Discoveries That Broaden Understanding: Katherine Mansfield and Robert Gray
The discoveries can be transformative for individuals as they develop new ways of viewing themselves and society; however, sometimes broadening one’s understanding can have detrimental effects. Robert Gray and Katherine Mansfield, in their writings, portray how these negative discoveries may cause the persona to reject aspects of a specific lifestyle. Gray encourages his readers to critically examine the world and its immorality by portraying a morally problematic society in his poem Meatworks. Gray further questions society, portraying the negative ramifications of consumer waste throughout his poem Flames and Dangling Wires, informed by Gray’s demythologised interpretation of Buddhism. Similarly Mansfield’s 1922 short story The Garden Party evokes a socially confronting realisation in the persona, causing the reader to question the superficial facets of human existence. Through discoveries individuals learn of their responsibility for the world around them which has a lasting effect on their lives.
Composers portray the transformative effects of discoveries which lead to moral questioning and renewed values. Gray’s poem Meatworks criticises the slaughtering industry, informed by Gray’s practise of vegetarianism. The use of exclusive language separates the persona from the other workers, establishing his morality over “them” as “most of them worked around the slaughtering.” The polysemy of “works around” denotes the workers as being nearby as well as ‘working around’ the morality of animal slaughter. The enjambment with the following line emphasises the word “slaughter,” creating a brutal atmosphere, positioning the reader to reject the meat industry as informed by the Zen Buddhist notion that sentient beings possess a spirit and are worthy of respect. Both Gray and Mansfield convey how personas’ discovery can morally transform the reader as they perceive new ideas. In Mansfield’s short story the optimistic tone created through the child-like diction as the narrator talks of “what happiness it is to be with people who all are happy,” portrays how the reader’s priorities, like Laura’s, may be diverted from serious to more superficial facets of human existence. Laura’s acceptance of the garden party portrays how the mother’s thoughts intrude upon hers, as the lower class are “poor creatures,” not worth “us” cancelling a party for. This binary opposition of class emphasises Laura discovering her own morality, questioning her mother by asking “isn’t it terribly heartless of us?” The first person pronoun encourages the reader to discover a sense of their own morals that exists outside the parameters of their parents, as they discover how sudden realisations may cause a re-evaluation of ideals. Discoveries play an important role in the understanding individuals hold of their society, causing a re-evaluation of one’s own ethics.
Discoveries broaden our understanding of our responsibility for the world and provide hope for societal transformation. Gray, in Flames and Dangling Wires, portrays a new and confronting view of the world to facilitate a discovery in the reader and provide hope for society. The reference to “dangling wires” continues the motif of waste and reinforces the perceptions of cultural decline. The title reference awakens the persona from the decadence of consumerism, resulting in “the dump,” “as a curtain lifting, one time, to a coast of light.” The metaphor of the theatre gives way “one time” to a light, enlightening the reader on the disappearing electromagnetism, carrying away the signal of “Chopin” and the possibility of future enlightenment. This is indicative of the Buddhist enlightenment – understanding the insignificance of humanity in the grand scale of the universe. In Meatworks, Gray continues to depict how the persona’s discoveries influence the reader as they come to terms with the imposition of society on nature. Gray portrays the pigs as sentimental creatures, encouraging the reader to empathise with them and “[feel] but one / not looked at then –” The second person perspective encourages the audience to reject the meatworks, with em-dashes creating a pause as polysemic for the way the audience used to view the world and a sudden infiltration of their thoughts by the final accosting imagery of the pigs “clinging to each other.” This is influenced by Gray’s vegetarianism and his belief in the Buddhist ideals of detachment from desires to receive enlightenment. By broadening the reader’s understanding of their personal values, composers may encourage them to question preconceived ideals.
Whilst discoveries expand our understanding of the world, in some instances these revelations can have negative consequences for individuals. Through Meatworks, Gray builds his criticism of the slaughtering system, depicting how discovery may be a cause of alienation for individuals. The sibilance and olfactory imagery of “sticky stench” that “sent the flies mad” emphasises the sickening image, whilst the imagery of the “flies” continues the sense of revulsion and lexical chain of insects. The exclusive conjunctive opening of the next line “but I settled for one of the lowest-paying jobs” demonstrates the persona’s self exclusion from the other workers, as a difference in values causes them to challenge society. Contrastingly, in Flames and Dangling Wires, Gray evokes a confronting experience as the reader realises their inability to separate themselves from cultural decline. The collective pronoun in “behind us, the city / driven like stakes into the earth” implicates the persona in the actions of human kind. This continues the hellish allusion of “stake” to vampiric legends, implying that “us” is more accusative than confessional, as Gray positions humanity as an imposition on the environment, encouraging the audience to question the role they play in a consumer society. Mansfield similarly portrays how negative individual discoveries provide hope for societal transformation. Laura discovers the neighbour’s death, awakening her from the superiority and insensitivity of a higher class as Laura’s mother explains that “people like that” “don’t expect sacrifices from people like us.” The juxtaposition of “us” and “that” exemplifies the difference in class, as Mansfield invites the reader into discovering the “simply marvellous” meaning of life, which exists outside human superficialities. These negative individual discoveries may impact upon the reader and provide hope for societal transformation; however the persona’s realisations may cause them to reject aspects of their life. Robert Gray, as informed by his demythologised interpretation of Buddhism, encourages individuals to question their values and society in Meatworks and Flames and Dangling Wires. These poems portray how through discovery individuals may come to renewed perceptions of their own values which have a transformative effect on their lives.
Both Gray’s poems and Mansfield’s short story The Garden Party explore how some revelations may have negative effects for individuals; however these negative discoveries may provide hope for societal transformation. It is through discovery that individuals broaden their understanding of their responsibility for the world around them as they establish new ways of viewing society and themselves.
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The discoveries can be transformative for individuals as they develop new ways of viewing themselves and society; however, sometimes broadening one’s understanding can have detrimental effects. Robert Gray and Katherine […]