Tag Archives: life

Narrative Strategies

Throughout the first ten pages of the novel the narrator describes the setting and places two old friends, Janie and Pheoby, in a conversation on a front porch. Pheoby asks Janie about Tea Cake. Janie provides a vague response, but when she realizes that Pheoby is ready to listen and understand Janie begins her life story, starting with a description of her childhood. This narrative strategy is used effectively so readers can understand events of Janie’s life that make her think and behave in certain ways. Chapter two continues mostly in form of Janie’s dialogue. At this point, I was worried that the entire novel was written in Janie’s dialogue, which is not easy to read because of her improper speech patterns. The dialogue is broken into paragraphs based on Janie quoting other people  and the development of new thoughts. Then, on page 11, there are two shifts in narrative voice,  the first shift goes back to the original narrator that described the women sitting on the porch, “Pheoby’s hungry listening helped Janie to tell her story…the night time put on flesh and blackness.” This paragraph is used to once again  show the women sitting on the porch and that the story of Janie’s life continues. Then, the next paragraph shifts to a new narrator, “She thought awhile and declared that her conscious life commenced at Nanny’s gate. On a late afternoon Nanny had called her to come inside the house because she had spied Janie letting Johnny Taylor kiss her over the gatepost.” If this narrator were to be physically present in the novel he/she would be sitting on the porch, listening to the women’s conversation. This narrator does not actually know the events and details of Janie’s past, he/she only knows as much as Janie discloses. The narrator listens to Janie’s story and translates it into a more comprehensive and intelligable writing. It is evident that the narrator does not know what happened in Janie’s past before Janie says so because the narrator says “She thought a while and declared.” Janie is the person who declared that her concious life began  then, not the narrator. The narrator does not have the knowledge or the authority to say, “Janie’s concious life commenced at Nanny’s gate.” Upon reading this paragraph I was relieved that Janie’s story would not be entirely reveled in her dialogue!

 

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

Characterization of Janie

“Janie saw her life like a great tree in leaf with the things, suffered, things enjoyed, things done and undone.  Dawn and doom was in the branches” (Hurston 9).

Source:

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

Janie is characterized as a person who is thoughtful and attentive to life and those around her.  Unlike some of the other characters, she looks at her life as a combination of positive, moments as well as negative ones, refusing to allow gossip to change her own perspectives.  It is this characteristic that differentiates her from many of the other characters in the novel’s plot.

 

Time and Authority

“Shredding and slicing, dividing and subdividing, the clocks of Harley Street nibbled at the June day, counselled submission, upheld authority, and pointed out in chorus the supreme advantages of a sense of proportion, until the mound of time was so far diminished that a commercial clock, suspended above a shop in Oxford Street, announced, genially and fraternally, as if it were a pleasure to Messrs. Rigby and Lowndes to give the information gratis, that it was half-past one” (111).

Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1997. Print.

The striking clocks in Mrs. Dalloway appear multiple times throughout the novel to allude to time as a controlling force as it “upheld authority.” As the people of London walk through expensive, aristocratic Harley Street, Woolf illustrates that all the people of London, despite which class they belong to, will eventually fall to the fate of time and temporality.

Life and Death

“Is dying hard, Daddy?” “No, I think it’s pretty easy, Nick. It all depends.”

Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1958. Print.

The conversation between the boy and his father was a compelling and moving moment in the short story, “Indian Camp.” After witnessing the death and suicide of an Indian Man, the son asks his father if death is hard, and his response was vague, but profound. Death is easy but life is difficult. I believe that was what the Doctor was trying to explain to his son. It is more challenging and arduous to face your problems and fears and overcoming them than it is to simply just quit or run away.  The brief conversation between the pair I believe was what made the short narrative something special.

Beautiful sumnation…

“In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with  his father rowing, he felt quite sure that he would never die.” (19)

Hemingway, Ernest. “Indian Camp” In Our Time. New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 2003. 19. Print.

This last sentence is such an effective and powerful usage of minimalism. The final repetition of the early time of day speaks to the new beginning of life and learning. Sitting in the stern while his father rows seems to suggest that while he has learned a valuable lesson, he is still not far enough along that he can guide himself forward. This is further evidenced by his feelings of immortality, something that is present in us all at such a young age.

