A Theme of Beauty in “Beauty and the Beast”
Beauty is a concept that is relative and comparative in our society today. Women especially often flock to books, magazines, movies, and media because they have this desire to try and fill that vacant space of being beautiful. After time and time again of being unsatisfied of their need and desire to be beautiful, they should see that their outward appearance of beauty will not change what is important to them, or their identity. Along with that, outward beauty does not show what is essential in a person. It does not show their morals, values, characteristics or their feelings. Outward appearance does not show their love for their family, or their grace and forgiveness. “Beauty and the Beast” is an excellent example of these characteristics and traits. Her appearance on the outside does not consume the Beauty character, but she shows characteristics that no outward beauty can make up for. She shows her love in her sacrifice, morals, forgiveness, and trust. She shows her love through sacrifice and grace. Beast, however, has no outward beauty and often is labeled as angry and hostile. Furthermore, he shows grace when no one expects him to. The fairytale story of “Beauty and the Beast” that entails forgiveness while showing grace for all people in every situation and sacrifice is the most significant gesture of affirmation that you can give to anyone.
In “Beauty and the Beast,” the two main characters are Beauty and Beast. These characters have an interesting dynamic between them. Beauty exemplifies grace, honesty, and trust while this beast is holding her hostage just so that she could save her father. She sacrificed herself for her family because she loves them. As a child, her sisters tormented her because she was beautiful and humble. They were not ugly, but she was just prettier. Her sisters were caught up with the materiality of the world. They only wanted new clothes and fine jewelry. After their father had lost his business, they became inferior in society. Having to sell all the beautiful things they had. Her sisters wailed and complained against the situation, but it did no good. Their father went on a trip in an attempt to save his ships and his business. He asked his daughters what they wanted. Beauty’s sisters wanted jewelry and clothes, but Beauty only wanted a rose. After a great deal of trouble, he went to return home with nothing. Upon arriving near to his house, he became lost in the forest through the heavy rain and snow. He saw a palace off in the distance, and he went in. He ate until he was satisfied, then slept until morning. Beast noticed him and sent him on his way. While on his way out, he took a rose for Beauty to satisfy her request. The monster allowed him to return to his daughters and his family by agreeing to one condition, Beauty had to come in place of him, or he needed to return in 3 months. Beauty sacrificed herself and journeyed to the palace in her father’s place.
In this heart touching story, the dynamics between characters unfold until the very end. The attribute of beauty is not always what it is all caught up to be. Beauty’s father returned home, after the monstrous beast allowed him to do, only to have his daughter take his place. Sacrifice is viewed as one of the grandest gesture that anyone can give. Beauty was willing to sacrifice everything she had to save her father’s life. By this action, she showed love towards her family. Some people show love by gifts, words. Alternatively, quality time, but Beauty showed it through her sacrifice. By doing this, she showed excellent characteristics of her personality. Beauty never knew the situation of Beast. She showed true entrustment in the beast to provide for her and not maim her.
Although people look at the beast as this overbearing monster, he showed characteristics of good. People tend to assume from the beginning that the antagonist cannot have good qualities about him, but the story shows how he is able to give grace to his prisoners. Usually, a reader will jump to conclusions before finishing the writing about a character and how they act and think. Because Beast is the antagonist in this story, many people expect him to have a few good traits about him, but that would be incorrect. Society today often believes that if a character is evil, they have no good in them. However, Beast is an excellent example of showing the ability to have outstanding characteristics. Grace is a hard attribute to understand and show indeed. Beast not only showed it by letting her father return home for some time, but by being hospitable, and caring for Beauty. Beast is portrayed as an atrocious, barbaric, uncivilized monster, but with a more in-depth look, he shows virtues of beauty.
In today’s society, outward appearance has more influence on a person’s status than their values or ideals. In a perfect world, no one would care what the striking appearance communicated about a person. Everyone would take a step back, and listen before judging someone based on their hair, clothes or shoes. In every version or adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, whether a play, musical, or movie, the Beauty character always has the opportunity to judge the beast based upon his looks. In the movie Beauty and the Beast by Disney Beast even says “She will never see me as anything…but a monster.” He recognizes his outward appearance as a monster and even lets that define him at one point, but as the audience finds out later on in the movie.
Many variations of this original story have already been written. Some of these include The Frog Prince and The Pig King. In“The Frog Prince” is one of these variations. This writing is about a frog who saved the princess’ favorite toy, a golden ball because he wanted to spend time with her. He longed to eat dinner at the table and run and play with her. The princess promised to allow him to do all these things with her, completely ignoring that he was a frog. After reobtaining the golden ball, she ran off to return home, but the frog could not keep up. Later that evening her father heard a knock at the door. Surprised, the frog began to explain his situation. The father let him in and explained to the princess how she would have to keep the promise she made. Later on into the night the princess and the frog went into her bedroom. When the princess finally had enough, she picked him up and threw him against the wall. At that moment, he then turned into a handsome prince. This outcome comes to show that even the best people can end up in the worst circumstances.
