Category Archives: American Literature

How might we interpret Sylvia Plath’s symbolic portrayal of a father figure in ‘Daddy’

Sylvia Plath throughout Daddy employs a range of symbolism in order to create a persona through which to project her feelings, by divulging the most intimate parts of her psyche. Through the use metaphor, the persona may purge herself of the emotions felt by her father’s untimely death. David Lodge asserts that ‘Literary symbolism tends towards a rich plurality, even ambiguity’ the symbol of a father figure is employed to reveal the nature of the persona’s relationship with her father and expand on the reality of her experience. There are many ambiguous images injected throughout the poem as the persona reconstructs her father’s image and reconnects with society.

Firstly, a sense of traumatic childhood experiences are invoked as we witness nostalgic tones and a sense of oppression through the child-like language of the poem. The innocence and childishness of the persona is presented through the peculiar vocabulary the persona uses throughout the poem: such as onomatopoeia in ‘Achoo’ and ‘Chuffing.’The sense of the childhood melds into a suggestion of Jewish persecution and terror as shown through the line: ‘It stuck in a barb wire snare.’ It is through this that the child’s feelings of intimidation become clear as the persona’s imagery frequently alludes to the Holocaust to symbolize the fear and pain she endured during this time. The atrocities of Nazi Germany are used as symbols of the horror of male domination as the Germanic ‘Daddy’ makes himself felt by his authoritarian aura. By accentuating linguistically using the heavy cadences of nursery rhyme such as ‘I could never talk to you,’ the persona is insinuating the innocence of youth torn quickly apart by the images and language of Nazism as the next line reads ‘the tongue stuck in my Jaw.’ By retracing her infantile traumas through the use of symbolism, the persona is conveying to us the yearnings of a young tortured woman trying to escape from the mental abuse and corruption of a dominate father. The persona wants to recreate with immediacy the child’s view by outing a simple perspective reflected through facile language.

Moreover, continuously throughout the poem, phallic imagery in Daddy is implied. First of all, the poem title preference of choice being ‘Daddy’ rather than the more mature expression of ‘Father,’ sets up a direct address from the persona to the character of the father she has created. This gives an ambiguous expression of a child wishing to be dominated. Daddy is a depiction of feminine and masculine energy, where the persona mythologies the figure of her father.In the fifth stanza when the persona states ‘Put your foot, your root’ the foot is a symbol for a threatening, suffocating object, symbolizing that her father is sexually brutal. Thus conveying to us that the persona is powerless to stop his overriding authority as she asserts ‘I could never speak,’ a structural echo linking to the previous stanza where she utters ‘I could never talk to you.’ Unresolved and paradoxical feelings of pain and love about the persona’s parent, Otto Plath, who left her at a young age, are the sole reason she enforced himself on her memory–to perpetuate his image and continue her sexual longings. These lines express the constant and crippling manipulation of the father figure, as he introduces oppression and hopelessness into her life. A father’s authority is intertwined with the abuse of power as it occurs in the real world and the persona’s feelings of abandonment and despair are mirrored with those of Nazi’ as she states ‘I thought every German was you.’As the poem progresses, it is symbolic of the transgressions of the poet’s life as she grows older, the persona moves from desiring her father: ‘I used to pray to recover you’ to fearing him: ‘I have always been scared of you’ to hating him: ‘brute heart’. The gentle nature of the poem title ‘Daddy’ juxtaposed with these violent images shows the persona’s internal struggles with her father’s subconscious, arrogant and dismissive nature. Eventually, the sexual pull and tug of the absent figure from her childhood allows us to grasp that she is sexually obsessed with her father.The suggestion of incest is embellished in the poet’s implication as she allows herself to develop sexually aggressive feelings as she says ‘I made a model of you..And said I do, I do, I do.’

On the other hand, as David Lodge states, symbolism is a ‘nice balance between realistic description and symbolic suggestion.’ As a result, Robert Phillips claims that the persona‘frequently uses elements from her experience as the starting point for imagistic and thematic elaborations.’ The ‘black shoe’ the persona refers to is an example of these imagistic elaborations. The use of the colour ‘black’ connotes death and darkness intertwined with a bind of claustrophobic suffering and suffocation. This kind of ethereal and dark imagery arrives as the poem progresses and the colour palette suggests that the poet has a cage of suppressed emotion. The ‘black shoe’ is a metaphor to express how her life is trapped in sorrow like a foot is trapped in a shoe. However, by also mentioning later in the poem controversial Nazi imagery ‘every woman adores a Fascist,’ it symbolises the persona’s reliance but also fear of her father; the persona is at first desperately seeking a return to the traditional roles of father and daughter. As demonstrated, the ‘foot’ is ultimately a metaphor for the feelings weighing the poet down in all her years of being unable to express her anxieties and communicate with her absent father figure. This view is further highlighted through the line ‘the black telephones off at the root.’ The persona begins to realise the need to reject the traditional roles and her desire for emancipation from her father is the reason for the denouement of the poem: ‘daddy, you bastard, I’m through.’ This line is ambiguous in its interpretation: It is symbolic of the fact that the persona has severed ties and is ‘through’ with ‘daddy.’ Yet, the use of the communicative device of the ‘telephone’ and the repetition of the colour ‘black’ suggests that the persona is actually through to him. So, in substance, although the poet begins to shrivel emotionally by being unable to come to terms with her father’s death, the ‘telephone’ is symbolic of how the persona leaves the imagistic elaborated world she has created and reconnects with reality.

