Welcome to my second portfolio for EL267 (American Literature 1915-Present). Over the course of this class, we have discussed numerous works of literature by multiple authors ranging from poems to plays to novels. Close reading, or reading between the lines, so to speak, has been an objective that we have all been developing further. I feel that I have grown a great deal as a reader, even since my last portfolio (http://blogs.setonhill.edu/ChristopherDufalla/2009/03/reading_closer_and_thinking_de.html)
As the second half of the semester has prgressed, I feel that I too have matured as a reader and interpreter of American literature. Below are some of my blogs and comments from the second half of the semester that exhibit my development and maturation.
Coverage: the following blog entries all include proper citations and links back to the course web page
Humility: within this entry, I commented about the Elizabeth Bishop poem, "Manners". I felt that she was sending a message about lost kindness in the world of today.
Distortion: this entry focuses on Sylvia Plath's disturbing poem "Daddy", which I interpretted as lashing out against the father-figure in life.
The Wrath of Irony: commenting on Thomas Foster's literary guide, I felt that he made a particularly good point about irony and its seemingly invincible nature.
Timeliness: these three entries were all posted in advance to the required date of posting.
Reading into Something: Foster made a point about when authors intend for the audience to grasp a specific meaning from the literary work, but I made mention of how vastly interpretations might vary.
Overlapping Myths: David Cassuto's academic article spoke about the use of water within Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.
Madness: Theodore Roethke was quoted in the introduction of the poetry anthology Eight American Poets. Madness was his topic, and I found it to be a rather interesting perspective...perhaps you will, too.
Interaction: these blogs all contain comment threads of significant discussion and length. There was a distinct interaction of my thoughts with those of my peers.
Do I Need New Specs?: speakign about Foster and the importance of grasping literary meaning, I felt that a tremendous amount of meaning depends on perspective.
Speakin' the Blues: Hanlon's academic article dealing with jazz and speech was of a particular interest to me, since I am myself a jazz musician. I commented on the coordination between the two items.
The Vicious Circle Known as Life: Arthur Miller's play "Resurrection Blues" embodies the idea that man will sink to the lowest levels of survival- the survival of the fittest.
Depth: these blogs all go into detail about something that I felt very personal about or had a specific content knowledge about that I wished to share.
You Can't Start a Fire Without a Spark: Thorton WIlder's play "The Skin of Our Teeth" presents the idea that flames not only warm the body, but also stimulate the mind.
Even the Gray is Black...and White: Ralph Ellison's novel Invisible Man constantly deals with racism. This particualr blog deals with a passage drenched in subliminal racism.
Love What You Do: Audrey Niffenegger's novel The Time Traveler's Wife covers many grounds within life, but I was particularly attracted to the mindset of a musician: do what you do because you love it.
Discussion: the following are blogs of peers that I have contributed to via commenting. All conversations made for fruitful class discussions.
Gladys Left Out: Julianne Banda's blog dealt with myths and symbolism within Wilder's play.
The Trouble With Bugs and Coffee: April Minerd's blog dealt with a conversation between Ellison's narrator and a boarding house woman. The conversation was deeper than I had first thought...
Jazzed-Up Emerson: Matthew Henderson's blog about Hanlon's academic article made an impressive connection between the jazz age and the literary works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ralph Waldo Ellison.
The Future Isn't Set in Stone: Jennifer Prex's blog about Niffenegger's novel presents an interesting take on how the main character, Henry, travels through time and justifies "destiny".
Thank you for reading. If you'd like to reurn to the course webpage in order to view more portfolios...
"Maybe you read too many books- life is complicated, but underneath the principle has never changed since the Romans- f--- them before they can f--- you."
Miller, page 8
Life is indeed a cycle. Miller's "Resurrection Blues" touches upon the basic human moral struggles. In the conversation mentioned above, Felix explains to Henri that life is cut-throat. This quote applies throughout the rest of the play. It is especially evident towards the conclusion that all has come full circle.
