Tag Archives: watching

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.

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.