Alternately, one would argue that in Daddy the persona finally castrates the image of her father’s memory and becomes an independent self. It is in ‘Daddy’ that through a metaphorical murder ‘Daddy, daddy you bastard, I’m through,’ she breaks completely free from being a perceived victim and from the power and influence of men. By branding herself as a ‘Jew’ the persona is dramatizing the war in her soul in addition to appreciating as well as accepting her submissive position. This position intensifies her emotional paralysis before the image of an ‘Aryan’ father with whom she is both connected and at enmity. The persona transcends this by ceremonially killing her father: ‘There’s a stake in your fat black heart and the villagers never liked you. They are dancing and stamping on you.’ This killing is not just an individual one, but is part of a ritual joined in by the ‘villagers.’ When the persona drives the ‘stake’ through her father’s heart; she is not only is exorcising the demon of her father’s memory, but metaphorically is killing him also.The process of doing away with ‘Daddy’ in the poem represents the persona’s attempts at psychic expurgation of ‘the model’ of the father she has constructed. The lines serve as a way of describing the ability of her father’s influence to strip the persona of her own sense of consciousness. The poet employs what Freud would call after-effect – she kills her already dead father again in the mental world in order to accept his death and free herself. Therefore, ridding him is a symbol for the empowerment of the persona and the strength she establishes as the poem progresses.

Word Count: 1,531

N.B: I am still alive, I apologize for my lack of posting.
I have always wanted to explore Sylvia Plath, so here you are (whoever you maybe) There is a bibliography/webography so ask if there are any concerns about copyright etc I just didn’t want to bore you with names of texts you will properly never read. Thanks for your time, I will still continue to post, promise.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under American Literature, Authors, Literature, New Criticism, Poetry, Thoughts

Shortlist.com: The 40 Coolest Characters in Literature

Shortlist.com has recently compiled their list of the 40 Coolest Characters in Literature. I’ve got to admit, I was very happy to see a few of my favorite characters made it onto the list. However, there were a couple as to which I couldn’t help but wonder why they were shortchanged (who WOULDN’T want to get a pint with Stephen Dedalus?!) Alas, to each his own.

 

That said–what do you think of the list? Any characters not make the cut that you think deserved to be on there? Got any gripes with any of the characters currently on there? What exactly makes a literary character “cool”? I, for one, think it’s pretty damn interesting and–dare I say it–cool to see some of the best works of literary fiction ever presented on a very entertaining level. I’m a sucker for seeing the juxtaposition of entertainment and high literature!

So, what’s your opinion? Discuss!

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under American Literature, Authors, Books, British Literature, Culture, Fiction, Literature, Opinions, Thoughts

Fun With Grammar

Hey, all! I feel like I’ve been severely neglecting this blog, and I want to apologize because that is not my intention. I’ve just been busy working on some creative writing projects, some non-fiction as well as reading as much as I can so I can better update this very blog! I promise (though I feel like I say that all too often) that I will get to a new, thought-provoking (at least I hope) post soon, but for now I thought I’d compile a fun one based on a few things I’ve learned as of late. Working as a proofreader, I’ve spent a lot of time agonizing over words and punctuation. I have a BA in Literature and have been an English/Literature enthusiast since grammar school. However, years and years of writing, rewriting, revisions and editing surprisingly do not prepare us for all the grammatical errors we will encounter in later life. Proofreading has also taught me that grammar is ever-changing.

I consider myself pretty affluent in spelling, grammar and punctuation but I’ve been knocked off my high horse many times for having such thoughts. There are certain things in the English language that I just never really gave a second thought to, or  as it is in many instances, have just been doing wrong all along. And while the internet is a great resource for correcting errors, one will find that it’s hard sometimes to get the  various sources to agree on the same topic (will the MLA, AP and CMS ever agree?!). This has led me to another discovery: grammar is not only evolving, but also way more flexible than one might think! Sure there are plenty of “rules” in grammar (and many that can often be broken in creative writing–with sufficient knowledge of them first), but there are also plenty of instances where the writer has much more control over what to use and how to use it; That’s where the “fun” part comes in.

So, as I’ve been going along I’ve been taking note of certain grammatical tips that I find interesting, and many I’ve made notes of as a reminder myself to keep a keen eye for–not only in proofing, but in writing as well. (Can we skip the part where we go back and count how many I’ve goofed on in these prior two paragraphs?–I’m still learning!!*) I’ve decided to share the notes I’ve made on here, as both useful tips for myself and for anyone who reads this. I’m going to try my best to put these in some kind of readable order, but bear with me; I’m working from notes I’ve jotted quickly in passing.  This is, of course, just an abridged version of grammar and syntax tricks and tips and there’s much more out there to learn on the topic. Below the entry I will include all of the sources I look to most for further reading. That said, here are my notes:

**Keep in mind, these rules are strictly for American English, many of them will differ in British English, etc.**

Our Friend (and Foe): The Comma

  • The Oxford/serial comma boils down to a matter of taste. I suggest always using a serial comma when listing names, especially when crediting them with a piece of work, so no one feels as though they’re lumped in with another person or that two people worked as a team instead of individually. (e.g. “Kevin Mitchell, Jonie Watson, and Michael Tulley,” and especially when only last names are used, so it doesn’t end up sounding like a law firm!)
  •  While listing inanimate objects, it’s okay to omit that extra comma: “please pick up milk, butter and bread.”
  • However, it is best to drop in a serial comma in order to eliminate any ambiguity/confusion: “I’d like to thank my parents, God and my cat” (your parents have some mighty interesting names)  does not read as well as “I’d like to thank my parents, God, and my cat.” But remember: it is always best to be consistent. Oh, and about that whole AP dropping the Oxford comma for good debacle? Just a misunderstanding. Here’s a great article all about it, as well as all about the comma itself.
  • Do not use a comma to replace the word “that.”

