Tag Archives: history

The Differences in Communities

  • Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (1925)
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
  • Whose Body, Dorothy Sayers (1923)
  • As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner (1930)

All these works represent community and social gatherings shown through different cultures and social levels.

The novel Mrs. Dalloway and Their Eyes Were Watching God explicitly portray social gatherings through the meetings of crowds of people whether it is out on the street or outside on the porch of one’s house. During those gatherings the crowd is left to ponder about a situation they are encountering or about a person. In Mrs. Dalloway, the crowds all gather to find out what the loud crash sound was. In Their Eyes Were Watching God the women all gather around the porch to gossip about Janie and the return of her presence sans partner.

Along, with those two novels, the novel As I Lay Dying features a small community of a family and the novel Whose Body features a community of people trying to solve the mystery. Through these four novels, they represent a different version of community.

Names and Autonomy

“‘And now we’ll listen tuh uh few words uh encouragement from Mrs. Mayor Starks.’

The burst of applause was cut short by Joe taking the floor himself.

‘Thank yuh fuh yo’ compliments, but mah wife don’t know nothin’ ’bout no speech-makin’. Ah never married her for nothin’ lak dat. She’s uh woman and her place is in de home'” (43).

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

This moment reflects the themes of both being silenced and being named in Hurston’s novel. When Joe does not allow Janie to speak it is a sharp denial of Janie’s human right to speech because of her gender. Its problematic effect is heightened because this is the first time in which Janie is called “Mrs. Mayor Starks,” with Joe’s following clarification of “mah wife.” This denotes ownership, but it is also follows a theme in other parts of the book, such as when she is called Alphabet, which is before she even realizes the color of her skin. This shows that when names are imposed upon Janie, it stifles the progress of Janie’s self-actualization and self-determination, in turn stifling the novel itself.

James’ Impressionism

“The only effectual way to lay it to rest is to emphasize the analogy to which I just alluded–to insist on the fact that as the picture is reality, so the novel is history. That is the only general description (which does is justice) that we may give the novel. But history is allowed to represent life; it is not, any more than painting, expected to apologize.”

James, Henry. “The Art of Fiction” in Partial Portraits. London; New York: MacMillan & Co. pg. 379

James’ analogy between pictorial art and fiction is a fascinating theme that has added so much to modern fiction. The mere process of using one’s art to comment on his own medium seems to be a common feature of modernism. James’ thoughts on writing the novel take me back to Picasso and Warhol, painters who, through their own work, asked, “What constitutes as art?” changing the purpose of painting thereafter. Since then, art has become much more self-indulgent, and the beauty of art is in the variety of impressions that different painters are able to display through their respective lenses of creativity. In the past, when painting had many more utilitarian purposes, art was meant to appease those who paid for it. For example, painters like Rembrandt who portrayed nobility still altered the reality of the portraits, but they did so in order to portray what the noblemen wished to look like. Likewise, when historians have portrayed reality in the past, they have also done so in order to appease those in power. James wishes to highlight that the novel, like modern painting, has the feature of freedom, and that is beautiful. The freedom to create a work that is solely from one’s imagination, one’s impression of reality, is the Art of Fiction.