Category Archives: Assignment

Narratives and Individualism

The readings in class include  Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying (1930), Anand’s Untouchable (1935), and Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). All four novels and authors have a unique and different take on the narrative form as well as the view of the individual. Both Woolf and Faulkner’s narrative form went from one person to another, which confused the reader at times, but worked with the story. Mrs. Dalloway’s confusion in finding herself, and the chaos surrounding the death of Addie Bundren go hand in hand with the constantly changing perspective and narrator of the story. Anand uses the narrative of Bakha to show that even people in the untouchables are still people with individuality. The opposite is true for Their Eyes were Watching God. Janie, who becomes a woman of high class and wealth, suffers at the hands of gossip and talk of the town. She finds her individualism by coming to the realization that she need not mind anything that is said about her. She just needs to live her life the way she wants and she will be happy.

Moments of concentrated empathy

In Our Time, Hemingway (1925). Hemingway’s spare prose style and repressed emotions are seemingly inadequate for capturing the trauma his characters undergo. In “Soldier’s Home,” Krebs feels intense frustration because he can’t “make his mother see” the trauma of war, which is something he can’t express.

Mrs. Dalloway, Woolf (1925). Moments when characters are so acute to each other’s emotions, they seem to pick up and respond to each other within their heads, such as exchange between Peter and Clarissa. Also moments when characters feel intently but are unable to convey this, such as Richard unable to tell Clarissa he loves her. Finally, moments where characters are only tenuously related (Clarissa, Septimus) but Clarissa feels intense empathy for Septimus at the party, despite differences in social class.

As I Lay Dying, Faulkner (1930). Between Darl and Dewey Dell, who seem able to communicate nonverbally. Even Darl and Dewey Dell’s accounts contradict what actually was said. Also between Darl and Cash, where Cash picks up a memory Darl recalls of Jewel.

Nightwood, Barnes (1936). Pattern of male characters unable to understand their wives’ emotions, (Guido in 6, Felix in 45), but Robin and Nora have a kindredness the instant they meet. On 64, Robin says “Don’t wait for me,” almost as if it were a response to Nora’s thoughts on their resurrection.

Experiences of shared thoughts in Hemingway and Woolf seem directly influenced by WWI, whereas Faulkner is interested in familial relations and Barnes is interested in kinship between misfits, women. But in Woolf and Barnes, awareness of other characters’ emotions is present in women-women relationships (Elizabeth feels sympathy for Mrs. Kilman and guilt). However, society (and law) prevents same-gender relations, so by the party scene, Clarissa not only feels little kinship with Sally, she feels a snobby towards her. In Barnes, the female relationship is open and Robin and Nora have a more empathetic relationship than Guido/Hedvig, Felix/Robin, whose relationships seem characterized by tragic miscommunications. Finally, three novels have moments where characters seem to pick up in speech where other characters’ thoughts trail off, whereas in Hemingway, the dialogue between Krebs and his mother is disjointed, jumping from one topic to another.

In the mind of self and other

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (1925)
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner (1930)
Untouchable, Mulk Raj Anand (1935)
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (1937)

Each of these novels deal with the common connection between the expression of some sort of self, whether it be their individual self or the self of some group they identify with, and the other, which is a group that they are facing that is different from themselves; it could be a cultural, social, class, or another difference that varies from their own. In these modernism works, there is continuity of how the readers are given the story from different perspectives that in some way have or form a relationship or purpose between the characters. In Mrs. Dalloway there is constantly the jump from one perspective to another, sometimes without there every being a clear distinction who’s perspective you are getting, but forming a blurred connection between characters and events, such as between Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus. In As I Lay Dying, it is made clear whose perspective you are getting with each section titled with their name, but with this clarity comes a different way the characters connect with each other, and in this case almost suggests and defines the separation of experiences of each character as their own, yet all brought on by a specific event, Addie’s death. In Untouchable there is the distinct separation between the Indians and the Europeans they come into contact with; particularly with Bakha, who knows the Indian world, yet supports the ideas and concepts of the European world there is the constant cross of concepts and ideals between each group for him as he tries to make sense of who he is and what he should follow. Finally, in Their Eyes Were Watching God the reader is given the story from mainly Janie’s perspective, yet we see her struggles through life dealing with how she is learning to define herself amongst different ranks of blacks in society; we see her mind and thoughts as she navigates through one relationship to the next.

