t]he unseen table, a logical possibility, leads knowledge outside the comfortable sphere of certainty to another, uncertain knowledge” (Banfield, 51). As a number of critics have observed, Woolf’s awareness of philosophy through the work of her father, Leslie Stephen, and the work of “Cambridge” philosophers such as Russell and Moore, had a discernable effect on her novels. This is particularly illustrated by the problematic posed by the “subject and object” and the independent existence of the “table” within To the Lighthouse. The novel deconstructs the division between subject and object that posits the absolute authority of the former over the latter, thus destabilizing the “thinking subject.” Moreover, these shifts further her “political and aesthetic agenda” of achieving an autonomous female space where identity can be deconstructed and reconstructed. Lackey’s claim that Woolf rejected philosophy mistakes her rejection of certain branches of philosophy for that of the discipline altogether. Rather, Woolf’s philosophical recognition of the limitations of the masculine subject in terms of the inadequacy of a singular perspective is rooted in her familiarity with the work of Moore and Russell. These limitations meant that man did not have direct access to all that is “knowable,” thus removing his apparent power to cast out what is deemed “unknowable” about the object, whether material or female. It is thus partly through these foundational shifts that the truth-claims of the masculine subjectivity of Charles Tansley that “[w]omen can’t paint, women can’t write…” are irrevocably undermined within To the Lighthouse (Woolf 75). Works Cited Armstrong, Nancy. Desire and Domestic Fiction : A Political History of the Novel. New York : Oxford University Press, 1987. Auerbach, Erich,. Mimesis; the Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Tr. from the German by Willard Trask. Anchor Books Ed. Garden City, N.Y.,: Doubleday., 1953. Banfield, Ann. The Phantom Table : Woolf, Fry, Russell, and Epistemology of Modernism. Cambridge, U.K. ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2000. Beer, Gillian. “Hume, Stephen, and Elegy in To the Lighthouse. Virginia Woolf : The Common Ground : Essays by Gillian Beer. Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, c1996. Bowlby, Rachel. “Getting to Q: Sexual Lines in To the Lighthouse.” Feminist Destinations and further Essays on Virginia Woolf. Updated ed. ed. Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press, c1997. —. “The Trained Mind.” Feminist Destinations and further Essays on Virginia Woolf. Updated ed. ed. Edinburgh : Edinburgh University Press, c1997. Caughie, Pamela L.,. Virginia Woolf & Postmodernism : Literature in Quest & Question of itself. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c1991. Dymond, Justine. “’The Outside of its Inside and the Inside of its Outside’: Phenomenology in To the Lighthouse.” Conference on Virginia Woolf University of Maryland,Baltimore County) 2000 : (10th :, Jessica Schiff Berman , and Jane Goldman . Virginia Woolf Out of Bounds : Selected Papers from the Tenth Annual Conference on Virginia Woolf, University of Maryland Baltimore County, June 7-10, 2000. New York : Pace University Press, 2001. Duran, Jane. “Virginia Woolf, Time, and the Real.” Philosophy and Literature 28.2 (2004): 300-8. Heidegger, Martin,. The Basic Problems of Phenomenology. Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c1982. —. Introduction to Metaphysics. New Haven : Yale University Press, c2000. Heidi Storl. “Heidegger in Woolf’s Clothing.” Philosophy and Literature 32.2 (2008): 303-14. —. “Heidegger in Woolf’s Clothing.” Philosophy and Literature 32.2 (2008): 303-14. Hussey, Mark,. The Singing of the Real World : The Philosophy of Virginia Woolf’s Fiction. Columbus : Ohio State University Press, c1986. Lackey, Michael. “Modernist Anti-Philosophicalism and Virginia Woolf’s Critique of Philosophy.” Journal of Modern Literature 29:4 (2006): 76-98. Ruotolo, Lucio P. Six Existential Heros; the Politics of Faith. Cambridge [Mass.]: Harvard University Press, 1973. Russell, Bertrand,. The Problems of Philosophy. New York,: Oxford University Press, 1959. Woolf, Virginia. A Room of One’s Own. Canada: Broadview Press, 2001. —. “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown.” A Bloomsbury Group Reader. Ed. S.P. Rosenbaum. London: Oxford University Press, 1993. —. To the Lighthouse. Canada: Broadview Press, 1985.
William Cuthbert Falkner started his life on September 25, 1897, in Mississippi. He was born into a prominent family, who owned banks and a railroad. Mammy Callie, his childhood nurse, was a major contributor to his works. The stories she would tell him stayed with him for his entire life, and even inspired some of his stories. Although his greatest influence was his great-grandfather, whom everyone called the Old Colonel. Falkner decided from a young age that he was going to write just like the Old Colonel. He was not scholarly though, by the fourth grade he grew bored with school and finally dropped out his second time through the eleventh grade. Falkner had many jobs, before his first manuscript was published. He joined the British Royal Air Force and added a “u” to his last name, to make himself sound more British, but he would never see a day of combat. After his failed attempt at being a pilot, he returned to Oxford and became the Postmaster at the University of Mississippi Post Office. When he was fired for throwing mail away, he moved to New Orleans and started writing. The publishers did not like his first book Flags in the Dust, so he edited it down and renamed it Sartoris. Although he had a rocky start, his writing career soon took off with his second book, The Sound and the Fury (Harmon).
William Faulkner creates an entire world based on his own experiences. He predominately writes about Mississippi during its transition from the Old South, of the Civil War, to the age of industry. Early in his life Faulkner said “he realized he could write for a lifetime and never fully exhaust his little postage stamp of native soil” (Ferris 6). Although he gives the fictional name Yoknapatawapha County to his main setting, it is really based on Lafayette County where he spent most of his life. “Faulkner grew up surrounded by traditional lore–family and regional stories, rural folk wisdom and humor, heroic and tragic accounts of the War Between the States, and tales of the hunting code and the Southern gentleman’s ideal of conduct” (William Faulkner). This history coupled with his drive to be part of the modern world creates a conflict within Faulkner that comes out in his work.
As biographer Singal states, “All his life Faulkner would struggle to reconcile these two divergent approaches to selfhood—the Victorian urge toward unity and stability he had inherited as a child of the southern rural gentry, and the Modernist drive for multiplicity and change that he absorbed very early in his career as a self-identifying member of the international artistic avant-garde.” This struggle leads to Faulkner’s need to present traditional southern people through modern techniques. He achieves this goal by thorough character development, and these characters are brought to life through a variety of methods. Three of the most effective techniques Faulkner uses are his ability to capture the dialect and mannerisms of his characters, his character’s need to dwell on their past, and a stream of consciousness approach to much of his storytelling.
The South of Faulkner’s works is filled with the trappings of their time: an agricultural society, Southern belles and gentlemen, racial inequality, and especially the rural Southern dialect. Faulkner presents a realistic portrait of the South that he grew up in by using samples of the Southern language, including the speech of both the upper and lower classes. Faulkner establishes a unique voice which is recognizable for its distinct vocabulary, pronunciation, and lack of grammatical form, which is unique to the South. Faulkner uses this convention perfectly in “Barn Burning.” From the first time he uses Colonel Sartoris Snopes’ voice, it is clear who this child is and his probable lot in life. By describing his father’s enemy as “ourn! mine and hisn both!” (“Barn” 3), many details of the boy’s education are brought to light through these five words. When Abner warns Sartoris that “You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you” (“Barn Burning” 8), Faulkner shows in just one sentence how Abner acts towards his son.
Faulkner’s dialect is effective as both a literary device and as a link between the language, culture, and history of the South. Faulkner succeeds in representing the Southern dialect which consistently throughout his stories. In his writing, this can be described by such traits as an intentional misspelling, or the use of Miss along with a woman’s first name, such as Miss Emily. Linguists such as Raven McDavid have gathered that the oldest and least educated, as well as many Blacks, in their Southern language studies have demonstrated usage of improper verb past tenses such as div for dive, growed for grow, and riz for rise (McDavid 264-280). Accordingly, in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, there is an immense sign on the Negro Second Baptist Church which reads “He Is Ris.” One other trait of Faulkner’s language that is common to Southern dialects is the occasional loss of the “r” sound, as in the words “baun” for born, and “bastud” for bastard. These words, along with dozens of others appearing in many of Faulkner’s stories help solidify the speaker and dialect in the reader’s mind.
Faulkner’s representation of Southern speech in writing follows the actual linguistic parameters of the Southern Lowland, or Southern Proper, dialect very closely, by Raven McDavid’s classification. So, his written dialogue is a close copy to the Southern dialect he truly speaks. Faulkner makes a strong effort to display all the nuances of this dialect, even though many of them cannot really be sensed through writing alone. For instance, the clues presented by facial and bodily expressions must be made up for with written equivalents, such as pronunciation, grammar, and word usage.
