All posts by MP

R. K. Narayan, “Malgudi Days” – “Father’s Help” & “The Doctor’s Word”

“When the doctor resumed his seat the patient asked in the faintest whisper possible, ‘Is that someone crying?’ The doctor advised, ‘Don’t exert yourself. You mustn’t talk.’ He felt the pulse. It was already agitated by the exertion. The patient asked, ‘Am I going? Don’t hide it from me.’ The doctor made a deprecating noise and sat back in his chair. He had never faced a situation like this. It was not in his nature to whitewash. People attached great value to his word because of that. He stole a look at the other. The patient motioned a finger to draw him nearer and whispered, ‘I must know how long I am going to last. I must sign the will. It is all ready. Ask my wife for the despatch box. You must sign as a witness.’”

–R.K. Narayan, “The Doctor’s Word”

“Swami went to school feeling that he was the worst perjurer on earth. His conscience bothered him: he wasn’t at all sure if he had been accurate in his description of Samuel. He could not decide how much of what he had said was imagined and how much of it was real. He stopped for a moment on the roadside to make up his mind about Samuel: he was not such a bad man after all. Personally he was much more genial than the rest; often he cracked a joke or two centering around Swami’s inactions, and Swami took it as a mark of Samuel’s personal regard for him. But there was no doubt that he treated people badly . . . His cane skinned people’s hands. Swami cast his mind about for an instance of this. There was none within his knowledge. Years and years ago he was reputed to have skinned the knuckles of a boy in First Standard and made him smear the blood on his face. No one had actually seen it. But year after year the story persisted among the boys . . . Swami’s head was dizzy with confusion in regard to Samuel’s character—whether he was good or bad, whether he deserved the allegations in the letter or not . . . Swami felt an impulse to run home and beg his father to take back the letter. But Father was an obstinate man.”

–Narayan, “Father’s Help”

Notes: assignment of blame/guilt; perception of other people; over-thinking; “whitewashing” information; reality vs. delusion; lies to others; lies to the self; value and respect; respect and fear; cynicism; assumptions; “things left unsaid”

Historical Line: Woolf/Faulkner/Anand/Huston

Historical line: Social climate and futurism (i.e. anticipation of the future).


Mrs. Dalloway (1925): Published in the aftermath of the First World War. Deals with the domestic state of Great Britain following a massive loss of life during the war and the weakened state of British colonialism (see the reflections of Peter Walsh throughout the novel). Anticipates, through indirect criticism, lasting effects of the First World War on British international politics and domestic perception (i.e. the waning power of the English monarchy, the disintegration of British colonialism). Virginia Woolf herself had portentous ideas of what would eventually befall Britain as a result of the social, political, and economic consequences of WWI on the Isles and on the Continent (Woolf infamously committed suicide shortly before the Britain entered WWII and the Blitz ravaged London).

As I Lay Dying (1930): Published at the outset of the Great Depression. Addresses an extremely poor lower class of the Southern United States which is in continual economic hardship. Challenges ideas of class being connected to intelligence and/or capacity; possibly a thematic “response” to the Roaring ’20s credit economy, wherein the Nouveau Riche were able to make their mark in the Northern United States, while the Southern United States remained in relative poverty.  Arguably a precursor to the notable works of John Steinbeck, i.e. The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men.

Untouchable (1935): Published 12 years prior to India’s independence from Great Britain, and 2 years after Mahatma Gandhi began his political campaign for the Harijan movement. Anticipates an independent India which has removed the ideas of class and caste from daily life/a rejection of the social structure which enables the oppression of lower classes. Ideas of passive resistance and quiet protest are examined in Untouchable; the novel anticipates the growing impact of 1) Mohandas Gandhi’s teachings on Indian independence and class relations, and 2) the political mobilization of the lower classes in India towards a democratic society.

Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937):  Published during the latter years of the Great Depression. Deals with a similar economic climate which Faulkner addressed in his own writing, only here addressing issues of race and gender as well; challenges traditional ideas of marriage and perception of female sexuality and economic/social independence. Anticipates a long future for hostile race relations/racial hardship in America.

Notes: Anticipation of the future; how Woolf/Faulkner/Anand/Hurston “got it right”; economic downturns; political movements; gender issues; racial issues; social “progress”; modern cynicism; voices of the lower class; the persistence of poverty through history.

Z. N. Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

“It was a spring afternoon in West Florida. Janie had spent most of the day under a blossoming pear tree in theback-yard. She had been spending every minute that she could steal from her chores under that tree for the last three days. That was to say, ever since the first tiny bloom had opened. 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. How? Why? It was like a flute song forgotten in another existence and remembered again. What? How? Why? This singing she heard that had nothing to do with her ears. The rose of the world was breathing out smell. It followed her through all her waking moments and caressed her in her sleep. It connected itself with other vaguely felt matters that had struck her outside observation and buried themselves in her flesh. Now they emerged and quested about her consciousness.

