All posts by MAB

“An Astrologer’s Day” and “The Doctor’s Word”

“…He knew no more of what was going to happen to others than he knew what was going to happen to himself next minute. He was as much a stranger to the stars as were his innocent customers. Yet he said things which  pleased and astonished everyone” (Narayan 2).

“He never believed that agreeable words ever saved lives. He did not think it was any of his business to provide unnecessary  dope when as a matter of course Nature would tell them the truth in a few hours. However, when he glimpsed the faintest sign of hope, he rolled up his sleeve and stepped into the arena…” (Narayan 17).

Narayan, R.K. Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.

Notes: Both these stories, and many of the others, share similar character types and story themes. The first quote from “An Astrologer’s Day” and the second from “The Doctor’s Word” portray main characters who are very self-aware of their commonality; they know they are not all-knowing or perfect in their professions, but will put on an act of professionalism when rupees are involved. There is a theme of a higher power (the stars and Nature) that rules over everyone, and the main characters work as mediums for this higher power, but understand they are beneath it.

The Issue of Civility and Social Class

Heart of Darkness (1899): The novel takes place in the context of the “civilized” English expanding their presence in “uncivilized” Africa.

Mrs. Dalloway (1925): The novel takes place in the core of civilized city life; London. Complications arise when characters have difficulty adjusting to civilized life (Septimus)

As I Lay Dying (1925): “Uncivilized” country folk make a journey into the “civilized” town.

Untouchable (1935): The caste system in India forces social statuses among citizens; separation of classes. Untouchables practically considered uncivilized.

These four novels all take place in drastically different places with characters confronting different social/economical standings; yet they all share the common issue of division of civility. Heart of Darkness in 1899 was written about a time when the English led an imperialist mission to Africa and considered the native Africans wild. 26 years later this issue is presented in a different setting; Mrs. Dalloway showed a thriving metropolis, yet within that civilized life existed people like Septimus, who had trouble adjusting to that kind of life. That same year came As I Lay Dying which showed an opposite world in the deep south of America. The Bundrens were “uncivilized country folk” attempting to enter a “civilized” world (the town) unlike their own. In Untouchable in 10 years later, the same issue arises across the world in India where the caste system forces civility and incivility among its people. The theme of social class crosses all cultural and temporal borders.

Identity in Their Eyes Were Watching God

“Ah was wid dem white chillun so much till Ah didn’t know Ah wuzn’t white till Ah was round six years old… Whe nwe looked at de picture and everybody got pointed out there wasn’t nobody left except a real dark little girl with long hair standing by Eleanor. Dat’s where Ah wuz s’posed to be, but Ah couldn’t recognize dat dark chile as me. So Ah ast, ‘where is me? Ah don’t see me.’

‘Dat’s you, Alphabet, don’t you know yo’ ownself?'” (Hurston 9).

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

Notes: Janie was confused as to what he identity was as a child. The white family that her family worked for had clear concepts of what defined someone’s identity. Racial divisions.

Complications of Caste System

“Ever since he had worked in the British barracks Bakha had been ashamed of the Indian way of performing ablutions, all that gargling and spitting, because he knew the Tommies disliked it… But he himself had been ashamed at the sight of Tommies running naked to their tub baths. ‘Disgraceful,’ he had said to himself…” (Anand 18).

Anand, Mulk Raj. Untouchable. New York, New York: Penguin Books, 1935. Print.

Notes: Bakha is technically lowest in the Caste system, yet is caught in a middle ground because he has spent time with and emulates the English. He cannot be clearly placed in a certain level of class because his language suggests that he thinks of himself separate and higher than his Indian brethren, but is painfully aware that he is not like the English, only “apeing” them.

 

Multiple POVs of the Same Event in As I Lay Dying

[Darl] “Jewel stops at the spring and takes the gourd from the willow branch and drinks. I pass him and mount the path, beginning to hear Cash’s saw” (Faulkner 4).

[Cora] “She is propped on the pillow, with her head raised so she can see out the window, and we can hear him every time he takes up the adze or the saw… ‘She’s just watching Cash yonder,’ the girl says. We can hear the saw in the board” (Faulkner  8-9).

[Darl] “Jewel strikes [the horse] across the face with his fist and slides on to the trough and mounts upon it. Clinging t the hay-rack he lowers his head and peers out across the stall tops and through the doorway. The path is empty; from here he cannot even hear Cash sawing” (Faulkner 13).

[Jewel] “It’s because [Cash] stays out there, right under the window, hammering and sawing on that goddamn box… Sawing and knocking, and keeping the air always moving so fast on her face that when you’re tired you can’t breathe it, and that goddamn adze going One lick less. One lick less. One lick less…” (Faulkner 15).

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. New York, NY: Modern Library, 2000. Print.

Notes: Different points of view of the same event, multiple narrations, different characters, similar to Mrs. Dalloway where one major event is seen and interpreted by many different characters, stream of consciousness.

 

Inability to Control and Express Oneself in Mrs. Dalloway

“But to sit here, unable to think of anything to say; to see Elizabeth turning against her, to be felt repulsive even by her–it was too much… ‘People don’t ask me to parties’–and she knew as she said it that it was this egotism that was her undoing…’Why should they ask me?’ she said. ‘I’m plain, I’m unhappy.’ She knew it was idiotic. But it was all those people passing–people with parcels who despised her, who made her say it… ‘Don’t quite forget me,” said Doris Kilman… One had to pay at the desk, Elizabeth said, and went off, drawing out, so Miss Kilman felt, the very entrails of her body, stretching them as she crossed the room, and then, with a final twist, bowing her head very politely, she went” (Woolf 132-133).