Colons v. Semi-Colons  

  • A semi-colon is used to separate two main clauses that are closely related to each other, but could stand on their own as complete sentences.
  • The purpose of a colon is to introduce or define.
  • Do NOT use a capital letter after a semi-colon, unless it is followed by a proper noun.
  • The semi-colon and the colon are the only two punctuation marks which should be placed after closing quotation marks when they follow a quoted text.
  • After a colon, more often than not, the following sentence should start with a capital letter. A few exceptions to this rule include: if the independent clause is a quote, if the explanatory statement is more than one sentence, if the introductory phrase is very brief, or if the second clause expresses a rule.

Santa’s Helpers a.k.a. Subordinate Clauses

  • Subjunctive: “Wishful” sentences call for the subjunctive mood of the verb “to be,” so the right choice is “were” instead of “was.”
  • The subjunctive “were” is hypothetical in meaning and is used in conditional and concessive sentences and in subordinate clauses after verbs like “wish.” The form is “were” for all persons.
  • “Was” is used when supposing something that might be true, but it all depends on the context of the sentence.
  • Conditional mood: Indicating a conditional state that will cause something else to happen. Marked by the words might, could and would.
  • Concessive clause:  A subordinate clause which refers to a situation that contrasts with the one described in the main clause. For example: “Although he was tired, he couldn’t get to sleep.”
  • Subordinate (or dependent) clauses are groups of words containing both a subject and a verb, but cannot stand alone as a sentence. Some examples include: if, although, as, because, since, though, unless, whenever, whether.

Em Dashes, En Dashes and Hyphens–Oh My! 

  • The em dash is an elongated or double dash: ““ or “– –“ (it should be the length of the typed letter “m”).  Always use in formal writing as opposed to a hyphen (“-“).
  • Spaces should typically not be used around an em dash but can change based on dramatic emphasis or the publication it appears in.
  • The en dash is a shorter dash, but longer than a hyphen: “–“ (it should be length of the typed letter “n”). It is only used to denote amount of time or numbers (e.g. “the years 2001–2006,” “April–May”).
  • Do NOT use the en dash with the word “from,” instead use the word “to.” For example, you would write “from April to May” as opposed to “from April–May.”

Apostrophe Catastrophes

  • Apostrophes ONLY indicate a contraction or possession.
  • Apostrophe after names that end in “s”: Classic pre-CE names only need apostrophe, not ‘s. The same goes for names ending with a z-sound (Adams’), and for plural nouns (e.g. cats’, boys’, men’s). But in most other cases, “‘s” is correct. The idea is to convey the notion of possession without creating an awkward pronunciation. Though this can be chalked up to a style choice.
  • Possessive of singular nouns ending in an S or Z sound are usually formed by adding ‘s, unless the next word begins with an S or Z sound.
  • When writing out an abbreviated version of decades:  the apostrophe should only go BEFORE the first number, and nowhere else!
  • The apostrophe at the beginning of the number should be pointing in the direction of the omitted numbers, it should look almost like a small number 9: “ ’80s”
  • Possessive of plural nouns ending in an S or Z sound are formed by adding only an apostrophe, e.g. churches’.

 Verb Agreement

  • Collective nouns are nouns that describe a group, such as “family,” “band” or “couple.”
  • When you are thinking of the individuals within the group as separate things, use a plural verb. (The couple are travelling home in separate cars.”) However, when you think of it as a single unit, use a singular verb. But there is no real rule attached to using was/were with collective nouns.
  • “None” can be singular or plural. It can mean “not one” and followed by a singular verb, or it can mean “not any” and take a plural verb.

 Miscellaneous Musings

  • “Somewhere” is classified as an adverb, but actually has a noun-like function.
  • The phrase “somewhere where” is not necessarily superfluous since “somewhere” can be an antecedent of a relative clause (e.g. “where”).
  • The word “farther” indicates physical distance, while “further” is used metaphorically.
  • In certain cases, “further” and “farther” can be used interchangeably, but if you can’t decide which to use, you’re safer using “further” because “farther” has some restrictions.
  • Avoid using wordy phrases in place of “because.”
  • “Internet” is capitalized because it is a proper noun referring to a specific network, “website,” however, is not.
  • “Web” as a proper noun can be either.
  • Dropping the “had” in “had better” is acceptable only in speech or recorded language.
  • The word “yet” is what’s known as a coordinating conjunction. Others include: for, nor, but, or and so.
  • “i.e.” stands for “that is,” while “e.g.” stands for “for example.” I.e. is used to further clarify a subject, while e.g. introduces examples. Example: “Michelle likes reading old mystery novels (i.e. And Then There Were None and The Hound of the Baskervilles).” These are the only two novels of the genre she likes.  “Michelle likes reading old mystery novels (e.g. And Then There Were None and The Hound of the Baskervilles).  These are just two of the mystery novels she likes.
  • The word for this punctuation mark “?!” is called an interrobang.

And just remember: it is always important to BE CONSISTENT. If there’s anything to take away from this it’s the one major rule of writing, consistency comes first. So, if you choose to stick to an MLA-approved style while writing, make sure you don’t waver between that and Chicago style. If you want to include the Oxford comma in lists, do so every time.  It can be a pain to have to go back and check every time, but it’s worth it for the end result of having an intelligent and eloquently written piece of work. Hope this helped in some way even if it was a bit scattered! I promise to have a part two when I encounter even more grammar tips! The links for all your writing needs are below the cut.

*I’m kidding, of course. Actually, if anyone who’s read this would like to point out any errors in the body of this text, please feel free to comment and chide me. Grammar, syntax, punctuation, spelling–it’s all fair game! Sometimes the hardest work to edit is one’s own, so I’m completely open to fixing my errors and learning in the process. Also, if anyone wants to point out any errors, updates, or other ideas and suggestions in the notes I’ve made, please do so! I’d love to hear what everyone has to say!

