Monday, May 30, 2016

Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets

Maggie Johnson is born into poverty and degradation, a life without hope of escape from her circumstances, and without the education or resources to do anything to better her life.  It is her innate desire for a better life that drives the rest of the story.  Maggie attempts to elevate her lifestyle through a relationship with Pete, a man whom she believes will help her break away from her present circumstances, but in doing so she brings about her downfall.

            Written in the gossiping tone of a bystander, Crane reports life in the slums, where people are hardened until their humanity is almost unrecognizable.  These people are trapped by the world they were born into and slowly assimilated into the culture so as to obstruct them from any escape.  After the story’s tragic ending, Crane makes no editorial comments, preaches no possible solutions.  He doesn’t have to, because if there is any remaining empathy within Crane’s readers, the story’s message speaks for itself.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Injustice of Fate in Pudd’nhead Wilson

The dichotomy between an individual’s willpower and inherent destiny is one of the predominant themes throughout Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson.  The novel’s original title, The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, implies that the ultimate outcome is somehow predestined and unchangeable by any human effort.  Thus within this world some things cannot be altered; a person’s birth dictates their status rather than their individual merit.  This point is evidenced by the way neither Tom nor Chambers’ identity can be hidden; no matter what they do, their fingerprints are a constant which identify them in the end. 

            In addition to fate’s immovability, it is also associated with the immovability of the characters.  Instead of the truth setting them free, both Tom and Chambers are subsequently entrapped by the life they were born into; Chambers is a slave, and Tom is a free and wealthy man.  Twain constantly refers to racial status as a man-made “fiction” questions the strictures of his contemporaries’ society, suggesting that the “fate” of Tom and Chambers was not that of some metaphysical concept of destiny, but rather an enforcement of society’s expectations of the individual.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Art as Imitator and Commentator on Life: Realism in Mark Twain’s "Pudd’nhead Wilson"

Source: https://www.walkaboutbooks.net/pictures/011706.JPG

Mark Twain's novel The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson is an example of three methods of realist writing in this era of American literature; the use of vernacular dialogue (that is, spelling it out the way someone pronounces it, even if that is technically spelled incorrect), the correspondent-type narrative, and the writing on issues important to contemporary society. 

Twain is perhaps the most famous among the American realists for his use of regional vernacular in dialogue as a characteristic of realist style.  By spelling out the pronunciation of different dialects, Twain portrayed reality not only with the plot, but with the very words themselves.  Not only that, but Twain’s use of so-called ‘lower’ forms of English served to equalize the language
           
While other realists such as Stephen Crane, Rebecca Harding Davis, and to an extent Louisa May Alcott used vernacular spellings in their literature, none have done it to such an extent or with such commitment as Mark Twain.  In fact, writers such as Alcott often spelled out vernacular in quotations, as if they were foreign instead of words native to America.  As for Twain himself, he was disdainful of other writers whose vernacular writing was stilted and inconsistent.  For this reason, Twain disliked James Fennimore Cooper and Charles Dickens’ writing, which he thought unrealistic because their vernacular was not invariable.
           
To him, the way a character spoke was as important as what they spoke.  Yet Mark Twain’s realism was not confined to realistic portrayal of language pronunciation, but also relied on two types of real-life accounts.  Newspaper stories continued where his own experience was limited, and where the newspaper stories were mundane, his active imagination expanded upon them

Monday, May 16, 2016

Character Growth in Huckleberry Finn

Source: http://media1.shmoop.com/images/teachers_editions/huck-finn.jpg
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain almost defies categorization.  In a way, it’s a sort of sequel to his The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, except it takes on a much darker, serious, adult tone in contrast to Tom’s antics.  Huck is essentially an orphan, and though starting at the end of Tom Sawyer and into the beginning of Huck Finn the Widow Douglas has sort of adopted him, Huck revolts against her attempts to civilize him and soon is on the run. 

Sounds like the making of more Sawyerian shenanigans, right?  Maybe Huck will be able to attend his funeral again, right? 

Wrong. 

Because soon enough Huck will find himself in more danger and faced with harder choices than Tom Sawyer ever was posed in his book.  And there are worse things to run away from than a well-meaning widow, as he soon learns when he meets up with Jim, a runaway slave.

Monday, May 9, 2016

When I am reading a book, whether wise or silly, 
it seems to me to be alive and talking to me.  
~ Jonathan Swift


In the best books, great men talk to us, 
give us their most precious thoughts, 
and pour their souls into ours. 
~ William Ellery Channing

Sunday, May 1, 2016

I'm going to postpone my series of Little Old Ladies due to unforeseen circumstances.  

You see, dear reader, this past week one of my aunts died, suddenly, unexpectedly.  I was in shock for several days.  Even now it doesn't seem real.  

Is it strange that books feel more real than this?

I live so much of my life through books.  But sometimes the world we find in books is insufficient for equipping us for the unexpected, unplotted eventualities of reality.  In books we usually can tell by foreshadowing or characterization when death is going to take one of the characters out of the equation.  Even when it does shock the readers, the loss of a fictional character is hardly preparatory for dealing with the real thing.  

There's an ache, a void, a pathetic needling of our conscious against our subconscious whenever we happen to forget that the loved one is, in fact, gone.  There's embarrassment, which careens into full-blown guilt, at having forgotten such a monumental thing, even for a millisecond, even in our dreams.  And then a wave of sorrow comes back afresh, and it's like that person--for they are real people, not characters--has died all over again.  

Books have taught me a great many things in my life.  How to cook and sew and do how-to things like that.  How to "read" people, to delve into psychological reasons, to philosophize, to sympathize, to empathize.  It has taught me about loyalty and love and regret and bitterness and hope and perseverance.  

Indeed, books have given me a better appreciation of life. 

But it has not taught me how to understand death.