Thursday, March 27, 2008

Red Shift Explication

In “Red Shift,” Ted Berrigan titles his poem as such in order to exemplify the change in his tone as it progresses. The word “red” is synonymous with emotions that convey anger, so his tone grows in intensity and anger as he develops his thoughts. His thoughts decrease in clarity, while they conversely increase in specificity. This digression, exemplified through his changing diction, clearly denotes the change in tone, because anger usually triggers ambiguity.
At the beginning of the poem, the speaker starts to describe the setting; this is the most concrete information in the entire poem. He states the time, “8:08 p.m.” (line 1) and describes the “biting, February” (line 2) air. The speaker clarifies that it is a “winter streetscape” (line 3) that he is painting in the mind of the audience. He describes his body as an “ample, rhythmic frame” (line 1) while the wind does “fierce arabesques” (line 2). He clearly defines the setting in order to establish a base of where his thought process began. Without a starting point, it would be impossible to follow the train of thought. It proves that the configuration of the poem is methodical, not random.
The first shift in tone occurs two lines further, at the point where the speaker is able to “lean/In,” (lines 5-6). It is the bridge between the foundation and the memories that will substantiate the rest of the poem. When transitioning between two such things, the clarity level decreases, because memories can never be remembered to perfect accuracy, as time morphs and distorts them. He also begins to sound disillusioned and reminiscent, commenting that the “streets look for Allen, Frank,” (line 6). These two names symbolize two of Berrigan’s contemporary beat generation writers, and according to the following line, “Allen/is a movie” (lines 6-7) and Frank is “disappearing in the air” (7). This suggests that Allen has become very popular, like a movie, and Frank is gone, essentially from the world. Thus, the speaker seems depressed and lonely, feeling as though he has been abandoned. This is a sharp contrast to the beginning of the poem where is describing the setting in an upbeat tone.
Consequently, from this point on, his thoughts seem to wander farther and farther away from where he began; each thought takes a turn from where it was originally going. He begins with a question, asking “Who would have thought I’d be here,” (line 13) and that indicates a shift in topic and tone. He then elaborates that “love, children…money, marriage/ethics, a politics of grace” (lines 15-16) are “up in the air” (line 16), which implies that the ideals that were once held are no longer there. The “up in the air” reference, that was used previously to describe Frank, suggests that the views that once held true no longer exist around him, and he is frustrated because of it.
The boy with eyes that “penetrate the winter twilight” (line 20) is his first answer to the question, and the first sense of anger in the poem because the word ‘penetrate’ has a connotation of deep-seeded emotion; his gaze is breaking through the setting that the speaker created at the beginning of the poem, which is also representative of that shift in tone. His second answer is a “pretty girl” (line 21) who is “careening into middle-age so/To burn & to burn more fiercely than she could ever imagine” (lines 22-23). Fiercely also represents the anger and tenacity of the speaker, and he sounds as if he knew that events would turn out in such a way, and the people whom the events were happening to had no idea that it was happening. He could have been angry because of their refusal to believe in the situations that life was presenting them with.
The next answer is the “painter” (line 24). The speaker says he will “never leave [the painter] alone until we both vanish/into the thin air” (line 25). The air reference means that he is intensely devoted to this other man and nothing can tear them apart. The painter, consequently, will never leave the speaker “not for sex, nor politics,/ nor even for stupid permanent estrangement” (lines 27-28). This represents his deep attachment, and almost obsession, with the painter, because neither of the most popular reasons for two people to no longer have a relationship/friendship will ever tear them apart. He is holding on so tightly that it is becoming overbearing, and that is what he portrays in this segment of the poem.
The last eleven lines are the most irate of all, and this tone comes to the forefront when the speaker discusses death. He firmly states that he “will never die” (line 31) and will “never go away” (line 32). Because of his strong sentiments here, the speaker is afraid of death in a way, because he says he is “only a ghost” (line 33) and “you will never escape from me” (line 32). This attempt at speaking directly to the audience begins here, and so does the high level of ambiguity. He says he is “only pronouns” (line 35) and that is the biggest key to the vagueness at the end of the poem because he uses a multitude of pronouns that do not always have antecedents. In this aspect, the speaker is leaving the interpretation up to the reader of the poem, because it had a certain meaning to him, but it may have other meanings to whoever reads it. He says “now nothing/will ever change/That, and that’s that” (lines 37-39). The short, choppy sentences with very few syllables reflect his anger because the complex thoughts from the beginning and middle of the poem are no longer in use. He just says whatever comes into his head.
The last lines show the outcome of the speaker’s anger and his internal struggle. He says that he “slip[s] softly into the air” (line 41), which defines his ascent from the world. He is finally leaving his anger behind. Overall, the multiple shifts in tone reflect the thought process. A thought can trigger a repressed memory, and that memory causes one to diverge completely from his or her intended path and stray into the realm of thoughts that reflect hidden emotions of anger, frustration, and fear. Such is the case with “Red Shift.”

