Human Emotions in English Literature Essay
Updated: Mar 11th, 2020
There is hardly a single issue of the human nature that is just as controversial as feelings. On the one hand, feelings offer an exciting trip into the depth of one’s character, allowing to express the emotions caused by a certain event or phenomenon and at the same time serving as the indicator for the situation, not to mention that restraining feelings is considered rather dangerous – one day, everything that was kept inside, will come out in a volcanic eruption.
However, there is always the battle between the mind and the feelings, which often results in the favor of the former, mainly because feelings are often misleading and, therefore, are rather unreliable allies. Hence, feelings are often restrained in everyday life; however, in literature, they blossom.
Despite the fact that the humankind has been evolving for a continuous period of time, the basic emotions, e.g., fear, jealousness, joy, etc., have remained the same; however, the means of expressing these emotions have increased greatly, as well as the factors which cause the above-mentioned emotions.
Since people’s emotions are pretty basic, these are rather the mechanisms of emotions which have become more complicated over the centuries than the emotions themselves, which can be traced in such works as Chaucer’s Truth, which was written in Middle Ages, Marvel’s A Dialogue between the Soul and Body, the work which belongs to the XVII Century, and Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, which was created in the Restoration Period.
In Chaucer’s Truth, the emotions of the leading character are described in a rather vivid manner. Expressing the feelings which overwhelm him, the main character of the poem, who is also a narrator, offers an entire palette of feelings for the readers to sink into.
Chaucer mentions pity: “Flee from the crowd, and dwell with truthfulness” (Chaucer 317), which is quite understandable for the person who feels that the entire world has rejected him. However, in the given context, Chaucer mentions this emotion not to help the readers focus on the character, but to empathize with him and to get a better idea of the situation which the character has been trapped into.
Speaking of which, the emotion of empathy is also mentioned in the poem: “Wrestling for this world asks but a fall./Here’s not your home, here is but wilderness” (Chaucer 317), along with the emotion of pride, which seems to hold the former, making the character much more resistant to the cold-shoulder welcome which he receives from the world: “Control yourself, who would control your peer;/And truth shall deliver you, have no fear” (Chaucer 317).
It is quite remarkable that such incredible palette of feelings has been squeezed into a single idea of feeling tired of the world and feeling completely misunderstood by the others. Considering the above-mentioned emotions, one must admit, however, that, despite their number, they are all used to describe the same phenomenon, i.e., the leading character’s disappointment in the world and the human race.
None of the emotions serves as the way in which the reader can switch to a different topic or to savor another idea – every single emotion in the poem drives the reader’s attention to the main theme of the poem. Thus, a sufficient number of emotions described in the poem serve a single goal, which is to immerse the reader into the situation depicted by the author.
If analyzing the cause of the emotions which the leading character feels in the poem, one can see distinctly that there is only one reason for the lead to feel in a certain way, which is the fact of him being rejected by the cruel world. In a way, this is a very peculiar feature of the poem.
The reasons for the character to feel despair and even distress are quite obvious – moreover, they are what one is expected to feel about being rejected; however, the emotions which the character expresses, therefore, tell nothing about him in particular – except for the fact that he can be in despair and he is hurt now. The above-mentioned is what every person would most likely feel when being rejected.
Moreover, these emotions do not serve as a foil for the development of another character, the “pilgrim” whom the author encourages to fight people’s negative treatment, either. What these emotions do is describe the situation in which the character is, letting the reader sink into it and walk in the lead character’s shoes.
Quite different from the previously described poem, Andrew Marvel’s A Dialogue between the Soul and Body makes the readers plunge into a different universe where the emotions similar to the previously mentioned are triggered by quite a different situation. It is also worth mentioning that the emotions in the text are never mentioned directly; the reader has to guess all the way through the poem what feeling the author describes in his poem.
For example, the emotion of anguish and despair is expressed without naming names; it is only with the help of the descriptions of the situation:
O, who shall from this dungeon raise
A soul enslaved so many ways?
With bolts of bones, that fettered sands
In feet; and manacled in hands. (Marvel 1699)
This stands in a sharp contrast to the previously mentioned poem by Chaucer, in which the situation was described with the help of the emotions which the character felt: by saying “Strive not like the crockery with the wall” (317), Chaucer’s character makes the reader taste sweet hope.
The human emotion palette in Marvel’s case is just as bright as in Chaucer’s poem: there is despair “O, who shall from this dungeon raise/A soul enslaved so many ways?” (Marvel 1699), fear: “And then the pasty shakes of fear” (Marvel 1699), doubt: “” (Marvel 1699), pity: “sorrow others’ madness vex” (Marvel 1699), sorrow: “That to preserve which me destroys” (Marvel 1699), desire and thankfulness: “What’s worse, the cure” (Marvel 1699).
However, the emotions are triggered by quite different factors, and, which is more important, by different factors. In addition, the given emotions cannot be considered the “standard” response to the described situation; unlike in Chaucer’s case, they serve rather to tell about the characters and the way they respond to the situation than to focus on the intensity of the feeling.
It is peculiar that in Marvell’s poem, there is yet no trace of the idea that emotions to the same issue can vary depending on the personality features and the specifics of the character, which will be further on discovered by Pope. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that in both poems, the emotions are rather negative (fear, despair, sorrow, etc.)
Finally, addressing Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, one must mention that in the given work, emotions finally start serving to depict the character’s growth: while at first, Belinda feels indignation about the lock which has been cut off, at the end of the poem, she is further on happy finding the man whom she is going to marry (Pope 2513).
Basically leaving the same cast of emotions, Pope uses them for a different purpose, namely, showing the characters’ development, which can be considered another standpoint of the use of emotions in literature. Although Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock, Andrew Marvel’s A Dialogue between the Soul and Body, and Geoffrey Chaucer’s Truth were written on completely different time slots.
In absolutely different eras and with quite different ideas in mind, the emotions which the characters of the literary works have are quite the same – these are anger, which has filled people since the prehistoric times, happiness, which people are able to express as soon as they are born, for even newborn babies can smile and feel content; disappointment, which has filled anyone at least a single time in their lives.
However, the causes of these emotions have shaped over the centuries, which shows that the complexity of people’s characters develops over time. Therefore, the specifics of people’s emotions is depicted in a more graphic way in the literature which was written comparatively recently.
While in the works which belong to the Middle Ages, the cause–emotion chain is relatively simple, i.e., the things which cause the characters’ joy are obviously the typical things that would cause anyone’s joy, the emotions of the characters of more recent poems and novels are much more unexpected and rather show the complexity of the character than serve as an indication of a funny or sad scene.
Shifting the emphasis from the situation onto the character, such authors as Pope tend to explore human nature than to denote a storyline or to create a specific atmosphere.
Chaucer, Geoffrey. “Truth.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol. 1. 9th ed. New York, NY: Norton & Company, 2012. 317. Print.
Marvel, Andrew. “A Dialogue between the Soul and Body.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol. 1. 9th ed. New York, NY: Norton & Company, 2012. 1699. Print.
Pope, Alexander. “The Rape of the Lock.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Vol. 1. 9th ed. New York, NY: Norton & Company, 2012. 2513. Print.
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