Tag Archives: judgment

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.

“Dirty” Work

And though [Bakha’s] job was dirty he remained comparatively clean…’A bit superior to his job,’ they always said, ‘not the kind of man who ought to be doing this.’ For he looked intelligent, even sensitive, with a sort of dignity that does not belong to the ordinary scavenger, who is as a rule uncouth and unclean.

Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable, (New York: Penguin Books, 1940), 16.

Notes: Irony. Apparently, you can have dignity while holding the job of sweeping latrines. It is unfortunate that people will make judgments based on the jobs people have and what caste they are in. Also unfortunate that some people are referred to as “scavengers.” It is unfortunate that he is seen as an exception to a rule simply because he does not seem Indian. It is unfortunate that he feels he should separate himself from his Indianness.