Faulkner’s works also portray differing perceptions of time. Many of his main characters have neither present nor future; they are caught in their own pasts. “As to Faulkner’s heroes, they never look ahead” (Sartre 91). One of Faulkner’s most powerful disconnected characters is Joe Christmas, in Light in August. The first description of the protagonist is ‘rootless” (Light 21), and his memories begin from the age of five, when he was adopted from an orphanage. Therefore, he has no concrete knowledge of his heritage and undergoes a painful identity crisis. To his dismay, his foster parents, the MacEacherns, mercilessly force zealous religious beliefs on him. Always different from others, he becomes an outcast, and he is called a nigger so often that he loses all sense of self-worth. The childhood of abuse from his family and racial slurs from his peers scar every memory and he cannot escape his past.
Joe Christmas “is not determined by his past, he is his past” and has “no concept of his future” (Poullion 83). Joe develops negative associations, towards women, because the only time he sees them is at church. He falls in love with Bobbie, the waitress, but his original distrust of women is reinforced when he discovers she is a prostitute. “Thus through the persistence of past impressions, especially childhood impressions, Faulkner shows that the present is submerged in the past, that what is lived in the present is what was lived in the past” (Poullion 80).
Once Joe killed MacEachern, “he entered the street which was to run for fifteen years” (Light 223). During the time Joe is running away, he loses his grasp on reality and time. “He thought that it was loneliness which he was trying to escape and not himself” (Light 226). For a while he gains some stability in his relationship with Johanna Burden, and she threatens his life with religious conversion. He is again reminded of his history and cannot handle this relationship, so he kills her and runs away again. He looses his grip on time and reality, once again. “He could never know when he would pass from one to another, when he found he has been asleep without remembering having lain down, or find himself waking without remembering having waked” (Light 333). He does not think of eating and sleeping, and in two bouts of lunacy he even demands to know the day of the week. “It was as though now and at last he had an actual and urgent need to strike off the accomplished days toward some purpose without either falling short or overshooting” (Light 335).
The secret of Joe’s past is revealed at the end of the novel, after he has been captured and accused of murder. The pieces are put together for the reader alone. It is stated that he was the illegitimate son of a black circus worker, and that his grandfather, Doc Hines, was the janitor at the orphanage. Joe is never given this crucial piece of information, and it is not until Percy Grimm castrates and murders him that he can truly rest in peace. “Then his face, body, all, seemed to collapse, to fall in upon itself and from the slashed garments about his hips and loins the pent black blood seemed to rush like a released breath” (Light 465). His past is the permanent thorn in his side that keeps him from seeing his future, or even his present.
In The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner creates a mentally retarded character named Benjy Compson. Among the novel’s four narrators, Benjy’s vivid observations combine to paint the most revealing picture of the Compson family. Benjy chronicles major events in his life such as his name change at early childhood, the realization that he has been castrated, and Caddy’s transformation. His awareness of his surroundings and aversion to change is not clear to others, because he has difficulty expressing himself. He has no sense of chronological time at all. His narration consists of mixed memories, constantly jumping from one thought to the next without any indication. Overall, Benjy’s recollections add a dreamlike quality to the novel: “The past takes on a sort of super-reality; its contours are hard and clear, unchangeable” (Sartre 89). What confuses the reader does not confuse Benjy, since his entire existence is a collage of his disjointed memories.
Benjy can only use his senses to register emotion, and relies mostly on his hearing and sense of smell. His past is “sensation” (Sartre 48). Almost instinctively, he knows when changes in his routine have occurred. For example, he loves the fact that his sister Caddy always smells like trees. On her wedding day, Benjy realizes, “Caddy put her arms around me, and her shining veil, and I couldn’t smell trees anymore and I began to cry” (Sound 40). He knows she is leaving home and he will be left without the only person who ever considered his feelings. While he is loosing his sister he also loses the only other thing that he loves, his pasture. “He lay on the ground under the window bellowing. We have sold Benjy’s pasture so that Quentin may go to Harvard” (Sound 94). His never ending continuum of memories makes his dysfunctional family background into a prison of despair.
Benjy Compson, in The Sound and the Fury, and Joe Christmas, in Light in August, are trapped in their own bitter pasts, which shows that “a man’s misfortune lies in his being time-bound” (Sartre 88). Consequently, time fixation is ever-present in the works of Faulkner to emphasize the stranglehold of the past. This fixation is usually coupled with a totally disjointed timeline. This meandering stream of consciousness can be used to show a major aspect about a character or situation. This is the premise for “A Rose for Emily,” one of Faulkner’s most widely read stories.
In “A Rose for Emily”, Faulkner relates the events of Emily’s life out of order. He does this through a mourner at her funeral sharing their memories, in the order that they remember them. Through theses memories Faulkner reveals the town’s feelings towards her. Since these events do not follow each other logically, the reader is kept in the dark to build suspense. Instead, the story starts from the end, with the mourners gathering at Miss Emily’s house, and jumps from time period to time period. Faulkner “juxtaposed the lives of different characters in scenes that did not proceed linearly or chronologically” (McHaney 50), and this slow revelation is created to place the events in order of importance and not just linearly.
Faulkner believes Emily’s pride and presence, in dealing with the aldermen, is more important than her past, so he gives the account of how she “vanquished them, horse and foot” (Emily 52), before he explained her past. He then jumps back thirty years, to further explain her hold on the community. By relating the story about the aldermen fixing the smell at Emily’s house, Faulkner is slowly revealing the clues to what is the ultimate discovery. Then he reveals Homer Baron, and how the town thought she would never “think seriously of a Northerner, a day laborer” (Emily 55). Homer was Emily’s only real suitor and had left town shortly before the smell. The final clue is revealed by her purchase of the arsenic, and her ability to circumvent the law to get it. “Miss Emily just stared at him, her head tilted back in order to look him eye for eye, until he looked away and went and got the arsenic and wrapped it up” (Emily 56). Instead of blatantly stating that Homer was the reason for the smell, Faulkner makes the reader discover it, by giving Homer’s story after giving an account of the smell.
Faulkner’s gradual exposure of Emily’s character, through the memory of the mourner, subtly foreshadows the shock and horror of finding the monster in the matriarch of Jefferson, Mississippi. In this way, the reader learns what the town thinks of her, before the discovery, and the feelings that allowed Emily to get away with whatever she wanted for so long. The people of the town never expect this turn of events. Emily represented so much to the town that they could never have suspected her of anything more than eccentricity. This truly shows how their feelings for her clouded their perception of her. By making the reader discover the true sequence of events, Faulkner makes it so that the reader has insight that the town does not see. Although, Homer’s dead body may not be expected by the townspeople it is expected by the reader. While the stream of consciousness can be hard to follow, it does add a sense of accomplishment to figuring out Emily’s secret before the town does. If Faulkner would have used a linear plot in the story, part of its meaning and enjoyment would be lost. If there was to be no detective work, then the story would just be a story about an old lady who was a monster.
The honing of his techniques, over the years, is what makes Faulkner such a refreshingly individual novelist. Although he can be somewhat long-winded and overly descriptive, his character development is a hallmark of the modernist literature movement of the early twentieth century. His works transcend “Southern literature” and should be viewed as literature about the South. Even though the dialect may be hard to follow at times, Faulkner has a true gift at capturing the hearts and minds of his characters. The reader does not need to be from the South, or even know much about Southern life, to appreciate the depth and breadth of his works. The works covered are merely his best known, a showcase of what Faulkner can do with a pen. There are many other great stories in his catalogue, from “Two Soldiers” to Sanctuary, and Faulkner is well worth his reputation and recognition.
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Sartre, Jean-Paul. “On The Sound and the Fury: Time in the work of Faulkner”. Faulkner. Ed. Robert Penn Warren. Prentice Hall, 1996.