Every story can be changed, made up, or exaggerated. Companies such as Broadway and Disney have made “Beauty and the Beast” something it is not. They have taken the story way out of proportion even have changed the meaning. Beauty and the Beast have changed the meaning of the original story. The movie and the writing have similarities and differences — for example, the song “Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme. Beauty and the Beast” is well known from the movie by Disney. The movie has adapted the story for a younger audience to be able to understand. The New York Times states “The audience needs to be, by turns, reassured and surprised, guided through startling and suspenseful events toward a never-in-doubt conclusion.” This means that even Beauty and the Beast plot has been changed so that the audience stays engaged.
The story of Beauty and the Beast has enchanted a variety of audiences for a number of years. This story tells about grace and forgiveness. It shows the importance of being devoted to a family through sacrifice to show love. Even Broadway, and Disney have taken this story to show essential values such as grace, sacrifice, and love.
The Views On Beauty In William Shakespeare’s Poetry
We can read in William Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost that “Beauty is bought by the judgement of the eye”. It is not a thing that people could grasp or comprehend fully, as well as, it is a subjective experience. Something will be beautiful as long as we can find beauty in them, no matter what the others will think. It is said in an article on beauty by E. F. Carritt “Pure delight in a sunset or a symphony and our value for such experiences are unimpaired by the discovery that other people find no beauty in them or by the admission that there may be no objective beauty in them at all.” Furthermore, it is written in Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray, which strengthens the statement that it cannot be grasped, “We have lost the abstract sense of beauty.” It does not exist physically because, as individuals, we will see beauty and think of it in different ways. Just like Shakespeare in Sonnet 54 or Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey in The Frailty and Hurtfulness of Beauty express different views about it.
Shakespeare says that beauty can be more than it is just by itself, an outward appearance, because truth and inner qualities are what give it the essence. He states right at the beginning in the first two lines of the sonnet ‘O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem,/By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!”, that is, an already beautiful thing can be even more beautiful if honesty and truth come with it. On the other hand, Surrey, as it is foreshadowed in the title, says that beauty is frail and hurtful. Reading further in the sonnet we can see how he considers the transitory nature of beauty, as it is illusive and deceiving. So, while Shakespeare finds beauty in the interior, Surrey sees only the negative side of it and so judges it because of its transitoriness.
Shakespeare’s sonnet can be divided into three quatrains and a final couplet. He talks about two flowers, the fragrant rose in the first quatrain and the canker-bloom in the second quatrain. In the first quatrain, after declaring that beauty can be made more beautiful, Shakespeare reinforces his statement with the example of sweet roses in line three and four. He says that roses are beautiful, but we deem them even more so because of their sweet scent. In contrast, the canker-blooms or wild roses “have full as deep a dye as the perfumed tincture of the roses” they lack the scent that makes roses beautiful. The appearance is the same, but they do not have what really matters. He continues the comparison between the two roses in the third quatrain. The canker-blooms only look beautiful, “…for their virtue only is their show,”, but do not contain inner beauty and so they “die to themselves” because nobody loves them. However, fragrant roses do not disappear after dying because people make rosewater and perfumes from them. In the final couplet we can see the sonnet’s message, that is, just like fragrant roses live after death, the beauty in Shakespeare’s words never fade. After youth passes away, outward beauty goes with it as well. As it was said in Dorian Gray “When your youth goes, your beauty will go with it…”. But Shakespeare distills what remained, the truth, the inner beauty, and makes them immortal in his poetry. In brief, just how John Keats said in his poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Surrey’s poem, once it is a sonnet as well, can also be divided into three quatrains and a couplet, but it is not splitted into parts. There is no separable quatrains or themes because he, all through the sonnet, talks about beauty as an evil and deceitful thing. Surrey starts the poem with an alliteration, which will appear in almost every line afterwards, so we can get the image of beauty’s weakness right from the first two words, “brittle beauty”, without reading any further. It was made so frail by nature, so nature, which is changeable, affects beauty then beauty is changeable as well. The end of the second line “…short the season;” also hints that beauty, similar to seasons, is short and will soon come to an end. It is a transitory state, “flow’ring today, tomorrow apt to fail”. Moreover, in the seventh line with a simile, Surrey uses a moving image to show how temporary beauty is, “Slipper in sliding, as is an eel’s tail”.
