The raven in Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” is an ambiguous symbol. When the raven first appears, it is described as “…a stately raven” making “Not the least obeisance…” It sits impassively upon a bust of Pallas, watching the narrator who breaks the silence by initiating a dialogue with the bird.
Initially, the narrator is amused with the bird, he speaks of it “…beguiling my sad fancy into smiling…” He quickly figures out that the bird only speaks one word: “Nevermore,” which at first he thinks: “Though its answer little meaning – little relevancy bore….” The word becomes relevant only because of the questions and remarks he puts to the bird, for which he already knows the answer.
The raven could be interpreted as a …”thing of evil” come to torment the narrator or a metaphor for the dark depression and pessimism that he feels he cannot or chooses not to escape. The raven represents permanent suffering and loss of hope.
Again the dialogue is completely under the narrator’s control, (Remember, we can choose our reactions to events). He works himself into a passion calling the bird "fiend" but it is his own mind that keeps him mired in sorrow, not the bird. He could just as easily ask, Will you stay with me? And the raven would say: “Nevermore and maybe fly away!
A word about nepenthe…I noticed this word in Scarlett Letter as well: "I know not Lethe nor Nepenthe," remarked he; (Chillingworth to Hester in the prison)
At first I thought it was a reference by Poe to his own reputed drug habit: “Respite-respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore; Quaff oh, quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore!”
Not according to the Edgar Allen Poe Society, they state: “Poe's use of drugs is, for the most part, purely a literary device. For some of Poe's more fantastic storylines, his narrators admit the use of opium, but one should carefully note that it is Poe's narrators who use drugs, not Poe himself.”
Anyway, nepenthe is an alteration of Latin “nepenthes” meaning “not grief”. It is a potion used to induce forgetfulness of pain or sorrow and cause oblivion of grief. It’s been used in literature since before the 16th century, also mentioned in Homer’s “Odyssey”.
Thought it was kind of interesting.
Too many interpretations, too little time! The afternoon went fast and furious. One thing I was frustrated with was trying to scribble notes on the evaluation forms and pay attention at the same time. It moved too fast to really absorb much. You can't write and really see what the speaker is doing at the same time. Also, way too many poems to keep track of. I can't possibly remember all them to comment but here's a few that stuck with me this morning.
Stephen did a great job with Dickinson's "Hope is the thing with Feathers". I loved how he started reciting as he was walking to the front of the class and how at the end he scooped up an imaginary crumb.
Seann has great dramatic flair, her measured and expressive voice were a pleasure and her emphasis on the phrase "I'm glad" in line 20 of Dickinson's "Going to Heaven" made me sit me up!
Shanna obviously put a lot of planning and thought into her interpretation of Dickinson's "How Happy is the Little Stone" and "I Heard a Fly Buzz". She used a lot of props and movement, use of the stone she brought in was a nice visual and engaged me.
Paul looked like he was relaxed and enjoying himself while reading "The Haunted Palace".! Loved the hat and the sense of humor accompanying it! Smooth delivery and great articulation.
Cudos to Hui Lin for his delivery of Dickinson's "What if I say I shall not Wait?"
He was perfectly understandable and his pacing was careful and measured. He knew the vocabulary too. To truly appreciate this effort try to imagine yourself delivery a poem from his culture in his language!
All the performances were a pleasure to watch and hear, I don't have room for them all. We can all appreciate how nervewracking it can be! Now to go back and read through them all again... that's going to take some time.
Sorry, I don't know what happened but here is a functioning link to Sarah's blog.
Recently, I came across an article about office politics that brought to mind “Bartleby the Scrivener”. Sara and some others commented on her blog that it was “unbelievable” that the narrator put up with the idiosyncrasies of Nippers, Turkey and later Bartleby. Believe it! There are companies, particularly small ones that are filled with strange people, annoying people– even people who do little work yet are kept on.
Peter Vogt writes in his article “Fly Under the Radar to Absorb Delicate Office Politics”: There’s a good reason that the comic strip Dilbert is so wildly popular in workplaces around the world. Many of the situations portrayed in the strip are, unfortunately, real in many organizations.” He observes, “How you understand and deal with those people and relationships, and the myriad issues that emerge when those people and relationships collide, will almost certainly influence whether your work experience is good or bad.”