“William Faulkner.” Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967. Editor Horst Frenz. Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam. 1969
Aristotle devotes the first six books of his Nicomachean Ethics to a discussion of virtue. In doing so he divides virtue into two different categories: moral virtue and intellectual virtue and discusses them individually. However, in our approach to the question of the highest moral virtue, we will examine moral and intellectual virtue together (rather than separately) for the purpose of not only discerning what Aristotle deems this virtue to be, but also examine whether or not there is a connection between the two different types of virtue. Although Aristotle believes moral virtues to be of extreme importance, we will find that even the highest of the moral virtues would be unable to exist if it were not for the intellectual virtues.According to Aristotle, intellectual virtues are developed by teaching and instruction while moral virtues are developed by practice or force of habit. Moral virtues are not naturally instilled in us; the soul is designed to receive moral virtues, but in order to develop into guiding forces they must be nurtured by habit. The soul acquires moral virtue by exercising it, just as the harpist learns to play the harp by playing it and men become builders by building homes (1103a14-1103b2). A morally virtuous character is not brought about by thought, but rather, through action.The next thing Aristotle believes we must understand about virtue is the concept of moderation. He first notes that the nature of moral qualities is destroyed by both defect and excess (1104a12-13). As examples of this, Aristotle notes that both too much and too little food and drink will destroy our health, while the proportionate amount increases and preserves it. Applying these doctrines to virtue, Aristotle finds that the man who shuns everything becomes a coward while the man who knows no fear becomes reckless. In all things, virtue represents a middle ground between too much and too little (1104a15-27).Aristotle ends Book Two with a warning about referring to the virtuous mean as being the opposite of one of the extremes rather than the middle ground between them. If we were to take a few examples from Book Three, we may be inclined to say that courage is the opposite of cowardice and that temperance is the opposite of licentiousness. This, according to Aristotle, is an incorrect assertion, as can be demonstrated from the diagram below:Recklessness ——- Courage ——- CowardiceIn drawing a Ã¢ÂÂlineÃ¢Â? diagram such as the one we see above, it is actually recklessness, rather than courage that is the opposite of cowardice. Courage, rather, is the Ã¢ÂÂmeanÃ¢Â? or the virtue between the two vices. Although we may be inclined to make statements to the contrary, virtue in all things is that which seeks the mean.The next thing we must understand about virtue comes from Book Three, which deals with what Aristotle calls voluntary and involuntary actions. All morally virtuous conduct is rooted in voluntary action. Aristotle writes that an involuntary action is one that is performed under constraint or through ignorance, while a voluntary action, is one in which the initiative lies with the agent who knows the particular circumstances in which the action is performed (1111a21-4). An act is completely involuntary only when its sole cause is not the person performing it, but an external force or person (for example, a person pushes you from behind into another person) (1110a1-5). Other forms of involuntary action are acts performed through ignorance (when the person is ignorant of the particular situation) or in ignorance (when an action is performed due to drunkenness or immorality) (1110b15-35).Voluntary action, on the other hand, implies choice. Aristotle carefully distinguishes choice from opinion and argues that true choice implies that the person choosing can determine that one action is preferable to another (1112a2-15). Therefore, the concept of choice also implies deliberation when we are put into a situation where the most preferable action is unclear. According to Aristotle we never deliberate about ends, but rather, we take the ends for granted and deliberate about how to achieve the best ends (1112b32-35). Because the object of deliberation and the object of choice are the same for Aristotle (1113a3), and because we can only deliberate between options that are within our power (1112a32), a choice must be considered review of things that lie in our power (1113a10-14).In choosing, those of good character will always aim for the good. However, those who are not of good character may understand things incorrectly, and may only wish for what they believe to be good. Both good and vice, therefore, lie within human power, and it is very possible for people to voluntarily choose vice. If we were to deny this, we would also have to deny that man is the source of his own actions (1113b8-21). Aristotle supports this explanation through an examination of how lawgivers reward those who act nobly and punish those who do evil (except evil that is done under some constraint or due to ignorance that exists through no fault of their own). Just as people are responsible for their own bad actions, they are also responsible for their moral states. If someone falls into a bad moral condition, it is his own fault for leading a bad life (1113b21-9).Knowing AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs requirements for obtaining moral virtue are extremely important because they have a direct bearing on the relationship between moral and intellectual virtue. The relationship between moral and intellectual virtue is discussed at length in Book Six. He begins Book Six by returning to his fundamental premise that virtue is distinguished from vice by voluntary action that involves some level of reasoning. Reasoning occurs through deliberation and choice as described above.There are five intellectual virtues according to Aristotle: science, art, practical wisdom , intellect, and theoretical wisdom. Of these five virtues, he gives the most attention to practical wisdom. He argues that practical wisdom is the intellectual virtue of the same part of the soul that forms opinions and that unlike art (which is concerned with production and results in an object distinct from the process of making it) practical wisdom concerns the realm of action where Ã¢ÂÂdoing goodÃ¢Â? is in itself an end. Therefore, practical wisdom is an intellectual virtue that enables one to grasp the truth about human action.The mark of a prudent person is that they deliberate well Ã¢Â” not just about what is good and advantageous in a particular situation, but also, about what is conductive to the good life in general (1140a25-28). He who deliberates well, according to Aristotle, deliberates correctly, and this correctness is restricts deliberation to activities that enable one to arrive at a good (1142b8-22). Earlier, we found that Aristotle established this kind of Ã¢ÂÂcorrectÃ¢Â? deliberation as a pre-requisite to arriving at moral virtue, so it logically follows that for a person to be truly good they must be able to deliberate well, and thus, have practical wisdom.However, a problem would necessarily arise if a wicked man were to use practical wisdom and the power to deliberate to arrive at something evil. Aristotle responds to this objection by citing a difference between practical wisdom and what he refers to as Ã¢ÂÂknavishnessÃ¢Â?. Both practical wisdom and knavishness are the power to perform those steps that are conductive to a goal we have set for ourselves. The crucial difference is that practical wisdom involves some vision of good as it appears to the virtuous person whereas knavishness does not necessarily result in a good end (1144a29-37).Based on AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs definition as to what would be required to arrive at moral virtue, it would appear as if one would not be able to arrive at moral virtue if one did not first possess the intellectual virtue of practical wisdom. Moral virtue is learned through the voluntary performance of morally virtuous activities, and for an action to be voluntary, it necessarily involves deliberation. However, AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs arguments on practical wisdom appear to suggest that the imprudent man would be incapable of such deliberation, because deliberative excellence is the mark of practical wisdom. Therefore, one would need to be taught the intellectual virtue of practical wisdom before one could practice any of the moral virtues. On the other hand, the only difference between Ã¢ÂÂpractical wisdomÃ¢Â? and Ã¢ÂÂknavishnessÃ¢Â? is the goal each seeks to attain. Practical wisdom involves deliberation towards goals that are said to be Ã¢ÂÂgoodÃ¢Â? while knavishness is deliberation towards goals that are deemed to be Ã¢ÂÂbadÃ¢Â?. However, it would seem that for a person would need some amount of moral virtue to distinguish between which goal is Ã¢ÂÂgoodÃ¢Â? and Ã¢ÂÂbadÃ¢Â?. This forces us to conclude that practical wisdom requires moral virtue and we are left with a circular argument.Aristotle responds to this objection by showing that just as practical wisdom and knavishness are similar, that there is a similarity in what he calls Ã¢ÂÂnatural virtueÃ¢Â? and Ã¢ÂÂvirtue in the full senseÃ¢Â? (1144b3-4). He notes that from the time of our birth we all tend to possess some level of virtue, however, we tend to seek something in addition to what we are born with. The virtue we seek is what he calls Ã¢ÂÂvirtue in the full senseÃ¢Â?, and argues that it is not possible to attain this virtue without practical wisdom. Aristotle asserts that if we were to attempt to attain moral virtue without practical wisdom, the action would be similar to Ã¢ÂÂa mighty body that, moving without vision, comes to a mighty fallÃ¢Â? (1144b10-20).Aristotle concludes Book Six by arguing that virtue in the full sense cannot be obtained without practical wisdom, and he argues that this definition has led some people to believe that all virtues are forms of practical wisdom. Most important in this re-examination of practical wisdom and moral virtue is his assertion that virtue is a characteristic guided by Ã¢ÂÂright reasonÃ¢Â?, which is determined by practical wisdom (1144b16-24). However, Aristotle finds it necessary to go beyond this simple redefinition, and goes on to argue that right reason in moral matters is practical wisdom. Therefore, right reason is what makes us virtuous and we can logically conclude that once we possess the single intellectual virtue of practical wisdom, we will possess all of the moral virtues (1145a2-4).Now that we have a solid understanding of virtue, we are able to return to the question of moral virtue. Aristotle spends part of Book Three and all of Book Four describing the different moral virtues through application of his concept of the