All posts by Offred

In Light of Finals Week

“He was soon out of Ellaman Street. His feet ploughed through the sands of the riverbank. He came to the river steps, removed his coat briskly and went down the steps. ‘Oh God,’ he muttered with folded hands, looking up at his stars. ‘If I can’t pass an examination even with a tenth attempt, what is the use of my living and disgracing the world?'” (57).

Narayan, R.K.Malgudi Days. New York: Penguin, 2006.
Notes: This passage right here reminded me of how finals week has just about descended on us. And how we all at one point or another, regardless of whether we’re religious or not, turn our heads up and ask some higher power for all the help we can get. But Iswaran isn’t exactly asking for help, but rather to be smited out of disgrace.  And the ending turns out a bit ironic, because his prayers are somewhat answered. Yes he passes,  which was the basic idea of why he was calling out to God in the first place, and then he literally passes away. But because he didn’t straight out say, “Oh God please help me”, it seems as though whoever answered his prayer took what he said literally. The entire story was interesting because of the miscommunication for help, and of the exact wording Iswaran chose.

Watching and Waiting for War and Other Problems

Henry James The Beast in the Jungle -Notes: This book introduced us to the whole topic of watching and waiting for something to happen. Just by focusing on the title you are already intrigued and so when you begin the book you expect some sort of expedition or an adventure. What you don’t expect to get is a whole lot of every-day-routine kind of thing in the form of details. (Details EVERYWHERE). AND a character who then looks back to lament on what he’s lost out on. (1903)

Hemingway In Our Time -Notes: This theme (watching and waiting) continues with Hemingway’s book. It’s made up of a ton of vignettes (inter-chapters) and short stories that have relatively little dialogue and a whole lot of detail. Again, the action (plot) and characters (dialogue), seem secondary to the setting or the set-up of the story because the main character doesn’t even offer up the most basic amount of emotion. So in the course of reading you again find yourself waiting for Nick to feel something, to then be caught watching the scene/ scenery instead. (1925)

Virginia Woolf Mrs. Dalloway -Notes: In Woolf’s novel there seems to be a more psychological kind of waiting rather than either plot-waiting (Beast) or character-waiting (Time). Instead you find yourself in the character’s head, but then are constantly panned to the everyday; train of thoughts go: thought, thought, car! But unlike the other two stories where the details in setting immerse you, the details in this book are constantly asking for your attention; they are jarring. (1925)

Zora Neale Hurston Their Eyes Were Watching God-Notes: I mean the word “watching” is in the title so there’s an enormous inclination that this book spends a great deal in analyzing not characters, scenery, or their mental state, but how the social construct works. This book now takes the social aspect of the everyday into question, but in continuation with this theme, it’s not expressed clearly through dialogue, or characters (although these other aspects play a much bigger role in this book in regards to the others), but  through the details in the setting and how the world is constructed and plays out for every character.(1937)

Literary-Historical Trajectory

Beast takes place before World War I, but perhaps the watching and waiting there implies this sense of mounting tension/ pressure the world is feeling, as the war nears; but it’s interesting to see James’ story to be the least assertive, as in comparison to the others, his characters and joke of a plot just seem to annoy. Heminway’s and Woolf’s books were published in 1925, 7 years after WWI. While Hemingway chooses to assess the damage through lifeless characters (usually soldiers) that are further personified by nature as lifeless, Woolf chooses to do a type of psychological/ social review; she takes into consideration what the war has done to society as a whole and that is reflected in the mental state (her characters seem to be jittery and equally unable to cope). Lastly, Hurston’s book was published in 1937, 2 years before the start of WW2, but the book seems to take on more home-grown problems such as the racism that occurred in the U.S. at that time; the book does so by exemplifying the rank in terms of race and how this judgement can only be determined by watching or looking at somebody. So in conclusion, this watching and waiting, has different connotations if it’s before or after a war. The tension is greater in the latter, you can read/ see how war has affected characters, setting, and plot. But watching and waiting can also be linked to other vehicles of war, and that’s race. Race and ranking of race too requires the judgement of watching, and it’s interesting how the book was published a mere 2 years before the start of WW2.

The judgement in watching

“Seeing the woman as she made them remember the envy they had stored up from other times. So they chewed up the back parts of their minds and swallowed with relish. They made burning statements with questions, and killing tools out of laughs. It was mass cruelty. A mood come alive. Words walking without masters, walking altogether like harmony in a song (2).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 20006

Notes: There’s something to be said about watching in this book, about noticing one another, and the social cues that occur. And the overall amount of judging that’s going on.

Untouchable

“After he had mounted the first two steps, he stood completely demoralized with fear and retreated” (58).

Notes: Theme is visibly seen in even the smallest of details. Book about society and system, moving up in the world is shown as mounting steps.

