PR: The Awakening

Out of all of the pieces of literature we have studied this year, The Awakening by Kate Chopin has to be the story that caught my attention the most. This book may not have been the most interesting to read – in fact I would even say that it was the least entertaining piece of literature we have read so far. I did not particularly enjoy the actual reading of this book, however there are other things that did strike me as interesting.

The main thing that I noticed when reading this was how controversial it was and still is. This book deals with adultery, feminism, lesbianism and suicide, which all stuck out to me for different reasons. Feminism and lesbianism are relatively accepted today. In the 19th century when this book was written, these ideas were not so accepted and I can see how they would be controversial. Not to mention that adultery and suicide are both topics that are still controversial today. Seeing these themes in this book was really quite a shock to me as I never would have expected to read a book like this that was written in the 19th century.

After the initial shock of realizing what type of book this was, I began to think of the story and the events taking place in a more analytical sense, and how these themes tie into the suggestions of the plot. One of the big things I noticed when doing this was that there is a very strong resemblance of A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen in this book. To start, feminism is a key concept in both works. There was a big connection of the issues raised by the main female lead realizing they don’t want to be with their husband, and want to be freed from the social standards put in place by society. I had this realization in the back of my mind while reading the book, but when I read the ending, I was even more certain of my ideas. Both books end with the main female character becoming “freed” from their husbands and the socials standards mentioned previously. That being said, not everyone may see it that way. Because Edna Pontellier in The Awakening commits suicide, it is probably brushed off by most as a sad ending. For me, it gives off mixed impressions. Edna was no longer happy being confined to the norms she was forced within by society, and more importantly by her husband and father. Because of this, her committing suicide in the end may not have been a sad ending after all. If Edna would really rather be dead than forced into the life she had, then this is just an act of her standing up for herself, making her even more empowered. The fact that she went against society and the “authoritative figures” (her father and husband) in her life proves that Edna stood up for herself in a way. This action is very similar to how Nora leaves her husband who treats her the same as her father did in A Doll’s House. Notice how both women feel confined mainly by two men: their husband and their father. Both women then seek to be freed from this, and ultimately do. This raises many questions about women’s role in society. Should women be allowed to leave their families and children? Why is it seen as the mother’s duty to care for her children? Due to the time period these texts were written in, I can image how they were both very controversial.

This wasn’t the only scene that really caught my eye in The Awakening, but it was the part that made me see the strongest connection between this book and A Doll’s House. Due to my personal response already being too long for people to want to read, I can’t share any of the other connections I noticed throughout the story. Although I didn’t really enjoy reading the book, I did enjoy the story overall and especially found it interesting to look at this text and previous texts and see the connection between them.

PR: Pygmalion

The play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw is a more open to interpretation version of a typical romance play. Probably the biggest thing that sets Pygmalion aside from other plays of its time is its non conclusive ending. Unlike the typical or “cheesy” play known as the Well-made Play, Pygmalion ends with a cliffhanger of sorts, except there is no sequel – and there need not be one. Pygmalion ends with a fight between Eliza Doolittle, one of the main characters, who was a poor flower girl that was transformed into a duchess by Henry Higgins, and Higgins himself. In typical Well-made Play fashion, this play would have ended much more pleasantly. Because the whole play revolves around Higgins teaching Eliza to become a “lady”, and because the play is based around the myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, it would be expected that Higgins turns Eliza into his ideal wife, and they get married and live happily ever after. However, this is not the case. Although the ending is left to interpretation, Shaw himself concludes in the epilogue of the play that Eliza and Higgins would never marry, and Eliza instead marries Freddy, a side character from earlier in the play. This may seem like an unsatisfying ending for some, but I however think it raises questions – like what happens to Eliza and Higgins, and how does the “new Eliza” fit into her new social class? Is she accepted? Because of this is more interesting than if the play had ended with Higgins and Eliza marrying like expected.