She was stretched on her back beneath the pear tree soaking in the alto chant of the visiting bees, the gold of the sun and the panting breath of the breeze when the inaudible voice of it all came to her. She saw a dust-bearing bee sink into the sanctum of a bloom; the thousand sister-calyxes arch to meet the love embrace and the ecstatic shiver of the tree from root to tiniest branch creaming in every blossom and frothing with delight. So this was a marriage! She had been summoned to behold a revelation. Then Janie felt a pain remorseless sweet that left her limp and languid.

After a while she got up from where she was and went over the little garden field entire. She was seeking confirmation of the voice and vision, and everywhere she found and acknowledged answers. A personal answer for all other creations except herself. She felt an answer seeking her, but where? When? How? She found herself at the kitchen door and stumbled inside. In the air of the room were flies tumbling and singing, marrying and giving in marriage. When she reached the narrow hallway she was reminded that her grandmother was home with a sick headache. She was lying across the bed asleep so Janie tipped on out of the front door. Oh to be a pear tree—any tree in bloom! With kissing bees singing of the beginning of the world! She was sixteen. She had glossy leaves and bursting buds and she wanted to struggle with life but it seemed to elude her. Where were the singing bees for her? Nothing on the place nor in her grandma’s house answered her. She searched as much of the world as she could from the top of the front steps and then went on down to the front gate and leaned over to gaze up and down the road. Looking, waiting, breathing short with impatience. Waiting for the world to be made.”

-Hurston, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” Ch. 2

NOTES: Colloquial/vernacular vs. formal narration; distinction between narrator and protagonist; symbolism of the pear tree; female sexuality, feminism, and gender roles; race relations and gender; sensory imagery; folklore and traditional symbols; anthropological background of imagery, esp. Southern black life/folklore

M.R. Anand, “Untouchable”

“Rakha was at length in sight, a basket of food on his bare clean-shaven head, a pan slung by a string handle in his hand, and his feet dragging a pair of Bakha’s old ammunition boots, laceless and noisy and too big for him. His tattered flannel shirt, grimy with the blowings of his ever-running nose, obstructed his walk slightly. The discomfort resulting from this, the fatigue, assumed or genuine, due to the work he had put in that morning, gave a rather drawn, long-jawed look to his dirty face on which the flies congregated in abundance to taste of the sweet delights of saliva on the corners of his lips. The quizzical, not-there look defined by his small eyes and his narrow, very narrow forehead, was positively ugly. And yet his ears,  long and transparent in the sunlight, had something intelligent about them, something impish. He seemed a true child of the outcaste colony, where there are no drains, no light, no water; of the marshland where people live among the latrines of the townsmen, and in the stink of their own dung scattered about here, there and everywhere; of the world where the day is dark as the night and the night pitch-dark. He had wallowed in its mire, bathed in its marshes, played among its rubbish-heaps; his listless, lazy, lousy manner was a result of his surroundings. He was the vehicle of a life-force, the culminating point in the destiny of which would never come, because malaria lingered in his bones, and that disease does not kill but merely dissipates the energy. He was a friend of the flies and the mosquitoes, their boon companion since his childhood.”

–Mulk Raj Anand, “Untouchable,” p. 84

Notes: characterization (foil to protagonist); relationship between person described and the setting; decadence of setting=decadence of character?; narration/omniscience(?)/whose P.O.V.?; wordplay and poetics (alliteration, puns, etc.); strange commentary; historical context of novel; postcolonial literary theory; sociological poststructuralism; Westernization; language, ethnicity and narrative

“As I Lay Dying” – W. Faulkner

“It was the sweetest thing I ever saw. It was like he knew he would never see her again, that Anse Bundren was driving him from his mother’s death bed, never to see her in this world again. I always said Darl was different from those others. I always said he was the only one of them that had his mother’s nature, had any natural affection. Not that Jewel, the one she labored so to bear and coddled and petted so and him flinging into tantrums or sulking spells, inventing devilment to devil her until I would have trailed him time and time. Not him to come and tell her goodbye. Not him to miss a chance to make that extra three dollars at the price of his mother’s goodbye kiss. A Bundren through and through, loving nobody, caring for nothing except how to get something with the least amount of work. Mr Tull says Darl asked them to wait. He said Darl almost begged them on his knees not to force him to leave her in her condition. But nothing would do but Anse and Jewel must make that three dollars. Nobody that knows Anse could have expected different, but to think of that boy, that Jewel, selling all those years of self-denial and down-right partiality—they couldn’t fool me: Mr Tull says Mrs Bundren liked Jewel the least of all, but I knew better. I knew she was partial to him, to the same quality in him that let her put up with Anse Bundren when Mr Tull said she ought to poisoned him—for three dollars, denying his dying mother the goodbye kiss.