 

Repetition Strikes Again

“And so it was because I could not help it. It was then, and then I saw Darl and he knew. He said he knew without the words like he told me that ma is going to die without words, and I knew he knew because if he has said he knew with the words I would not have believed that he had been there and saw us. But he said he did know and I said ‘Are you going to tell pa are you going to kill him?’ without the words I said it and he said ‘Why?’ without  the words, And that’s why I can talk to him with knowing with hating because he knows” (27).

Faulkner , William . As I Lay Dying. Random House Inc., print.

Notes: Repetition seems to be a real trend, but here it seems  to reflect the repetition in everyday speech and less so for irony’s sake. Although colloquial, the way each character talks is continued even when not in dialogue form and furthermore, it is interesting to see it used so because the novel is written in first person.

 

Mrs. Dalloway

“It was all over for her. The sheet was stretched and the bed narrow. She had gone up into the tower alone and left them blackberrying in the sun. The door had shut, and there among the dust of fallen plaster and the litter of birds’ nests how distant the view had looked, and the sounds came thin and chill (once on Leith Hill, she remembered), and Richard, Richard! she cried, as a sleeper in the night starts and stretches a hand in the dark for help. Lunching with Lady Bruton, it came back to her. He has left me; I am alone for ever, she thought, folding her hands upon her knee” (Woolf 47).

Woolf, V. (1925). Mrs. dalloway. (p. 99). New York: Harcourt, Inc.

Notes: Clarissa seems to wallow like John Marcher does from The Beast in the Jungle. Both characters lament from what should and could have happened. But not only do they lament, they also have an over-dramatic air in which life as they know it is over for them because of the lost encounter(s).

In Our Time

“The Greeks were nice chaps too. When they evacuated they had all their baggage animals they couldn’t take off with them so they just broke their forelegs and dumped them into the shallow water. All those mules with their forelegs broken pushed over into the shallow water. It was all a pleasant business. My word yes a most pleasant business” (Hemingway 12).

Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. New York: Scribner, 1996.

Notes: This is a terrible end to a terrible story. Terrible as in content wise because it is obviously well written. Dark humor is pretty terrible. Wondering now if repetition serves, as it did with Joyce, for ironic purposes.

 

Whose Body

“Not a bit of it. He tips a glossy wink to yours truly and yours truly reads the the truth” (Sayers 12).

Dorothy L. Sayers, Whose Body?, (New York: Boni and Liveright, 2009), 12.

Notes: It’s interesting to see after Stein and Joyce that Sayers continues this theme of repetition that’s been so central throughout the course. Sayer’s too continues repetition, not only in stand alone sentences like the one above, but in these lyrical verses that are also found throughout, again, very much like Stein and Joyce.

James Joyce: Portrait

“It pained him that he did not know well what politics meant and that he did not know where the universe ended. He felt small and weak. When would he be like the big fellows in poetry and rhetoric? That they had big voice and big boots and they studied trigonometry. That was very far away” (13).

“And the whitegrey face and the nocouloured eyes behind the steelrimmed spectacles were cruel looking because he had steadied the hand firs with his firm soft fingers and that was to hit it better and louder” (43).

Both passages mark this sense of innocence and smallness that as children we all feel. In the first quote Stephen reminds us what it’s like to want to grow up and how badly it’s wanted. That, a bit later on, he begins counting the semesters until he realizes that being grown-up is too distant a place to count to and then submits to that it will just come, eventually. In the second quote there is another sort of innocence. Stephen is positively naïve while his punishment is ongoing that this trusted figure will still be good, and how the shock occurs reverberates, long after the action has ended. His innocence is perhaps not shattered, but he has learned to distrust.

James Herbert and Melanctha Herbert

“James Herbert was a powerful, loose built, hard handed, black, angry negro. Herbert never was a joyous negro. Even when he drank with other men, and he did that very often, he was never really joyous. In the days when he had bee most young and free and open, he had never had the wide abandoned laughter that gives the broad glow to negro sunshine” (77).

“His daughter, Melanctha Herbert, later always made a hard forced laughter. She was only strong and sweet and in her nature when she was really deep in trouble, when she was fighting so with all she really had, that she did not use her laughter. This was always true of poor Melanctha who was so certain that she hated trouble. Melanctha Herbert was always seeking peace and quiet, and she could always only find her new ways to get excited”(77).

Stein is genius with her use of syntax. The way each word builds up to the image of character is quite striking, but in a way it too gives the character voice. Although the story is written in third person, one is hard pressed, not to hear James’s voice break through as the narrator concludes the first sentence of the passage, “black, angry negro”. This bitterness is not missed and it is probably due to the rhythm that is constructed through Stein’s syntax. And it is even more interesting how the voice of each character, or the narration’s rhythm, continues into the next paragraph with Melanctha. When the content is telling one that she is fighting for her belief, and that it too sounds like she is fighting to persuade. Finally, the last element that ties both passages together is the specific vocabulary. Words that are either synonymous or heavily associated such as power, strength, force; joyous, free, peace, etc., are littered through these two passages, all the while juxtaposing the related but opposite characters.