The hate Eliza developed for Higgins can be seen throughout the play. From the beginning when Higgins called her by “Eliza” whereas Pickering (Higgins’s partner with Eliza’s teaching) referred to her as “Ms. Doolittle”. The difference that is explained at the end of the book for the reason that Eliza dislikes Higgins and not so much Pickering can be summed up to this quote:

Liza: “That’s not true. [Pickering] treats a flower girl as if she was a duchess.”

Higgins: “And I treat a duchess as if she were a flower girl.”

(p. 66)

This contrast between how Pickering and Higgins respect others plays a big role in why Eliza came to despise Higgins.

Although I would have liked Higgins and Eliza to get along in the end, the surprising ending of the big fight was more intriguing and leaves room for the mind to guess what happens next. Of course Shaw comes in during the epilogue clearing some parts of the story up, but having this room to let your mind decide what happens next is one reason why this play was enjoyable to read. Instead of being left with a dry, expected ending, or even a sad one, the reader is left to decide what becomes of Eliza and Higgins. I personally would like to think that Eliza opens up her flower shop and that Higgins and her still eventually have some contact with each other, even whether that means Higgins seeing her in her flower shop.

Overall the play was interesting and not very predictable which made it exciting to read. The occasional witty humour was enjoyable, and so was watching the development of characters, especially Eliza.

PR: A Doll’s House

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen is a a play about love, money and equality. These key themes seem to be reoccurring in much of classic literature that we are reading in grade eleven. As seen in other texts like The Merchant of Venice, there is many connections between love and money, and which is the “right” thing to choose.

When reading the play, I was surprised by many things, namely the dialogue and the ending. For these reasons, I found the play entertaining and quite interesting. The dialogue was the first thing that caught my attention. It isn’t written in a way where it seems that realistic, however it does a great job of expressing one of the key points of the play, that marriage is a two way affair and that equality is not always present. A great example of this is how Torvald talks to Nora like a child throughout the play. For example, on page 112 Torvald says:

“Can’t be denied, my dear little Nora. My spending-bird is sweet; but it uses up an awful lot of money.”

This quote shows how Torvald refers to Nora as childish or not very authoritative names. In this example, Torvald refers to Nora as “my dear little Nora” and “My spending-bird”, both of which make Nora seem inferior to Torvald. The peculiarity of this name calling is a very subtle way of foreshadowing the ending, because in the end, Nora ultimately leaves Torvald because of how she is treated by him and how their relationship seems artificial (they don’t really love each other).

The ending was surprising to me, and also quite powerful (and imaginably shocking to those watching the play when it first showed) because of the final dialogue between Torvald and Nora, and how Nora just left at the end of the play. When Nora kept mentioning “a wonderful thing” was going to happen, I was confused at first (mainly because the ending was spoiled for me, and I knew Nora was going to leave Torvald). When the “wonderful thing” was finally revealed–that Torvald would forgive Nora and see that she borrowed money out of love–, it made a lot of sense to me. I completely agree with Nora that the bond she took out was to save her husband’s life, and he should have thanked her rather than scolded her. Although, this makes me think, if most people in this time were raised like Torvald, how should he know any better? If Torvald was raised to believe that women cannot act without their husband’s permission, in his eyes, he was doing absolutely nothing wrong. This is also true for many modern day problems such as racism and still, sexism. People are raised to believe certain things and do not understand not all of it is right.

This message of the play is very powerful, and Nora leaving Torvald creates a strong impact on the reader, especially because on the surface they seem to have a loving, intimate, happy relationship. The shock of Nora leaving really makes the reader think about equality, and how things are not always as they seem on the surface. I enjoyed this play overall, and found it entertaining, and easy to read and understand, especially compared to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice.

PR: The Merchant Of Venice

When beginning to read The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare, I was skeptical. That being said, I think most students have complained about Shakespeare at least once in their lifetime. The diction was foreign, the register is very formal (even somehow during dirty jokes) and very different compared to what I am used to. I honestly did not expect to enjoy the play, so as you can imagine I was very surprised when I realized the play was actually interesting.

