Saturday, April 26, 2008
Most of us are familiar with the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible, but let’s refresh to clarify the point. Adam (first guy) had two sons, Cain and Abel. God, however, is the real father figure to the two boys. When the boys are older, they both bring sacrifices to God. For no apparent reason, God prefers Abel’s gift above Cain’s. Cain, enraged and jealous, kills Abel in the wilderness. God, in turn, banishes Cain to the land east of Eden (wow that sounds familiar don’t it?).
So on to the novel. Like in the Bible, the father figures (Cyrus and Adam) favor one son over the other. Cyrus’s situation closely mirrors the story of the Bible. Both of his sons bring him presents on his birthday: Adam a stray puppy he found, Charles a knife he saved for and bought. Steinbeck actually even directs us to be sympathetic for Charles in this section because Charles really works for his present and is rejected by his father. Ironically, though, Adam says at one point that he was frustrated with God when reading that section of the Bible.
Later on, Adam reenacts the same situation with his own sons. For their whole lives, Adam favors Aron over Cal. Again we are lead toward sympathizing with the Cain character in the story. From the beginning, we don’t like Aron because of his naivety, helplessness, and cowardice. Cal, on the other hand, works hard to stay on a straight path and is the older brother type, looking out for Aron even to the point where he keeps the secret of their mother’s true identity. Even so, Adam still favor Aron over Cal. :ike God, Adam favors the one son over the other for no obvious reason. After Aron dies, Adam outwardly blames Cal, still oblivious to how blindly he favored his one son over the other. Indeed, he doesn’t even treat Cal like a son. Also, it wasn’t really Cal’s fault that Aron died. Aron still made the choice to go into the army. Cal caused Aron’s break down, but it is unfair to say that Cain’s murder and Cal’s revealing of his mother’s identity are exactly the same, even if they had similar cruel intentions. Finally, though, Cal is given his happy ending with Abra and with Adam’s blessing on his deathbed. In a way, he is freed of the Cain curse of sin and discrimination.
Lastly, I want to respond to Mr. Coon’s comment on my blog last week. He asked if Cathy as more of a figure that was meant to represent Cain in the novel rather than evil human nature itself. I personally still think she is more an embodiment of human evil. Cain felt rejected by God and was jealous of Abel, so he killed him. He had motivation for what he did, bad motivation but still. Cathy doesn’t seem to have a reason for any of the bad things she does. We don’t know anything about her parents except for that she killed them. So there’s nothing there to compare her to Cain. Because her evil is so inhumane and she acts without any apparent guilt or motivation, I think it is hard to compare her to Cain. It would almost be doing Cain an injustice to do so. Cathy is evil for the sake of being evil. (607)
Monday, April 21, 2008
Stafford uses a carefully laid-out form to present the speaker’s moral dilemma. The format follows the an outline of eighteen lines organized in four quatrains with a concluding couplet. The poem has no rhyme scheme but has lots of similar sounding words to end lines as well as interspersed alliteration. Even so, the structure is ideal because it allows the dilemma to be presented slowly and therefore immerses the reader in the story.
In the first and second stanzas, we are introduced to the moral conflict in a benign way so don’t question the speaker as he prepares to throw the dead deer in the canyon. We aren’t lead to question the “usually best” way of handling the problem at all. In the third stanza, however, we realize the situation is more complicated when the speaker realizes the dead doe’s fawn is still alive inside her. In the fourth stanza, the tension builds as we and the speaker wonder what he’ll do now that he would be taking a life himself. In the concluding couplet, in English sonnet style, the speaker’s moral dilemma is cleared and he decides to roll the deer into the canyon in order to save other people driving on the road. Stafford uses the English sonnet form to break up this progression, which allows the reader to process the moral dilemma fully and be more immersed in the speaker’s conflict as it progresses. As we read the poem, we follow the same line of thought as the speaker and, like him, conclude that the right thing to roll the deer into the canyon.
Stafford also uses imagery to touch several of our senses and immerse us in the poem’s story and conflict. Firstly, he prods our sense of sight with descriptions of the mountain road. We can picture the road so narrow that “to swerve might make more dead;” the “glow of the tail light,” and the plump figure of the dead doe. He also stimulates our sense of touch. The sadness of the speaker’s predicament becomes more real when we can nearly feel the warmth of the fawn within the doe’s cold body and the warmth of the car’s exhaust. The final sense he arouses to submerge us in the poem is the sense of hearing. In the decisive moment of the poem, we can “hear the wilderness listen” as if waiting to hear the fawn’s fate while the car engine purrs in the background. We can feel the cold and suspense. The imagery makes the poem feel real and we hesitate with the speaker as the sadness of the moment becomes clear.
