Thursday, April 15, 2010
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Thursday, February 18, 2010
When I started reading this, the whole thing seemed to move along very slowly, not necessarily deliberately, and the plot didn't seem very substantial. Everyone in class seemed to agree with that, and most seemed to not like it at all. However, as I moved through the story, the two separate plots emerged and then came together. Howells's ability to make the common interesting is very good. Silas and his family experienced what are probably common situations, and through the use of empathy, Howells makes the reader care what happens.
This is the whole idea of realism, as opposed to romanticism. I'm going to side with the realists, and presume that everyone has a life worth hearing about, that nothing really is ordinary. The commonality of the characters and their actions makes this kind of writing more relatable than romances, and thus has more of an impact on people. And even if the readers haven’t experienced the same things, the realistic happenings can serve to shed more light on the human experience.
But back to the novel. In class we talked about the two different plots: Silas’s act of self-sacrifice, in return for moral satisfaction, and Pen’s more realistic approach, which some may call selfish, for love. The two plots parallel each other throughout the book, until Silas sacrifices everything to walk away with clean hands. He even refuses the one chance he has to reclaim his material wealth. At this point, Pen has her chance to get what she wants, and takes it. I think I was the only one in class to see the difference I’m trying to show in these two actions, though.
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Behind a Mask
Behind a Mask is well, surprising. Given the time it was written, and especially the author, I was not expecting to read a tale of deceit, lies, and manipulation – especially by a woman. But Alcott created Jean Muir as such, and while not the most favorable protagonist, she demonstrates a lot of craft and cunning. The immediate foreshadowing of Jean’s true character was interesting, and left me hoping for some sort of redemption for the girl who had undoubtedly led a hard life. But as the story drew to a close, and all Jean did was complete her despicable plan, I was left with much sympathy for the victims of her plot.
The other works from this course so far have upheld the view of women in their traditional roles as domestic, weak, and rather unintelligent, but this blew those ideals away. I’m not familiar with other tales of this era that have similar concepts, namely the powers that women can hold over unsuspecting men, but I would be interested in reading more.
I am left questioning the plausibility of such a case, though. A family of either nobility or wealth falling victim to a poor woman’s con game seems almost far-fetched, and I’m not sure if Alcott is trying to imply something about wealthy families or just demonstrate her cleverness.
The class discussion today revealed to me that as Jean Muir was doing all of this "behind a mask," Alcott in a way was behind the same kind of mask in creating the story. The whole concept of people either assuming the identity of another, or just different roles to serve different purposes fascinates me.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
As I was reading this book, the first thing I noticed was how much action it had. There seemed to be very little meaning, or room for interpretation. It was a struggle to try to remember how much gold Joaquin and his banditti plundered, how many of his followers were killed, or how many people he and his followers had slain. With all of this to focus on, it was very easy to take this book at face value.
One thing that I did manage on my own was to try to delve into Joaquin’s motives and character. It was fairly easy to see that he chose the lifestyle of thievery and murder because of what Americans in general had done to him. When he tried to play by their rules, it didn’t work out, so he set about making his own to go by. The fact that Joaquin still went about things in a somewhat honorable fashion, i.e. not killing those who had helped him, and not killing women and children, was almost admirable, of course this was through the author’s perspective. Other than this, there didn’t seem to be much to the book.
In class today, we discussed the book in a little further detail, and people seemed to have the same opinions, only differing in who liked Joaquin as a character, and who didn’t. But when we looked at the poem in the beginning of the book, and talked about that, I had a kind of revelation. Given the time period, and circumstances, the poem seemed to be the underlying theme of the entire book. The lines “And well this Golden State shall thrive, if, like its own Mount Shasta, sovereign law shall lift itself purer in the atmosphere – so high that human feeling, human passion, at its base shall lie subdued;” jumped out at me. I made the connection that this was a transcendental reference, speaking of higher law than what man can construct, and something man should yearn to comply with. When Joaquin tried to go by “the law of the land,” as established by Americans, it was full of injustices, and he followed a way that, at least to him, seemed more just than the pre-existing ways.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
The community of Blithedale appears to be an attractive lifestyle for its inhabitants. From what I understand they go there in search of happiness, whatever that may mean to the individuals. It seems that at the community, they base their lives on hard work; men working in the fields, and women in the house. What this is descriptive of, in a larger sense, is the whole transcendental movement occurring at this time.
Transcendentalists held Nature (not nature) in high regard, and chose to live more simply than those within towns and modern communities. Hawthorne, through Coverdale’s first statements of the Blithedale community, shows his appeal to this simpler way of life.
I observed that, though Coverdale (and the other inhabitants) came to Blithedale in search of happiness, he never appeared to achieve his goal. Where he had been an intellectual before, and unhappy with this, he turned into a toiling man, and was still unhappy with this. What’s important about this is that without any greater happiness, Coverdale had to change his ways, and act as someone other than he truly was, to fit in with the community. I get the sense that most of the Blithedale inhabitants had to change themselves to be a part of this community, and to what avail?
It is not my purpose, as I am sure it was not Hawthorne’s, to discredit this idea of a simpler, happier lifestyle, as it surely is appealing. The main thing was, though, that people are prone to corruption, hypocrisy, and manipulation, as Hollingsworth, Zenobia, and Priscilla proved. Even Coverdale, after all of his experiences, is none the happier for taking part in this community. This illustrates what I gather to be Hawthorne’s perspective of Transcendentalism: that the idea of such a way of life is immensely more satisfying than the actual thing.