CarlosPeredo: February 2009 Archives

Hidden Love

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I'm going to go out on a limb here and make a wild claim. I think that Steinbeck intends for their to be a secret, hidden love between Al the fry cook and Mae the waitress. It just seems to fit. Al seems so protective of her, he works hard to help her earn her tips from the truckers and seems to always be paying attention to her. Steinbeck adds a line of jealousy when Mae flirts with the customers for the tips. Mae at the same time seems to do whatever Al says. She doesn't always like it, but she's willing to sell the bread for cheap and even lie and sell the children candy in order to please Al's wishes. Neither character has a critical role, and I'm not sure yet why Steinbeck would bother with it, but I do think that the two have a special bond that goes deeper than coworkers. 

The sea is all powerful

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When Foster is talking in chapter 18 about all the different implications that drowning or getting wet can mean, one immediately came to mind. I think that for many people the sea is seen as all powerful. Man can not tame it. Sure he can pretend to. We build boats and submarines and send scuba divers in. But the truth is that whenever the sea wants it can take us. It can kill us in a thousand different ways. It's so powerful that within hours after your death there won't even be any evidence of you at all.

For this reason, I think that many writers relate to the sea as a godlike creature. Nothing has quite the ability to judge us as the sea. I'm instantly reminded of two books, Hemingway's <i>The old Man and the Sea</i> and Chopin's <i>The Awakening</i>.

In Hemingway's novel a fisherman goes out to see and tries to raise many fish so that he can make money and feed himself. After a grueling struggle against storms and, indeed the sea itself, he manages to reel in a fabulous catch. Just when the reader thinks that the sea has been bested another storm comes and sweeps away his catch back into the sea. Just like our Lord, the sea giveth and the sea taketh away.

In Chopin's a woman is tired and bored of her life as a wife and begins a scandalous run of love affairs. At the end when she has ruined her marriage, neglected and scarred her children and possibly damaged their futures or at least their good name, she walks out into the sea. Sure, she could hang herself or put a gun to her head. But nothing has the ability to judge her like the sea. The ocean is the only thing truly powerful enough to pas judgment upon this woman.

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The sea is all powerful

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When Foster is talking in chapter 18 about all the different implications that drowning or getting wet can mean, one immediately came to mind. I think that for many people the sea is seen as all powerful. Man can not tame it. Sure he can pretend to. We build boats and submarines and send scuba divers in. But the truth is that whenever the sea wants it can take us. It can kill us in a thousand different ways. It's so powerful that within hours after your death there won't even be any evidence of you at all.

For this reason, I think that many writers relate to the sea as a godlike creature. Nothing has quite the ability to judge us as the sea. I'm instantly reminded of two books, Hemingway's The old Man and the Sea and Chopin's The Awakening.

In Hemingway's novel a fisherman goes out to see and tries to raise many fish so that he can make money and feed himself. After a grueling struggle against storms and, indeed the sea itself, he manages to reel in a fabulous catch. Just when the reader thinks that the sea has been bested another storm comes and sweeps away his catch back into the sea. Just like our Lord, the sea giveth and the sea taketh away.

In Chopin's a woman is tired and bored of her life as a wife and begins a scandalous run of love affairs. At the end when she has ruined her marriage, neglected and scarred her children and possibly damaged their futures or at least their good name, she walks out into the sea. Sure, she could hang herself or put a gun to her head. But nothing has the ability to judge her like the sea. The ocean is the only thing truly powerful enough to pas judgment upon this woman.

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When a man is broken

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Steinbeck had what was, to me, an especially powerful two passages. Early when the crops are dying Steinbeck notes that the men go out and stare at the crops and the women stare at the men, waiting to see if they will break. It is mentioned several times that the women are terrified of their men breaking but that as long as the men remain strong everything will be okay.

Then, when the men are told that they have to move they sit down and begin to ponder once again. The reader is sure that the men will once more stand up with resolve on their face and that once again they will find a way to persevere and survive. But no, this isn't a happy story. This is a story about the depression and how crappy times were. This is a story about what happens when men break.

Chapters later Muley explains how when a man is separated from his land he is murdered. Land is all a man ever has, and no matter how measly or how infertile or how bad it may be, it is a man's because he has born and bled on it. When a man is robbed of his land he is robbed of his life. This is not a happy tale. This is a tale of broken men and broken land. This is a story of industrialization.