From the fifth line Surrey starts to enumerate the negative attributions of beauty. It is “dangerous to deal with”, “vain”, and “costly in keeping” just to mention a few of them. We can see the costly nature of beauty to appear in films and books, for instance Dorian Gray, who sells his own soul to keep his beauty, or the Evil Queen from Snow White, who is ready to kill in order to be the most beautiful in the land, or Mother Gothel from Tangled, who steals a baby to keep her youth and beauty. Surrey also says, using an oxymoron, that it is “bitter sweet”. It can seem wonderful but it does not last forever and will eventually disappear.
In the final couplet Surrey expresses his view on beauty’s temporariness with a last example comparing beauty to a fruit, “Thou farest as fruit that with the frost is taken,/Today ready ripe, tomorrow all to-shaken”. It is fair like a fruit but when it is frozen it loses its enticing appearance because the frost is all we can see and not the fruit. And in the last line there is another contrast between today and tomorrow. It talks about beauty’s temporary state as well, something can be beautiful today and damaged tomorrow.
Class and Race in Zadie Smith’s Novel on Beauty
In the first paragraph of this article on Zadie Smith’s novel On Beauty, it talks about where and when she was born to give context to her writing. Born in the 1970’s in England gives her an interesting non-American perspective on issues like race and class. This is a story about a culturally diverse political climate in the town of Wellington which hosts a college (non Ivy League) with the same name. Amazingly, this story appeals to people from all political backgrounds left and right in different ways.
The second paragraph goes deeper into the stories plot by telling us that it follows two connected families in a fictional college town outside Boston, Massachusetts. The student body tend to be extremely arrogant and entitled, similar to our Harvard or Yale students. Smith interestingly spent time at Harvard as a Radcliffe which brought her to America in the first place. This gave her insight and inspiration to write On Beauty after her debut hit, White Teeth.
In the next few paragraphs we learn that one of the main characters Howard, a white upper class liberal man from working class London, has an enemy called Monty Kipps who is coincidentally moving to the same town of Wellington that Howard lives in. Monty and Howard may be quite different in personality, Monty being a conservative Christian and Howard being a liberal atheist, but they both share the desire to hide where they come from and their true roots. Both of the men’s takes on society leave the reader interested after each page and keeps the argument fresh because of their backgrounds.
The issues at Wellington aren’t so one dimensional as one might assume though. Both arguments made by Howard and Monty are taken by people who have quite high stakes in the outcome of their arguments. Wellington is known to be a racial melting pot as well, but things are never as simple as they seem. There are many different perspectives amongst the Wellington residence but there seems to be a common undertone, white and rich.
Both men are quite strong and passionate in their differences. Each of them find it extremely difficult to connect or relate to anything outside their politics/academia. Monty is a go getter and is not afraid to fuel the fire, as we see when he announces his move to Wellington in a local newspaper with his declaration to remove the “liberal” from “liberal arts” which automatically gets under Howard’s skin.
In Monty and Howard we can see absolute ridiculous and reprehensible behavior. “Stuck in their own way” is a great and accurate phrase to use to describe the two scholars. We see their hypocrisy in their everyday lives compared to their politics, this holds true beyond the novel and is one of Smith’s central points in this story.
But not all is so stressful and unbearable as it may seem. Kiki, Howard’s African American wife from Florida, often brings balance and peace to the story of two academic rivals. She brings the issues home rather than keeping them in the school, giving them a more domestic and personal tone. She has a feminist outlook on the world and seeks to anchor her husband’s fiery personality.
Overall we can see that Smith drastically connects the issues of class and race. The entire story can seem to be dominated by Howard and Monty’s continuous feuding but underneath the politics and fights they have, lays Kiki and her children struggling to fit in this academic white upper class world. Kiki often feels out of place in the town and never seems to properly connect, like her Husband and Monty. Her children wish to connect more with their black heritage but feel unable to because they are not surrounded by people like them, so they try their best to blend into the white society they have grown up with. Ultimately Smith is criticizing the academic culture, tying it to a struggle between class and race which, in Smith’s eyes, are always connected to each other and to education itself.
Ethnic Identity in Zadie Smith’s on Beauty
In social viewpoint Belsey and their kids influences a lot to endure their own practices. ‘Ethnicity’ is frequently utilized as it were near one customarily ascribed to ‘race’. It incorporates race, shading, sex, language, cause and so on. Be that as it may, Levi’s way of life as ‘Dark’ he wishes to left from the family.
The composition of Black and White predominance influences each character in this novel. While the restricting of marriage among Victoria and Jerome, Michael who is the child of Monty hitched Amelia a White young lady. It makes disagreeable circumstance to Belsey’s family. Since Monty’s dismissal of Jerome as the character of ‘Dark’. Consequently the kinship between these two families are broken and they are isolated.