With any ethical dilemma, the inner-conflict is always hardest for the people involved. By using detailed imagery and pointed structure, Stafford puts us in the speaker’s shoes and forces us to enter in the same internal conflict. Because of the imagery, we are there on the mountain road with the swallowing silence and helpless fawn. The structure allows us to process the scene and the conflict without losing us in a feuding or hurried stream of consciousness. Our reading experience mirrors the speaker’s experience as we are all forced to make a heartbreaking decision to choose many lives over one. (620)
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Now to the untrained eye, the East of Eden character Cathy Ames may seem like the parallel to Eve in the novel. Eve, however, had redeeming qualities: mother of mankind, for example. Cathy has none. Everything we learn about her in novel suggests she has nothing resembling a conscience nor does she do anything to help other people. Eve had no instinct for sin until the serpent actually suggested it. Cathy, on the other hand, commits evil for no reason or sometimes just to entertain herself (like when she sleeps with her husband’s brother). Cathy accepts sin as inevitable and therefore just embraces it in everything she does.
Eve’s sin was also not a malicious sin but a sin of curiosity. Cathy’s sins, on the other hand, are all malicious and none can rightfully be attributed to human instinct. She attempts to kill her unborn children, shoots her husband, and abandons her infant twins. We even learn that she killed her parents before joining a brothel in Massachusetts. She doesn’t seem to do these things because it was part of a certain agenda, but just because she could. The same can be said about her actions when she arrives at the brothel. Just as she exploits Adam’s good nature early in the novel, she exploits the semi-good nature of Faye, the madam at the brothel, who takes her in as a sort of apprentice. She cruelly poisons her and takes control of the brothel. We don’ really learn why, she just does it because she can.
Cathy is easily the most evil character in the novel, so how can she be a parallel to Eve? Eve may have committed the original sin of humanity, but it was, despite the title of sin, fairly innocent. Cathy murders and attacks people at the very heart of their existence. She is actually such a terrible person, that critics argue that she is a flaw in Steinbeck’s novel. She is an unrealistic character, they say, since she is just so cruel for absolutely no reason. I believe that Steinbeck was actually dead on in his depiction of Cathy. The critics have the mistaken impression that Cathy, like Eve, needs to have motives or guilt for her evil. I theorize, however, that Cathy is actually the embodiment of evil in the novel, not the embodiment of human sin. Cathy is not the character who shows us what sin is and how it punishes humanity. Cathy is the character who shows us the true face and depth of evil. It’s too simple to assume that Cathy would be Eve’s parallel since she is Aron and Cal’s mother. She is no parallel to a humanly flawed, apple-eating mother of humanity. She is the parallel to the snake, evil itself. (595)
John Steinbeck: Novelist as Scientist
Human Relations in Literature
The Friend at the Round Table: A Note on Steinbeck's ActsThe Friend at the Round Table: A Note on Steinbeck's Acts
Friday, April 11, 2008
Adam’s biblical counterpart, obviously enough, is Adam from the Garden of Eden story in the Bible. Steinbeck seems to give Adam to us as a starting point: “Ok same name, same qualities, if nobody else, they’ll figure him out.” Adam, like his biblical counterpart, has two sons (again with the similar names) and a wife who, in the end, leads to his downfall. In many ways, Adam is too idealistic and innocent. He falls for a downright evil woman and is too blind to see the danger that lives inside her. It’s also important to note that Adam also fits the Abel role in the first generation Cain and Abel parallel. He is the “good son” compared to his brother Charles after all. But throughout the novel, he more largely plays the role of Adam, the father of two seemingly polar opposite sons.
Adam’s son Aron is the second generation Abel of the Cain and Abel parallel. Like his father and biblical parallel, Aron is the good son. He works hard and has a good heart. His father also has a large and obvious preference for him over his brother Cal—just as God and Adam favored Abel in the Bible. However, Aron has the same flaws as his father; he is too idealistic, crippling him by making him morally hypersensitive. That sensitivity is ultimately Aron’s downfall and he is eventually killed as a twisted result, realizing his paralleled destiny of a young death. The knowledge that his mother runs a brothel and left his family is too much for his idealistic mind and he, for all intensive purposes, kills himself by enlisting in the army during World War I. Like Abel, Aron dies because of his overly good qualities and the intense jealousy of his brother.
