The Concept of Discovery in Home Burial and Mending Wall by Robert Frost and Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller

June 7, 2021 by Essay Writer

Indeed discoveries do challenge our inherent understanding of our lives and our humanity; however, if we allow complacency to overtake a desire to pursue discoveries, individual, societal or spiritual, it is then that the discovery becomes an unwanted component of a known existence.

Robert Frost, a renowned turn of the century modernist, explores the (notions of discovery) through his poems ‘Home Burial’ and ‘Mending Wall’. Through his poetry he conceptualises the essence of discovery in terms of the minutia, the everyday, the essence of the human condition. In this way, he provokes us to alter our behaviour to not only accept what is around us, but to challenge its worth.

The cinematic rendition of Zoe Heller’s ‘Notes on a Scandal’ (Eyre, 2006), resonates with Frost’s thematic prowess in the light of female empowerment. Heller cleverly utilises two feminine protagonists to challenge the patriarchal hegemony as a contextual consequence. What creates an intense and integrative cohesion in the film is the disparity of power and in particular, the characterisation of Barbara whose own sexual denial results in the subjugation of her feminine subliminal psycho-sexual object. There is as such, no solidarity in the threads of dialectic philosophy, rather an overarching discovery that the dualism within knowledge when conjoined with power and concomitantly leads to a central disintegration of both protagonists moral and personal cohesion.

Robert Frost’s ‘Home Burial’ employs the use of conversation, a modernist meditation, allowing meaning to be derived in snatches from the simplest of interactions. A fracturing of the convention of linear poetry and the art of traditional form.. The poem shames us, “Tell me if it’s something human”, a declarative plea reveals the husbands need to alert us to our own numbness, to the existential nihilism that revoked the right for interpersonal interaction on an equal scale. As with the like of Eliot, the emasculation of the man has engendered a physical discovery that brute strength could be used to exert dynamic truisms “a man must partly give up being a man with womenfolk”. A contextual discovery Frost was willing to share philosophically, exposes itself through the conceptualisation of acceptance. An emotional revelation that the “blind creature” holds the key to equanimity whilst the male subjugator “I didn’t see at once” punishes himself with his own lack of self-insight. There is much paradigmatic shifting within the poem, alluding to the manner in which the stasis of relationships on micro and macro levels had altered. “Can’t a man speak of his own [lost] child”, followed by a plaintiff imperative “Amy! Don’t go to someone else this time”. Essentially, Frost is rebelling against his societal and contextual truths, challenging us to realise that the roles are inverted “one is alone and he dies more alone” that “someone coming down the road!” is the woman’s salvation – the catalyst between denial and the exposition of passion. Frost leaves us with two important contradictions, one is “you think talk is all” and the reversion to the male stereotype “I’ll follow you and bring you back by force. I will – “. Frost’s ambiguous certainty frames the human condition with expert knowledge. He does not distance us from the realisation that human nature is unpredictable and therefore changeable.

Similarly, Heller’s intellectualisation of Barbara’s psycho –sexual denial and social disconnection has lead to her submission to a life of ‘notes’ while observing her ‘scandal’ is realised through a direct and rather obscene divergence of the power balance between the two women. The mise-en-scene, heralds Bar’s confrontation of Sheba’s infidelity, implemented through the cinematic actualisation of an outdoor set, with the intimate proxemics, a perversion of the traditional notional ‘lover’s table’, in winter. As the temperature drops, Sheba confronts her cognitive dissonance; the need for physical replenishment through the boy and its consequences. The shot is compact and level, zooming in on Sheba’s hands, youthful and sensual, juxtaposed against Bar’s, aged and wrinkled. This figurative synecdoche of the ‘upper hand’, the non-diegetic statement after Sheba asks permission to “go inside, I’m freezing” eerily underpinned by an extreme close-up of the older face, smug expression, determined “I realised by doing nothing I could gain everything”. Bar’s internal idealism externally expressed through the false exculpation of Sheba’s indiscretion indemnifying her explicit ability to manipulate the relationship.

Frost’s ‘Mending Wall’ is an examination of the impermanence of man seen through the perspectives of a mischievous farmer and his atavistic “neighbour”. The poem operates on two different levels, the base a narrative; however the deeper overtone is an intellectual philosophical debate. The reverse syntax and declarative ambiguity of “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall” frames the questioning of societal norms, whialt sublminally challending th reader to question their own need for temporal, spatial and metaphysical boundaries.. Frost’s reiterates this animosity within his own ambivalence asserting that in the eternal notionality of understanding the human condition pertains through the mystical tinge of an animatory force “that sends the frozen-ground swell under it”. For Frost, the procedure of “[setting] the wall between us once again” is symbolic as the physical divide is a symptom of the intellectual inability to transcend beyond this human construction. The ironic mystique is never far away as Frost unearths a sense of the intricacy, the delicate balance of the human condition “we have to use a spell to make them balance” as he diminishes the significance of their “game” with his eidetic “oh”, reminiscence of Eliot’s “Do I dare?”. The contextual metaphor “he is all pine and I am apple orchard” allows us to simply disinter the complexity of contrast of rationale between the polyphonic utterances, as the “Good fences make good neighbours” legitimises the older farmer requisite discourse, and his need to objectively justify the entire process of bifurcation through a proverbial aphorism. The narrator wishes to stylistically incept “a notion in his head”, he questions what he is “walling in or walling out”, on an emotional level or protection versus corporeal defence. However, Frost comes to the realisation that “[he’d] rather he said it for himself” an element of internal transcendence from the crushing prosaic negativism to the existential understandings of humanities intrinsic alienation encapsulates the divergent ideological landscapes of the two, and explains in rather oblique terms how humanity, under the Modernist influence is seen to have lost its ability to connect, an allusion to a Yeats paradoxical warning of the apocalyptic messiah “the darkness drops again”.Tgus, the persona’s move “in darkness” and a closet mindset “he will not go behind his father’s saying”, results in an ironic cyclical form which mirrors the content with the conclusion of the repeated truism “Good fences make good neighbours.” This use of constructive parallelism and reverse parallelism fails to comply with the full totality of the idiomatic ‘mending wall’ as ultimately we are all meant to fall between the aesthetic and the intellectual interstice and live alone and die alone. It is the essential modernist truth.

Similarly, in order to display a sense of disparity on an ideological level, Heller chooses an intensity of existential disquiet to elevate Sheba’s peril both sexually and psychologically; as such the mise-en-scene is as uncomfortable both for the viewer as it for Sheba. The editing commands intense proxemics as both women, now connected physically, elucidates Barbara’s inherent need for physical intimacy. She strokes Sheba’s arm sensually upwards and downwards demanding that her victim remain sightless as she attempts to rationalise this act as comfort rather than seduction. The closed nature of the scene and the figurative discomfort of Sheba psychologically, set’s a conduit of inverse revulsion. It is the first time Barbara is unaware that her suppression of her sexual orientation has failed. The body language of both women is divergent and the emotional disconnection is portrayed expertly through tight camera work and chiaroscuro lighting. Sheba’s subliminal cognition of Barbara’s needs, results in an unearthing of her entrapment and disempowerment.

Both texts herald a divergence in the nature of discovery, rationalise them as innovative, discomforting and radical in both the means they are made and their physical construction. In each text the form and medium act as a conduit for the literal and figurative unearthing of the person who is entering into their world.

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