The very beginning of the book was admittedly slow, but things really started to pick up at the end of Act 1. Antonio goes to Shylock to ask for a loan (even though he is Christian and in this time money lending was mostly frowned upon by Christians), and Shylock agrees on the terms that if the loan is not repaid within three months, he gets to cut a pound of flesh from Antonio. This was a shock to me because of how sudden it seemed. At this point in the play, I didn’t expect it to be this dark. This however made the play more interesting to me because I realized at this point that the play was going to be more interesting than first glance would lead me to believe. As I read through the book, I enjoyed the switch between Portia and Bassanio’s story, and Antonio and Shylock’s story. Alternating between the trial with the chests along with Bassanio and Portia’s love story and Antonio and his friends’ adventures to do with Shylock’s gory contract gave some variety to the play. It was much nicer to get refreshed from one of the stories and switch to the next as to not get bored of one too quickly, and also to leave on sort of a cliff-hanger that keeps the mind thinking about what will happen next and feeds the reader’s thirst to continue. It was also gratifying to see the two stories come together in the end with the court case between Shylock and Antonio. Antonio was absolved from his bond with Shylock, and Portia and Bassanio’s love was questioned; Portia disguises as a lawyer to save Bassanio’s best friend (Antonio) from death, and Bassanio gives away his ring (which he promised only a day ago would only leave his finger when it was pried from his dead body). The merging of the two stories into one led to a good conclusion – which I, however, did not like. I disliked the ending simply because I believed that Shylock didn’t deserve what came to him in the end. Although I wanted Antonio to live, and Shylock threatened that, he had plenty reason to be upset. In his speech on pages 46-47, he explains exactly why he feels the way he does about Antonio, and explains that all the discrimination he has received is simply because “I am a Jew”. Despite this, Shylock experiences even more pain than he already has by losing his daughter, his fortune, his profession and his religion. Because of this, I didn’t enjoy the ending all that much.

The story wasn’t the only thing that struck my attention. The dialogue was particularly impressive to me in certain parts. The most famous and notable example of this is during Shylock’s speech. Shakespeare doesn’t just create a powerful speech, but also makes it poetic. On lines 49-51, Shylock says,

[Antonio has] hindered me half a million; laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies, and what’s his reason? I am a Jew.”

This structure of repetition creates a really powerful speech and allows it to be read more smoothly and raise intensity. Over all, I enjoyed this play. Compared to Candide, it was very straightforward and not a lot happened, but it was because of how the play is simple but effective that I enjoyed it.

PR: Langston Hughes Selected Poetry

After reading the selected poetry of Langston Hughes throughout the past month, I have gained new knowledge and insight to topics I was already familiar with, but not that knowledgeable about. I learned not only about the common topics throughout Hughes poetry (mainly inequality, racism and hardship) but also about how the form and structure of poetry can change how the poem feels to the reader.

In poems like I, Too and Negro the idea of inequality due to racism is very prevalent. Hughes’ invokes strong feelings and thoughts among the reader through his use of careful wording that gets a powerful message across. An example of this in Negro is,

I’ve been a victim:
The Belgians cut off my hands in the Congo. They lynch me still in Mississippi.

The sensitive and uncomfortable topics Hughes raises creates emotion in the reader. Ideas of being a victim to cut off hands and lynching are very unpleasant and help get Hughes’ message across.

In poems like Let America Be America Again, Hughes not only talks about the injustice of racism, but also about inequality of all races, classes and anyone who has or does experience discrimination. He mentions the hardships of slaves, indigenous peoples and the poor lower class. As this poem shows, Hughes wrote for everyone  being discriminated against and all types of injustice.

