Tag Archives: freedom

Thoughts and Mockery

“In the few days to live before she went to Logan Killicks and his often-mentioned sixty acres, Janie asked inside of herself and out. She was back and forth to the pear tree continuously wondering and thinking. Finally out of Nanny’s talk and her own conjectures she made a sort of comfort for herself. Yes, she would love Logan after they were married. She could see no way for it to come about, but Nanny and the old folks had said it, so it must be so. Husbands and wives always loved each other, and that was what marriage meant. It was just so” (Hurston, 21).

Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006. Print.

Janie convinces herself with her own inner thoughts, the words of encouragement given to her by her grandmother, and words of advice she has heard the elderly townspeople say, that marrying Logan and following this path in her life will lead to doing the right thing. What I find interesting is that she persuades herself it is worth doing despite knowing she doesn’t quite want to, and that even before she marries him her days of ‘living’ are limited. She wants love and she thinks this could turn out to be the way to find it, but what she really wants is freedom, she just doesn’t know it yet.

I also can’t help but sense a little bit of mockery of Janie’s reasoning on behalf of the narrator. “She could see no way for it to come about, but Nanny and the old folks had said it, so it must be so” seems to mildly attack Janie’s naivete or potentially dangerous trust of what other people say, even though such people are considered older and wiser.

Woolf and the Freedom of the Writer

Look within and life, it seems, is very far from being ‘like this’. Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day. The mind receives a myriad impressions – trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall, as they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday, the accent falls differently from of old; the moment of importance came not here but there; so that, if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style…

Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 150. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.

 

Woolf: Freedom in Modern Fiction

“if a writer were a free man and not a slave, if he could write what he chose, not what he must, if he could base his work upon his own feeling and not upon convention, there would be no plot, no comedy, no tragedy, no love interest or catastrophe in the accepted style, and perhaps not a single button sewed on as the Bond Street tailors would have it. Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.”

Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 150. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.

Life is an organic thing, as is fiction. How a writer or novelist creates their work of fiction should not be as constrained as it apparently is. There are expectations that writers feel obliged to abide by in order to entertain his or her readers – expectations of comedy, tragedy, love interests, catastrophes or precise characters. If a writer were to write as they see fit, it would be a direct portrayal of what the author intended, without the elements so finely executed in other works that came before. I find a connection here with poetry – there are guidelines, there are measures, patterns, rhythms to be followed, but there is also an opportunity to freely abandon such rules, a freedom Woolf believes should be available to fiction writers – let novelists write freely, modern fiction is just as crucial to literary culture as works that are more rigorously/strictly designed.

Free The Writers

“The writer seems constrained, not by his own free will but by some powerful and unscrupulous tyrant who has him in thrall, to provide a plot, to provide comedy, tragedy, love interest … The tyrant is obeyed; the novel is done to a turn. But sometimes, more and more often as time goes by, we suspect a momentary doubt, a spasm of rebellion, as the pages fill themselves in the customary way. Is life like this? Must novels be like this?”

Woolf, Virginia. “Modern Fiction.” In The Common Reader, 149. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 1925.

A writer should be able to write based on their own inspirations, experiences, and feelings’ however, instead the readers, the society, and the publishing company are restraining writers from the freedom of their own works. Instead writers are being constrained to write what will entertain the readers and to write what the society allows in literature. Why does writers have to follow a certain standard? Why does society determine what the writer’s can write in their novels? Aren’t writer’s supposed to be the ones with freedom in determining how they want their novel to turn out?

James and Freedom

“A novel is in its broadest definition a personal impression of life; that, to begin with, constitutes its value, which is greater or less according to the intensity of the impression. But there will be no intensity at all, and therefore no value, unless there is freedom to feel and say. The tracing of a line to be followed, of a tone to be taken, of a form to be filled out, is a limitation of that freedom and a suppression of the very thing that we are most curious about. The form, it seems to me, is to be appreciated after the fact; then the author’s choice has been made, his standard has been indicated; then we can follow lines and directions and compare tones. Then, in a word, we can enjoy one of the most charming of pleasures, we can estimate quality, we can apply the test of execution.”

Henry James, “The Art of Fiction”. <public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/artfiction.html> Longman’s Magazine 4, September 1884

This passage from “The Art of Fiction” describes the freedom needed in order to allow the novelist to produce his or her best work. A question that arose while reading this passage was how a novelist could truly experience this freedom James refers to while knowing that his or her work would eventually undergo “the test of execution”. The freedom discussed in this passage appears to be a limited freedom, because the novelist will always in some way be dependent upon the reader’s criticism.