mean. However, none of these virtues receive the same amoun of attention as the virtue of justice, which is discussed throughout the entire text of Book Five. It is not surprising that he gives this amount of space to his discussion of justice, because for Aristotle, justice is the highest of the moral virtues.For Aristotle, there are two different kinds of justice: universal justice and particular justice. For our purposes, AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs definition of universal justice is, by far, the most important. Aristotle looks at the definition of its opposite, or what it means to be unjust. His begins this discussion with an examination of the unjust man. He writes Ã¢ÂÂwe regard as unjust both a lawbreaker and also a man who takes more than his share, so that obviously a law-abiding and a fair man will be just. Consequently, Ã¢ÂÂjustÃ¢Â? is what is lawful and fair, and unjust is what is unlawful and unfairÃ¢Â? (1129a32-1129b1). Aristotle also notes in defining the unjust man that Ã¢ÂÂunfairnessÃ¢Â? does not necessarily have to do with those things that are larger in size. For example, when presented with a choice of bad things the unjust man will take the smallest share. Therefore, unfairness includes both taking more than ones share of those things deemed to be Ã¢ÂÂgoodÃ¢Â? and less than ones share of those things deemed to be Ã¢ÂÂbadÃ¢Â? (1129b7-10).Universal justice then, for Aristotle, is manifest in obedience to law. With regard to these laws, Aristotle makes two assertions. The first assertion is that they aim at producing or preserving happiness or Ã¢ÂÂthe common interest either of all or of the best or of those who hold powerÃ¢Â? (129b14-19). The second assertion is that they prescribe conduct in accordance with the virtues and forbid conduct that is vicious. Therefore, men living in a political order are compelled to be virtuous by the force of the law. However, it is also worth noting that only a correctly framed law will accomplish this rightly while a more hastily conceived law will not (1129b19-25).Aristotle concludes his discussion of complete justice by referring to it as Ã¢ÂÂcomplete virtue or excellenceÃ¢Â? and claims that, in justice, Ã¢ÂÂevery virtue is summed upÃ¢Â?. The reasoning Aristotle gives for this is that a just man not only makes use of this virtue in his own affairs, but also in affairs with fellow men. In short, Justice is the only virtue that considers the good of others as well as the good of oneself. The worst man for Aristotle is the man who does wickedness to both himself and others while the best man is he that practices virtue towards himself and others. Aristotle would not agree that virtue is the same as justice and that vice is the same as injustice. He concludes instead by saying that universal justice coincides with the whole of ethical virtue and universal injustice with the whole of ethical vice. As states and dispositions, justice and injustice are the same, but they also convey a relationship between man and his neighbors, which the terms virtue and vice do not (1130a8-13) .In recapitulation, we have discovered that the highest of the moral virtues is universal justice. The distinguishing factor that sets justice apart from the other moral virtues is the fact that it is the only moral virtue that takes into consideration the good for ones neighbors, rather than only the good of the practitioner of the virtue. Finally, we have concluded that there is a connection between moral and intellectual virtue because one can only become morally virtuous through the practice of morally virtuous actions. However, moral virtue in the full sense cannot exist without right reason, which is determined by the intellectual virtue of practical wisdom. Therefore, we can conclude our examination of virtue in the Nicomachean Ethics with the assertion that moral virtue cannot exist without intellectual virtue.Works CitedAristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (translated by Martin Ostwald). Pentice Hall.New Jersey. 1999.Hardie, W.F.R. AristotleÃ¢ÂÂs Ethical Theory. Clarendon Press. Oxford. 1980.
Lily Bart, the heroine of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, is understood from chapter 1 to be a female of remarkable beauty. Throughout the novel she is classified as uniquely attractive, a woman to be desired by men and subtly threatening to women. But beauty is not the only way in which Miss Bart is distinguished from the other characters in The House of Mirth – Wharton repeatedly depicts her as an object (or, if not explicitly objectifying her, Wharton has Lily Bart treated by others as an object). This tactic suggests numerous things about Wharton’s protagonist – most of all, it accentuates the degree to which, as the reader realizes at the novel’s poignant end, Lily Bart is a character trapped in a world which obeys the rules of Naturalism to an almost cruel degree.It can not be truly said, however, that the Naturalist tone of the book manifests itself in a cruel way for Lily and Selden. The very definition of Naturalism absolves it from the type of value judgment that a word like “cruel” imparts. Like the Darwinism that gave rise to the notion of Naturalist laws at play in society (and also the books which carefully examine and deal with those laws), Naturalism hinges upon the concept of greater (in scope but not value) machinations which blindly steer events and people toward an end which is unseen and unseeable. Naturalism amplifies the level to which characters are out of control of their own lives, but at the same time it denies the existence of any conscious “controller.” One might point to Bertha Dorset or Mrs. Peniston as individuals who knowingly manipulated Lily’s life, but true Naturalism would deem that their actions are just as natural and, in a way, excusable, as anyone else’s. These are characters who act in certain ways because of the environment or niche in which they exist – it is to be understood that some people are manipulators and some are the manipulated, but neither of these roles is any more consciously chosen than the other. The environment makes them what they are.This is what makes the depiction of Lily as an object such a useful tool for Wharton. Throughout The House of Mirth Lily Bart is the victim of twists which are sprung upon her and are impossible (or just very difficult) for her to predict or change. Lily is, as Selden observes on page 6, “so evidently the victim of the civilization which had produced her.” Lily even thinks to herself that she “had a fatalistic sense of being drawn from one wrong turning to another” (134), as though she is always at least a step behind of the people or events which have the most critical bearings on her life. But it is not one step or two by which Lily’s awareness trails – she never even has a chance to catch up to the mechanisms that impact her life. She is not scrambling to regain her footing after every setback – she is rootlessly thrown about – quite more like an object than an active human. When Bertha Dorset frames her, she stomachs it without a fight. She does the same when Mrs. Peniston’s will is announced and the estate is not placed into her possession. Only as the book draws to an end does Lily grasp the reins of her own life by burning Bertha Dorset’s letters to Selden, repaying her debt to Gus Trenor, and overdosing on sleeping drops.In chapter one, Selden asks Lily, “‘Isn’t marriage your vocation? Isn’t that what you’re all brought up for?'” Lily responds, “‘I suppose so. What else is there?'” (8) Even from the beginning, Lily and the reader are aware that she is stuck traveling a path which she does not herself prefer. But just as telling is the fact that Lily does very little to actively explore other routes for her own life. Her dabblings in charity work are the result of Gerty Farish’s proddings. Otherwise, she simply coasts along the “marriageable woman” pathway. She accepts the invitations to Bellomont and similar engagements. Later, as her star falls, she continues to accept the invitations given to her – to Alaska, for example, although the circle in which she travels and the trajectory of her own life have changed.But these are only vague examples of Lily being portrayed as an object. How does this differ from her simply being a passive person? For one, even a passive person meditates upon each of the conditions which pull her in various directions as these conditions arise. Lily succumbs to them and allows them to pull her in whichever direction they choose, but she never seems to dig her heels into the ground and stop to think. Selden, who thinks to himself that he is “as much as Lily a victim of his environment” (160), can be classified as a passive person who never quite reaches the level of passivity that would suggest objectification. He struggles more with the rules of their social scene which keep them apart. He also observes, as cited above, the fact that he and Lily both suffer from their environment, a realization which Lily comes to only in the end. She feels herself as “rootless and ephemeral” (338), a “flower grown for exhibition” (336), but only in her final night of life. Earlier in the novel, in fact, in the rare instances when she considers her relation to her external environment, she feels erroneously as though she is some sort of master of it. On page 20 and again on page 101 she remarks that she has a special talent for “profiting from the unexpected.” This is after several missteps including her awkward treatment of Rosedale’s inquiry outside the Benedick and her misplay of her chances to marry Percy Gryce.It is appropriate in light of the fact that Lily Bart is, for much of the novel, so unaware of how little she is in control of her own life, that Wharton elected to write the novel in third person. Given such a clear protagonist, it would seem like a natural option to choose the first person, either placing the perspective in Lily’s own eyes or through the eyes of a peripheral foil. But both options are inappropriate to the subtleties of Lily Bart. The third person enables Wharton to write a long novel about a character who does little inner meditation about the events in the narrative. Yet instituting a peripheral narrator would also be an ill choice because it precludes the actual possibility of remarking upon the protagonist’s inner thoughts. The third person is perfect for the very reason that it is possible and even expected that Wharton would “check in” on Lily’s reflections regarding events but glaringly chooses not to. The story is absent of much exploration into Lily’s mind, and it accomplishes Wharton’s intended task of objectifying her main character.Selden is offered as a contrast to Lily in that he is treated in the other way that Wharton could have dealt with Lily in a third person narrative. Given how little he actually appears in the novel, his thoughts are shared with the reader with relative frequency. In chapter one it is Selden’s thoughts about