The Meaning

“If we tried to formulate our meaning in one word we should say that these three writers are materialists. It is because they are concerned not with the spirit but with the body that they have disappointed us, and left us with the feeling that the sooner English fiction turns its back upon them, as politely as may be, and marches, if only into the desert, the better for its soul”.

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

Who knew that finding the meaning of a book could only be found through the soul of the book? And even so, the author themselves may not even know the true meaning.

Woolf: A Writer’s Relationship to Fiction

“‘Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semitransparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end. Is it not the task of the novelist to convey this varying, this unknown and uncircumcised spirit, whatever aberration or complexity it may display, with as little mixture of the alien and external as possible?”

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

The page should reflect the truth of life, in that it may be messy and uncoordinated, but still manages to be (somewhat) comprehensive. Good fiction is not so much defined by imitation, as it is by being able to look deeply within ourselves, and using our unique conscious to speak (and write) of the world as we live it and know it.

The vision of our minds

“Life escapes; and perhaps without life nothing else is worth while. It is a confession of vagueness to have to make use of such a figure as this, but we scarcely better the matter by speaking, as critics are prone to do, of reality. Admitting the vagueness which afflicts all criticism of novels, let us hazard the opinion that for us at this moment the form of fiction most in vogue more often misses than secures the thing we seek. Whether we call it life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, has moved off, or on, and refuses to be contained any longer in such ill-fitting vestments as we provide. Nevertheless, we go on perseveringly, conscientiously, constructing our two and thirty chapters after a design which more and more ceases to resemble the vision of our minds.”

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

At first, I did not know what Woolf was stating and I thought it was pretty dumb for her to state to obvious, but as I repeatedly read this passage, I found that what Woolf is stating is quite powerful. Despite the way we want life to turn out, life does not. What we control in life is limited, but writers persevere to write in ways that the vision they have in their minds cannot be portrayed within their books.  They cannot bring their vision to words because they are so constrained to a form of writing. What can writers do to express the visions of their minds? How can writers step away from the trending way of writing fiction? Isn’t that why modernism is a new way of approaching writing? They challenge to step away from the traditional and write in a way they can express their visions.

“Make-believe” is No Excuse

“It is still expected, though perhaps people are ashamed to say it, that a production which is after all only a “make-believe” (for what else is a “story”?) shall be in some degree apologetic–shall renounce the pretension of attempting really to represent life. […] The only reason for the existence of a novel is that is does attempt to represent life. When it relinquishes this attempt, the same attempt that we see on the canvas of painter, it will have arrived at a very strange pass” (James 377-8).

In this passage James addresses peoples’ fault in excusing “make-believe” stories from the normal practice of using stories to represent life. James believes that even the most fantastic stories are related to reality.

I like how James is not afraid to state what other people are ashamed to say.

 

James, Henry. “The Art of Fiction.” Partial Portraits. New York: Macmillion, 1894. Internet Archive. 424-463.  https://archive.org/details/partialportraits00jameiala

 

Art Imitates Life

“Personal experience is a most vicious and limited circle. All that I desire to point out is the general principle that Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life, and I feel sure that if you think seriously about it you will find that it is true. Life holds the mirror up to Art, and either reproduces some strange type imagined by painter or sculptor, or realizes in fact what has been dreamed in fiction. Scientifically speaking, the basis of life— the energy of life, as Aristotle would call it—is simply the desire for expression, and Art is always presenting various forms through which this expression can be attained. Life seizes on them and uses them, even if they be to her own hurt. Young men have committed suicide because Rolla did so, have died by their own hand because by his own hand Werther died. Think of what we owe to the imitation of Christ, of what we owe to the imitation of Cæsar.”

Wilde, Oscar. Intentions: The Decay of Lying. New York: Brentano’s, 1905. 39-40. eBook.

I thought this was so interesting because I never looked at it from the perspective of life imitating art. I always considered art to be a reflection of what was happening in the individual’s life and the world around them. I don’t necessarily fully agree with what he’s saying but after having looked at the topic from this perspective, I believe that they may influence each other rather than one controlling the other. I do believe that a fundamental basis of life is the desire for expression and so in that way, art if life. But I also think that it depends on the individual. Some people do believe that art if life as well as a reflection and influencer and so they may agree that art is life. However there are also people who do not believe that art has that big of an impact on their lives.