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What doesn't kill you makes you stronger

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Chapter eleven really struck me because it concerned violence in literature. Sure, when we see a rainbow we know to associate it with peace and happiness and love and the occasional covenant. Yes, rain can mean drear and depression, or if it's biblical, a cleansing or purification. But violence can be anything? Sometimes it's as simple as just part of the plot; Hemingway needs a reason to place his main character in the hospital and, in turn, meet the lovely nurse. But as Foster expertly brings up in Beloved, it can represent the unjustness and oppression that an entire race undergoes for hundreds of years. How than, should we interpret violence?

I think that the best we can do is assume that violence nearly always has a political agenda. WWI was a war that, for the first time, involved weaponry that did truly horrific and inhumane things. As such, many WWI novels are particularly critical of human nature and of man's tendency towards violence. Certainly be Vietnam the world had seen the terrible effects that humans could have on one another and literature reflects that. I think Foster would agree with me that it's safe to say that if a novel is written around the time of a major war and has a fair amount of violence to it, it could be a political statement.

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Feminism I like? Nope, I was wrong

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Boy, as I started reading this play I thought a feminist had finally come along that had earned my sympathy. I thought surely I was finally going to read a piece of feminist literature that didn't drive me wild with hatred of the main character. Our young woman is certainly not one of Chopin's characters in <i>The Awakening.</i> Nope, as I made it through the first two episodes of Treadwell's work I deeply sympathized with our heroin.

She didn't seem to be making the tragic mistake of falling in love with a man because he's nice and compliments her and has money (as has usually been the case in the feminine literature I've read.) No, it seemed to me that our young woman was stuck between doing what she knew was right, and doing what she knew she had to do. I knew that when she married this man (as she would have to in order for her life to become miserable enough for the book to be feminist) it was going to be out of necessity.

And then episode three came along and ruined it for me. I mean I can understand that she doesn't love the man and is even repulsed by him. But in my mind, she knew what she was getting in to. Yes she was thrust into unfortunate circumstances that leave her little choice but to marry him, but she may as well play the game right. It's not as though she married him hoping she could use his hospitality and his money without expecting to have to sleep with him, live with him, give birth to his children, and you know, be his wife. This is the twenties after all! If she wasn't prepared to do these things for him than she should have turned him down and sought work elsewhere. She knew what she was getting in to it and she should just bite the bullet and live with the consequences. But then again if she did that, then Treadwell wouldn't have a means with which to complain about anything.

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Oxymoron? Who Cares!

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Finally! Foster gives us a chapter that is actually useful. He goes beyond the obvious and teaches us something. In case you didn't read it, I'm talking about chapter 8. Now, Foster actually makes a slight mistake here, but I'll let it pass since it's the first chapter of his that I actually think is informative.

Foster stops trying to address us as readers of literature and momentarily addresses us as writers of literature. This subtle difference really comes in handy as he explains how to relate writing to other works of literature in the modern era. Foster takes great care here to do two things. First, he uses numerous examples, not just one. He makes it a specific point to explain himself over and over, rather than only once. And second, he uses examples that all of his readers will be familiar with. By choosing fairy tales and childrens' stories he ensures that we will understand his point.

This is even more helpful because he is actually doing exactly what he is explaining. He is explaining about how to relate literature to older works of literature and, in doing so, uses the very same strategies to relate his own piece of literature in ways that will help us out.

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Nick: a different breed of animal

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As I finished up the book, I couldn't help but notice that I hated nearly all of the characters in the book. Or at least, if I didn't have them, I certainly never sympathized with them. In fact, the only characters with whom I sympathize and find myself not enraged over their actions are Nick and Wilson. Now, Wilson being a slightly more minor character, I don't think this realization is quite as important. But something seems to set Nick apart from the other characters, and after some thought I think I've figured it out: Money.

Now, each of the characters if affected by money in a different way. In fact, some of them are affected by money when they don't even have any. Daisy shapes her entire life around money. She chooses not to wait for Gatsby and marry Tom because Tom is rich. In fact, she goes through most of her marriage convincing herself that the Money has made her happy.

Tom too is enveloped by his money. The combination of his wealth and his size make him arrogant to the point of foolishness. He sees himself as above everyone else. Gatsby too, finds himself wrapped into the web of wealth. Even a man for whom it was once all about the love and never about the money discovers that in Fitzgerald's world, it is always about the money. Women don't love him and people won't listen to him unless he is wealthy. Before he knows it, he is playing the same game that all the rest of the wealthy are.

Even Myrtle, who has no real money, is willing to destroy her marriage and drive herself to the point of insanity all in order to gain Tom's money. When it becomes clear to her that she will never truly have it, she ends her life. It is only Nick and Wilson who seem to be above this lure of wealth. For one reason or another, Nick does not pursue the overwhelming wealth which the other characters possess, and he does not let himself be consumed by the lure of money and power the way everyone else is.

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