One conceivable answer is investigated through Belsey and Kiki’s relationship. They had been hitched for a long time. They know and see each other so well that a basic outward appearance says a lot of data. They have comparable faculties of silliness and are similarly put resources into the childhood of their kids. They permit each other the opportunity to do whatever it is they need to do with their lives-nearly. Belsey pushes the limits. He has a genuine shortcoming with regards to sex with other ladies.
The shade of the skin perhaps blamed so as to abuse her, however there is no reason or rationale inclusion in the abuse. On the off chance that it appears that her shading is the reason, on the off chance that it appears that her ethnic legacy is the reason for the misfortune, this is on the grounds that she has been intentionally whipped by the others covetous framework until she swallows the personality. That is the disguise of prejudice. Bigotry is the efficient, organized abuse of one gathering of individuals by another dependent on racial legacy. Like each other mistreatment, bigotry can be disguised.
Minorities come to trust falsehood about their specific ethnic gathering and in this manner trust that their abuse is supported. The expression ‘non-white individuals’ alludes to an assortment of ethnic and social foundations. These different gatherings have been persecuted in an assortment of ways. Belsey drives the unsteady way of life that scholarly vocations since he is a man of white whom weds dark lady.
Phyletic Prejudice: a Study of Extremity in Zadie Smith’s on Beauty
The complexion of White and Black plays an important role not only in second generation but also affects Belsey and Kiki too. In University, Belsey is also affected by this Identity crisis. He is a man of flawless in his career but he is condemned by other individuals who worked in that University about his marriage with a dark woman. Meanwhile Kiki is affected with a similar reason because she lives amidst the White society. This novel manages the numerous facets and expressions of Black Identity through different characters. It begins from Belsey in his University life and shifts to Kiki who has lived amidst the White society. They lead a real existence as upper class, predominantly White school town.
This conflict shifts to the second generation of their children, started from Jerome who settled in England now. As a result of his obscurity identity he suffers a great deal and attempts to escape from the passionate crisis. It moves to Zora in her college life, she wants to become a successful professor like her father Belsy but she cannot because of her identity depends in light of Belsey’s marriage with a dark woman.
On the other hand, the character of Monty rejects the thought of obscurity because it cannot exists, unaltered in the context of an elite University. He trusts that the approach of affirmative action regarding minorities in society belittles the dark community. While Levi comprehends his dark personality through the battle with systematic oppression and resistance to assimilation. Belsy’s identity is seen progressively through the lens of his class loyalties. While Kiki’s intricate understanding of her obscurity is express through her associations with others. At the point she talks with the vendor she feels over sexualized as a result of her voluptuous figure, so she keep away from him due to their class consciousness. When she appends her time with her friends is different from her guilt about obscurity, but she lavishly spends money and time with her friends not to worry about the outside world.
Smith intersected the issues of class and race throughout the novel in order to bring out the light relationship between Belsey and Kiki. Kiki’s race turns into an impediment against her capacity to fit in with the community and world encompassing her, one that is White, affluent and educated. The domination of the academic world is specifically tied to its whiteness, making a conflict between Kiki’s racial identity and class identity.
Levi struggles with blended race identity and obscurity in view of the fundamentally White world of academics where he lives. Belsey and Kiki’s families are a combination of stereotypically ‘White attributes and those that are Black’, including physical traits, making complexities within the family that reflect the complexities within academic and making complexities within the relationship with race and class. ‘Inappropriate’ demonstrates Kiki amidst the White society. The life in University makes hard to move everyday life for Zora and Belsey. ‘Inappropriate’ rises as an uncertainty of Zora in criticism however the individuals from the University change as an personal issue. Everyone scrutinizes Belsy’s inappropriate life amidst the White society. It influences Zora much she rejects to take classes in the University. The marriage of cross race and society influences the second generation. Levi, Belsey’s son not in any case heard the word ‘Black’, he is conceived in America and concentrates in the White’s school, so he doesn’t get an opportunity to meet any Black individuals and way of life of Black.
In reverse his mother Kiki is a Black woman, when he is an adult his attitude changes. He abhors the word ‘Black’ and also abhors his mother’s activity in outside home. Levi’s friendship with Choo changes his life style. He can’t pursue either White or Black. He adopts himself by some negative behavior patterns from Choo like smoking, stealing, and so on. It influences Belsey however he couldn’t care less about this attitude of Levi. Jerome always appreciates Kiki as a ‘Strong Black Woman’ because she doesn’t care about other’s criticism of her Black complexion. She exposes her affection towards Jerome since he is the first child who is the symbol of their love. Kiki feels regretful the dismissal marriage with Victoria at the same time she wouldn’t like to lose her legacy as a ‘Black’.
