April 2009 Archives

Combo Meal?

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            Arthur Miller's Resurrection Blues vibrates with a combination of Thornton Wilder's ridiculous humor demonstrated in The Skin of Our Teeth and the open acceptance of sexuality that permeates throughout Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. Felix's sexual desire and inability to perform are topics discussed throughout the play. Even society today would not accept such open discussion of sexual endeavors or issues the way Miller's characters do; this lends to the absurdity and humor. Felix's reaction to the opportunities that are available with the large sum of money offered by the production company illustrates the sexuality and outrageous humor, "...with that kind of money I could put the police into decent shoes and issue every one of them a poncho. And real sewers...we could maybe have our own airline and send all our prostitutes to the dentist..." (Miller 22). Miller's tone throughout the novel is surprisingly sarcastic, as if he is mocking the unfailing belief many have in their own religions. His open mockery of the idea of God is counteracted by some of the statements made by his characters such as, "Except that Jesus Christ was not an imposter and this one is" (Miller 22). The resolution of this impractical story is one that is also reminiscent of Invisible Man. The could-be hero chooses to simply walk away from what could be death by crucifixion or a life of difficulty. Again, the protagonist seems to give up in the end of the novel, believing the work he has already done is enough.  

 

 

Grapes of Wrath: Chapter 20 1/2

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Rational for Chapter 20 ½: Connie's Story

            Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath leaves many questions unanswered and ideas unfinished. For example, the audience does not know the final fate of any members of the Joad family or if they even survive the flood. Another mystery left unsolved is that of Connie. As readers, we never know why Connie leaves the Joad family and his pregnant wife, or if he ever had intentions of returning to support his growing family. Chapter 20 ½, the chapter following Connie's sudden disappearance, strives to explain not only how and why he left, but how his life unfolded. While reading Steinbeck's novel, I had nothing but distaste for Connie, but chose to write his story from a more personal and understanding point of view. It is possible that he meant to return, but either could not because of his shame or his inability to locate the family. Also, the chapter is written from an ambiguous point of view to fit into Steinbeck's writing style throughout the rest of the novel. Connie is not named directly, but referred to as "the stranger" or "the loner" because he is no longer a member of society but an outcast by his own choice. The ending is also left vague and up to the reader's interpretation as is Steinbeck's style. Enjoy!

 

Chapter 20 ½: Connie's Story

            The lone stranger wandered the well-beaten paths from town to town lingering nowhere but traveling without a purpose. His pants were spattered with dirt and travel-worn around the cuffs; his shirt, stained with sweat, hung loosely over his emaciated frame. In another time, in a different place, his stooped shoulders and defeated stance would have given others pause, but now he was one among thousands. They traveled the countryside hoping for work and finding starvation, sickness, and intolerance. His appearance and his circumstances drew no extraordinary attention, but the haunted look that never left his eyes made others turn their heads, battling feelings of guilt and pity for the young man to whom life had been so unkind. They had all been hardened by being forced off their ancestors' lands, scrounging for food, and begging for work. Pride had been demolished and dignity was only a memory, but they still had their families. Forlorn and alone, the traveling stranger had not even the comfort of a brother or a wife. Perhaps that was the reason for his tortured countenance.

            Occasionally, families, overwhelmed with feelings of pity for the loner, approached him with offers of food, shelter, and company. These propositions, however, were not met with the expected gratitude and enthusiasm, but rather furtive glances, one word refusals, and guilt playing over every feature. He did not deserve their help or their companionship; he knew he had created his own isolation and should suffer alone. Some migrant families took him for a wanted criminal and hurriedly ushered their young, and always curious, children away, out of his malignant presence. Others assumed he was on a religious journey; they had heard many people turned to religion when the world left them penniless, unskilled, and alone. He was neither a criminal on the run nor a religious fanatic hoping God would provide him with a hot meal and a steady job. Instead, he was a man so riddled with guilt that only his body remained, a soulless shell of what was once a motivated man with dreams and hopes.