One of the last big things I learned through Hughes’ poetry is how the form and organization of a poem can change how it effects the reader. Namely, in the poem Harlem Sweeties, Hughes uses a trimeter which gives the poem a more lighthearted and upbeat feeling to the poem. If not for this, the poem may actually come across as creepy instead of light, sweet and happy. Because the poem is describing how Hughes’ feels about some women, if it was a tetrameter, for example, it would make the poem more serious. This would cause lines like,

Brown sugar lassie,

Caramel treat,

Honey-gold baby

Sweet enough to eat.

Would just sound creepy.

By reading poetry from Langston Hughes, I have learned a bit about all of the techniques he uses in his poetry and a lot about what culture in America was like  in Hughes’ time. I enjoyed reading Hughes’ poetry because of his thought and attention to detail in his poetry. It is clear that his message is sincere and not about the fame or money, and that makes the poetry a lot more remarkable and thoughtful. Most of his poetry has a lot of meaning in it and can be difficult to fully understand, but nevertheless his poetry is memorable and meaningful.

PR: Candide

While reading Candide by Voltaire I had many feelings towards the book. I thought some parts were funny, some parts were sad, some parts even made me think about philosophical questions, and some of the parts were disturbing.

In the beginning of the book, I didn’t really notice Voltaire’s use of satire. This was mainly due to not really having any background knowledge of the book, but for the most part I took everything I was reading to be extremely odd and nonsensical. Once I read past the first two chapters I realized that the book wasn’t (really) nonsensical, it is just very fast paced and full of satire. The first time I noticed this was when Candide joined the Bulgarian army and then while going for a walk was accused of trying to escape the army. After that he was given the choice of “running the gauntlet” or being executed. This was extremely confusing at first because it didn’t make any sense to me, and seemed really unbelievable. When I realized a lot of it was satire about different aspects of society, it started to make more sense to me.

Although a lot of it is comedic, it is also sad and disturbing at times. When the auto de fe happened in the beginning of the book, it changed the mood of the book a bit for me, and I realized not all of it is just comedy. When I realized this it raised the question for me, why was society so much more violent in Voltaire’s time?

All of these ideas were always brought back to the same idea, is everything for the best? Even when people are drowning, getting burned alive, hung, beat, robbed, the philosopher Pangloss is always arguing that everything is for the best. We see his counterpart later in the book, Martin, who believes nothing is for the best. What really stood out to me in the end is the quote, “Pangloss declared that he had always suffered horribly, but having asserted that everything was going wonderfully, he would continue to assert it, even though he did not believe it in the least”. This was shocking to me because throughout the whole book, Pangloss argued even to the death that everything is for the best, but at the end his view seems to change. This made me wonder if this is because of Voltaire’s philosophy on the world, and maybe he doesn’t think Martin or Pangloss’ philosophy is correct, but it is a bit of both, kind of like Pangloss believes in the end.

Overall I enjoyed Candide because most of the book was entertaining and surprisingly fun to read. Although I didn’t find it that funny, it was very comedic to read because of how obscure the events in the story were. Voltaire’s use of satire and philosophy tied the whole story together nicely and ending the book with the popular quote, “we must cultivate our garden” was very powerful.

Pastiche on Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations”

Passage 1

When I found out for certain that this bear concrete slab scattered with pitiful little trees was the courtyard; and that Eric MacKnight, peacefully reading, and also Shawn Jones teacher of the tenth grade, were in the classroom; and that Coen, Adam, Chantal and Alex, students of the aforesaid were also in the classroom; and that the dark, drab corridor beyond the classroom, met with doors and staircases packed with students mesmerized by their cellphones was the hallways; and that the great grey building afar was the dormitory; and that the raging rowdy lane from which the machines were screeching and blaring was the road; and that the bunch of energy in the middle of it all, was Brandon.

Passage 2

A fearless man, all dressed in black, with his eyes covered in shade. A man with a suit and with shades, and with perfectly polished shoes tied to his feet. A man who had been freshly bathed in water, and groomed by scissors, and pressed by an iron, and shaved by a blade; who marched, and smiled, and laughed and was styled; and whose eyes sparkled as he gleamed at me with a grin.