Adam’s son Cal (note the Aron-Abel, Cain-Cal name relationship) is the second generation parallel to Cain. Like Cain to Abel, Cal is intensely jealous of his twin brother and cannot compete with his extremely likeable brother. He is looked down upon by the people around him because of his manipulative and mischievous behavior and he is dubbed the “bad son” at an early age. He seems to have inherited his mother’s sin (just as Cain inherited the inevitable sin of man from Eve). Like Cain, Cal directly causes his brother’s death by setting Aron up to discover their mother’s true identity. His pivotal line “Am I supposed to look after him,” an obvious allusion to the famous “Am I my brother’s keeper” line from the Bible. Clearly, Cal is meant to parallel the infamous Cain, a comparison that allows the deeper meaning of Cal’s story to come to life.
We’ve shown that Cal is an obvious parallel to the biblical character of Cain, who likewise kills his brother out of jealousy and is forever tainted by the sin of humanity. The people around him write him off as his mother’s child and therefore incapable of being a good person. But Cal differs from Cain in extremely important ways. Cal wants to live a moral life, unlike Cain. He even prays to God to lead him on the path to good. By the end of the novel, he excepts the idea of timshel, that everyone can choose his or her own moral destiny, despite who they are or who their parents are. Unlike the other characters in the novel, Cal does not fully fulfill his biblical destiny. He instead becomes the one character to break out of the parallel and determine his own life. As the most doomed and redeemed character, he becomes the instrument by which Steinbeck sends his central message: everyone, no matter who they are related to or what they are destined to do, can make their own decisions and can live the life that they choose. (681)
Thursday, March 6, 2008
The first character we meet is Troy. It is pretty obvious from the beginning of the story that Troy is not going to be much of a hero. He’s a brute, crude, and a little too rambunctious to trust with our confidence as a hero. Furthermore, he fails at the pivotal point in the story that determines his fate as a good or bad character. When Bono tells him to be good to Rose because she is good for him, Troy then admits to Rose that he has fathered a child with another woman. At that moment, August Wilson eliminates Troy as a hero possibility for us.
Our second, and more realistic, hero possibility is Rose. Initially she seems like a good candidate. She is caring and forgiving, even taking in her husband’s illegitimate child. She stands up for her son even in the face of an angry Troy. But the one problem I have with her as a hero character is that she stays with Troy or at least that she doesn't seem to get as angry as she should about his infidelity. She takes in his child with another woman and stays married to him. On the one hand, I think she is extremely admirable for those actions. But the modern-day feminist in me still wanted to see her walk away from him or at the very least give him a harder time. I think in a way that Wilson meant for her to be the strength behind the family and the only reason it endures. For some reason, though, she still does not seem like the hero of the story to me.
If I had to pinpoint the so-called hero of this story, it would be Corey. He starts out as the talented and full-of-potential teen who is struggling to overcome his father's expectations and ridicule. He has a sort of Cinderella story of sorts in that he leaves home without any prospects and returns as an accomplished man. It's probably partly my teen bias that draws me to Corey's story but I definitely sympathized with him and his story.
The only problem with considering Corey as the hero of the story is that he is clearly not the main character. We learn about Troy's life, Troy's actions, and Troy's problems. We do not witness Corey's transformation at all. He leaves home essentially the same boy we meet in the beginning of the story and returns completely differently without us knowing the full story. That, however, brings us back to Troy. Perhaps it is my sympathy for Corey that does not allow me to have any sympathy for Troy. He is a lonely and unfortunate person who essentially misses out on some of the better things in life. But he does have good times with his wife and baseball and he was given every opportunity to have a good family life. But he doesn't.
All in all, I'm still waiting for a hero to emerge from this story. Even though Wilson seems to point to Troy as the hero, I cannot accept Troy as a good enough character to warrant the title of "hero of the story". And Corey cannot really be the hero since the story does not center around him at all. So there we are--left without a hero. Now I'll just have to listen to that voice in the back of my head saying, "Does every story really need a hero?" (631)
Thursday, February 21, 2008
SCENE IV. The Queen's closet.
Enter QUEEN GERTRUDE and POLONIUS
He will come straight. Look you lay home to him:
Tell him his pranks have been too broad to bear with,
And that your grace hath screen'd and stood between
Much heat and him. I'll sconce me even here.
Pray you, be round with him.
Lines said hastily, since he is trying to instruct Gertrude quickly before Hamlet arrives
At this point, Gertrude still has the mistaken notion that she can reason with Hamlet and it gives her a false sense of confidence when she says “Fear me not” to Polonius.
POLONIUS hides behind the arras
Said very unassumingly
A tone of irony and sarcasm in this line but also “with an idle tongue by the next line”
Still trying to play the stern mother card here, thinking she can scold him in a way
Rude tone. Maybe walking away from her and then turning around as he says the line.