Why, for the last three weeks I have been coming over every time I could, coming sometimes when I shouldn’t have, neglecting my own family and duties so that somebody would be with her in her last moments and she would not have to face the Great Unknown without one familiar face to give her courage. Not that I deserve credit for it: I will expect the same for myself. But thank God it will be the faces of my loved kin, my blood and flesh, for in my husband and children I have been more blessed than most, trials though they have been at times.”

–William Faulkner, “As I Lay Dying,” p. 21-22

Notes: Stream-of-consciousness narration; perception of memory; perception of self; unreliable narration; repetition/rumination/obsessiveness and worry?; grammatical shifts/changes in train of thought; dialect/how language affects the structure of thought; Southern dialect; Biblical dialect?; unusual syntax and sentence structure

Mrs Dalloway

“A small crowd meanwhile had gathered at the gates of Buckingham Palace. Listlessly, yet confidently, poor people all of them, they waited; looked at the Palace itself with the flag flying; at Victoria, billowing on her mound, admired her shelves of running water, her geraniums; singled out from the motor cars in the Mall first this one, then that; bestowed emotion, vainly, upon commoners out for a drive; recalled their tribute to keep it unspent while this car passed and that; and all the time let rumour accumulate in their veins and thrill the nerves in their thighs at the thought of Royalty looking at them; the Queen bowing; the Prince saluting; at the thought of the heavenly life divinely bestowed upon Kings; of the equerries and deep curtsies; of the Queen’s old doll’s house; of Princess Mary married to an Englishman, and the Prince — ah! the Prince! who took wonderfully, they said, after old King Edward, but was ever so much slimmer. The Prince lived at St. James’s; but he might come along in the morning to visit his mother.

So Sarah Bletchley said with her baby in her arms, tipping her foot up and down as though she were by her own fender in Pimlico, but keeping her eyes on the Mall, while Emily Coates ranged over the Palace windows and thought of the housemaids, the innumerable housemaids, the bedrooms, the innumerable bedrooms. Joined by an elderly gentleman with an

Aberdeen terrier, by men without occupation, the crowd increased. Little Mr. Bowley, who had rooms in the Albany and was sealed with wax over the deeper sources of life but could be unsealed suddenly, inappropriately, sentimentally, by this sort of thing -poor women waiting to see the Queen go past — poor women, nice little children, orphans, widows, the War — tut-tut — actually had tears in his eyes. A breeze flaunting ever so warmly down the Mall through the thin trees, past the bronze heroes, lifted some flag flying in the British breast of Mr. Bowley and he raised his hat as the car turned into the Mall and held it high as the car approached; and let the poor mothers of Pimlico press close to him, and stood very upright. The car came on.” (p. 19-20)

Notes: minor characters; narrative shift b/w characters; indirect/direct discourse (how is this classified?); British patriotism following WWI; monarchical hierarchy vs. egalitarian population; “common” people; who says/thinks what part of the passage (e.g. who “tuts”? Is it Mr. Bowley?)

“After the armistice they agreed he should go home to get a job so they might be married. Luz would not come home until he had a good job and could come to New York to meet her. It was understood he would not drink, and he did not want to see his friends or anyone in the States. Only to get a job and be married. On the train from Padua to Milan they quarreled about her not being willing to come home at once. When they had to say good-bye, in the station at Milan, they kissed good-bye, but were not finished with the quarrel. He felt sick about saying good-bye like that.”

-Ernest Hemingway, from “In Our Time,” “Chapter VI: A Very Short Story,” p. 66

Notes: Issue of alcoholism implied in passing of conversation (major issue almost entirely glossed over except for one prominent moment); entire story is about fleeting, temporal love affair being placed in a proper perspective; specific dialogue is omitted; the whole story is about as long as and feels like a brief letter summarizing significant events and placing them in context for all that they amount to.

Other Questions: How autobiographical is “In Our Time?”


Whose Body? – Sayers

“A description had been sent to every police station and had been inserted in all the newspapers. In view of the suggestion made by Sir Julian Freke, had inquiries been made at all the seaports? They had. And with no results? With no results at all. No one had come forward to identify the body? Plenty of people had come forward; but nobody had succeeded in identifying it. Had any effort been made to follow up the clue afforded by the eyeglasses? Inspector Sugg submitted that, having regard to the interests of justice, he would beg to be excused from answering that question. Might the jury see the eyeglasses? The eyeglasses were handed to the jury.

William Watts, called, confirmed the evidence of Sir Julian Freke with regard to dissecting-room subjects. He explained the system by which they were entered. They usually were supplied by the workhouses and free hospitals. They were under his sole charge. The young gentlemen could not possibly get the keys. Had Sir Julian Freke, or any of the house surgeons, the keys? No, not even Sir Julian Freke. The keys had remained in his possession on Monday night? They had. And, in any case, the enquiry was irrelevant, as there was no body missing, nor ever had been. That was the case (Sayers XXX).”