The characters undergo a supposed change as the play progresses, but when Charley's return is questionable, everyones' character turns back on their words and also turns on their own personas. People are willing to change when they see a chance to reap the fruits of another's labor, but as soon as any risk is onvolved on their part, they get cold feet. Such is the case with Felix.
He makes it a point to run the country very strictly and do anything that he can to make it better, even if it involves crooked ways. Emily convinces him, using her charm and sensous appeals, to change and rethink his ways. However, when one looks closely, it is evident that Felix still wants his life to remain the same: he wants everythin else to change around him. As soon as he is the one who could be "screwed", Felix completely turns back on all that he was willing to "change". Life involves sacrifice, but Felix is not willing to sacrifice anything of his own.
Charley's refusal to come down in order to let them crucify him is also a bit of a pun. The goverment functions much like the Romans did with regards to Jesus Christ, but this time, it is the Christ-figure that beats the government to the punch. Thus, life is a vicious circle of events.
"That's why he's great; he plays everything as though he's in love with it."
-Niffenegger, page 201
Henry explains to Alicia that music is something that one must be passionate about even when the music is not a particular favorite. He refers to how his father, seccond chair violinist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, plays every piece with fervor and dedication, even if he despises the piece. Likewise, Henry feels that Alicia should adopt the same attitude. However, it is sad to see the hypocrisy in the elder DeTamble's ways.
Henry's father has been in mourning ever since the loss of his wife. He has lost the love that is within his heart and soul. Violin playing has become second to drinking, and as we find out later, the drinking destroys his ability to play the violin. Mr. DeTamble loves music...or rather, he loved music, at one point.
It has been 23 years since Mr. DeTamble loved anyone or anything. Henry speaks the truth about musicians' philosophy, but his father mimics his way through the orchestra. His bitterness and self-pity consume him and the music that he had once loved.
"...irony trumps everything."
-Foster, page 128
And so it may seem logical, but irony is indeed a force unlike any other when it comes to literature. There are, of course, obvious ironies that seem to scream to the audience, but even more compelling are the subtle ironies that weave themselves throughout literature and stories, in general.
A wonderful example of such is given by Foster on page 130. He speaks of Gabriel Marcia Marquez's story "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings". I recall reading that story in high school and wondering about the old man and the priest who questions him. The priest concludes that the old man is not an angel of God because he does not understand Latin, and yet, Jesus spoke Aramaic. The subtle irony of the ignorant priest's assumption nullifies his thought process. Simple little details can make a great difference. Foster reminds us, the audience, that even small details can make a huge difference. Irony can be everything from the seatbelt wearing driver crushed by a billboard, to General Patton survivng WWII only to die in a car accident several weeks later.
"I seemed aware of it all from a point deep within me, yet there was a disturbing vagueness about what I saw, a disturbing uniform quality, as when you see yourself in a photo exposed during adolescence; the expression empty, the grin without character, the ears too large, the pimples, 'courage bumps', too many and too well defined. This was a new phase...a new beginning..."
At this point in chapter 16, the narrator is describing his feelings as the Brotherhood members prepare to address the crowd at the rally. Ellison paints a marvelous picture with some youthful imagery: age brings maturity in multiple facets.
The narrator speaks of this feeling of slight uneasiness and compares it to the sensation that one might get from looking at an old photo from the years of puberty. Changes were under way, but now the narrator faces changes and transformations even more pivotal than those of physical development: his psychological standpoint is morphing into a new state.
Life is a matter of constant change. Ellison's narrator does an excellent job of portraying that introspective view of change. There is that look in the mirror in order to see how time has not only changed the face, but the workings that go on within the head that holds the face.
"Unlike, for instance, the Reverend Homer A. Barbee, whose earlier speech at the protagonist's college is a tightly rehearsed repetition of other similar speeches..., Wheatstraw's eloquence is an off-the-cuff, organic eloquence, an eloquence that foregrounds the possibilties of improvisation as opposed to strict recitation."