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under American Literature, Literature, Publishing, Thoughts

On Children’s Literature and Censorship – A Brief Look at Art, Literary Theory & Scary Stories

If you have not yet heard, there has been a lot of buzz going around the internet in regards to HarperCollins’ decision to re-release a 30th anniversary edition of the classic children’s book Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. The reason it’s been getting so much publicity? They’ve replaced all of Stephen Gammell’s original art with new art by Brett Helquist. For most children, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark played a huge part in their formative reading years. And while the stories hold a special place in our hearts–it’s the haunting imagery that will forever lurk in the recesses of our brains.

Sure, I could go on about how this is an outrage and how it’s all kinds of wrong to mess with a modern-day classic–but that’s been done to death. And while the above statements are all true, I believe there’s a more larger issue at hand that isn’t being addressed as much: the issue of how literature and art can be censored/manipulated based on its position within the greater realm of literary theory. But let me not get too ahead of myself, instead, let’s examine the case from the beginning.

This story is not new (in fact, the 30th anniversary editions were released close to two years ago) it does not change the fact that people are still visibly upset by this change–it also doesn’t help that the original editions of the book series are nearly impossible to find, as the new ones have more or less completely replaced the original books. For those who may not have grown up with the Scary Stories series, here’s some background info: Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark was first published by HarperCollins in 1981, written by former journalist/reporter Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by artist Stephen Gammell. The stories were your typical scary story fare, folklore and urban legends written masterfully to both scare and delight the children and young adults reading them. But what was most often remembered was the artwork itself, which was very dark and unsettling, especially for a young audience, but, as with most children, always left you wanting more. A review from an Amazon customer describes it best:

To this day, the truly special part of Schwartz’s “Scary Stories” series has not been the tales, but the wonderful, horrifying illustrations by Gammell. Schwartz’s collection, while he put obvious effort into retelling these stories for a children’s audience, cannot by themselves evoke a feeling of dread or horror. If anything, they are comic horror, often ending in a punchline. If anything, the stories are a good introduction for black humor for children. But this is not what makes a classic. This means that the reason this book has survived and been wildly popular for so many years is probably not its stories, but something else. As many reviews have pointed out, that something is those Gammell illustrations. The rotting corpses. The shambling undead. Even the smiling, friendly “viper,” who is actually pretty benign in the story, but has something… sinister nonetheless. Gammell’s illustrations are so horrifying, that when I read this as a child, I could not help but imagine them… animated and moving around. In my nightmares. The best nightmares that make you love that feeling of being scared.

I won’t discredit the work Alvin Schwartz put into his stories, but they are, at best, an excellent retelling and rendering of folklore. In his 1988 interview with Schwartz, “Night Visions: Conversations with Alvin Schwartz and Judith Gorog,” Leonard S. Marcus describes scary stories as a mix of “supernatural and surrealist fantasy, black humor, and the cautionary tale” then goes on to demonstrate Schwartz’s mastery in the genre: “A former reporter, Schwartz brings his to his work a journalist’s respect for clear, crisp prose and solid background research, and a keen sense of his audience” (44). And that’s exactly what  Schwartz envisioned while writing these books, bringing folklore to a new audience, as Schwartz states:

In all of my books what I’m doing basically is presenting adult material in a way that children can understand. Children are so sophisticated these days that it works for them . . . [sophisticated] in terms of their life experiences or maybe simply their life experiences through the media. What fascinates me is that with the scary material, you’d think they would be jaded. But they’re not. They’re refreshed.  (Marcus, 50).

Schwartz wrote these stories to an audience he knew would not only be able to handle the material, but would enjoy and seek it out as well. And this was proven to be true since, as Marcus states, “a number of children’s librarians and booksellers all said that the genre for which they get the most request is ‘scary stories.'” (46). But, again, as previously stated, it is not the text that most remember, but the art. The art that wonderfully accompanied the text to create just the right balance of humor and horror for a fully well-rounded piece of fiction. As stated in the Schwartz interview:

LM: Sometimes I suppose and illustration can be helpful in bringing forward a suggestion that you don’t want to be too explicit about in the text.

AS: One could illustrate that story by simply having the girl look back and not showing what she sees. Stephen Gammell has made a very important contribution to these books because he has such a wild imagination. (51)

The notion of text and art working together is one I’ve touched upon before, in my post “Comic Books: A Viable Form of Literature?“, especially in regards to teaching literature:

By examining the combination of images + words, students are not only learning how to analyze a piece of literature, but also an introductory course on how to examine art. Does a mix of the two make a piece of literature automatically disposable? I’d beg to differ. Would Sterne’s pages of doodles in Tristram Shandy, Vonnegut’s frequent drawings in Breakfast of Champions, and even Joyce’s dazzling way of creating an art from the placement of words on the page in Ulysses make the texts themselves worthless? Hardly. Perhaps it’s a stretch, but I believe this indicates that introducing images and art into a piece of literature doesn’t have to demean the work or make it “childish,” but instead enrich and add even more layers of meaning to the text itself. The two forms of art do not always need to be mutually exclusive.

Schwartz and Gammell worked together to combine the two forms of art to bring folklore to a new generation, as well as introduce a new form of art to children, one that would forever leave a lasting imprint on their lives. And while it did impact many–and while children had most sought out and requested scary stories from libraries–Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark found itself on the ALA’s list of most frequently challenged books for two straight decades, often protested by parents groups who deemed the material “inappropriate.” Despite this, HarperCollins stood by their decision to publish the book, and did not waiver by pulling it or censoring it.