Notes: free indirect discourse (?), dialogue, unconventional third-person narration.

“Mr. Parker was a bachelor, and occupied a Georgian but inconvenient flat at No. 12 Great Ormond Street, for which he paid a pound a week. His exertions in the cause of civilization were rewarded, not by the gift of diamond rings from empresses or munificent cheques from grateful Prime Ministers, but by a modest, though sufficient, salary, drawn from the pockets of the British taxpayer. He awoke, after a long day of arduous and inconclusive labour, to the smell of burnt porridge. Through his bedroom window, hygienically open top and bottom, a raw fog was rolling slowly in, and the sight of a pair of winter pants, flung hastily over a chair the previous night, fretted him with a sense of the sordid absurdity of the human form. The telephone bell rang, and he crawled wretchedly out of bed and into the sitting-room, where Mrs. Munns, who did for him by the day, was laying the table, sneezing as she went.

Mr. Bunter was speaking.

“His lordship says he’d be very glad, sir, if you could make it convenient to step round to breakfast.”

If the odour of kidneys and bacon had been wafted along the wire, Mr. Parker could not have experienced a more vivid sense of consolation.

“Tell his lordship I’ll be with him in half an hour,” he said, thankfully, and plunging into the bathroom, which was also the kitchen, he informed Mrs. Munns, who was just making tea from a kettle which had gone off the boil, that he should be out to breakfast.

“You can take the porridge home for the family,” he added, viciously, and flung off his dressing-gown with such determination that Mrs. Munns could only scuttle away with a snort.”

Notes: sarcastic/dry humor, British humor, understatement; several examples of this throughout the text; dark, twisted, almost gallows humor

Joyce, “Portrait,” Ch. 1-2

“Some weeks Jack Lawton got the card for first and some weeks he got the card for first. His white silk badge fluttered and fluttered as he worked at the next sum and heard Father Arnall’s voice. Then all his eagerness passed away and he felt his face quite cool. He thought his face must be white because it felt so cool. He could not get out the answer for the sum but it did not matter. 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.”

“It could not be a wall; but there could be a thin thin line there all round everything. It was very big to think about everything and everywhere. Only God could do that. He tried to think what a big thought that must be; but he could only think of God. God was God’s name just as his name was Stephen. DIEU was the French for God and that was God’s name too; and when anyone prayed to God and said DIEU then God knew at once that it was a French person that was praying. But, though there were different names for God in all the different languages in the world and God understood what all the people who prayed said in their different languages, still God remained always the same God and God’s real name was God.

It made him very tired to think that way. It made him feel his head very big. He turned over the flyleaf and looked wearily at the green round earth in the middle of the maroon clouds. He wondered which was right, to be for the green or for the maroon, because Dante had ripped the green velvet back off the brush that was for Parnell one day with her scissors and had told him that Parnell was a bad man. He wondered if they were arguing at home about that. That was called politics. There were two sides in it: Dante was on one side and his father and Mr Casey were on the other side but his mother and uncle Charles were on no side. Every day there was something in the paper about it.”

-James Joyce, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”

Notes: These passages both contain good examples of Joyce’s use of wordplay, repetition, and color symbolism in his early work. More of Joyce’s tone comes across through his diction and specific syntax (meant generally in “Portrait” to reflect the growth of a young mind) than through the actual content of a given passage.

Notes: Modernist perception of time, modernist perception of the individual, Bildungsroman, prose style, character naming, color symbolism, Joycean epiphany (see: Stephen Hero)

Stein’s “Melanctha”

“Melanctha Herbert was a graceful, pale yellow, intelligent, attractive negress. She had not been raised like Rose by white folks but then she had been half made with real white blood.”

“Sometimes the thought of how all her world was made, filled the complex, desiring Melanctha with despair. She wondered, often, how she could go on living when she was so blue.”

“Melanctha Herbert all her life long, loved and wanted good, kind and considerate people. Jefferson Campbell was all the things that Melanctha had ever wanted. Jefferson was a strong, well built, good looking, cheery, intelligent and good mulatto. And then at first he had not cared to know Melanctha, and when he did begin to know her he had not liked her very well, and he had not thought that she would ever come to any good. And then Jefferson Campbell was so very gentle. Jefferson never did some things like other men, things that now were beginning to be ugly, for Melanctha. And then too Jefferson Campbell did not seem to know very well what it was that Melanctha really wanted, and all this was making Melanctha feel his power with her always getting stronger.”

-Colors used to describe not only characters’ physical appearance but vaguely to describe their personalities
-How are Jefferson and Melanctha characterized? How are they similar/different? Are their perceptions of one another close to realistic?
-Melanctha’s name is similar to “melancholy”