Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tragic or Pathetic?

Categorizing Oedipus as either a tragic figure or simply a pathetic one requires making a judgment on whether the course of his life was decided by the divine will of the gods or simply the ill-advised choices of a formerly heroic mortal man. If Oedipus and all involved in his life truly and independently made their own decisions, then Oedipus fits the definition of a tragic figure who's noble quality both raised them to heroic status, then subsequently caused their fall from that heroic grace. However, if Oedipus' fate was locked; if his life had been leading to that one moment of realization from the moment his parents heard the prophecyof their son's life, then Oedipus is simply a case that inspires pity, as there was nothing he could have done to avoid his horrible fate. It is most reasonable to believe that the truth lies somewhere in between the two: that though the Oracle gave a prophecy that came true, it was actions influenced by the very prophecy that skewed a truely "free will".

Monday, December 15, 2008

Class in Perspective

This class has covered numerous pieces of classical and modern literature which I have found quite edifying. We have covered a vast array of pieces of widely varying literary models and from all through history. Among these topics covered were short stories, dramas (plays), and poetry. These were very effectively taught by method of encouraging deep reading and analysis of the works presented.
For me, some of the best and most diverse of the featured works were those presented in the poetry section. They often demonstrated pertinent themes that have a universal nature. As such, they will always provoke deep thought about life from those who consider them. A prime example is Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias”. Focusing on the meaning of this poem causes the reader to reflect on the fleeting nature of life and material achievements. The poem gives that the ultimate power is time; it is a force that nothing and no one, no matter how great, can withstand indefinitely. It was also interesting to note contrasting messages on similar subjects. A prime example of such a contrast can be found in “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by Wilfred Owen, and Richard Lovelace’s “To Lucasta, On Going to the Wars”. They both ruminate on the subject of war and being a soldier, however they share nothing in their message about it.
Unfortunately for me, the short stories presented did not invoke the same type of deep thought and rumination that the poetry did. I found much of the stories to be rather inconclusive and so they left me with little purposeful thoughts. Charlotte Perkins’ short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” was one I found particularly enigmatic. Its lack of perspective or a reliable narrator seemed to make the whole story (or what little plot there was) seem pointless; an insignificant fiction-within-a-fiction.
The unit on drama as literature featured a great work that invited my careful analysis out of a desire to gain understanding. That work was Shakespeare’s The Tempest. A work with social and mythical underpinnings, it contained a fascinated plot with a great emphasis on power and justice, and how the two intertwine in life. Though Shakespeare’s language is at times riddled with subtle metaphors and older English, it can be understood through close reading and examination of historical context.
This class has unquestionably increased my repertoire of classical literature knowledge. I also believe it has improved my ability to scrutinize literature through various scopes and lenses and draw reasonable, easily supported arguments from it. This is a skill which will never be unusable, as critical thinking and reading skill are vital in all walks of life.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Concepts to Characters

It is one thing to anthropomorphize an inanimate object and give it characteristics equating to its function. It is quite another to take an incorporeal idea, like love or the wandering mind, and create a fitting and serviceable character. Though there is one advantage to a conceptual character: you can project whatever traits your plot requires onto the concept. Since it has no set characteristics, a concept can be imbued with what ever traits dramatic need dictates.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


This poem by Percy Shelly seems to comment on the fleeting nature of even the pinnacle of human achievements; their oh so temporal existence. The name Ozymandias is a westernization of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramesses II. He was responsible for the building of some the most massive monuments in human history. This poem seems to comment on the arrogance of trying to overcome the greatest force in existence: the test of time. The great "King of Kings" believed his achievements could be remembered forever in stone. However, even stone succumbed to the ravages of time; stone feet standing in ruins in the present. The greatest irony is created when the epitaph on his crumbled statue is read. The mighty works of Ozymandias are themselves in despair, rather than those they are meant to inspire that awe in.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Respice Finem

Latin for "Look to the End", this statement comes to prominent significance in "The Death of Ivan Ilych" in a literal statement and a figurative meaning. The statement appears on a medallion he attains in the story as an ornament to himself. This materialistic bent on a very important message is prophetic of Ivan's own neglect in his life. He fails to "look to the end" of his own life. His short-sightedness costs him his dignity and the comfort of others in the final days of his life. He missed the message the medallion was supposed to convey, and so lost the meaning of his life.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Death of Ivan Ilych

Ivan's life was "most simple and most ordinary, and therefore most terrible". Why is it such a curse to live a "normal" life? What is it that made his life so terrible? The answer lies in the end, when Ivan is on his deathbed. Throughout his life, Ivan's struggles are very ordinary: finding a good job, finding a wife, trying to improve his position. During the slow and painful process of his death, he cannot take comfort in the company and love of other people, having never formed any lasting bonds with other people. We see after his death that there are no true friends that he ever had. His fair-weather friends viewed his passing as a burden and an opportunity, while his wife views it as a payday. There is no respect for the dead among Ivan's company. All his struggles in his life proved to be fruitless in the end. However, even in the bleakness of Ivan's situation, there is a lesson to be learned: normality leads to boredom and stagnation, therefore a "normal" life is a pointless life.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Yellow Wallpaper

The unnamed narrator of "The Yellow Wallpaper" is an "unreliable narrator" because of the warped perspective she places over the story. It is not apparent at the outset because there is no frame of reference for the reader in the story style, which is written in the form of journal entries. As the narrative continues however, it becomes more and more clear that the narrator has, at best, a tenuous grip on reality. She starts to personify the wallpaper, convinced that it can have real effects; trapping people inside, being her friend, and even harming her child. Upon reading these strange visions, it becomes unclear to the reader if anything she writes is the truth or simply a psychosis-induced delusion. The ending is especially unclear, as the narrator refuses to explicitly state what she had just accomplished. She seems to have escaped her room, getting past John in the process, perhaps even killing him. Of course, in her mental state, it could just as easily have been a fabrication scribbled in a journal.

This leads the reader to question the writing: Why use an unreliable narrator as storyteller? The answer lies in the assumption that characterization is more important than storyline. The reader can with their own imagination, infer the various minutia of the plot. The importance is placed on showing the reader the depths of the narrator's mind, allowing them to experience the feeling of seeing through that person's eyes.