Definitely using cheap shots and sarcasm to talk “daggers” to his mother in this line.
An uneasy tone here, since she is realizing his anger and sensing his tone.
Most likely motioning his mother to sit down and sounding very insistent and talking quickly and intensely, judging by her fear in the next line.
Obviously an alarmed tone here.
Realizing they are being watched and assuming the man is Claudius, Hamlet here thinks he finally has his chance to kill Polonius in a sinful act.
Makes a pass through the arras
Falls and dies
Gasping for breath and shocked
As Hamlet realizes what he has done, he is shocked at his own brutality
Rising from his shock, he shoots this comment at his mother as almost an accusation.
She is shocked by not only his comment itself but also the timing of his harshness towards her.
Lifts up the array and discovers POLONIUS
Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell!
I took thee for thy better: take thy fortune;
Thou find'st to be too busy is some danger.
Leave wringing of your hands: peace! sit you down,
And let me wring your heart; for so I shall,
If it be made of penetrable stuff,
If damned custom have not brass'd it so
That it is proof and bulwark against sense.
As Hamlet realizes whom he has killed, he turns his anger toward Polonius and starts yelling at his corpse.
Losing her tone of innocence, Gertrude is actually angry in this line.
Such an act
That blurs the grace and blush of modesty,
Calls virtue hypocrite, takes off the rose
From the fair forehead of an innocent love
And sets a blister there, makes marriage-vows
As false as dicers' oaths: O, such a deed
As from the body of contraction plucks
The very soul, and sweet religion makes
A rhapsody of words: heaven's face doth glow:
Yea, this solidity and compound mass,
With tristful visage, as against the doom,
Is thought-sick at the act.
These lines are said very quickly as his emotion and anger come out and he slowly moves towards his mother as he yells at her.
Using gestures like holding out both hands like a scale to measure the worth of the two
See, what a grace was seated on this brow;
Hyperion's curls; the front of Jove himself;
An eye like Mars, to threaten and command;
A station like the herald Mercury
New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill;
A combination and a form indeed,
Where every god did seem to set his seal,
To give the world assurance of a man:
This was your husband. Look you now, what follows:
Volume and passion increases as he talks about Claudius.
Here is your husband; like a mildew'd ear,
Blasting his wholesome brother. Have you eyes?
Walking or pacing as though he can’t sit still, turning and yelling the lines.
Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed,
And batten on this moor? Ha! have you eyes?
You cannot call it love; for at your age
The hey-day in the blood is tame, it's humble,
And waits upon the judgment: and what judgment
Would step from this to this? Sense, sure, you have,
Even though he is technically addressing her, it’s almost as if he is rambling on as if she is not there, senseless in his anger.
Else could you not have motion; but sure, that sense
Is apoplex'd; for madness would not err,
Nor sense to ecstasy was ne'er so thrall'd
But it reserved some quantity of choice,
To serve in such a difference. What devil was't
That thus hath cozen'd you at hoodman-blind?
Eyes without feeling, feeling without sight,
Ears without hands or eyes, smelling sans all,
Or but a sickly part of one true sense
Could not so mope.
O shame! where is thy blush? Rebellious hell,
If thou canst mutine in a matron's bones,
To flaming youth let virtue be as wax,
And melt in her own fire: proclaim no shame
When the compulsive ardour gives the charge,
Since frost itself as actively doth burn
And reason panders will.
This is the first point where she acknowledges her own mistakes. She therefore loses any sternness or confidence in her voice and manner
He is still thinking that he has not dealt the final blow to Gertrude and so uses these lines as the final jabs to her character.
Crying out in grief and sincerely begging him. The daggers almost signifies that Hamlet has accomplished his goal and she is visibly and audibly torn by his words.
Voice starts quieter and then increases in intensity with each line, building up to the last accusation.
A murderer and a villain;
A slave that is not twentieth part the tithe
Of your precedent lord; a vice of kings;
A cutpurse of the empire and the rule,
That from a shelf the precious diadem stole,
And put it in his pocket!
This is her loudest and most passionate/desperate line, yelling it louder than anything else so far.
Tone completely altered as he sees the ghost
She is utterly shocked by his change of tone and words.
Ghost’s voice is calm and soft, directly contrasting the tone of the rest of the scene.
Do not forget: this visitation
Is but to whet thy almost blunted purpose.
But, look, amazement on thy mother sits:
O, step between her and her fighting soul:
Conceit in weakest bodies strongest works:
Speak to her, Hamlet.
His tone is also calm now, confusing Gertrude further.