Levi is the most affected character of identity crisis in this novel. At the point when his companionship with Choo, Kiki against it but Belsey supports it since he is a White boy. Later he helps Belsey to win the Rembrandt project. Belsey always denotes Kiki as ‘heart breaker’ and ’emotional fraud’ because of her love towards Belsey. Belsey’s language is contrast from University and home particularly to Kiki. In University he is enthusiastic, expressive, kind and light- hearted but to Kiki he isn’t passionate, expressive, kind nothing. He had numerous illicit relationships like Claire, Victoria. Belsey attempts to end up his marriage life with Kiki. It is uncovered in the gathering when Kiki had a squabble with a White woman about her appearance. She shouts like anything in that moment. Belsey bursts out his own multifaceted nature towards Kiki as a Black woman and exposes to end up his marriage life. Kiki cries and contends with Belsey, later she reconciles herself because she reminds the word from Jerome and others as ‘strong woman’.
In social perspective Belsey and their children affects much to endure their own practices. ‘Ethnicity’ is frequently utilized in a sense close to traditionally ascribed to ‘race’. It incorporates race, color, sex, language, origin and so on. Levi’s way of life as ‘Black’ he wishes to left from the family. The complexion of Black and White predominance influences each character in this novel. While the restricting of marriage among Victoria and Jerome, Michael who is the son of Monty married Amelia a White girl. It makes unpleasant circumstance to Belsey’s family. Monty’s dismissal of Jerome as the identity of ‘Dark’. Consequently the kinship between these two families is broken and they are isolated.
One possible answer is explored through Belsey and Kiki’s relationship. They had been married for thirty years. They know and understand each other so well that a simple facial expression speaks volume of information. They have comparable senses of humor and are equally invested in the upbringing of their children. They allow each other the opportunity to do whatever they need to do with their lives-almost. Belsey pushes the boundaries and has a genuine shortcoming with regards to sex with other women.
The complex of the skin perhaps blamed so as to mistreat her, but there is no reason or rationale inclusion in the mistreatment. If it seems that her color is the reason that her ethnic identity is the reason for the misfortune of the second generation. This is on the grounds that she has been intentionally whipped by the others covetous system until she swallows the identity. This is the disguise of prejudice. Racism is the systematic, institutionalized mistreatment of one group and of individuals by another dependent on racial legacy. Like each other oppression, racism can be disguised.
Minorities come to believe falsehood about their specific ethnic group and in this manner trust that their mistreatment is justified. The term ‘people of color’ refers to an assortment of ethnic and social backgrounds. These different groups have been oppressed in a variety of ways.
On Beauty by Zadie Smith: Theme Analysis
The purpose of this paper will be to reflect upon the thematic elements that are presented within Zadie Smith’s (2007) “On Beauty” such as the relationship between critique and personal reflection itself. The narrative focuses on Howard Belsey, a prominent art critic, and this paper will analyze how Belsey’s approach to critique is used as a greater reflection on humanity’s attempt to understand the world around it, and how previous attempts have crafted the approach that is used. As such, some of the history of relevant ideas such as humanism and posthumanism will be introduced and these theories will be discussed as elements of Belsey’s character, and by extension, of critique in itself and the compulsive human need to find some inherent truth within each situation. Lastly, inferences will be made regarding the meaning behind the conclusion of the story and Smith’s (2007) meaning in the transformation of Belsey’s character in the story’s concluding section.
Reflection of “On Beauty”
What distinguished humans from the remainder of the creatures on Earth was our supreme ability to recognize our own humanity, and to question it, critique or embrace it. This choice defines one of the many attributes of our ability to logically perceive ourselves, a characteristic of sentience that to our knowledge, only we possess. We are attuned to our world in a way that only we can dictate and became aware of, and it extends far beyond simply ourselves. The reason that humans were able to evolve and become the collective entity that we are as a species was due to our ability to perceive patterns and instances of repetition and to decipher some sort of meaning in these events. A ripple in the sand could become the beginning of a spiritual path, the stars in the sky taking the shape of some celestial entity guiding us forward. This awareness has allowed us to grow and to question the fabric of our own beings and reality, but it has also allowed us to create reflections of our existence and ponder upon those as well. While humans are logical, analytical creatures, we are also very emotional and passionate beings as well. As such, for as long as there has been some sort of semantics to share our thoughts and feelings, there have been stories of the struggle of humanity. Recorded history has seen the development, rise and fall of countless types of thought and ideas from individuals who have sought to capture the human essence and mystify it. Because of this though, and the influx of representations of beauty, humans have become somewhat desensitized to these notions and in turn, have chosen to become more critical of them as a result. “On Beauty” by Zadie Smith (2007) reflects upon this conundrum, drawing upon ideas brought forth by both humanist and post-humanist motifs to question the difference between critique and subconscious desensitization to the humanities.
