Thursday, April 15, 2010

Society vs "The Beast"

As I started reading The House of Mirth, my thoughts were focused mainly on Lily Bart's responses to situations, and I became interested in her personality, but towards the end of the novel, and after some class discussion, something that seemed more important to me came to mind. Rather than focusing on Lily Bart's character, I examined the social constraints that were placed on her, and the role that "society" in general took in the book. It occurred to me that Lily would have little to no problems if it weren't for society's rules and expectations of her as a lady, and how these severely hindered her choices as an individual.

Then I thought about McTeague, which portrays society as being the thing that keeps "the beast" within a person. Norris represents society as a sort of refining agent to people, protecting them from their natural impulses and such. After McTeague and Trina are brought into poverty, the "veneer of civilization" wears from the two and they participate in what appears to be almost primal instincts, on the verge of inhuman.

Once I noted the differences between these, it caught my interest that the two authors apparently thought about society in completely different ways, owing to what I'm not sure at this point, but I'd like to find out. So my paper will, rather than compare the characteristics of Lily Bart and Trina, attempt to make clear the differences between the portrayal of society, and possibly try to explain these differences.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Lily Bart

Edith Wharton's House of Mirth has been, for me at least, a kind of revelation of the social constraints that Lily has been affected by. The fact that she is a member of "higher society" at first seems like a blessing, due to the company with which she can surround herself, and the availability of money. However, this same restraint has led her to depend upon a certain lifestyle, involving large amounts of money. Her habits of vacationing, gambling, etc have become an important part of who she is in this novel, and as such, there is no way for her to marry solely for love. This is one of the issues in the book that I find mildly disturbing. For a person's lifestyle of these activities to be more important than a quest for love is disappointing to me. If it weren't for this attitude towards money, and consequently, class, Lily Bart would have been in a good position to marry Selden. But since he was just not up to her monetary standards, she deemed him unfit. It seems to me that this is, or should be, discussed as a problem in society, rather than a component.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Thoughts on Greed and McTeague

So when we watched the movie today in class, I was kind of surprised. After all the talk of naturalism, and the criticisms of it, the concept still didn't appear to be all that bad. When critics claimed that McTeague only showed the gross sides of human nature, leaving out all that is good, I internally argued. But if the film Greed is an accurate portrayal of what Norris had in mind, then I'll side with the critics. Rather than being about the plot, the film seemed to me just to exaggerate the beastly aspects of the characters. In the book, I pictured McTeague as having at least some sort of emotion, some caring in him, even if he was dumb. Something in the text made him seem like an almost normal person, capable of these human emotions. In Greed, McTeague's personal attributes were almost nonexistent. From what I saw, the closest thing to emotion that this character had was when he was begging Trina to let him in. Maybe I'm being too harsh on the film, but it was hard to get past the exaggerations that may have been necessary due to not having characters speaking.

On a different note, I actually felt some sympathy for Trina in the movie, but none whatsoever in the novel. McTeague's biting and beating her didn't affect me while reading, but in the film when she showed McTeague her hand, I felt sorry for her. To be honest, this struck me as the part of the movie with the most humanity. The fact that Trina didn't let her husband in because of his past actions, and then him threatening her again, seemed like something that could happen.

The tinting of the gold and canaries was a weird effect. I understand that the gold was important to all of the characters in the novel, and the canary important to McTeague, but the act of coloring these things, while the rest of the movie is black and white seems to be a little over-the-top to me. The novel appeared to be focused mainly on people's responses to situations, and what happens when they're pushed too far. The emphasis on the gold and canaries in the movie seems to make the story about those things, rather than the people involved.

The whole thing just seemed strangely done to me, but I'm no expert in 1920's films. They went by a different set of rules, and had to exaggerate for effect, whereas today a few words would do the same. All the things I've criticized about the movie probably are the things that made it understandable to people who may have not read Norris's book. So I'll just leave it at that.