Camus Explication from The Stranger

In The Stranger, author Albert Camus’ curt diction, offensive tone, and simple, direct syntax contribute to the characterization of the main character, Meursault. Meursault acts inhumanely in the face of situations that typically elicit emotion. Through his characters’ indifference, Camus exposes the tendency of men to put on a masculine front in order to hide their true emotions.
The first instance of his insensitivity is at Maman’s funeral. Her friends, the other elderly residents from her nursing home, come to keep vigil around her casket. Meursault first mentions them as a “rustling sound that woke me [Meursault] up” (9). In his eyes, they are nothing but a mere noise, completely insignificant to what he is thinking about. He observes that the women all have “bulging stomachs” and he says that he “never noticed what huge stomachs old women can have” (10). Elderly people are often highly respected members of society, and younger generations have a natural tendency to speak of them with courtesy. Meursault, on the other hand, uses rude, disrespectful terms, such as the aforementioned bulging stomachs, or “toothless mouths,” (10). Camus chooses these words because it reveals the first sign of Meursault rejecting emotion. Meursault has “the ridiculous feeling that they were there to judge [him]” (10) and because he thinks that about innocent people who came to pay tribute to his mother, it is an indication of his insecurity.
Meursault’s insecurity grows further on in the passage as well. He emphasizes multiple times that one woman “kept on crying” (10) and he wish that he “didn’t have to listen to her anymore” (10). This woman comes to the funeral to pay her respects to Maman and to express her sympathies to Meursault. This act of compassion is met with resistance; Meursault, annoyed by her crying, is only concerned for himself and not for her. He does not want to face the sadness of losing his mother, and hearing crying, a sound of sadness, might trigger emotion, so he dismisses it as an annoyance. His sentences are very short and choppy, structured with simple subjects and verbs, and their directness conveys his agitation. The caretaker of the home tells Meursault that the woman was a very good friend of Maman’s, and that now she “hasn’t got anyone” (11) but that is the last that Meursault speaks of the woman in the passage. The commentary about this woman stops here because Meursault does not want to deal with the feelings that might stir within him if he interacts with her. By acting like he is tough and does not care about the woman, who could conceivably be one of the only links left to his mother, Meursault is putting up a masculine fa├žade in order to divert the emotion.
After this point, Meursault shuts down; his diction and tone are more inappropriate and reckless, as he tries to overcompensate for his lack of emotions. Meursault states that the woman “finally shut up” (11). The phrase ‘shut up’ is usually used by teenagers or children, not adults talking about their elders. He complains about being “tired” and that his “back was hurting” (11). This physical need overtakes any other feelings or emotions, and a stereotypical man puts his physical needs, desires, or feelings before anything else. A “strange noise” (11) then aggravates him, and he identifies it as a “weird smacking” (11) sound that the elderly people are making by “sucking at the insides of their cheeks” (11). The connotation of this description is more like animals than it is like humans, so Meursault cannot relate to them directly. His diction here is demeaning, and it is particularly so because these people are hurt by Maman’s passing, and attend the funeral to support him and mourn the loss of his mother. His final thought of the passage is that “the dead woman lying in front of them didn’t mean anything to them. But I think now that that was a false impression,” (11). He refers to his own mother as a ‘dead woman’ and that shows that he is indifferent to the whole situation, almost as if he is looking in on these events from the outside. He is a stranger to emotions, as the title of the book suggests, and his coldness covers him up so that emotions cannot penetrate within him.
On the whole, the diction of the passage shows how Meursault hides his emotions behind a wall of overcompensated masculinity. A funeral generally brings about emotions in some way, but his complete lack of feeling, coupled with a desire to put his own physical needs above his emotional needs, Camus exposes this character flaw in Meursault. This is not the only time he does this, however. He takes another emotional situation, one of abuse, and confronts Meursault with it.
Meursault and Marie are having lunch at Meursault’s house and they hear Raymond having a fight with his girlfriend. They rush outside to see what is happening. They hear “thuds” and his girlfriend screaming “in such a terrifying way” (35). He acknowledges that the woman is in trouble from the beginning, but this acknowledgement is strayed away from; he does not want to have to confront it. Marie is concerned, and asks Meursault to find a policeman to help, but Meursault refuses to because he “didn’t like cops” (36). His inactions here reflect his chauvinistic sentiments, but he must lie to get his way out of helping the woman because he does not want Marie to see how he truly feels about women. Meursault’s sentences are shorter and more direct again after this; they dictate the events of his afternoon with Marie that leads up to his conversation with Raymond. Meursalt “finished fixing lunch. But she wasn’t hungry; I ate almost everything” (37). Marie has clearly been affected by the events that she has seen because she does not want to eat. Meursault however, is completely unconcerned with what he has just experienced, and eats his lunch like nothing happened. Camus shows this contrast between men and women here, because Merusault acts hardened, like the stereotypical man, while Marie acts emotionally, like a stereotypical woman. Meursault does not want to dwell on the event, because he is outrunning guilt. If he does not think about what he has done, it will not affect him.
The feeling comes back to haunt him, however, as Meursault finds Raymond at his door later that day. Raymond recounts the events of the day, and in order to play along with Raymond, Meursault comments that “she’d gotten her punishment now and he ought to be happy” (37). Raymond has a strong influence over Meursault’s behavior because he is acting very masculine about putting a woman in her place. The terms he uses to describe the event are not very graphic, so Camus stores Meursault’s memories away and chooses to only tell what makes Raymond appear to be the victim of the situation. So in order to fit in with Raymond and not allow his emotions to get the better of him, Meursault puts on the act that he condones the beating and that Raymond was correct in his actions. Meursault eggs the behavior on even more when he “agreed to act as a witness” (37) for Raymond. Though Meursault acts like testifying for Raymond “didn’t matter” (37) to him, he clearly tries to remain indifferent to the situation. Raymond abused his girlfriend, but Meursault, who wants to side with a ‘man,’ decides to help him out.

