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Desire in Their Eyes, Mrs. Dalloway, Melanctha, Heart of Darkness

Sometimes it’s harder to know what you want, than it is to know what you don’t want.

Example: “I don’t know if I want ice cream, but I definitely know I don’t want olives.”

Desire stems from discontentment (knowing what you don’t want). Perhaps the desire is ambiguous and confusing, but the discontentment is clear and definitive. I’ve noticed this complicated theme in stories like Their Eyes, Mrs. Dalloway, Melanctha, and even in Heart of Darkness.

Despite the difference in story and narration, each protagonist portrayed within the novels mentioned carry a need and desire for something more… from their lives. This discontentment leads to a searching, in hopes to find what is fulfilling, adventurous, and satisfying. In the 1909 short story, Melanctha, for instance, she wanders. “  From the time that Melanctha was twelve until she was sixteen she wandered, always seeking but never more than very dimly seeing wisdom” (Stein 80) http://www.bartleby.com/74/21.html

It is unclear how wandering is defined; it is left up to the reader to decipher that. Perhaps it is wandering for a freedom from her dysfunctional family, perhaps it is wandering for a knowledge outside of her limited education, or perhaps it is wandering to fall in love. Nonetheless, Melanctha wanders to seek something more than what her life is offering.

Published in 1925, Mrs. Dalloway shares a similar desire, but for raw connection with people as opposed to her empty and dull relationship with Mr. Dalloway. It isn’t until the end of the novel when Septimus commits suicide, does Mrs. Dalloway interestingly feels enlightened and even at peace, recognizing how she could relate to Septimus’s depression.
She felt somehow very like him—the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away.”

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. Orlando: Harcourt Inc, 1925. Print.

In Joseph Conrad’s, Heart of Darkness, (1899): ” I wouldn’t have believed it of myself; but then-you see- I felt somehow I must get there by hook or by crook” (Conrad 109), Marlowe expresses his desire for adventure and exploration, to discover the unknown.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2008. Print.

In Hurston’s Their Eyes, Janie Starks contemplates her resentment towards Nanny, feeling as if she has limited her from her desire to live outside of the traditionally “successful” norm for a black woman. “She hated her grandmother and had hidden it from herself all these years under a cloak of pity. She had been getting ready for her great journey to the horizons in search of people…But nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon—for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you—and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter’s neck tight enough to choke her. (89)”

Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York, New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Web.

The historical trajectory of these novels can be applied to the fact that this was during a time when people were embracing identity and defining what makes up culture. Naturally, one would want to discover and learn to see what life can offer outside of the traditional norm.

Hearing the Voice in Joyce

O how cold and strange it was to think of that! All the dark was cold and strange. There were pale strange faces there, great eyes like carriagelamps. They were the ghosts of murderers, the figures of marshals who had received their death wound on battlefields far away over the sea. What did they wish to say that their faces were so strange? (Joyce, 16)

Note: Choice of diction within this passage is significant. Repetition of “cold” and “strange” emphasizes a neurotic and restless voice. 

The train was full of fellows: a long long chocolate train with cream facings. The guards went to and fro opening, closing, locking, unlocking the doors. They were men in dark blue and silver; they had silvery whistles and their keys made a quick music: click, click: click, click. (Joyce, 17)

Note: This passage, as well as the above mentioned, carries the same anxious feel except it is illustrated with a poetic sound rather than the use of repeated words. Sentences are broken up with punctuation like commas and colons, creating these fragmented catching-the-breath-like sounds.

Melanctha, by G. Stein

“I don’t see Melanctha why you should talk like you would kill yourself, just because you’re blue. I’d never kill myself Melanctha just ’cause I was blue. I’d maybe kill somebody else Melanctha ’cause I was blue, but I’d never kill myself…”

 

“Sometimes she would almost go over, and then the strength in her of not really knowing, would stop the average man in his endeavor. It was a strange experience of ignorance and power and desire. Melanctha did not know what it was that she so badly wanted. She was afraid, and yet she did not understand that here she really was a coward.”

These two passages deliver an insight that invites you into the minds of significantly different characters. While one is assertive yet shallow, the other is passive and thought-provoking. Either way, both passages ignites me, as the reader, to contemplate on character strength. How can it be defined? And is it possible to be strong without being aggressive?

The Beast in the Jungle

“That was what women had where they were interested; they made out things, where people were concerned, that the people couldn’t have made out for themselves. Their nerves, their sensibility, their imagination, were conductors and revealers, and the beauty of May Bartram was in particular that she had given herself so to his case.”

Henry James, “The Beast in the Jungle”, in Major Stories & Essays (New York: Library of America, 1999), Chapter 3