To better understand the statement posited above, it is important to distinguish the differences between humanism and post-humanism, and the effects that these have had on understanding the humanities themselves as reflected in the novel “On Beauty.” As Robert Proctor (1998) discusses, humanism affirms that humans have the ability to use reason and intellect to cultivate their own understanding of the world around them, as opposed to simply accepting tradition or reality as it is presented. In this regard, the tendency of humanists historically was to differentiate between types of thought in an effort to discern for themselves which were the most prominent, controversial or innovative. Humanists were among many of the most well-known people to question the validity of the divine, and in turn, placed an emphasis on the importance of the real and tangible. They were naturally skeptics and critics of thoughts that had been brought before them as they attempted to seek out the true nature of the world. This in itself defines much of what is being analyzed in “On Beauty.” The protagonist of the story, Howard Belsey, has dedicated his entire career to critiquing the works of others and to analyzing the importance of art itself. His approach to doing so is so founded in theoretical frameworks and understanding the nature of the work itself that he often neglects to find the intrinsic beauty of the work or the artist.
In this sense, Belsey represents an example of Proctor’s (1998) view of humanism taken to its’ extreme, an embodiment of the human desire to understand and analyze attributes of the world. Belsey takes this characteristic to new heights though, focusing exclusively on deciphering the importance of the work of artists such as Rembrandt by postulating on how his work relates to theories and ideas defined by others. Belsey has taken the nature of logical interpretation and created a sort of framework for how he interprets not only the art that he views, but the world around him as well. Belsey extrapolates this mentality to such a degree that it permeates every bit of his being, and as a result, affects his personal life. It’s reflected heavily in the argument with his wife Kiki. Kiki exemplifies a real sense of human emotion, angered by the infidelity of her husband and attempting to have some emotional response from Howard to find a grounds on which they can relate, she makes several exclamations towards him, even going so far as to challenge and acknowledge how analytical and almost cold he is by saying “We’re not in your class now. Are you able to talk to me in a way that means anything?”
It’s evident by her response to Howard that his entire being is purely analytical, logical and calculative. Howard’s character is interesting in the sense that he is presently aware of the nature of humanity and how thought occurs, and how it grows from itself. He reflects upon this to Claire during the party for his anniversary, in which he states “It’s all interconnected… We produce new ways of thinking, then other people think it.” (120) This reflection on human thought and the origin of reflection itself brings into focus the relationship with experience, emotion and art. Once an idea is reflected upon and analyzed so much, one could argue that it loses some of the inherent qualities that made it so mystifying to begin with. The nature of humanity’s ability to ponder our own reality often grounds us within the reality itself, as we step forward and remove the ethereal elements about our existence. “On Beauty” can be seen as a reflection of this idea, and how humanism itself removed some of the wonder about the world, firmly planting those who lived by its structure to the confines of what the present world could be defined as capable of doing or becoming. (Proctor, 1998)
It’s quite a paradoxical conclusion, that the expansion of understanding within the human mind placed constraints on our existence but this in itself can be seen as an explanation as to why characters such as Howard have become demystified by the works of art and wonder around them, focusing exclusively on attempting to understand it rather than appreciate it for the inexplicable. The relationship between humanity and beauty extends far beyond just Howard, as Smith (2007) makes several points to ponder upon exactly what it means to appreciate beauty, or to accept it. As the narrator states, “Was anyone ever genuinely attached to anything?” The ability to attach to things is a reflection of their acceptance and our ability to focus on promoting the attributes that we accept. Given Howard’s critical nature, there are many different characteristics of Kiki that are open to this sort of skeptical critique and it reflects in the relationship that they have.
During their argument, there’s a moment where Kiki essentially hides part of her stomach by tucking it into her waistband, almost as a way of confirming to herself her own confidence and ability to defy whatever inherent critiques that Howard poses of her. This highlights the dichotomy of their exchanges and the way that she believes Howard views her, after she discovers that he has had an affair with another individual. In many ways, Howard’s fights are due to the dismissal of the emotional effects and consequences of the situation and his inability to see past the deficiencies that are present in his wife, as he views her. The manifestation of this critical type of mentality comes in the form of the dialogue between Kiki and Howard during these points in their relationship. There’s always some sort of critique that lingers in the back of Howard’s mind, and he has this inability to accept something or rationalize a positive remnant of love or adoration, and Kiki knows this best. In this scene, she stands her physical and philosophical ground to Howard, asserting the notion that she has some value, despite what Howard may attempt to rationalize.