In both instances, Camus describes Meursault as a stranger to his own feelings. In his indifference, he sails through some very difficult events, including his mother’s funeral and an assault of an innocent woman. To keep from feeling these emotions, he puts up a wall around himself so that he does not have to feel sad, upset, angry, or hurt; acting like a man makes up for his inability to have feelings, and he can use his status as a man as validation for his actions. Camus exposes that tendency in men, as opposed to women, who bare it all. The woman cries at Maman’s funeral, and Marie cannot eat after witnessing the attack. This is one of the main differences between the sexes, and Camus differentiates between the two with the reactions to these events.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hamlet Journal Entries

Entry from Act 1 Scene 1

(1.1.21-39) Focus: Character foreshadowing Hamlet

At the very beginning of Act 1, the guards mention to Horatio that they've seen a ghost. Horatio tells them that it was their "fantasy" or imagination, and is quick to discredit their information. He emphasizes over and over again that "t'will not appear" and that they are being foolish. I think in this way Horatio is foreshadowing the inability to trust in Hamlet's personality. THough the men witness the ghost twice in a row, Horatio still does not believe it until he sees it. Hamlet, therefore, might be very wary of who he places his trust in and who he believes is a credible source for information. Maybe he was betrayed by one whom he trusted, and that caused him to become so unable to trust others.

