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class and culture

A noticeable theme running through many of the works we read is class. It plays a role in Untouchables, Melanctha, Their Eyes Were Watching God, and even, in a way, Heart of Darkness. In all these novels there is a class of oppressed and a class of opressors.
I think what is interesting is that though Heart of Darkness was the first one published umongst these works, its class issues are very imperialist. The other novels deal with class within one country but Heart of Darkness deals with class between two cultures in which class is defined differently. Untouchables deals with class between two cultures too but msot of the conflict is between indians in the novel.

Heart of Darkness- February 1899

Melanctha- 1909

The Untouchables-1935

Their Eyes Were Watching God- September 18, 1937



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.

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 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.

Dialogue in Hurston

“Don’t think Ah don’t feel wid you Janie, ’cause Ah do. Ah couldn’t love yuh no more if Ah had uh felt yo’ birth pains mahself. Fact uh de matter, Ah ives yuh a whole heap more’n Ah do yo’ moms, de one Ah did birth…” (15)

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

Something I found very interesting was the dialogue in the novel. It’s actually a bit difficult to read but I like the way Hurston writes it because it makes it very realistic and believable. It actually makes it a bit easier if the dialogue is read out loud but regardless of how difficult it may be, I think it’ pretty authentic and I like that.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

That irritated Hicks and he didn’t know why. He was the average mortal. It troubled him to get used to the world one way then suddenly have it turn different. (39)

Hurston, Zora N. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Perennial Library, 1990. Print.

The language at the end of the quote emphasizes the experience of a human by simply explaining the changes that happen through time. Although it does not explain that he is describing time and change out front, it can be drawn from our own human experience, what he is talking about.