So why now, 30 years later, have they decided to completely change the artwork?

Unfortunately, I have unsuccessfully been able to locate any comments whatsoever from HarperCollins regarding their decision (oddly enough, they seem to have never made any statements about it, and it seems as though it took so long for the masses to catch on because they discreetly re-released the books with the new artwork, so it was only after a few people made a stink about it on Amazon that people began to really get upset) so I can’t go on record to explain their choice. However, a Facebook group called “Bring back the original illustrations to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” speculates that  “changes made by Harper Collins were designed to accommodate the delicate sensibilities of the books’ would-be censors.” But again the question still must be raised: why now? Why are these images more offensive now than they were in 1981? And more importantly, why is it OK to go under the radar and completely change what made it a classic, without having to release any form of statement on the matter?

The only reason I can think of, is that it just seems that  censorship is just the “in” thing nowadays. In a world where laws like SOPA/PIPA/ACTA are still scheming to scrape by, using underhanded means to censor things is just commonplace. And in this specific case, censorship is even easier because, to put it simply, children/young adult literature just does not matter to the literary canon and literary theorists. In the wonderfully insightful article “Literary Theory and Young Adult Literature: The Open Frontier in Critical Studies” Cindy Lou Daniels states:

Some still believe that YA literature is merely a secondary category of childlike storytelling–didactic in nature–and unworthy of serious literary evaluation, when, in fact, it is really an overlooked and unappreciated literary genre that has only recently begun to attract the critical attention that it deserves. (78).

While Scary Stories may be considered children’s literature, and not YA literature, the basic principal is still in place: literary theorists are unwavering in what their views of literature are and are not. And often landing on the “not” list include YA literature, children’s literature, scary stories, illustrated books, comic books, graphic novels and the like. Daniels then makes a bold claim:

What would help in this regard would be not only for critics to recognize the difference between genres, but to simply acknowledge that regardless of genre, both children’s and YA works are literature. (78)

A bold claim indeed, for an article published in 2006. What’s more interesting is the note attached to this claim, which directs the reader to an article titled “The Limits of Literary Criticism of Children’s and Young Adult Literature” by Hans-Heino Ewers, which explore the issue of whether or not children’s literature should be regarded as art. In it, he references Henrich Wolgast’s essay “The Misery of Our Children’s Literature,”  a classic German article that called for the valuing of children’s literature and the necessity of considering it art, which was originally published in–get this–1896.  116 years later and we STILL can’t come to terms with the notion of accepting children’s literature in literary theory.  As it appears, the restraints of literary criticism are not just dated by about 60-70 years, but instead over 100. Is there any wonder why I’ve called for a complete reboot of literary criticism as we know it?

In Literature for Children, David L. Russell states, “Literary criticism is the discussion of literature undertaken in order to interpret its meaning and to evaluate its quality” (48) and it is also true that “the purpose of criticism is to promote high standard in literature and to encourage a general appreciation of literature among readers” (48).  One would assume that the “general appreciation” would also include allowing readers, children, young adults, adults, to choose the works in which they want to read, criticize and appreciate (to essentially set their own “high standards”; especially forming these views and opinions at a young learning age. A good way to do just that is to, as most schools do, focus a large part of lesson plans on teaching and approaching banned and challenged books (especially children’s and YA books). The lesson plan “A Guide to Challenged and Banned Books” features the article “A Few Words About Censorship” by YA author Chris Crutcher. In it, he gives the scenario of, after stating to children that no books should be censored, if he thinks that material is “appropriate for my little brother to read?” Crutcher responds:

You didn’t ask me what was appropriate, you asked which books should be censored. I don’t think that stuff is appropriate for your little brother or you or, for that matter, me. But you live in a free country, and that means standing up for that freedom, not just for the things you agree with or believe in. If you live in a democracy, and you want to participate in that democracy, you have to learn to stand up for the expression of things you hate. It’s easy to promote material that represents what you believes–a littler harder to do that for material that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. (5)

Just as it’s hard for literary theorists to get behind or criticize anything that’s out of their scope of appreciation. Just as the families that may have had the hair on the back of their necks stand up after seeing Gammell’s art, but still sought to deny anyone else from seeing it.  Crutcher presents an excellent method and view to teach to children at a young age. The guide also explains The Freedom to Read. In 1953, the ALA and the American Book Publishers Council issued a joint statement which affirmed the responsibilities of librarians and publishers to make the widest diversity of views and expressions available. It also states that:

It is the responsibility of publishers and librarians, as guardians of the people’s freedom to read, to contest encroachments upon that freedom by individuals or groups seeking to impose their own standards or tastes upon the community at large; and by the government whenever it seeks to reduce or deny public access to public information. (5)

This is all fine and well, but, there’s just one, small thing that I can’t get past . . .

This lesson plan and “guide” was published by HarperCollins and can be downloaded on their website.

Perhaps HarperCollins is firmly behind the idea of not censoring text, but treating art on a different, lower-level that can be manipulated and changed and yes, censored. Perhaps they, like many literary theorists, don’t regard illustrated children’s books on the same level as other forms of literature. Either way, changing the art–assuming it was in response to 30-year old protests from parents and not the children who loved the books–is in direct violation of everything they stand for and impose on others in their guide. Though, then again, that’s not very different from how often literary theorists impose rules upon others that are in direct opposition of their own; it seems as though both literary criticism and the publishing industry are in need of a shake up. Maybe we can write up a guide on that get Stephen Gammell to illustrate it!

NB: If you feel so inclined, here is a petition to bring back the original artwork. While this is in no way meant to disregard the wonderful art created by Brett Helquist–and I absolutely suggest you check out his website for a more comprehensive look at all of his talented work–it’s the notion of letting HarperCollins Publishers know that censorship and manipulation without any sort of warning will not be tolerated.

Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under American Literature, Art, Authors, Banned Books, Books, Children's Literature, Comic Books, Literary Criticism, Manifestos, media, Opinions, Publishing

Death of a Salesman- My analysis

I apologize for my lack of posts this past month, or two, you would not believe my work load! Here is a critical analysis of my DOAS essay, it is only a first draft, but already 200 words over the word limit. I decide to do this question as I could generally avoid a political regime and debate as that does not even remotely interest me. I will possibly post a critical interpretation upon the character of Willy Loman at a later date, but for now:

‘There are no flashbacks in this play but only a mobile concurrency of past and present.’ Discuss Miller’s dramatic methods in presenting the past and the present in the play and their contribution to the overall tragedy.

Within Death of a Salesman, Miller incorporates a range of techniques to enhance the tragic genre of the play, including one of expression. Expressionist dramatists were concerned with presenting the inner psychological reality of a character and expression is shown through ‘flashbacks’- ones in which realism and reality play a vital role. By trying to forge his past dreams into present day reality, Willy’s past experiences are acted out; thus destroying the fragile boundaries between the past and present, the two exist in parallel as Willy’s mental state deteriorates. Miller’s tightly compressed, intensely composed scenes were therefore sown into sequential inevitability: past and present are drawn together in a single continuity, hereby exposing Willy’s mental inability and capacity. ‘Flashbacks’ would show objective images of the past, however, Miller’s mobile concurrences, show highly subjective memories. The infiltration of past scenes allows us to witness Willy’s futile pleas for humane treatment. Willy’s mindset is the fore-stage for the majority of action in the play and I’ll be assessing to what extent is the play merely a representation of his fragmented delusions.

Miller breeds a plethora of subjects into this play; Willy Loman’s last twenty-four hours are depicted to the audience as they watch a grief stricken man, one who is constantly ranging from one emotion to the other. As the play seemingly transitions from past to present, Willy is left distorted, his perspective confused. Miller uses this technique to combine elements of social and personal tragedy within the same framework. Miller interpositions the theme of madness firstly and we see this in Act I as Willy switches between morbidity and optimism. Willy’s nihilistic ‘I am tired to the death’ quickly develops into mental hyperactivity ‘God dammit’ such an abrupt change represents a man whose mindset is not coherent with his actions. Miller uses the tone of action as a generic convention in order for the audience to view Willy as a character; he is inconsistent, blind to his own foolish vanities and unsympathetic to those who ‘more than love him’ such as his wife Linda. Death of a Salesman hinges on classic Greek tragedy, Miller dared to take on an epic form of synchronizing cause and effect, Willy’s contradictions ‘Biff is such a lazy bum’ to ‘such a hard worker’ and weakness are exhibited, his implications embrace societies characteristics, humanity with all its vices and virtues.

By acting out upon stage the appearances of such characters as Ben and The Woman, the play shows the internal turmoil and psychological breakdowns that Willy is experiencing. The appearances of these two characters in Willy’s ‘present’ means that while the audience participate in sharing the nightmare experiences of Willy’s breakdown, they never lose touch with the real events. Willy perceives reality in a distorted way and the continual reappearances of characters emphasizes Willy’s recognition of reality and illusion, as it is blurred in his mind. The structure of the play resembles a stream of consciousness: Willy drifts between his living room, to the apron and ‘flashbacks’ of an idyllic past. When action is set in the present, the characters abide by the rules of the set, entering only through the imaginary wall lines and stage door to the left; however, when we visit the “past” these boundaries are broken, rules are removed, with characters openly moving through walls onto the fore-stage. Scenes in Mielziners’s Broadway adaption could easily help the audience understand Miller’s idea of Willy living in the past and present at the same time: Mielziner showed the present on stage by representing by house surrounded by tower blocks and the past showed a house surrounded by open land and trees, the set he used was described by Miller as ‘an emblem of Willy’s intense longing for the promises of the past, which indeed the present state of his mind is always conflicting’ The houses skeletal framework shows us that the sense of fragility the house carries. The play’s use of trees represents the rural way of life; the tower blocks represent how commercialism is choking these trees. Willy himself remarks on how ‘the grass don’t grow . . . you can’t raise a carrot in the back yard.” Demonstrating not only the barren landscape, but how fruitless his life has become. The more relevant commercialism becomes, the more brutal the play becomes. Willy confuses his metaphors exclaiming to Howard you ‘can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away’ Willy himself is the fruit as critic Cairns states, he is stripped of his layers, maimed and mutilated.

Commercializing in Death of a Salesman is one of many elaborate fables that define ‘The American Dream’, the future Willy wants for his boys is one built through hard work, courage and determination. He lays his ideals for the future upon his boys, especially Biff. When hostility mocks his every pursuit, Willy cannot fathom what went wrong, how ‘a young man with such-personal attractiveness, gets lost’ Willy is constantly demoralized and can only cling to idyllic fables that baffle and allude him as the dreams unwind out of themselves. Willy is constantly plagued by these daydreams and illusions; he owns nothing and makes nothing. He builds a life for his boys by building lies; illusions that replace reality in his mind, the yearning for the dream took everything Willy owned, except his fond memories of the past. He is a man completely immersed in memories, constantly reminiscing, telling Linda to ‘remember those days’ Willy is controlled by his fears for the future.