Lily that are divulged, not vice versa. At the Wellington Brys event, Selden’s adoration of Lily’s beauty in the tableaux constitutes the central reflection in the chapter – Lily’s own personal opinion about the event is completely left out (except, perhaps, in the rare bits which she shares through dialogue).In the tableaux vivant chapter more than any other, the reader is shown the actual extent to which Lily Bart is defined as the object of other people’s actions and observations. Obviously, the concept of a tableaux vivant inherently and intentionally objectifies its performers. But while the other females are placed in exotic or mythical depictions, Lily undergoes hardly any changes at all. This scene suggests quite clearly that Lily is, in all honesty, never completely not a piece of art to be seen and appreciated, lifted and moved. The ease with which she fits into the tableaux vivant format is telling of her status in real life. The scene simply amplifies the effect for the reader (and the observers at the party).The Wellington Brys party establishes that Lily is not depicted as an object only insofar as she does not control herself and is “used” or manipulated by others. She is also depicted as an object strictly in mannerism or physical appearance. The tableaux vivant is only one example. At Selden’s apartment for tea, her hand is described as “polished as a bit of old ivory” (5). Also in the first chapter, Selden considers that “the qualities distinguishing herwere chiefly external, as though a fine glaze of beauty and fastidiousness had been applied to vulgar clay” (3). How does this superficial level of objectification contribute in any way toward Wharton’s Naturalist goals? The answer can be seen as the novel goes on, and the chain of unfortunate events begins to wear on Lily Bart. “Cracks and vapours” begin to appear in her life (213); Lily’s “delicately hollow face” begins to show lines (324); fatigue appears on her face in the form of “pencilling”, as if the fatigue has been drawn onto a portrait. In these superficial descriptions, Wharton highlights the effect to which Lily has been helplessly beaten down by circumstance. It is hyperbole to compare Lily to a tangible good, used towards an end and forgotten, but not by much. Lily herself begins, at long last, to realize this as the novel reaches its end – in one of her final encounters with Selden she notices feeling like “no more than some super-fine human merchandise” (270). But these observations are neatly timed to occur when it is finally too late – after the environment and the other players in her various circles have had their effect on Lily. Naturalism has been played out, and Lily has emerged as the clear loser by the time she realizes that she is a player at all.The poignancy of the novel’s end is drawn from the hurried scramble of Lily’s last moments. Her sudden all-too-late awareness of her predicament and the means to ameliorate it is clearly tragic to the reader, who know and dread that the ending looms too near. Throughout The House of Mirth we are privy to similar but scant moments of awareness, and it is these moments that make the novel emotionally gripping. The reader and most of the other figures in Lily’s world know full well the powerlessness that Lily has over her life’s footing and orientation. She truly is an object – not only in that she is manipulated and given some superficial value, but also in the slightly different meaning of the word “object” which describes the perspective of the novel – it is told largely from the viewpoint of an admirer (or jealous onlooker). She is the object of others’ schemes, adoration, or simply of their observation. But at rare moments, and fully in the end, Lily makes the right connections and notices the almost star-crossed path of her life. These quick pauses from the autopilot setting make it all the more distressing and pitiable when, once again, Lily surrenders her life to the whims of the outside world.
Within T.S. Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” the influences of society and how it can affect the general personality of the public is reflected in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Countee Cullen’s “Yet Do I Marvel”. Eliot uses the contradiction of hollow and stuffed men to set up how men have been affected by their societies, the contrast making them devoid of emotion and numb. Their insubstantial filling being the logic and principles that society has provided. Societal influences have taken the place of spiritual transcendence resulting in a lack of understanding of the nature of God and a movement towards the material world. Fitzgerald expands on this by having his characters reflect traits from Eliot’s poem while Cullen’s poem makes a statement about his society by talking about the spiritual presence of God and using it to explain what seems to be his overall view of his fellow man. The overall statement that is made of society in “The Hollow Men” seems to be that it cannot take the place of God and this can be found in both Fitzgerald’s and Cullen’s pieces.
Eliot uses a children’s song to reflect the cyclical nature of society and the world. By saying “Here we go round the prickly pear” it is implied that events will inevitably repeat themselves (Eliot 252). This is supported by Fitzgerald by the nature of Nick Carraway. Nick went to war so that he could escape his past but now that he has returned he has returned to what he was trying to initially escape. He decides to get a job that reflects his past and states, “Everybody I knew was in the bond business, so I supposed it could support one more single man” (Fitzgerald 3). Nick returns from the war restless; and even though he is trying to settle down and gain a sense of the past that he tried to escape by going to war he is still trying to see the world in a military view. He even states that when he returned to the East that he wanted the world to be uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever which reflects a militaristic view (Fitzgerald 2). Nick wants to establish a sense of stability in his society and bring his past back to the forefront of his future in this way. Another way in which Fitzgerald displays the cyclical nature of Eliot’s poem is with his character of Gatsby. Gatsby went to war to essentially create a new identity and this can be represented by the symbol of the light at the end of Daisy’s dock. The light is green as almost a representation of new life, growth, and the money that it took to turn Gatsby into a new man (Fitzgerald 21). When Gatsby returns from the war he spends all of his efforts with this new persona to win Daisy who is a love from his past (Fitzgerald). He can’t escape the dream of his past that perpetuated into his future and ultimately is killed because of it.
The fact that Fitzgerald’s characters are continuously trying to regain a sense of their past suggests how they can’t seek to delve further into their society without the understanding of who they are in the past. Also since the past may repeat itself if the characters lack an understanding of their past it shows that the same mistakes can be made. Nick himself can’t seem to handle his own families transgressions in the past and seeks to not repeat them. Trying to solve them is part of why he goes to war since his Uncle has gotten out of the war by sending someone in his stead (Fitzgerald 3). Even Gatsby though he is essentially pursuing a part of his past, is also trying to escape a part of his past, and in the end it is proven that he cannot escape his past as one of the few people that attend his funeral is his father (Fitzgerald).
“The Hollow Men” uses the images of eyes that are not there, the multifoliate rose, prayers to broken stone, a broken column, stone images, and a fading star to paint a view of the broken spirituality in his society (Eliot). The column represents a structure that has fallen and the fading star can symbolize the north star but by saying that it is fading it implies that the spirituality is fading from the world. Fitzgerald expands on this with Nicks view of the parties that he attends. The parties can represent the spirituality that the characters are unable to achieve. They let loose during these gaudy displays however Nick is unable to fully appreciate the parties. He essentially has to get drunk to have any enjoyment at all and then claims that it was his second time ever getting drunk. The fact that Nick doesn’t really enjoy the parties, describing them by saying “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life” suggests that he cannot achieve a level of transcendentalism because he is held back by his society (Fitzgerald 35). His focus is completely on the material of the party when he is with the lower class. His first party with Gatsby he seems to get a feel for the atmosphere by stating, “I had taken two finger-bowels of champagne, and the scene had changed before my eyes into something significant, elemental, and profound” (Fitzgerald 47). Again it is implied that to truly let loose and appreciate the feel of the party rather than the look of it Nick has to drink.
Another way in which Fitzgerald displays the spirituality from Eliot’s “The Hollow Men” is by directly pulling T.S. Eliot into his novel as the character of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg by having his eyes represent those of Gods. At one point the character of Wilson states “God sees everything,” while looking at the eyes of T.J. Eckleburg which directly applies the name of God to the eyes of the billboard (Firzgerald 160). In “The Hollow Men” the eyes are no longer there which implies that though they see they are no longer comprehending, they are detached from God perhaps because they have fully embraced society. Fitzgerald brings in these eyes and has them overlook The Valley of Ashes which references just how detached his society is.
Though the eyes are present in Fitzgerald’s novel they aren’t really overlooking anything, just ashes and they’ve dimmed. So as the character of Wilson says, God sees everything but at this point the people are so detached from God that there is nothing to see. The Valley of Ashes itself can also represent the dead cactus land that Eliot discusses in his poem (251). This would imply that the characters that live there, such as Wilson, are the scarecrows that Eliot describes. Wilson’s personality is described like that of the hollow men as well, he is shown by Fitzgerald as a spiritless man and when he first meets Nick, Nick states that a damp gleam of hope sprang into his eyes (25). This can reflect the poem where it states,“The hope only/ Of empty men” (Eliot 251). Wilson is the empty man that is still daring to hope but even his hope is devoid and lacking in emotion. Wilson’s character is trapped by his society as well. He doesn’t make enough money at his job to fully pursue his dreams but he still has a hope that he will be able to make something of himself.
