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Class and Social Status

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (1899): Conrad’s novella focuses more on the separation between civilized and uncivilized, the matter of colonization looming in the background.

Whose Body?, Dorothy Sayers (1923): Sayers novel focuses on the upper class through its protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey.

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Wolf (1925): Similar to Sayers, Wolf’s novel focuses on the upper class as told from the point of view of Clarissa Dalloway. Clarissa realizes the importance and thus only wants to associate herself with people of the same class. For example when she expresses her dislike toward Mrs. Kilman and Ellie Henderson.

Untouchable, Mulk Raj Anand (1935): Anand steps away from English social stratus and introduces readers to the caste system of India. Unlike the English class system, where one can change class through education and work, the Indian caste system is much more rigid in the fact that one is predestined to a certain caste.

Literary-Historical Trajectory: For the most part, the literary-historical line for these 4 novels remains the same except for the novels at the beginning and towards the end. Conrad’s novella doesn’t really focus on social class but more of the question of what it means to be civilized. While Anand brings a new perspective to social class by breaking away from the English class system to demonstrate the caste system of India.

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.

Increasing Interiority and the Portrayal of Violence

I believe that according to our readings in this course, the enacting and effect of violence becomes increasingly individualized in the progression twentieth century fiction due to a deepening prominence of a character’s psychological perspective. The same magnitude of consequence for violence may exist for a character from the beginning of the century to its end, what expands is an outlet for interiority, which arguably provides the audience a more vivid idea of the ramifications of violence. Violent behavior certainly varies with location, as cultural norms vary according to not only time but space. However, as the period of time in which these books were published saw strengthened globalization, location may play a subtler role in setting variance in violence, as norms may have been more collectively determined by increasingly interacting societies.

Hemingway’s In Our Time, first published in France in 1924, is decisively unattached from providing a sense of interiority or psychological position even in the face of extremely gruesome and assumably damaging images of trauma and death in the heat of war. Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, published in 1925, shows an increased attention to the individual psyche, as Septimus struggles with the psychological after effects of war and Clarissa Dalloway contemplates her own interior standing concerning his suicide. Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, published in 1930, presents both a more stylistically individualized and substantively darker perspective of violence. The novel is partitioned with headings naming characters noting a narrative trade-off, showing an increased concern for stylistic voice regarding the individual. This narrative segmentation is also accompanied with the use of dialect, providing the reader a supplementary stylistic concept of the individual’s voice. The events of violence, such as Vardaman drilling holes through his mother’s coffin and consequently into her face, are all related to the family unit and are treated with a dark humour, therefore contributing to an increased sense of disturbance and an overall heightened attention to psychological treatment of violence. Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, published in 1937, is primarily framed by Janie’s interior growth in response to violence. The novel is largely concerned with and told through her interiority, and violent acts, such as her shooting Tea Cake, are discussed through a chiefly psychological perspective.

I would argue that the aforementioned novels show an increased concern for interiority and attention to a character’s psychological perspective in fiction. While there are many variables concerning the portrayal of violence, I believe that the strengthened level of interiority I observed in these four novels portrays a progression in the presentation of the individual, as psychological concerns may have become more somehow more crucial to portray.

Perspective and stratification

The four novels I am comparing/contrasting are Mrs. Dalloway, As I Lay Dying, Untouchable, and Their Eyes Were Watching God. I am interested in the social hierarchy and and perspective of the novels.Mrs. Dalloway was published in 1925 and is told from the perspective of Mrs. Dalloway an upper class English woman. The novel focuses mainly on the upper class and the only glimpse of poverty is through Miss Kilman, and it is not a very sympathetic glimpse, and it is a very minor representation. As I Lay Dying was published 5 years later in 1930 and it completely flips perspective to that of a poor family and the setting is now the United States ~ Mississippi. You can see the gradual move to the proletariat novel of Untouchable in 1935. Where Woolf and Faulkner dealt with opposing ends of a socially stratified class, Anand now brings race and religion into the novel, but stays in the perspective of the lower class. Finally with Their Eyes Were Watching God, gender is brought into the novel, race and class remain part of the theme as well.
Mrs. Dalloway begins the transition of the novel away from its tradition of stories of upper class England. Novels begin to include the perspective of the lower classes and knowingly or unnkowingly make a social commentary on class, race, and gender. As the novel gains a broader reading audience, that audience receives representation.