Howard’s class reflects his own rationalizations and the nature of his consistent ability to critique and question. This in itself shows in his conversation with Victoria about the tomato, which she asserts that he chooses not to find “love or truth” in the tomato, which symbolically represents all that we observe, both as humans and critics. Howard’s understanding of academia is that it is meant to constantly challenge and find some sort of deeper understanding in the instances around us, never simply settling for the mystification of the object by quantifying it in terms of “fallacies” such as love or truth. There’s some hidden characteristic to each and every being and entity in the world, and true beauty appears to be almost inescapable, in terms of the way that it is depicted traditionally. Later in the novel, Howard and Victoria are discussing Kiki’s wife, and Victoria refers to her as a queen. “’She’s very beautiful,’ said Victoria impatiently, as if Howard were being particularly dense about an obvious truth. ‘Like an African queen.’”
Howard immediately dissects this assertion of beauty, claiming that Kiki would find it patronizing and inaccurate. To Howard, even in this instance, there is some innate truth behind the admission that Kiki is beautiful. He dissects Victoria’s attempt to reference her, almost in an admission of guilt, to debase the argument against what is about to happen. In this regard, Howard brings the moment to a point of humanity by taking away from Victoria the notion of any sort of guilt or human emotion for what they are about to do. The fact that the people surrounding Howard are somehow mystified by this mentality itself is a reflection on humanity’s wish to understand the deeper notions of logic and reason. Victoria tells Howard of all of the classes that she has, and how they themselves don’t ask the correct questions about life and how they make assumptions about existence, using the tomato as the symbolic reference point. The reason that she feels intellectually drawn to Howard’s class is that he denies these assumptions and devalues the tomato itself, asking what makes it so important or what makes it something worth analyzing? This is the main, perplexing characteristic regarding Howard that many people, including Kiki, find. He proposes questions and analyses but never truly seeks to answer these questions in himself.
This is also a central attribute of the argument between Kiki and Howard. She feels as if he is constantly attempting to find some different interpretation of the events that are unfolding, rather than simply viewing them for what they are and emotionally adjusting to them accordingly. In many ways, it can be said that Howard also signifies the thoughts of post-humanism, as Langdon Winner (2004) defines it. Howard interprets the world around him much like a humanist would, but he has an inability to elevate the importance of artists or thinkers to a much higher standard, choosing instead to attempt to critique what it is about their work that implies humanity’s existence as no greater or worse than the remainder of the world, and of artists as no greater or lesser than the other humans around them. To Howard, there is some element to everything that is worth critiquing or understanding more but adversely, there is some element to all that is beautiful that is simply human.
This in itself is the definition of post-humanism, much like the one that is brought forth by Winner (2004). There is a rejection of universal concepts and constructs that are anthropologically defined and Howard believes in many ways that there is a stark limitation and essential fallibility of the human mind and our levels of intelligence. It’s as if he attaches emotional involvement to these constructs as well, which further propels his need for finding some sort of critique or base to debunk or question the reality of that which is around him. His analysis of Rembrandt and constant need to question the nature of Rembrandt’s work is a metaphor for this search. Rembrandt’s work historically came after the rise of the Renaissance and humanism and his pieces were notoriously realistic. The one in question throughout the work is that of a nude woman, who rather than having features which are noticeably surreal, are more human and normal. Seated Nude is the name of the piece and Katie attempts to analyze it before class, drawing conclusions about the reasoning behind Rembrandt’s willingness to craft a nude in such a way. She associates a story that is based around the shape and contours of the body, how the “loose belly” has “known many babies,” and how the “muscles in her arms” were suggestive of manual labor.
Katie finds herself confident in some sort of innate reflection on the human condition itself and she attempts to answer Howard’s question, but before she can, Victoria intervenes with a response of her own. She states that this painting is a symbolic reflection on painting itself and what constitutes ideal characteristics to the human eye. She surmises that it’s a “painting about painting.” This response brings forth a sense of acceptance from Belsey, as he raps on his desk and tells her to expand upon the concept. Before she can expand upon it, another argument is brought forth and this expands upon the question further, much to the apparent delight of Howard. As such, it is evident that Howard is more impressed with the constant attempt to find some exterior criticism of the painting or question its own genius, rather than reflect upon it as an extension of humanity’s brilliance and Rembrandt as an individual who came to define some of this.
Earlier in the same section, Howard poses questions about this supposed genius. He states “What we’re trying to .. interrogate here… “is the mytheme of artist as autonomous individual with privileged insight into the human. What is it about these texts – these images as narration – that is implicitly applying for the quasi-mystical notion of genius?” Howard’s driving force is attempting to analyze and categorize the attributes of humanity which essentially have no solid foundation to be categorized. Art and emotion are innately human, but they aren’t the logical attributes of humanity that Howard is attempting to find. He seeks constant stimulation and a furthering of this mentality, and the utter inability of humanity to settle with one idea or notion, and this leads him to sleep with Victoria.