Society in Fitzgerald’s novel directly influences the actions of the characters as well. Just as society seems to have left the hollow men devoid; and they seem to be merely going through the motions as hinted by the line “Gathered on this beach of the tumid river” (251). In Fitzgerald’s novel society has basically stripped the characters of their free will. In Eliot’s poem they seem to be dictated by their own flaws where society is dictating Fitzgerald’s characters. Though Tom is secretly having an affair with Myrtle it is obvious that he will not leave Daisy for her partly because of her lower class. Even though Nick doesn’t think well of Tom because of his affair it is shown that Nick has had a similar situation that he is running away from (Fitzgerald). The descriptions that Nick gives the houses in East Egg verses West Egg directly shows the differences in class. He describes his own home as a small eyesore (Fitzgerald 5). The descriptions of Daisy and Myrtle reflect a difference in their classes as well. Where Daisy is waif like and elegant, Myrtle is energetic and fleshy (Fitzgerald). Nick despite wishing to be a different person seems to not want to disappoint his society, even though he doesn’t agree with Tom’s affair he doesn’t say anything to Daisy about it. Then later he even helps Daisy to have her own affair. He wants to be socially accepted and it appears that he portrays himself to his reader in a certain way to achieve this.
The character of Gatsby represents how society can change a person. Nick as he writes the story already knows all the details but still keeps the mystery of Gatsby until closer to the end of the novel. In part the mystery that Gatsby is shrouded in shows just how society can define someone. Everywhere Nick goes he hears speculation of who Gatsby is, even before he’s met Gatsby. He hears that Gatsby is the nephew of the Kaiser, that he is a bootlegger and multiple other scenarios. The only real view that is given of Gatsby is the view that Nick has of him and besides his interpretations the only other views we get are from others comments of Gatsby. This paints Gatsby’s character as almost an entirely societal figure.
The fact that no one knows Gatsby’s history or where he came from suggests that while reinventing himself he became exactly what he expected society to want him to be. Though it is later found that the parties are being thrown as a lure for Daisy it can be interpreted at first that his outlandish parties are thrown with the sole purpose of pleasing his society. Also the fact that a lot of Gatsby seems to be almost fake at first, his mansion is this faux castle and even his accent doesn’t seem authentic to Nick. Nick also describes that the history Gatsby originally gives him seems unbelievable. It can be discerned that in order to fit in with society one must take away their individuality and with that conformity will come acceptance. In the beginning of the novel the Gatsby that is given doesn’t appear to have any substance which could represent that by becoming such an integral part of society he has ceased to have individual traits. This can directly relate to the hollow men that are leaning together, these men no longer seem to have separate facets of a personality, that are essentially all one entity (Eliot 249). Later the view given of Gatsby is filled with depth but even then the mystery of how his society views him overshadows the man that he really was.
In Countee Cullen’s poem society is not directly implied in the poem but by his descriptions of God he seem’s to be poking at his society’s perceptions. The poem contrasts “The Hollow Men” as the sole purpose is the wonder of a black man singing and in “The Hollow Men” a conflict with these men is that their jaws are broken (Eliot 251). Eliot’s men can no longer utter prayers or even really speak since all they are able to do is utter which could mean what they are able to say is insubstantial. Cullen’s men on the other hand are able to sing but it is implied that they are scorned for this ability. The fact that Cullen states that this ability for a black man to sing is the only thing that he seems to question about God’s will. He seems to imply that if it isn’t a sort of mistake it is some sort of punishment for the black man. He demonstrates this by discussing what almost seems to be the Greek Gods by talking about Tantalus and Sisyphus’s punishments. The fact that the myths have an explanation for why these two characters are punished seems to suggest that Cullen’s God has no reason for why a black man is bid to sing.If there is a reason for it then perhaps he will never know it. He directly says this by stating “Inscrutable His ways are, and immune/ To catechism by a mind too strewn” which means that God’s reasons are impossible to interpret by the societal standards and principles of religion. So even though Cullen’s black man still has his voice he is just as devoid as the hollow men with the broken jaws. Just because he is able to sing doesn’t make the songs any different then illegible utterings. This seems to hint that he is persecuted either way. The hollow men may not know why they are unable to utter prayers just as the black man does not understand why God would bid him sing. Both could be in a state of distance due to the affects there society may have on them. Despite the fact that a black man can sing it is inferred that people are not receptive of his singing which why the singing itself could be a form of punishment. His society does not wish to accept him and his question in the poem seems ask why his society would punish him when he has the same abilities as them.
Countee Cullen also seems to be referencing more of a Puritanical God, the fact that the God he discusses lacks transcendental values which reflects Eliot’s Hollow men. Eliot makes references to the underworld and perhaps to corrupt clergy with his lines “ Headpiece filled with straw” and all of the references to God in his poem seem to be broken images or unuttered prayers. Cullen sets up his God to reflect these images by starting with almost a compliment to his poem. He states that he has no doubt about God’s good attributes but then essentially states that if God deigned to explain these things then he is sure he’d have perfectly good excuses and reasons even if the logic may make no sense to Cullen’s society (Cullen).
Society ends up becoming a sort of substitution for spirituality in these texts just as the characters in The Great Gatsby have substitutions, for instance Nick substitutes Gatsby for an ideal that he wants to be. While in “Yet Do I Marvel” the substitution is in a Puritanical God verses a sort of Greek deity. These texts relate how a society can change and influence the actions of individuals and though one may try to use it as a substitution for spirituality it is insubstantial as portrayed by the vapid natures of the hollow men in Eliot’s poem. The act of trying to force an ideal of spirituality into a societal mold doesn’t seem to work and only seems to result in a lack of understanding on the part of the society. Such is the example in Countee Cullen’s poem. His ability to sing may have come from God but it didn’t fit what his community was used to and so resulted in persecution. Inevitably society cannot replace spirituality without losing a portion of it’s soul and resulting in men that are devoid of life.
Cullen, Countee. “Yet Do I Marvel” The Pearson Custom Library of American Literature. Eds. John Bryan, et al. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2007. 265.
Eliot, T.S. “The Hollow Men” The Pearson Custom Library of American Literature. Eds. John Bryan, et al. Boston: Pearson Custom Publishing, 2007. 249- 253.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. The Great Gatsby. New York: Scribner, 2004. Print.
It is undeniable that the theme of loss is weaved throughout much of Rossetti’s poetry, often reflecting the emotional hardship of her own life. It stands out clearly in Shut Out as a key part of Rossetti’s message and is arguably used as a vehicle to demonstrate areas of loss and isolation that were present in Rossetti’s own life. Through considered use of language, Rossetti creates contrasting atmospheres of loss and hope that clearly help highlight the emotional and spiritual difficulties of loss, as well as brandishing a selection of poetic techniques that help in her presentation of loss as a life altering, soul consuming emotion. It could almost be said that the use of the Garden of Eden as a central plot point is merely a catalyst to further express her feelings on the topic. Ultimately, we are painted a complex yet concise picture of Rossetti’s feelings towards this theme in all of its complexity.
Rossetti presents the impact of loss as a battle of contrasting emotions, although initially suggesting that loss has a life destroying effect upon a person there are definite sparks of hopefulness within the poem. The clear use of contrasting imagery throughout the poem is a demonstration of loss’s fluctuating effects. Within the first stanza, the cold and lifeless imagery of the “iron bars” gives an almost unnatural depiction of Rossetti’s feelings. Her choice to use the image of prison-like bars perhaps suggests that these feelings of loss are purely a construction of man, not nature, or in the view of Rossetti, God. This point is further supported by the juxtaposition used in the description of the gardens natural charm. By describing the flowers as “bedewed and green”, we are presented with the idea that Rossetti views the climb out of loss as a gift from God. The connotations of freshness and purity relate directly to Rossetti’s open devotion to the Christian Faith. Ultimately through this clever use of juxtaposition Rossetti is able to convey the eruption of contrasting emotions felt after a loss of any form, the relevance of these are everlasting, even to a 21st century reader. This point is further complimented through Rossetti’s use of a large shift in tone between the sixth and seventh stanzas. The penultimate stanza has a heavy semantic field of pain and isolation. The speaker is described as being “blinded with tears” not only showing the feelings of depravity but also creating a violent undertone. This is however soon juxtaposed with the final stanza’s depiction of a “lark” building a nest within a “violet bed”. The themes of rebirth and natural beauty are heavy within this stanza not only further demonstrating the extreme flurry of emotions associated with loss but also painting a hopeful future for all who are crippled with the pains of loss. When looking broadly at all of Rossetti’s work, it is easy to find other examples of this idea that beyond loss hope still prevails.
