Monthly Archives: November 2014

In Our Time, Mrs. Dalloway, and World War I

Both published in 1925, In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway and Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf chronicle the effects of World War I on society.  While these texts may seem different in the nature that they are narrated, they collectively contribute to the narrative of the post-war experience.  Hemingway’s short stories detail some of the societal reasons as to why young men were pushed to fight for their countries, whereas Woolf’s novel demonstrates the aftereffects of the violence and death.

As evident through one of Hemingway’s main characters, Nick, pride and masculinity often played a large role in society’s general push toward violence in the first place.  Nick strives to gain his father’s approval throughout the course of the short stories, while also aiming to be a brave man through his efforts in war.  Woolf contradicts some of these societal influences through her descriptions of Septimus’s struggles; although he fought for his nation and lived, he still suffers from fear and anxiety after the war’s end.  These narratives piece together important information about the human condition in the wake of violence and destruction, largely responding to the incidents that occurred during World War I.

Disparity only changes it’s face.

One of the greatest topics that I have noticed being covered by nearly every work we have read is that of class.  Anand’s Untouchable (1935), Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) , Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1925)  and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899), illustrate to us that through the years, no matter the location or specific group of characters, class continues to be a factor of major importance and intrigue.

There is a clear continuity in class distinction and disparity throughout each of these novels, with no clear resolution through time. For instance, while in 1899, Imperialism is shown in spades throughout Heart of Darkness, it is still an issue (although in a different location), in Untouchable. Not only do these two show class disparity, but also inequality in both race and cultures.

As I Lay Dying and Their Eyes Were Watching God reveal a slightly different form of class disparity, in that they don’t revolve around themes of one group of people AGAINST another, but are more revealing in their disparity through the largely missing discussions of these disparities. The reveal is through ignorance rather than understanding.

Over the difference of 38 years, we can see that the face of disparity changes, but it’s power and overall grip on societies, does not. No matter the location, or the cultures and classes involved, this continues to be a problem throughout the world. It’s so interesting to see it from so many points of view, and each authors different style helps to bring us closer to these people that we may never have considered otherwise. Historically, the significance is quite clear, even when the issues never quite get resolved. We cannot make changes if they aren’t consistent

Social Class Disparities

Faulkner, Sayers, and Stein observe social class across their respective texts. A moment of social class disparity in Faulkner is the difference between the two doctors. Peabody is more educated than MCGowan, but Faulkner implies that social class trumps credentials when comparing the way the two characters interact with the Bundren family. In Sayers’ novel, Peter has money and can just do detective work almost for his own pleasure. Bunter is Peter’s servant, but he helps Peter in solving crimes along with taking care of his needs around the house. In Melanchtha, race seems to complicate social class by being an added level in that race is more distinctive than social class. For instance, a black person with a high prestige job such as a doctor would be lower than a working class white man in society.

Historical Timeline

Melanchta by Gertrude Stein was published in 1909 and Faulkner’s As I lay dying was published in 1925. Both those works use stream of consciousness device, whom proves to be confusing for the reader.  Zora Neale Hurston’s Their eyes were watching God, published in 1937,  focuses on rendering a thruthful African-American community, especially by a precise rendering of specific language. Annand’s Untouchable  was published in 1935  and is one of the few non western writers that is recognized.

We can see that modernist literature is diverse and show a wide range of works. I think it’s interesting to notice that some of those novels -Melanchta, Their Eyes were watching God, Joyce’s Portrait- belong to the “coming of age” genre which I think the confusing stream of consciousness is really appropriated for. We see a real desire to represent, with a difficult language and obviously new, the difficulty of making sense and understanding what is happening  in those moment of transition and learning.  Annand and Hurston doesn’t quite fit in the “usual” modernist writers circle as Annand is an Indian writer who writes on a non western subject and Hurston as an African-American woman is quite an exception. Nonetheless, I think those two relates with Faulkner’s As I lay dying with their subject, to show a different social class, the lesser one and to describe them in an authentic manner -like Hurston- but not with a condescending look but true interest, as Annand’s novel fit in the social novel genre.

 