After Kiki discovers this affair, she leaves Howard. The story begins to materialize in drastic ways, as Howard eventually finds himself struggling to give a presentation that he had planned on Rembrandt’s work. This is an important presentation for Howard, as it determines his tenure status, but he is perplexed when he finds Kiki in attendance as well. Before he is able to start his lecture, Howard’s PowerPoint stops on an image of Rembrandt’s lover. He sees in that moment, a sort of beauty, given the context of the moment that he experienced it and finds a whole new meaning associated with the nature of the painting itself. He’s at a loss for words, looking out to the audience to find Kiki staring back at him. There is a powerful moment in the last bit of prose, in which it states an image of “the ever present human hint of yellow, intimation of what is to come.”
The color yellow represents many different elements of the story and of the human condition itself. (Winner, 2004) Throughout the story, it is used to relate to some sort of acquisition of knowledge, of the perpetuation of gaining insight into the world. As Langdon Winner (2004) discusses, it’s synonymous with a sort of analytical collection of data or confirming the existence of a scene within the memory of those that are partaking in the events. This is used in the scene in which the Belsey family attends the performance of Mozart’s Requieum in the Boston Common. The narrator recounts the “yellow lanterns, the colour of rape seeds, hung in the branches of the trees.” It’s as if the color yellow is used to signify a reflection of input, designed to inscribe a sort of significance of the actual attributes of the scene. Yet, in this point, the color yellow isn’t associated with a deeper context or reflection on inquisitiveness in itself. This is accomplished in the final statement of the novel.
In this moment, the color yellow is associated with some human condition, an “intimation of what is to come.” Yellow embodies a different type of inquisitiveness, almost an awakening of the mind and the approach that Howard has to dissecting both his life and the importance of the implements of reflection around him. He sees all at once, a different approach to simply critiquing the piece by Rembrandt. This section alludes to a sort of “post-critical” thought on beauty that exceeds both humanist and post-humanist ideas while drawing on references from both, and forces Howard into a newfound amalgamation of understanding as a result. This type of understanding is quite comparable to that which is introduced in”The Limits of Critique” by Rita Felski. Felski (2015) believes that critique allows for some sort of question to be brought forth, without any introduction of radical thought or guarantee of a more complex comprehension of the human elements that surround the installation being critiqued. Rather, she argues for what she refers to as “post-critical reading.” Rather than simply trying to find a deeper meaning or motive behind a text itself, she argues that scholars should thrust themselves into the text or artwork and place it before themselves and what relates to them, and in turn reflect on the prominence of this piece in terms of what it suggests to them.
In this moment, Felski’s (2015) hypothesis is asserted, as Howard reflects upon the prominence of Rembrandt’s lover, and her humanity and existence not as a metaphysical identity of the limitations of humans’ appearance or reality or any other thematic element that may be inferred. Rather, she is presented as simply Rembrandt’s lover, reflecting her qualities as his lover with all of her human conditions, but to Howard, she embodies his lover as well. He is able to relate a more complex understanding of what this lover means, not just as a reflection of something deeper in terms of humanity in general, but in terms of his own personal, emotional attachment to someone that he too has. Kiki is innately human, and has flaws much like all other humans but Howard is now able to accept that there need not be any deeper understanding or critique between them to enjoy both her existence and understand her as his partner.
The remainder of the narrative is summarized eloquently and simply, as “an intimation of what is to come.” In this moment, Howard’s perspective has been symbolically altered and it’s as if he has been introduced to the idea of resonating emotionally and personally with the entities around him, rather than simply critiquing their supposed importance. Smith (2007) uses this transformation to detail her understanding of the world as it currently is, and the nature of our appreciation and reflection upon the humanities. Humanism introduced a particularly prevalent notion of denying the supposed importance or mystification of the world, based simply on its existence or tradition’s dictation of doing so. While it was meant to further glorify the presence of humanity as real entities, it also created a paradoxical need for constant contemplation and critique which trickled into post-humanism. (Winner, 2004) In “On Beauty,” Smith (2007) argues for the importance of personal reflection and the superficial tendencies of critique to simply ask metaphysical questions for the sake of asking them, without delving into the importance of personal reflection. Much like in Felski’s (2015) “The Limits of Critique,” Smith (2007) concludes about the importance of finding meaning within one’s own understanding, placing that which we critique before us and simply basking in what it means to us, not only as humans but as individuals with the capacity to seek deeper, more resonant and human conclusions that what simple critique can afford.