Within the poem Up Hill, Rossetti demonstrates her confidence in her own faith and depicts heaven to be a welcoming place for all who believe. The poem is littered with dark imagery and language possibly describing the pain of losing someone, which is ultimately countered by the reassurance of the second speaker who is symbolic of any Christian’s view on death; they do not fear it, as they will reach paradise after death. Like Shut Out, Up Hill places a considerable focus on contrast, utilising the two speakers to demonstrate the polar opposite emotions given by loss. Once again, we are shown a hopeful future for those suffering from the pains of loss; however, in this example Rossetti tackles the more abstract aspects of loss as she delves into the core philosophy of her faith. Rossetti also presents the theme of loss as not only a devastating emotion, but as an ever-present part of people’s lives, that has the power to dictate their feelings actions. Ultimately, she has depicted loss as an emotional prison that prevents the victim from enjoying the life they were given by god. Her use of a clear and consistent rhyme scheme, with the ABBA structure, is used throughout to give a tight, controlled tone to the poem, Rossetti may feel that the ‘prison’ of loss has prevented her from wallowing in her other more joyful emotions. This idea is further supported by the mention of the “wall” built to exclude the speaker from her lost garden. A wall has very obvious connotations of segregation and permanence, enforcing the idea that loss has an almost unnaturally controlling effect upon a person. This and the tightly structured rhyme scheme is accompanied with the Ballard form that the poem takes. The obvious connotations of the Ballard is that there is a moral lesson to be learnt. In this sense, it could be said that Rossetti believes that God created loss as lesson to teach his followers, a possible question of their faith.
Throughout Rossetti’s life, she devoted herself to God, often choosing the virtuous path of Christianity over her own aims and desires. Although questioning her own faith in defiant moments within her life, her passion for God is present throughout her poetry. The idea of the structure and form of the poem mirroring the emotional imprisonment of loss is also apparent in the final stanza where syntactic parallelism is used to further enforce the fact that the pain and turmoil caused by loss can distort the lives of its victims in an almost calculated fashion. Conclusively, Rossetti views the theme of loss as a oppressive part of people lives with the capacity to carve said lives into whatever cruel path it sees fit. Once again, these ideas and techniques are found within many of Rossetti’s poems. In The Round Tower at Jhansi, human structure is once again used to emphasise the catastrophic effect of loss upon the unfortunate. Like the previously mentioned “wall” the Tower at Jhansi is used to emphasise the permanent impact of loss on the mental state of those who have suffered its pains. In The Round Tower can also be compared to shut out in terms of its Ballard form and tight ABAB rhyme scheme. The theme of loss is shown in an overly emotional tone as the two lovers defy the law of Christianity and take each other’s lives as to escape the “wretches below”.
Rossetti demonstrates to her readers that loss can influence every aspect of their lives, not only changing the way in which they view the world, but also consumes all they knew to be true. In fact, Rossetti succeeded in representing loss as a darker, more morbid state. She presents the theme subtly in all aspects of her poetic prowess and is able to cast light on a theme that has infinite relevance within our world.
It is very common in literature, both in the past and modern-day, for characters to have dark backgrounds. Many authors choose this approach because it creates an approachable character with whom the reader can identify, and provides the reader with an admirable protagonist. This darkness is usually the result of one or many traumatizing events, such as abuse. Abuse may come in multiple forms, including emotional and physical. In Fall On Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald explores some main types of abuse within the family. Similarly, in Michael Thomas’ novel Man Gone Down, the same types of abuse consume the narrator’s past, and in some cases, his present. The three types of abuse that both novels portray are physical, mental and even racial. Not only do the characters have dark pasts, but it is these moments and events in their history that develop the individuals and determine the persons that they become.
Physical abuse can cause serious damage to an individual that may have long-lasting effects; such abuse within families in Fall on Your Knees is very prominent, and is seen again and again as the generations pass. Most of the abuse comes from James, who focuses his anger in large part on his wife, Materia. Once they settle into their marriage, James becomes a man that Materia begins to resent. He is very harsh with her physically, and violently lays his hands on her more than once. After their first baby is born, James comes home one day and, “took the stairs two at a time and dragged [Materia] down to the kitchen, whinging and whining every step of the way” (MacDonald 39). This abuse drives Materia to detach herself from her husband, and eventually from her eldest daughter, Kathleen. Due to the fact that Kathleen is the offspring of James, Materia feels she cannot connect with her and even goes so far as to have feelings of hatred towards her. Her character, while happy and content at the beginning of the novel, falls into a period of depression. Physical abuse in Materia’s past takes a toll on her life later on. In addition to Materia, James’ daughter, Frances, also experiences physical abuse at his hand. On many occasions, Frances’ smart remarks result in a beating from James, such as when he takes her out to the shed to teach her a lesson. MacDonald portrays the scene as if it is an orchestral performance, “The upbeat grabs her neck till she’s on point, the downbeat thrusts her back against the wall […] knuckles clatter incidentally […] Cue finale to the gut. Frances folds over till she’s on the floor” (MacDonald 325-326). She accepts this abuse, because she believes that she deserves it, and in some way, feels that it lets her get back at her father. Frances even comes to expect her regular beatings, as she says to her sister, “It’s the way it is, Mercedes. You can’t change the way it is” (MacDonald 327). This causes Frances to rebel against her father and family, by sneaking out of the house at night to partake in acts of which James does not approve. This shows how physical abuse has a part in shaping Frances into the individual she becomes. She believes that her body no longer has value, and therefore does not feel like she has anything to lose by giving it up to strange men at a pub. Similarly, in Man Gone Down, the physical abuse at the hands of both the narrator’s mother and his father taint his childhood.
In The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Steven Pinker stresses that genes do not define a person, and counters the idea that, “innately violent parents have innately violent children” (Pinker 437). In Man Gone Down, Michael Thomas describes the same concept, through the life of the narrator. The narrator discusses his childhood, and the abuse he remembers facing as a child. He briefly mentions his mother and father beating him, and the turmoil it brings upon him for the rest of his life. He mentions an evening with his father that he still remembers to this day. The narrator says, “‘He hit me once […] I couldn’t have been much older than eight.’ […] I was just about to pick up my fork when all of a sudden I was on the floor. My cheek was numb. He was staring at me — cold” (Thomas 56-57). While recounting the story, the narrator can recall even small details of this night. This shows how deeply he feels the impact of his father physically abusing him as a child. The narrator also continually refers to his mother participating in the same kinds of actions, particularly after his father walks out on them. Although he does not directly speak of the incidents with his mother, he alludes to them throughout the novel. Oftentimes throughout the novel, current events remind him of his past, such as when, “[Claire] slapped me. I could see it coming. […] And when she finally did let go, it was the most noncommittal blow I’d ever received. It wasn’t like my mother’s eighty-foot iron tentacle slap” (Thomas 68). He remembers the power behind the beatings from his mother, which ultimately scar him for life. It is this physical abuse that pushes the narrator to give his children a childhood they will want to remember. In order to do this, his wife and children move away for the time being, while he stays back and struggles to accommodate them and pay for his son’s school tuition. This shows his devotion to his family, and his deep desire to be a better parent than his own, thus proving that his genes do not define him. In this case, his dark past provides him with hope for a brighter future, whereas the physical abuse that Frances experiences in Fall on Your Knees sends her down a considerably darker pathway. In each novel, Ann-Marie MacDonald and Michael Thomas contrast each other’s ideas of the effect of physical abuse in one’s past. Thomas views one’s history as a way to learn for the future in order to better themselves and those around them. MacDonald, on the contrary, shows how one’s past may damage them infinitely in the future and can also impact their mental health, as seen in Fall on Your Knees.
Poor mental health can victimize anyone, and can be the result of one or many different unfavourable circumstances. Throughout Fall on Your Knees, James inflicts mental abuse on Frances, from which she suffers gravely. A specific example is when James favourites one child over another. Each of the children understand that James’ favourite daughter is Kathleen, and following her death, Lily. When Frances is talking to Lily, she says: “Cause even though you’re not his, he loves you more than the rest of us.’ ‘He loves you too, Frances.’ ‘Yes, but he loves you the most.’ ‘I want him to love you to the most too.’ ‘It’s all right, Lily, it’s supposed to be this way.’ (MacDonald 312) By picking a favourite, the rest of his daughters cannot help but to feel and think less of themselves. In each case, there are negative impacts on the characters and their development throughout the novel. For instance, after Frances’ period of prostitution, she fixates her mind on the life her older sister, Kathleen, who is no longer alive. In a subconscious attempt to prove herself to her father, she mimics Kathleen’s life, starting at the time when Kathleen moves away to New York City. Frances convinces herself that in order to gain James’ approval, she must be exactly like Kathleen, and so she begins to stalk her grandfather’s maid’s brother, Leo. After some time, she seduces him and he impregnates her. This instance illustrates the impact that mental abuse has on Frances, as she begins to obsess over something she thinks is very important, and becomes mentally ill over it. Her baby is pronounced dead at birth, and this sends Frances into a depression not unlike her mother’s. Before her own death, Materia experiences extreme depression in relation to her life with James and Kathleen. This is due to all the emotional abuse James lays on her throughout their years of marriage. She becomes mentally unstable, and eventually commits suicide when she can no longer bear the load, much like the narrator in Man Gone Down.