            His tears had long since dried up, his sensitivity to world, once highly tuned, lie deaf to the cries of babies at night and the moans of dying men. He existed as a listless island caring for no one, not even himself. Initially, he had been tormented with thoughts of his wife and their unborn baby, but as the reality of his desertion set in, he realized hoping they would survive in this harsh world was simply a fantasy. There was no money or hope in California, a place his new family had once hailed as a land of prosperity and new beginnings. They had concocted delusions of a house in the city, a steady job, and a life of moderate luxury. In flash of insight lying next to his heavily pregnant wife, the stranger had seen the futility in trying. The large family of which he was now a part could barely feed themselves. He could not provide for them, and neither could he stand the disappointment and doubt that clouded his wife's every glance.

            His memories of that day, the cloudless and warm evening on which he left behind all that he loved, haunted the stranger for years, playing in his mind like a broken picture reel. He is, however, removed from the events, as if it were another man making the mistake that will end his life, end his happiness. The anger and the fear that drove him from the tent melt away in his fantasies and he returns begging for forgiveness. When the alcohol poisons his thoughts, he returns to the family a successful businessman ready to offer his wife, their child, and the rest of the family a life of prosperity and fulfill the illusions that initially drove them from their farm.

            During one such reverie, he is forced back into the present and his reality of cowering beneath a lifeless tree in a futile attempt to stay dry when a shadow blocks out the only remaining source of warmth, the last of the sun's rays. Above him towered a giant of a man, a knife glinting sharply, transforming the life-giving rays of the sunset into threatening daggers of pink, yellow, and orange. None of the guilt or pity that the stranger expected reflected in the steel blue eyes that glared down at him. Similarly, the fear of death that registered in the blue-eyed man's victims was gone; instead, he saw relief. Both, shocked by the other's reaction, stood frozen in time, statues trapped in their own expectations. The man who had lost all his potential as a husband, a father, and a productive member of society finally saw an opportunity for peace, permanent peace. The would-be murderer, however, sees not a potential victim to die at his hand, but a man of strength who, despite his despair continues to wander, hope silently coursing from his every pore.

            "I ain't got no money. You'd might jus' as well kill me now," spoke the stranger after a moment so tense that the forest itself became silent. The birds ceased chirping, the leaves refused to rustle, and only the men's breath, shallow and quick, echoed in the space separating their rail-like bodies. "Why'd I do tha'? You ain't even worth the trouble; I ain't yo' executioner," came the would-be murderer's reply. Determination which had so long been absent from the stranger's emotions suddenly glinted dangerously in his eyes; somehow he would convince this criminal to end his suffering or he would do it himself. It was this spark that spoke even more to the stranger's life force threatening to erupt from beneath the surface hardened by isolation. In a sudden transformation, both men leapt forward struggling for the upper hand. Seconds later it was over, and only one man walked away carrying the blade, dripping with the same blood that began to pool beneath the tree, his status as a criminal solidified for the remainder of his miserable life.

 

Other Interpretive Projects

Over Their Heads

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Foster has, throughout How to Read Literature Like a Professor, given his readers tips to interpret literature, understand and identify symbols and irony, and even create their own literature. Foster's devotion, however, of two entire chapters to the use of sex to represent something other than sex or the use of something else to represent sex was both off-putting and disappointing. Foster, who obviously recognizes how uncomfortable the discussion of sex in literature makes students, comments that "Thirty-five others look like the ceiling is about to fall" (Foster 140); yet, he still decides to dedicate two chapters, 16 pages, to this discussion. His comments, however, are relevant to The Time Traveler's Wife, the novel which we are currently discussing, because sex plays a large role in the relationship between Henry and Clare throughout the novel. His points are valid, but unnecessary. If readers are not mature enough to pick up on the "waves breaking on a beach" (Foster 137) or "the train entering a tunnel" (Foster 138) as representing sex, it really should not be explained to them. Also, the idea of sex as representing something else on an emotional level should be intuitive to most readers. Sex, when described in literature, "can be attacked from almost every angle on the psychological and sexual-political compasses" (Foster 150). Again, if readers are not mature or worldly enough to understand these inferences or suggestions made by sexual encounters in literature, it really shouldn't be explained to them.