The Loman’s are entrapped in an illusionary environment, filled with deception and deceit. The stage directions indicates the house is “a dream rising out of reality” Arthur Miller’s ‘Timebends’ further depicts the house as one ‘trembling with resolution and shouts of victories that had not yet taken place but surely would tomorrow’ This reflects Willy’s longing to fulfill himself in a world where material wealth is the only acceptable goal in society. It is because of this reason, that religion is absent from the play, as religion isn’t compatible with capitalism and materialism. A sense of this environment is accentuated through the nostalgic music of the flute which is sporadically played through moments of mobile concurrency, symbolic of the illusionary environment which surrounds them.

This is a play about violence, the inadequacy of the American lifestyle and dream. Willy helps us to understand human condition in general; his issues are alienation, consumerism and its enduring appeal seems to lie in the fact that Miller tapped into the hopes and fears of not only an American but a global public. Universal human questions about the nature of happiness and success, of aging and of family responsibility are tackled. Willy Loman has the quality of an everyman, whose struggle to obtain his dreams of success resonates within us all. But, according to historic legends such as Aristotle this doesn’t make him a tragic hero. Although, ultimately Willy was responsible for his own downfall, Willy found he couldn’t control the world and instead choose change his own destiny, by ending his life. Willy demonstrates hamartia through his inability to accept the truth of any situation and success ‘I averaged a hundred and seventy dollars a week in the year of 1928’ he is merely ‘a dime a dozen’ and his sons exhibit his flaw too, but Willy never has an anagnorisis. Willy’s death is not as tragic as his reason for dying. He died for his boys, hoping that the money they receive would set them a foundation to build themselves a business empire. The tragedy in this is that he never learned the truth that his sons were never going to be ‘big shots’. Willy blurred the boundaries between past dreams and future hopes, between illusion and reality; in death as he did in life, in is a horrifying indictment of the world we live in and the future we are striving for.

As critic Pete Bunten once asserted: ‘Genres need not be seen as watertight categories. Texts do not have to be definitely placed into genres, nor firmly allocated to one genre or another; we see the fluidity of the genre through the lens of tragedy.’ This play interconnects with several genres and tragedies. In fact, it was Arthur Miller himself who declared that there are no flashbacks in this tragedy, describing these experiences as ‘literally at that terrible moment when the voice of the past is no longer distant but quite as loud as the voice of the present’. He therefore did not view Willy’s internal sequences as ‘flashbacks’. The underlying plot structure enriches the inevitability, the abstract context is accessible so Willy’s thoughts can be viewed by the wider audience and the maximum degree of pathos can be set into motion. The past and present flirt and mingle with Willy inextricably; the future Willy lusted for was one built upon the dreams of a long imagined past. A debate can be constructed around the degree to which Willy’s expectations of a future full of hope and prosperity were satisfied, but his constant hallucinations elude him. Willy cannot escape from the past, it lies heavily upon the present and the audience earnestly learns that a play without a past is merely a shadow of a play.

There is a bibliography, I cannot be bothered to post it.

Leave a comment

Filed under American Literature, Authors

A Brief Look at Americans and Literature (and Why We Suck?)

About a month or so ago I was patronizing a particular bar that I’ve grown fond of. Good crowd, great beer selection, awesome bartender (i.e. plenty of buy backs) and a well-stocked jukebox. It was a good Friday night and for most of it, it was just my boyfriend and I just shooting the shit over a few drinks. The night wore on and more people came and went and my boyfriend had just put some more tunes on the jukebox. For a good portion of the later part of the night, there was an older, Irish man sitting next to us. He was at the bar by himself and enjoying a few Budweisers, not really talking to anyone. As my boyfriend and myself were people watching (i.e. making fun of other bar patrons) one of his songs came on, a Johnny Cash tune. It was this song that lead me into one of the most intellectual and philosophical discussions I’ve had to date, as well as creating a new way I view American culture, especially in regards to education and literature (and just about everything else!)

The song came on and the elder gentlemen next to us (sadly, and despite our lengthy conversation, I did not actually catch his name. We had no formal introduction, but I believe the bartender may have referred to him as “Martin,” at some point, so for brevity’s sake we will call him that) began talking to us about Johnny Cash’s prowess as a musician. The conversation was welcome, since it had mainly been the two of us the whole night, even if it was drunk small talk. This brief agreement on Johnny Cash’s music, however, opened the floodgates to a fulfilling, worldly conversation neither of us were expecting. Music led to conversations about beer and drinking which led to nationalities which led to government which led to politics which then led to literature. I’ve never had such a down-to-earth, yet  intellectual conversation about literature with another person (and that’s including being a literature major in college). I think this says a lot about American culture and the educational system.

Martin is from Ireland and he is a brick layer. A menial job, so to say. He mentioned nothing about having any sort of higher education. Just a regular working class man. But he can unflinchingly quote Joyce, Keats, Shakespeare and Shaw without batting an eye. And he did so, often, throughout our conversation. Not to prove anything about himself. Not to feel superior – only because it is what he knows and understands and applies to life situations. And he wasn’t throwing out quotes willy-nilly, either. Every single one was appropriate in the conversation, and he was able to give his opinion and analysis on every one. It was amazing, but it also made me sad, as I thought about my own culture. Americans can quote so readily movies and tv shows and oft-misquoted or mis-credited celebrities. Hackneyed lines and responses we use so frivolously because that’s what we know. Do we ever try to quote Twain, or Faulkner or even any contemporary American authors, hell any reputable authors from any country, even, in a realistic sense in a way that can sum up our opinions or even facts about what’s happening in the world? And not just because it’s something we learned in class the other day or heard on a podcast. Rarely. Very rarely.

Martin didn’t just take a class on applying literature to cultural politics. He didn’t go to the library and dig his nose in a book for hours for conversational fodder (at least, I hope to God he didn’t). Martin just knew what he was talking about – because he was raised to study, admire and absorb these wonderful writers from his country and all over. As Americans, we really need to place an importance on literature – especially on our children. Expand their horizons beyond summer reading lists. Let them experience the classics before they’re forced to study them in college. Let the working class be just as educated as the upper. We all deserve it. We all have a right to be open to the wonderful words that surround us in this world. Even if it just comes about in a conversation over a few drinks – it will be a conversation that will last with you forever.