The sun and the temporality of the natural world

“The people all saw her because it was sundown. The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. …But now, the sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human.” (Hurston 1)

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer. Janie had no chance to know things, so she had to ask. Did marriage end the cosmic loneliness of the unmated? Did marriage compel love like the sun the day?” (Hurston 21)

“They sat on the boarding house porch and saw the sun plunge into the same crack in the earth from which the night emerged.” (Hurston 33)

Notes: The appearance and disappearance of the sun informs the activities of daily life – this attention to the sun’s movement conveys an importance of adhering to nature’s given temporal order. Daily life is regimented by nature through the visual signal of the sun. Janie’s contemplation of marriage also includes attention to the sun, conveying that the sun is not only a visual marking for timekeeping in daily life but a symbol for its abstract occurrences.

Tree metaphor

Blossoming pear tree ~ “It had called her to come and gaze on a mystery. From barren brown stems to glistening leaf-buds; from the leaf-buds to snowy virginity of bloom. It stirred her tremendously…She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sign and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw the dust-baring bee sink into the sanctum of the bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love and embrace in the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage!” Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: First Perennial Classics, 1998. Print. (pg.10-11).
“It was a lonesome place like a stump in the middle of the woods where nobody had ever been. The house was absent of flavor, too. But anyhow Janie went on inside wait for love to begin” (pg. 21-22).
The contrast between the glorious bloom of adolescence and the lonely tree stump of marriage ~ a metaphor of lust and love. Janie is ruled by these feelings.

Their Eyes

“janie stood where he left her for unmeasured time and thought.  She stood there until something fell off the self inside her.  Then she went inside there to see what it was.  It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered.  But looking at it she saw that it never the flesh and blood figure of her dreams.  Just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over. In a way she turned her back upon the image where it lay and looked further.  She had no more blossomy openings dusting pollen over her man, neither any glistening young fruit where the petals used to be.  She found that she had  a host of thoughts she had never expressed to him, and numerous emotions she had never let Jody know about.  Things packed up and put away in parts of her heart where he could never find them.  She was saving up feelings for some man she had never seen.  She had an inside and now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them.”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 1990

Notes: This is the moment when Janie looks inside of her and realizes the marriage with Jody has been a farce.  Jody was never the figure of her dreams, but instead just “something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over.”   Janie was in love more with the idea of Jodie (ambitious businessmen) than actually Jodie himself.   Jodie is a figure of escape for Janie, however, what ensues is a realization that the marriage has pushed her into a state of even greater repression.

Perceptual Differences

“The men noticed her firm buttocks like she had grape fruits in her hip pockets; the great rope of black hair swinging to her waist and unraveling in the wind like a plume; then her pugnacious breasts trying to bore holes in her shirt. They, the men, were saving with the mind what they lost with the eye. The women took the faded shirt and muddy overalls and laid them away for remembrance. It was a weapon against her strength and if it turned out of no significance, still it was a hope that she might fall to their level some day.

But nobody moved, nobody spoke, nobody even thought to swallow spit until after her gate slammed behind her.”

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel. New York: Perennial Library, 1990

Notes: Her beauty captivates them all (rope of black hair). Everyone observes her appearance, but males and females see different things (different perceptions of the same thing). She is already elevated as some exotic human “she might fall to their level someday.” This is the first big character description we read and it is told through the perspectives of other characters in the book. We are unable to subjectively see who she really is.

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.

Societal Roles

“At least so thought Bakha, a young man of eighteen, strong and able-bodied, the son of Lakha, the Jamadar of all the sweepers in the town and the cantonment, and officially in charge of the three rows of public latrines which lined the extremest end of the colony, by the brookside.”

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

Notes: sentence structure = lots of info separated with commas (states the entire background). Describes in detail what Bakha’s role is in society. Everyone has their own job and tasks they are designated to perform in society. Location seems also very important