Overhead to in Their Head

Heart of Darkness (1899) focused on imperialism and how it affects life in Africa through the perspective of Charles Marlow. In the story, most of the conflict was reflected externally and viewed through a narrator who had strong emotions towards the events but no lacked in focus on how it affected him, psychologically. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) marks a turn as even though everything is in third-person, the narration focuses on Stephen and both his internal and external conflicts as he grows up. This conflict even spills into the third-person narratives on many occasions. The progression that I have noticed is that the focus of the narrative started with a wider picture, where the narrator is not mentally attached to the story. Joyce’s novel marks a turn where character’s thoughts affect the delivery of the narration. This turn leads to novels like As I Lay Dying (1930) and Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937.) Both stories matter entirely because of the narrator. Faulkner’s novel is delivered with the focus on individual characters and how their thoughts directly affect their narrative. Hurston, on the other hand, still had a third-person perspective, for the most part, but the story was still Janie’s. Every emotion that she felt, whether conflicting or not, is there to be heard. As time progresses, the stories go from character driven to being the characters.

World War I and the rise of Modernism

After World War I, many novels used characters that related their wartime experiences in a post-war time frame.
This reflects the change of the thoughts and feelings from pre-war sentiments towards modernity. In Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and As I Lay Dying (1930), we have two characters, Septimus and Darl, that have both returned from the war and have gone towards madness in silence. This is also reflected in In Our Time (1925) through the terse style of Hemingway, which is indicative of the reporting of the events of war. This shows that many of the generation that went through this war period became hardened and lost individuals due to it.

Whose Body? (1923) and Mrs. Dalloway both embody the post-war rise of highly concentrated and urban centers that is found in London. This is done in Mrs. Dalloway through the shared experiences found in the fast-paced change in focalization in this work and the shift from scientific deductive methods in traditional detective novels towards an intuitive detective method in Whose Body?.

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.

He Could Not Help It, for this is who he is.

“Because I said will I or wont I when the sack was half full because I said if the sack is full when we get to the woods it wont be me. I said if it dont mean for me to do it the sack will not be full and I will turn up the next row but if the sack is full, I cannot help it. It will be that I had to do it all the time and I cannot help it. And we picked on toward the secret shade and our eyes would drown together touching on his hands and I didn’t say anything. I said “What are you doing?” and he said “I am picking into your sack.” And so it was full when we came to the end of the row and I could not help it. And so it was because I could not help it.” (23 – 24)

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text. New York: Modern Library, 2000. Print.

Faulkner uses a very familiar form of repetition that we have been seeing in works by Stein, but in this case, the perspective is first person and causes this tool to be used very differently. Dewey Dell repeats over and over that he “could not help it” when talking about the condition of the sack being full. In doing so, it comes off as committing it into understanding or taking into perception an idea that may or may not be true. Once again, we see a stream of consciousness and while the stream was outwardly present in Mrs. Dalloway, Dewey Dell, like the rest, have a stream that is entirely inward. Dewey Dell is not talking to anyone but himself and is doing his very best to comprehend the situation in a way that he could. He goes from claiming that the full sack could not be helped and then reverts that claim by stating that the sack is full because he could not help it. This could possibly lead to an understanding on what he can or cannot control, or understand, and how it affects his daily life in the simplest of ways.

A Detective’s Self-Awareness

“Sugg’s a beautiful braying ass,” said Lord Peter. “He’s like a detective in a novel” (Sayers 13)

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009.

Within a small set of lines, we are given a self-aware and nearly parodic atmosphere to the novel, in which Lord Peters is acting as a detective within a detective novel claiming that someone else is a detective in a novel. This was also present when Sherlock Holmes was mentioned, in the first chapter. This gives the impression that the story is not about someone who happens to be interested in being a detective. Instead, Lord Peters is inspired, as Sayers most likely was, by detective novels and they were what encouraged him to go solve these mysteries, even though he has no occupational connection with the authorities. The fact that he is not aware that he is, in fact, a detective in a novel adds to the humor of the passage.

Prompt: commonplace/analyze

By Sunday at 5 p.m.:

Choose a passage for the commonplace book from Sayers’s novel, then reflect on how the kinds of responses the passage calls for from the reader differ from one of our previous readings (Stein, Joyce, Conrad, James). Be obsessively specific. One paragraph.