Alas, how is't with you,
That you do bend your eye on vacancy
And with the incorporal air do hold discourse?
Forth at your eyes your spirits wildly peep;
And, as the sleeping soldiers in the alarm,
Your bedded hair, like life in excrements,
Starts up, and stands on end. O gentle son,
Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper
Sprinkle cool patience. Whereon do you look?
She speaks to him very very questioningly and the thought seems to creep back into her mind that Hamlet may not be entirely stable mentally.
On him, on him! Look you, how pale he glares!
His form and cause conjoin'd, preaching to stones,
Would make them capable. <Speaks to the ghost now>Do not look upon me;
Lest with this piteous action you convert
My stern effects: then what I have to do
Will want true colour; tears perchance for blood.
He finally realizes she cannot see the ghost. His tone is very puzzled at first.
Increasingly upset that she cannot see the ghost.
At this point, he is desperate for his mother to see the ghost. Not only to allay his own concerns but also to prove that he is not hallucinating to his mother.
Gertrude is almost insistent and hopeful as she says these lines. Even though she thinks Hamlet is hallucinating, part of her still hopes his hurtful comments toward her are due to his insanity.
My pulse, as yours, doth temperately keep time,
And makes as healthful music: it is not madness
That I have utter'd: bring me to the test,
And I the matter will re-word; which madness
Would gambol from. Mother, for love of grace,
Lay not that mattering unction to your soul,
That not your trespass, but my madness speaks:
It will but skin and film the ulcerous place,
Whilst rank corruption, mining all within,
Infects unseen. Confess yourself to heaven;
Repent what's past; avoid what is to come;
And do not spread the compost on the weeds,
To make them ranker. Forgive me this my virtue;
For in the fatness of these pursy times
Virtue itself of vice must pardon beg,
Yea, curb and woo for leave to do him good.
In his closing words to his mother, Hamlet turns back to his father’s ghost’s advice about his mother. He finally feels satisfied that he has taken enough jabs at his mother and so passes on the ghost’s advice as well as some of his own. He thinks she will listen since she is so mentally exhausted from their conversation.
O, throw away the worser part of it,
And live the purer with the other half.
Good night: but go not to mine uncle's bed;
Assume a virtue, if you have it not.
That monster, custom, who all sense doth eat,
Of habits devil, is angel yet in this,
That to the use of actions fair and good
He likewise gives a frock or livery,
That aptly is put on. Refrain to-night,
And that shall lend a kind of easiness
To the next abstinence: the next more easy;
For use almost can change the stamp of nature,
And either [ ] the devil, or throw him out
With wondrous potency. Once more, good night:
And when you are desirous to be bless'd,
I'll blessing beg of you. For this same lord,
Pointing to POLONIUS
I do repent: but heaven hath pleased it so,
To punish me with this and this with me,
That I must be their scourge and minister.
I will bestow him, and will answer well
The death I gave him. So, again, good night.
I must be cruel, only to be kind:
Thus bad begins and worse remains behind.
One word more, good lady.
Hamlet does know he has sinned by killing Polonius but he is also certain that he will pay for that sin only after he has done what he feels is just.
Not this, by no means, that I bid you do:
Let the bloat king tempt you again to bed;
Pinch wanton on your cheek; call you his mouse;
And let him, for a pair of reechy kisses,
Or paddling in your neck with his damn'd fingers,
Make you to ravel all this matter out,
That I essentially am not in madness,
But mad in craft. 'Twere good you let him know;
For who, that's but a queen, fair, sober, wise,
Would from a paddock, from a bat, a gib,
Such dear concernings hide? who would do so?
No, in despite of sense and secrecy,
Unpeg the basket on the house's top.
Let the birds fly, and, like the famous ape,
To try conclusions, in the basket creep,
And break your own neck down.
Hamlet gives his mother these instructions not only to make a final insult to her behavior but also to set up the “climax” of his plot to kill Claudius. He knows with Polonius’s death, the motions of his and Claudius’s plans will be accelerated. Also on another level, though, he probably knows his mother is unlikely to share this conversation with Claudius.
Gertrude still doesn’t know how to face what she has done and it is far too hard for her to relay Hamlet’s harsh words about her character to anyone, let alone her co-conspirator.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Sweet moment, stay with me,
and pray do not flee so soon,
Let me enjoy the bliss of that
first kiss beneath the moon.
I wish to cradle this feeling,
that has only just been found,
A feeling that has unexpectedly
turned my world around.
Do not depart, Oh please remain
within my heart awhile,
So that I can savour you once more,
and hold you in my smile.
© Ernestine Northover
Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man's float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.