In Bartlelby the Scrivener, the narrator seems to have mastered the art of office politics until Bartleby arrives. He understands well the personalities of his co-workers and finds a balance that allows the office to function more or less harmoniously: “When Nippers’ was on, Turkey’s was off; and vice versa. This was a good natural arrangement under the circumstances.”
The narrator knows it’s not perfect but it works. The conflict in the story of course is that Bartleby becomes the element that doesn’t work and upsets the balance. The narrator’s political skills have no effect on him at all and the morale of the office begins to decline.
Nippers and Turkey become frustrated with Bartleby’s refusal to be a team player, or any kind of player. Nippers threatens: “I think I should kick him out of the office.” Even in the real world, it can take some time to get rid of a bad apple. Sometimes you just have to try to work around it or look for another job.
Watching oral interpretations is much more fun that performing them. I was less than thrilled with my own, but happy I didn’t shake too much or burst into nervous laughter. My classmates were, for the most part kind and their suggestions helpful.
The most prevalent comment written on their evaluations was “move more”. No surprises there, I knew it as I was reading the poems. Unfortunately none of the commands from my brain urging me to at least flail a hand, move a leg or grip my chest seemed sufficient to relieve me of the paralysis that held me rigid. I was so afraid of losing my place. (Never mind that I memorized the first two poems, I could not summon a single line when standing in front of the class). Once, while reading at my brother’s wedding, I got a little carried away and did just that, lose my place that is. It took me forever to find it again. I was mortified.
Fear of losing my place also kept me looking at my paper more than I should have. I was very familiar with all the poems, I just didn’t trust myself and clutched that paper like a life-line. Relax, relax, and relax.
I think the stiffness could be remedied by thinking some specific movements through. As a rule I am a bit on the shy side and am not comfortable with a lot of gesturing. It seems melodramatic to me. I need to find a few appropriate, understated ways of being physical during readings that I find believable and comfortable and rehearse them.
While the majority of my classmates gave me high marks for audibility, there were a few that did not. This leads me to believe that perhaps my voice did not carry to the back of the classroom. Lesson learned: what seems loud to you may not be loud enough. Without a microphone, you really have to project beyond what you think is good enough.
While giving oral interpretations is certainly not something I would choose to do for fun, its over (for now), I survived and did not melt into the floor.
This poem was published in 1891. This is such a strange poem, funny to think Dickinson spent time and wrote about what it might feel like to go through the process of dying. Just one more example of the wide range of topics she explores so honestly.
THE sun kept setting, setting still;
No hue of afternoon
Upon the village I perceived,!—
From house to house 't was noon.
The dusk kept dropping, dropping still;
No dew upon the grass,
But only on my forehead stopped,
And wandered in my face.
My feet kept drowsing, drowsing still,
My fingers were awake;
Yet why so little sound myself
Unto my seeming make?
How well I knew the light before!
I could not see it now.
'T is dying, I am doing; but
I'm not afraid to know.
Published in 1955, “Wild Nights” is about full of physical abandonment; Dickinson writes: “Done with the compass. Done with the chart”, implying that she does not want the carefully navigated path of the compass. She joyously rejects any notion of control and longs for physical joining. She wants to be “Rowing in Eden” (ll.9) lost in the wild ocean of her passion as it were, without the help of a compass or chart. I chose this poem because it reveals a very private side of Dickinson that belies her spinsterish image.
Wild Nights! Wild Nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild Nights should be
Futile the winds
To a heart in port, --
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart!
Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in Thee!
I was surprised to learn that Emily Dickinson was described as outgoing while she attended Amherst College, given her reclusive life later on. It has been suggested that perhaps she needed to disengage with the outside world in order to write about her innermost feelings. I imagine her to be overwhelmed with ideas and so consumed with wanting to express them that it superceded everything and perhaps even became a kind of addiction, a form of workaholicism before such a term had been invented. She is fearless in tackling almost any aspect of human feeling. I chose these two poems because both spoke of universal feelings about being different and being sad or depressed. I could not find any information stating when they were actually written. They were published posthumously in 1891 after Dickinson’s sister Lavinia discovered a hoard of poems she had left behind.