Historical Line- Stream of Consciousness

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, which was published in 1916, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf published in 1925, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying published in 1930, and Untouchable by Anand, which was published in 1935 all explores the stream of consciousness. The stream of consciousness, which was a new concept in the 20th century, proved to be very popular.Throughout 21 years, the device influenced writers to get creative in exploring and expressing the character’s consciousness. In  A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce uses the stream of consciousness to depict the mind of a young man exploring his sexuality. When Stephen is awakened to his sexual needs, “He wanted to meet in the real world the unsubstantial image which his soul so constantly beheld… They would be alone, surrounded by darkness and silence: and in that moment of supreme tenderness he would be transfigured”, which depicts a typical young man’s coming of age(12). Also in 1925, Woolf uses stream of consciousness to explore the present and the past. We see Peter Walsh’s  thoughts towards Clarissa, “Of course I did, thought Peter; it almost broke my heart too…”, which depicts Peter answering Clarissa in his stream of consciousness and recalling memories through it (42). In 1930, Faulkner used the narration of different characters to explore stream of consciousness. He depicts Jewel’s thoughts of being alone with his mother, he repeatedly thinks “one lick less. One lick less…”, which depicts him holding back his frustration in his mind. By this point in history, the authors use stream of consciousness to express the emotions of different characters. Lastly, in 1935, Anand uses stream of consciousness to show the truth behind each characters’ lives. In the beginning, Bakha sees the uniform “And he had hungered for the touch of them. But he had never mustered up courage enough to go up to the keeper of the shop and to ask him the price of anything, lest it should be a price he could not pay and lest the man should find out from his talk that he was a sweeper-boy” (11). Stream of consciousness was used to follow each characters personally, but also to dive into the characters’ process of thinking. Over the years, writers changed the usage to depict their writings vividly, but they all continued to express the thoughts and feelings of the characters.

Historical Context—Perspectives

In Gertrude Stein’s Melanctha, published in 1909, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man written by James Joyce, published in 1916, Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, published in 1925, and William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying published in 1930, all contain some type of use of perspective change. While every text does provide the reader with certain characters’ perspectives, the authors each have their own way of depicting it. Stein, Joyce, and Woolf’s texts seem to consistently change perspectives and voice without warning. They are the most similar when quickly changing perspectives, though still unique to their own texts. One sentence could be the narrator’s perspective and the next is Jeff, Stephen, or Clarissa, respectively. An example from Stein’s use of perspective is the sudden shift from Jeff’s thoughts to the narrator’s perspective: “Slowly he felt that surely they must both have this feeling. It was so important that he knew that she must have it. They both sat there, very quiet, a long time” (69). Five years after Woolf’s novel, Faulker made the perspective changes in his novel clear by giving sections for each character to use their voice and tell the story from their point of view. By doing this, the reader follows the same story, but understanding it through many different characters’ views. Inserting different perspectives throughout these texts establishes new ways of thinking, writing, and reading.

Ideas of Acceptance

One theme that runs through some of the books we’ve read is acceptance by normalcy; who is publicly accepted and not judged for what they are.   This them is present within “Heart of Darkness”, “Melanctha”, “Mrs. Dalloway”, and “Their Eyes were Watching God”.

“The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.”  (Conrad 5)

“Rose Johnson was careless and was lazy, but she had been brought up by white folks and she needed decent comfort. Her white training had only made for habits, not for nature” (Stein 1)

” ‘Let us go on, Septimus,’ … People must notice; people must see.” (Woolf 15).

“‘What she doin’ coming back here in dem overhalls? Can’t she find no dress to put on?—Where’s dat blue satin dress she left here in?—Where all dat money her husband took and died and left her?—What dat ole forty year ole ’oman doin’ wid her hair swingin’ down her back lak some young gal?t'” (Hurston)

In Heart of Darkness and Melanctha, which were published in 1899 and 1909, people that don’t measure up to the ideas of public acceptance are people of color; Rose’s “white training” elevates her, and in Heart of Darkness, it’s made clear that conquest once required taking from those with a different complexion.  Later in 1925, Septimus Warren Smith of Mrs. Dalloway, is having shell shock while his wife worries that people are watching him, because even as a veteran, having any kind of problem in public is considered unacceptable.  By the time we reach Hurston’s work in 1937, he main character Janie is judged by the public simply because they do not know things about her.

Historical Timeline

Three Lives (“Melanctha”) by Stein was published in 1909. In Our Time by Hemingway and Mrs. Dalloway by Woolf was published in 1925. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Hurston was published in 1937. As we discussed during the beginning of the semester, these texts would be labeled under the modernist movement. However, modernism is just the umbrella; each text has its own individual way of breaking away from the “norms.” Interestingly enough, “Melanctha” and Their Eyes Were Watching God have some similarities such as the black vernacular that is used. However, the reader must keep in mind that the ethnicity of the authors are different, which may impact the analytical aspect of the stories. In Our Time and Mrs. Dalloway share more similarities than differences: 1) both texts were published the same year and 2) while Hemingway’s text possesses elements of masculinity, Woolf’s text can arguably posses elements of feminism.

Prompt: a historical line

In lieu of commonplacing, write a blog entry responding to the following prompt by Sunday at 5 p.m.

Write an entry with short notations (a few words) about four works we have read in relation to a single specific theme, device, problem, or pattern. Note the dates of the works as well. Then write at least three sentences about the literary-historical trajectory you see: continuity? sudden change? gradual evolution? opposing tendencies? A useful historical line is specific and supported by evidence. Remember that what we have been reading is only the merest sampling of an enormous, and enormously varied, literary production in English-language fiction.

Print out the text of your entry to bring to class for discussion.