 

 

Antigone Personal Response – Who is the Main Protagonist?

In the play Antigone by Sophocles, there is no clear protagonist, however Antigone is arguably the main character of the whole story. The most obvious reason for this is that the play is named after her. This makes it clear that even if Antigone isn’t the protagonist, she is still one of the main characters.

Another reason that Antigone is the protagonist of the play is that she causes the result of the play. Now, arguably you could say that Creon caused the events of the play because he made it illegal to bury Polyneices. With that view point, you could also argue that Polyneices caused everything because he attacked Eteocles for the throne, and so on. That being said, if Antigone had listened to Ismene and made the decision to let Polyneices be and not go against Creon’s wishes, she would (probably) not have died. In the play, the Messenger says,

“She [Eurydice] stabbed herself at the altar, then her eyes went dark, after she’d raised a cry for the noble fate of Megarus, the hero killed in the first assault, then for Haemon, then with her dying breath she called down torments on your head–you killed her sons.” (p. 126)

Because Eurydice killed herself over her son’s death, and Haemon killed himself in part due to Antigone’s capture and death, this means Antigone created a domino effect of Haemon and Eurydice dying just by killing herself. Because Antigone caused the result of the play, she played a big role in it and was therefore in a lot of the scenes.

Antigone is in many of the scenes, and when she isn’t, she is still a topic of discussion among other characters. For example, in the beginning of the play, Antigone speaks with Ismene for six pages before the Chorus speaks, and then Creon comes into the scene. Although Antigone isn’t physically in this scene with Creon, Creon’s sentry enters the building and begins telling him about how someone (Antigone) buried Polyneices, “The body–someone’s just buried it, then run off… sprinkled some dry dust on the flesh, given it proper rites.” (p. 71). From this quote we can see that although Antigone isn’t physically in this particular scene, she is still being talked about and is affecting what happens in the play.

In conclusion, Antigone is the main character of the play because it is named after her, she causes the result of the story and is in a large part of the play.

Oedipus The King Response

Oedipus the king was an interesting play that really expanded my knowledge of ancient Greek life, drama and religion. The whole plot of Oedipus is very disturbing but was nevertheless interesting to read. The play is unlike anything I have ever read before, and is very different from stories I am used to reading. For instance, the choir is a very memorable part of the play because the meaning of the chorus isn’t always easy to understand, and can be very poetic. The characters in the play are well thought out and each have distinct personalities. Oedipus is a great example of this, because by the way he speaks and acts we can see that he is courageous and mostly polite, but has a very short temper and doesn’t like it when things don’t go his way. He likes to be in control of his life, but as we can tell from the prophecy, it seems that he isn’t.

The language was also quite unfamiliar to me. It wasn’t unfamiliar in the sense that I didn’t know the vocabulary being used, but was unfamiliar with the register (high register). The way the characters spoke to each other was very formal – most of the time – and old fashioned. Namely, people refer to Oedipus as “my king” and Oedipus refers to the people of Thebes as “my children”.

One of the biggest thoughts I had while reading this book is how much politics have changed. In the story, everyone bows down to Oedipus (even after certain people basically tell him he murdered Laius). In modern day, it takes a whole lot less than that to ruin someone’s career, especially a political leader.

The play was surprisingly enjoyable to read, and gave me some knowledge of ancient Greek life and drama. For those reasons, overall I liked the play.

In A Grove – Reflection

In a Grove is an interesting short story that is told unlike most. The tale is told through testimonies and confessions of people involved and related to the murder of a man named Takehiko. What’s interesting about the accounts given in the story is none of them fully corroborate with each other, but rather each of them contradicts another account in one way or another. Although there are some things that we can almost be certain are true such as how Tajomaru took Takehiko’s arrows and sword, there are other actions that cannot be proven. The biggest question raised by this story is who actually killed Takehiko.