It's the Cause and Ultimate Source of Hope

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            Niffenegger has created a novel based on an unbelievable premise that speaks ultimately to the most basic human experience - love. The idea of a man who can travel through time and exist as both himself in the "present" and as the time traveler in the same place at the same time stretches the idea of plausible to its breaking point. The emotions, however, that her characters experience make The Time Traveler's Wife a novel to which the average non-time traveling human can associate. The complications associated with families, friends, and marriage are all familiar and an integral part of the human experience. The intense feelings of loss and hope that permeate through the novel are expressed deeply as the family tries to deal with the amputation of Henry's legs: "Alba is chattering to Teddy in her room. For a moment I feel as though I've time traveled, as though this is some stray moment from before, but then I let my eyes travel down Henry's body to the flatnesses at the end of the blanket, and I know that I am only here and now" (Niffenegger 482). It is ironic that in this passage, time traveling serves as the culprit of Henry's disability and later death, but it is also a source of hope for Clare. It offers an opportunity to escape from the harsh reality of the present and enter into, if even for a short time, a different reality past or future.

 

 

Invisible Man: Embodiment of Emerson's Ideals

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According to Hanlon's "Eloquence and Invisible Man" Emerson's essays and philosophical teachings had a great impact on Ellison and his novel. The speeches made by the narrator, the musical components of the novel, and the idea of complete invisibility all stem from, at least in some manner, the writings of Emerson. Emerson saw oration as "composing [the audience] as a social organism." To both he and Ellison, as it becomes apparent in Invisible Man, speaking is more than sharing one's thought with a group who has come to listen. The speaker must draw upon their energy and create an atmosphere. Often, the atmosphere is musical. This is evidenced by the obvious musical components in the narrator's first speech with the Brotherhood which included "call-and-response oration." Interestingly, Hanlon claims that it is this moment, this speech, that the narrator begins his re-humanization through his rebirth. Though he is not exposed to the de-humanizing racism that he was before, his purpose is still not his own. It is unrealistic to believe, as Hanlon does, that the narrator can experience a true rebirth without developing any sense of self. He is becoming someone else, but it is another production of society. Musical references are not limited to the narrator's speech making. Ellison is constantly mentioning jazz music. Finally, the idea of invisibility is taken from or heavily influenced by the writings of Emerson. Emerson describes the point "where transcendentalist selfhood comes on at the price of selfhood itself 'Standing on the bare ground...all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all...'" This idea of invisibility is translated into Ellison's novel. His narrator is constantly referring to himself as invisible as he observes those around him. Though he does not interfere or judge their actions, he is often observing other characters' actions, countenances, and perceived motivations. Ellison leaves his audience with the final idea that the narrator can now confidently claim "I am an invisible man." He has lost all his "mean egotism." Hanlon's perception of Emerson's and Ellison's works leaves the audience with the impression that much of Ellison's philosophical ideas are adopted from Emerson. "Ellison reads Emerson in an Emersonian way."

 

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL267/2009/04/academic_article_1/

Naivety and Failure

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Not only has Ellison successfully created a character who, for most of the novel, remains invisible, but he has given his audience a character who never takes on any real dynamic form. Though the narrator seems to grow and become worldlier, he remains static in that he never develops any sense of self. He adopts the beliefs and values of those around him as easily as one would adopt a dialect or speech pattern. He just as easily loses these beliefs when he is no longer surrounded by their support and ideals. While he is under the influence of Dr. Bledsoe, he follows blindly becoming a young man who believes himself to be subservient to white people. His goals for himself are not great despite his obvious talent for academics and speaking. He does not question the motives or teachings of the brotherhood, but follows naively and willingly. Finally, when the narrator becomes part of the gang that burns their building to the ground, he simply plays along not asking questions. Even as he watches the men force women and children into the street, he claims "It didn't occur to me to interfere, or to question...They had a plan" (Ellison 534). A plan seems to be all that is really needed to convince our narrator that the action being taken is the right thing, the best thing. Dr. Bledsoe had a plan, the brotherhood had a plan, and the street gang had a plan; he followed all without question. This blind acceptance of others' ideals contributes greatly to his downfall. From a promising student to a black rights figure to a man living alone underground, the narrator's journey was one of failure.

http://jerz.setonhill.edu/EL267/2009/04/ellison_the_invisible_man_1/ 

 

 

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