This poem perhaps is about how she perceived people viewed her, or her own observations about how people view those who think “outside the box”. The image of the chain in the last line conjures up thoughts of being brought to heel, under control, confined.
MUCH madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness.
’T is the majority
In this, as all, prevails.
Assent, and you are sane;
Demur,—you ’re straightway dangerous,
And handled with a chain.
This poem seems to be about depression. Consider the first line: “Pain has an element of blank” (ll.1). What a spot on description of the apathy and void the depressed feel. It is described as having no beginning or end and “…no future but itself” (ll.5). How poignantly bleak!
PAIN has an element of blank;
It cannot recollect
When it began, or if there were
A day when it was not.
It has no future but itself,
Its infinite realms contain
Its past, enlightened to perceive
New periods of pain
In Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, one single act of adultery sets off a ripple effect that impacts many lives, but none so much as the three main characters who form a tragic triangle.
By emphasizing physical deformity, gestures and clothing, Hawthorne communicates the different emotional, spiritual, and moral stages the characters pass through as the story progresses.
The character of Roger Chillingworth is perhaps the most obvious example of this. In the exposition, we see him observing events from a distance. As he is not yet aware of who it is being shamed at scaffold, we get a glimpse of the man as he was before the idea of revenge possesses him. He is described as having “…a remarkable intelligence in his features” and that “…one of this man’s shoulders rose higher than the other.” From the way his clothing is arranged it is inferred that “…he had endeavored to conceal or abate the peculiarity” (Chpt.3, p.56).
Because Chillingworth has this deformity, he is immediately flagged (at least to me) as different, and a possibly menacing character. Why is this?
In an article by Laurie Block, written for NPR titled “Stereotypes about People with Disabilities,” she discusses how individuals with deformities are sometimes perceived: “…people with disabilities are different from fully human people…are a menace to others”.
In a book review from a disability perspective of Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code” Carolyn Anne Anderson examines how common it is in literature to give the bad guy a deformity. She observes: “Think of the most famous literary villains, most of them have some sort of disability… deformity strikes to the core of our own fears of health, life and morality.”
As we move into the rising action, Chillingworth’s appearance becomes commensurate with his moral state. By chapter 7, Hester is “…startled to perceive what a change had come over his features – how much uglier they were…his figure more misshapen…” (p.102). When he pushes Dimmesdale to reveal what is in his soul, he is described as having a “… low, dark and misshapen figure” (Chpt.9, p.124). Dimmesdale reacts with horror and hatred “…at the deformed figure of the old physician. His gestures his gait…were odious in the clergyman’s sight” ((Chpt.11, p.128).
Chillingworth no longer seems to care about his appearance and his beard has grown so much it “…almost touched the ground as he crept forward.” Note that he creeps not walks and there was “a circle of ominous shadow moving along with his deformity…,” (Chpt.15, p.159).
In the falling action, Chillingworth realizes that he no longer has a hold on Dimmesdale and his chance for revenge is now gone. This knowledge has the effect of sapping “…all his strength and energy…” and he “positively withered up, shriveled away and almost vanished from mortal sight…” (chpt.24, p.231, 232). This scene reminds me of the witch melting in “The Wizard of Oz”.
Dimmesdale, spends most of the story being pale, tremulous and nervous. He is frequently seen “holding his hand over his heart…and looked increasingly “careworn and emaciated” (Chpt. 8 p 103). His health continues to decline under the burden of his guilt. In the falling action or reverse movement, after his meeting with Hester in the woods, he undergoes a physical transformation. The text reads “He might have said: …Go seek your minister, and see if his emaciated figure, his fine cheek his white, heavy pain-wrinkled brow, be not flung down there, like a cast-off garment!” His excitement “…lent him an unaccustomed physical energy…” (Chpt.20, p.194, 195). He then, of course dies at the end of the story, but he feels released and is happy.
If we are to see Dimmesdale as having a disability of physical or weakness or sickliness, he could fall into the stereotype that Laurie Block describes as “…holy innocents, endowed with special grace, with the function of inspiring others…” Indeed, the narrator states: “Some declared that if Mr. Dimmesdale were really going to die, it was cause enough that the world was not worthy to be any longer trodden by his feet” (Chtp.9, p.109).