“But he remembered Bradshaw said, ‘The people we are most fond of are not good for us when we are ill.’ Bradshaw said, he must be taught to rest. Bradshaw said they must be separated.’Must,’ ‘must,’ why ‘must’? What power had Bradshaw over him? ‘What right has Bradshaw to say ‘must’ to me?’ he demanded. ‘It is because you talked of killing yourself,’ said Rezia… So he was in their power! Holmes and Bradshaw were on him!” (Woolf 147).

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York, NY: Harcourt, Inc., 1981. Print.

Notes: This is a very heart-wrenching moment where Miss Kilman wants so badly to confess her love for Elizabeth, but can’t express her true feelings through words. She wants Elizabteh to be with her, but loses control over the situation and ultimately loses her in a gory metaphor of their guts ripping apart.  This inability for a character to control their life occurs again with Septimus, when Lucrezia and the doctors keep saying that he needs medical treatment. Septimus is upset that Bradshaw tells him what he must do, and notes that the doctors are the ones who have control over his life, not himself.

Underlying Tension in Soldier’s Home

“‘I had a talk with your father last night, Harold,’ she said, ‘and he is willing for you to take the car out in the evenings.’

‘Yeah?’ said Krebs, who was not fully awake. ‘Take the car out? Yeah?'” (Hemingway 73).

Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. New York, NY: Scribner, 2003. Print.

Notes: Just in these two lines,  you can see so much strain between Krebs and his family. the short, terse sentences emphasize the lack of communication between Krebs and his mother. The fact that the mother calls him Harold while the narrator calls him Krebs shows the difference in how the mother and son relate to each other; the mother feels she is on a more personal level with her son, but the narrator states otherwise by calling Harold by their impersonal last name, almost how soldiers in an army would refer to each other. Not to mention the fact that Krebs just came back from war, but he still needs permission to drive the family car around, but restricted only at night.

The Emphasis on Words

“Her Grace tells me that a respectable Battersea architect has discovered a dead man in his bath.”

“Indeed, my lord? That’s very gratifying.”

“Very, Bunter. Your choice of words is unerring” (Sayers 3).

“…can I have the heart to fluster the flustered Thipps further–that’s very difficult to say quickly…” (3).

“Such a thing has never ‘appened–happened to me in all my born days…and what with one thing and another I ‘ad–had to send the girl for a stiff brandy…” (5).

Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body? Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2009. Print.

Notes: It seems the characters are very preoccupied with wordplay and correct choice of words in odd situations where this kind of linguistic thoughtfulness would be the last thing on Lord Peter’s, Mr. Thipp’s, and the butler’s mind, considering a dead body was just found in a bathtub. It created this atmosphere of absurdity and lightheartedness when the tone would traditionally be dark.

Stephen’s Budding Attraction to Color and Beauty

“The tablecloth was damp and limp. But he drank off the hot weak tea which the clumsy scullion, girt with a white apron, poured into his cup. He wondered whether the scullion’s apron was damp too or whether all white things were cold and damp” (pg. 10).

“White roses and red roses: those were beautiful colours to think of. And the cards for first place and second place and third place were beautiful colours too: pink and cream and lavender. Lavender and cream and pink roses were beautiful to think of. Perhaps a wild rose might be like those colours and he remembered the song about the wild rose blossoms on the little green place. But you could not have a green rose. But perhaps somewhere in the world you could” (pg. 9).

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2008. Print.

Notes: Early on in the story and at such a young age, Stephen has an affinity for artistry and beauty. While at school, he is unhappy and dreads each day; descriptions of things at school are dreary, weak, damp, wet, cold, white and grey. Within these descriptions of his days at school, there are sparks of passion flowing out of him in the form of stream of consciousness. Something so insignificant as the flowers each boy has pinned on their jackets, and the  he takes an attraction to because he loves their colors, their vibrancy. His excitement or obsession with it takes the form in repeating sentences describing the flowers and their colors, similar to the style of Getrude Stein’s Melanctha. We start to see glimpses into Stephen at a young age where he isn’t fully aware of his own passions, what he is to become.

Wisdom in Melanctha

Dr. Campbell said he wanted to work so that he could understand what troubled people, and not to just have excitements, and he believed you ought to love your father and your mother and to be regular in all your life, and not to be always wanting new things and excitements, and to always know where you were and what you wanted, and to always tell everything just as you meant it. that’s the only kind of life he knew or believed in,  Jeff Campbell repeated. ‘No I ain’t got any use for all the time being in excitements and wanting to have all kinds of experience all the time. I got plenty of experience just living regular  and quiet and with my family, and doing my work, and taking care of people, and trying to understand it. I don’t believe much in this running around business and I don’t want to see colored people do it. I am a colored man and I ain’t sorry, and I want to see the colored people like what is good and what I want them to have, and that’s to live regular and work hard and understand things, and that’s enough to keep any decent man excited.’

But Melanctha Herbert had listened to him say all this. She knew he meant it, but it did not mean much to her, and she was sure some day he would find out, that it was not all, real wisdom (Stein 116-17).

Stein, Gertrude. “Melanctha.” In Three Lives. New York: Grafton, 1909. Internet Archive. http : / / archive .org /details / threelivesstorieoosteirich

I found it disheartening yet interesting to see such different viewpoints on race between two people of the same race. Melanctha offers a much more freeing and mature viewpoint than Dr. Campbell who insists on their race remaining meager and live without full understanding.