Let literature in.

Leave a comment

Filed under American Literature, Culture, Irish Literature, Opinions, Thoughts, Uncategorized

British vs American literature

Here’s an enthralling debate that my English lit teacher tried to rapacious jostle down our throats today. But what physically repulsed me more than my fellow peers lack of acknowledgement for any spectrum of the English speaking world (as well as their uses’ of poor satirical humour, grammar and spelling-No joke, this one girl who sits behind me asked me how to spell ‘because’; she’d obviously forgotten the elephant rhyme) is that without even a blind thought, every gullible, moronic, rash and senseless buffoon in my class immediately replied with ‘British’ before laughing as if they’d just pulled off an incredible stunt of heroic patriotism.
Imprudent whims’.
All except me, I have been branded the ‘awkward’ one (or as I like to call myself: The only logical human being in the entire class who actually perceives sense and understanding within everything I look at) purely because I refuse to partake in any preposterous notions that my class mates all seem fine to join in with.
Somebody across the room from me decided to defend themselves’ and shout at me:

‘What have the Americans got on US!? WE have Shakespeare! Austen, Bronte (x4) Dickens, Shelley, Milne, Tolkien, Joyce, Wilde errmmmmmmmm, ermmmmmmm, Wordsworth…..Orwell! Wait what was Virgina Woolf?’

To which I quite coolly responded:

‘So you and your uneducated, shriveled, illiterate mind are willing to allow this debate to be solved by listing a group of names, as if somehow the power of them juxtaposed alongside each other in a sentence quite poorly strung along by you, and your flagrant mouth, is enough to convince me that British literature is greater than American without the use of evidence or by the means of a vigorous discussion? Plus Virginia Woolf was English.’

Then this certain person just creased his lips at the sides and shook his head, as if I was the one who didn’t comprehend the topic and the subject of patriotism. So at this, before I was about to launch into a fully assembled assault on this petulant fool of a child, our teacher stopped us and told us to mull it over in our own time and then come back prepared next lesson for a ‘light, mellow’ discussion (she said this sentence with my specific interests at heart. I don’t think I’ve been involved in a single debate that didn’t end with the other candidate in tears) So, as I was preparing my notes before partaking in yet another mindless debate, I thought, where else to put my reasoning than here:

Firstly, I like to say that the quality of the written work of an author has nothing to do with the nationality of the author.
I’ve judged each individual novel for the content on which it contains and not on the authors race, sexuality, gender, etc. I have found though, that one divide between the two continents books’ are that American literature is wholly centered around politics, satire and cynicism. Whereas British literature I tend to find (especially in the 1800’s) to be centered around romance and ideals of men, differences in class and manners.
Lots of American novelists tend to write with their ‘head’ and ‘mouth’ whereas British authors write with their ‘heart’ (makes sense to my lit class). I do not see how the two are meant to be compared, how you (referring to my lit professor) expect us to calculate the difference between the two, then undoubtably slander the other countries’ works on how they are no ‘match’ for ours, how they have no ‘vigour’ and ‘valour’ Very well, I will amuse you for a short while.

American literature, in my opinion first came into its driving force with the religious and political influence in the late 1800’s, something Britain had some 400 years earlier and who’s whole status as a ‘great’ nation is built upon the backs of our predecessor’s. With this is in mind and if being superficial, I could easily conclude that Britain has produced the greatest amount of literature that there could be, due to its volumes and the incredulous of worldwide attention it receives. When people tend to look overseas for great literature, they tend turn to Britain before searching elsewhere, Americans especially. Yet, in turn Britain looks to America.
I feel we have to break down the walls of cynicism for our minds to stop being so parochial. We must stop looking at lists of authors names and which texts are easier to study and instead

we should consider the product rather than the conditions of its creation. What would it look like to be not-parochial in a literature? What, we should ask ourselves, would a corpus of writing need to do? It would need to look outwards towards the world. It would need to engage with modernity – not just the political conditions of our age but its technological and linguistic texture; its science and its religion; its mass-media and its consumer culture.

American literature seems to have the upper hand in these aspects, with world trade federations in fire, terrorism and racism lurking upon every street corner and 9/11 attacks. Through this, American authors seem to speak more through political driven campaigns, with (in regards to literature) higher emphasize on the characters and plots. British literature seems to concentrate on wit, and chooses themes, styles and significance over characters and plots.

I can’t simply pick on which literature is supposedly better, you may choose and pick and base your decisions upon nothingness as much as you wish but I simply will not. How is it for a class who make rash decisions based upon the country they’re born into decide how one aspect of literature is greater than another? How one country’s works parallel the greatness of another? I don’t believe even the greatest of philosophers’ can determine this. I’m even half tempted to say American literature just to silence your never-ending turbulence of idiotic and senseless questioning. Alas, I’ll close my speech here, before any more sour and unrelenting words are said about you or this class and before I give you reason to question my conclusion.

If anybody can give me a dignified response as to wish they perceive to be better and that your argument won’t be diminutive please do tell me, as I wish to silence this debate that still enrages within the few cubic centimeters inside my skull.

Sources

Some twat in my English class (Hardly even worth a second mention, but I find his remark to comical not to credit)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/culturecritics/samleith/3561561/Nobel-Prize-judge-is-wrong-to-denounce-American-literature.html

 

Leave a comment

Filed under American Literature, Authors, British Literature, Opinions, Thoughts, Uncategorized