In many cases, the emotional trauma one experiences throughout childhood will linger long into later years. In Man Gone Down, the main character carries around his own emotional load, and suffers greatly from it throughout his life from childhood to adulthood. Most of this burden is a result of his father leaving him and his mother. As a young boy, the absence of a father figure in his life significantly impacts his adolescence and his life as an adult as well. When he describes how his father left, the narrator says:My father ran out on us when he was the age I am now but he didn’t have the heart to just go. First he went to the couch, then to the Ramada, and only after a decade of coming in and out of my life did he finally allow himself to completely disappear. […] I hadn’t seen him in six years and in that time he’d lost his hair, his teeth, and I thought any claim to me as a son.” (Thomas 50)The narrator believes that the departure of his father is because he no longer wants him as a son. He even says that after the six years without seeing his father, he believes his father no longer sees his as his own child. This is the underlying cause for the narrator’s emotional illness, and the reader can see the deep scars that still remain from this traumatizing event. He often criticizes himself and finds himself wondering whether he is too unstable. The narrator subconsciously distances himself from his family and friends because he thinks they cannot handle his emotional instability. He constantly asks himself this question, which shows how his past mental abuse develops his insecurities throughout his life. He then speaks about a time in his teens when he tries to get sober, and turns to his father for moral support. He says, “I went to my father, and I don’t know why I expected him to be anything besides a stranger” (Thomas 71). Beforehand, the narrator considers others he can talk to, but his final decision is to seek out his father’s advice. All he finds, however, is disappointment. The lack of concern from both of his parents drives the narrator to turn once again to alcohol and drugs. In this way, his dark past leads to his dismal teen years. In both novels, the characters involve themselves in delinquent activities, in an attempt to find comfort. For Frances in Fall on Your Knees, she looks to strangers for validation, while the narrator in Man Gone Down tries to forget his problems by drinking. Both authors portray the teenage years as a very low point in the characters’ lives. Even still, Thomas keeps a relatively positive mindset when writing Man Gone Down, for as the narrator thinks about his past, he still has hope for his future. Frances, on the contrary, falls into a deep depression from which she will not escape for the rest of her life. This chronic depression, however, is not the only thing that is inescapable for the characters.
Oftentimes, even in the world today, racial discrimination is inevitable. In Fall on Your Knees, Ann-Marie MacDonald consistently acknowledges the issue of racism and racial abuse through the portrayal of the Piper household. The victim, especially near the beginning of the novel, is Materia. James constantly judges his wife and her skin colour. Although her dark skin does not bother him at first, he begins to resent it as they progress into their marriage. James begins to feel embarrassment when he goes out with her in public. It is as if he only notices her colour after they say their wedding vows, and this is the turning point, when it becomes a real issue in James’ eyes. Not only is she not living up to James’ expectations as a wife, but, “on top of everything else, Materia was dark. He tried not to see it, but it was one of those things that was always before his eyes, now that the scales had fallen from them” (MacDonald 45). Throughout the novel, James experiences feelings and thoughts of disgust towards Materia because she has darker skin. These feelings, however, are not always kept to himself. Materia feels the hostility between her and her husband, and knows that he disapproves of her as a wife. James sometimes regrets marrying her, and worries that others will think his spouse is a child, because she does not act like a typical housewife. At the beginning of the marriage, Materia is only thirteen years old, and has tendencies to act her age. She avoids cooking and cleaning, and instead chooses to go for strolls during the day, and play the piano. James also disapproves of her because of her Lebanese background. He resents her old country and her language, which is seen when the author writes, “What James resented most was that enklese nonsense. […] he was Scottish and Irish, like ninety percent of this God-forsaken island, not to mention Canadian. Filthy black Syrians” (MacDonald 22). James has a racist mindset, even towards his own wife. He degrades her culture and language consistently, especially once they have children. James forbids Materia to speak anything but English when around their children. When he catches her speaking her mother tongue to their daughters, he says, “‘I don’t want her growing up confused. Speak English.’ ‘Okay’” (MacDonald 42). When James puts her down like this, Materia simply accepts it and moves on. She expects these insults, and although it seems as though they do not affect her, the continuous degradation of her race eventually leads to her depression and her death.
Racism is not only an occasional issue, but is present in and dominates the lives of many. The basis of the novel Man Gone Down is racism, and how this discrimination and abuse affects the narrator throughout. The abuse he experiences due to his colour begins at a very early age, and continues to be an issue throughout the rest of his life. He discusses a time, “How at the age of six I’d been treed by an angry mob of adults who hadn’t liked the idea of Boston busing. They threw rocks up at me, yelling, “Nigger go home!’” (Thomas 9). Because of the use of these derogatory terms, the narrator grows up already with the notion that he has less worth than white people, but tries his whole adult life to change that. He knows, however, that he is a black man trying to earn a living in a white man’s world, and often circles back to the thought that all of his problems are because his wife is a white woman. He not only battles his own private thoughts, but his acquaintances constantly remind him of the same worry. He runs into one of his old friends, Shake, who tells him, “‘I didn’t tell you to marry a white woman’ […] But [Claire] thinks, everybody thinks, whether they admit it or not, that the skin is the thing’” (MacDonald 271-272). This illustrates the racist thoughts that the characters in this novel possess. Shake belittles not only the narrator’s wife, but the narrator himself, because he is the one whose wife is white. In this case, the racial abuse indirectly affects the narrator, but directly causes him to reevaluate his life. For the duration of the novel, the narrator works extremely hard to provide for his family, but after the conversation with Shake, he makes the decision to leave his wife for both of their benefit. Proceeding this exchange between the two, the narrator goes and purchases a gift for Claire as his way of telling her goodbye. This series of events illustrates that the racial abuse the narrator faces causes him to make serious life decisions, solely on the basis of the racial opinions of others. At the end of the novel, when the narrator gives the gift to his wife, he is also giving away the last remnants of his previous hope. Now the author is saying that his damage is beyond repair, and the past that the narrator works so hard to change eventually catches up to him. The same happens to Materia in Fall on Your Knees. The characters from both novels realize the gravity of their situations, and feel the pain of their past is too difficult to overcome. It is for this reason that they find ways to escape their situations; Materia, in Fall on Your Knees, by committing suicide, and the narrator, in Man Gone Down, by leaving his family.
When in a difficult situation, one may try to escape in whatever way they know how. This is the fight or flight survival instinct, in which many may choose the safe route and flee whatever predicament in which they find themselves. In many cases, the first step is realizing the issue is much greater than it seems, and too far beyond repair. In Fall on Your Knees, Frances comes to the understanding that her father will never love her or care for her as he does her sisters. In the same way, Materia realizes that James is not the man she originally thinks he is, and she cannot bear to live with him and her state of depression any longer. He puts her down in many ways, including verbally when he says, “‘You’re too fat.’ Materia looked at James from afar and said, “Okay’” (MacDonald 45). With these constant insults, Materia looks for a way out, and the only one she can foresee is to take her own life. Similarly, the narrator in Man Gone Down runs away from his familial issues. He realizes that his family is too broken to mend when he says, “And while my mother never tried to hide the fact that we, as a family, had been pre-selected for failure, he did” (Thomas 77). Because of things his mother tells him as a child, the narrator understands that his family is not, and can never be the ideal family. Even though he spends his life trying to change his past, in the end, he cannot escape. This hopelessness drives him to make the decision to leave his wife and children. Because the characters in both novels react to their unfortunate circumstances in much the same way, both MacDonald and Thomas agree that regardless of one’s best efforts, sometimes the darkness in one’s past is too difficult to overcome.
In Fall on Your Knees and Man Gone Down, both Ann-Marie MacDonald and Michael Thomas decide to incorporate dark pasts in the histories of their protagonists. Not only do these characters have dark pasts, but it is these moments in time that determine the person they become later on in life. The darkness, in this case, is the result of the infliction of many forms of abuse. Three specific forms of abuse that the authors describe in detail are physical, mental and racial. In both novels, the portrayal of the development of the characters is shed in a negative light, where the characters never truly overcome their pasts. For the majority of the characters, such as Frances and Materia in Fall on Your Knees, their futures are parallel to their pasts. In Man Gone Down, as well, the narrator seems to lose all hope by the end, and even makes the conscious decision to leave his family. At the conclusion of the novel, however, it is unclear whether or not the narrator follows through with his decision. This leaves the reader with a small sense of hope for a brighter future for the character. Moreover, this conclusion leaves the reader with the notion that one’s past does not definitively define them as a person, but it is what they do to change their past that does.