As I read this article about the speech utilized within Ellison's novel, I came to realize just how much the speaking styles of the characters relate to the jazz characteristics of the 1930s and the ensuing movements. Improvisation, a widely used technique in jazz literature, is seen in a light of courage and honesty. As a jazz musician, myself,I can relate to this feeling. I know that when I'm playing a chart and the director points at me to take a solo I feel very gratified when my solo expresses some idea that is passing through my mind: the chords line up and some rhytmic lick that I've stored away in my mind comes forward and sounds from my horn. When I finish and pull the instrument away for a short rest, I feel accomplished: I have expressed my thoughts through music and not relied on a script.
Much of the same phenomenon can be said of the improvisational speech. It's one thing to be able to write a beautiful speech in much the same way that it is to compose a piece of music, but the work is even more gratifying and accomplished when it is adapted and modified on the spot. It's one thing to memorize a speech or read from a jazz chart, but it's another thing to permit one's emotions to be read by the tongue, itself. Hence, the characters that makes use of the improvisational style are better accepted by the crowd since the crowd provides the inspiration for the words: a tailored fit, so to speak; as opposed to a canned speech that runs dry and seems generic.
"Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you."
-Plath, page 212
Sylvia Plath's poem "Daddy" is rather disturbing. It appears to be a very malicious attack on an oppressive father. There is a distortion of views within the poem: the above stanza demonstrates that Plath views the father as a remnant of the Third Reich acting cruel towards women in general.
Whether or not this was an attack on Plath's own father I am unsure, but there is a definte resentment of the father figure here. Perhaps the poem speaks of a father who is too old fashioned in his ways. The women like him because he is firm and reliable, but once they have been lured in, they find that he is controlling and unrelenting.
"What's madness but nobility of soul at odds with circumstance?"
-Theodore Roethke, page 4
Madness...a truly awkward thing to ponder. Roethke had his odd bouts with madness as a result of his conditions, but what he said makes sense. The world around us dictates the norm and when someone goes against that norm to extremes they are viewed, quite often, as insane, wacky, or simply mad.
Circumstance is the world and its postion. The nobility of the soul is when a person adheres to what he or she believes deep down with an unwavering conviction. When someone's noble soul does not mesh with society's ideas then there is a friction. Strength in number prevails most often, thus, the individual of noble soul will be crushed, at least in the public eye, by society's dictation.
"When we came to Hustler Hill,
he said that the mare was tired,
so we all got down and walked,
as our good manners required."
Bishop, page 49
Throughout Elizabeth Bishop's poem "Manners", there is a definite sense of humility and kindness. The family gets down from their wagon and permits the horse to rest in the final stanza. I found this kindness of the father's very humble: no matter what the situation seemed to be, he was kind, gentle, and calm.
Perhaps Bishop was trying to send a message about the times to the reader. The poem is specified as "for a child of 1918". Is she saying that times have changes and that people no longer have this kind of kindness and warmth? Perhaps the world could use more of the lesson taught to this child of 1918.
"The myth of the garden held that the land would yield bountiful harvests to any American willing to work it. Rain would fall in direct proportion to the farmer's yield."
Cassuto, page 77
David Cassuto's article on the use of water within John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath also brings light to the myth of America's West...the land of opportunity and plenty (a promise land). In the above quote, Cassuto's point about the myth of the garden and its plentiful supply of water goes hand in hand with the idea of America's opportunity. Countless immigrants came to America with hopes of having the "rags to riches" sensation made popular by Horatio Alger.
In much the same manner as the garden and its water, America and its West were not always as promising as advertised, but then again, is anything ever the same as it is advertised? The garden and the American West are one, in a certain way. The garden is a land of fields where any man can find work and there is plenty to provide for a family. Amerca's West is that garden to Steinbeck's characters. The corrolation is direct: the American West was to be the place where all seeds of success would sprout with glee and prosperity.