Entry from Act 2 Scene 2

(2.2.96-150) Focus: Polonius' Character Development

When Polonius tells the King and Queen about Hamlet's letter to Ophelia, he just won't get to the point. They accuse him of "art" or flowery speech (rhetoric), which is indicated by his lengthy introduction to what he's even talking about. This shows the reader that Polonius is unconfident because he feels that he has to act in a way to impress the King and Queen. In this way, Shakespeare characterizes Polonius as someone who wants to impress others and get approval from them. He cannot stand on his own. He needs his flowery diction to hide his insecurities. From what I learned about rhetoric last year, a writer will often disguise their weaknesses in different strategies, such as repitition, like Poloius does when he says " 'tis true, 'tis true, 'tis pity, And pity 'tis true.." He seems to be rambling, but in his mind, he thinks he's sounding intelligent and worthy of speaking to the King.

Entry from Act 2 Scene 2

(2.2.359-419) Focus: Words, Words, Words, along with Polonius

As Hamlet welcomes the players to Elsinore, he refers to the King and Queen as his "uncle-father and aunt-mother." Hamlet is definitely confused and disillusioned by their marriage, as he doesn't know what to call them or what their relationship to him actually is. So, it is evident that Hamlet is really feeling the separation between himself and his 'family.' When Polonius arrives with delayed news that has already happened, Hamlet calls him " a great baby...not yet out of his swaddling clouts." Though this could refer to any baby, the main image in my mind is of the baby Jesus who is typically known to have swaddling clothes. So, Hamlet may be implying that Polonius, despite his royal ties from working for the King, is not accepted by everyone or is looked down upon because he hasn't accomplished anything (like a baby). The allusion to Jephthah is also very interesting, as he must sacrifice his daughter as the result of a vow he made in war. The daugther's wish was to lose her verginity before he did it. So, this relates to Polonius because Hamlet is implying that Ophelia has been with Hamlet and may be lost for a sacrifice. This, to me, is foreshadowing Ophelia's death at the hands of her father.

More to come...

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Humument Explication

On page 210 of Tom Phillips’ A Humument, Phillips suggests that humans are often torn between what they perceive to be reality and what literally is reality, namely between sanity and insanity. Phillips uses streaks of bold, clashing colors and contrasts dark and light imagery within his text to emphasize the different perceptions of reality within the human mind. Darkness represents the craziness, or inability to see the true reality, whereas light symbolizes the true, sane reality.

To begin the page, Phillips first describes his character’s realization that something is not as it seems. He writes that “at the time arranged” he “abandon[s] all.” Though the time was arranged, which indicates some sort of methodical thinking, he still must abandon everything he knows, in this case, his reason. Then, “he at once…drove off to…the dim regions of Bloon,” which is the area where sanity and insanity meet. Dimness implies that this location is the convergence of these two realities because when something is dim, it is neither light nor dark, but an area in between. Thus, Phillips’ character approaches the brink of his sanity. The pathways of pale yellow that highlight the text and connect the words to each other are also indicative of this route because they look like winding roads that connect one end of the image to the other, just as the characters’ road is connecting sanity and insanity.

Phillips’ character continues his path to realization a bit further down the page. He “had found…the loss of all events,” which suggests that he no longer remembers what occurred in his past or his past thoughts, which are both a part of his sanity. The only thing he knows, however is that, “he was…he knew…heavy for ever.” This heavy feeling symbolizes the weight that his torn feelings are pressing down upon him and the fact that these feelings are with him for eternity. The solid black border of the image further exemplifies this feeling because it is the darkest color in the image and because it surrounds all the other colors, it suppresses and entraps the rest of the image, just as the heaviness does to Phillips’ character.

Phillips’ character reaches his final destination toward the middle of the image. As he continues on, he “entered the dirty passage leading to his…condemned cell.” The words used in the imagery of the ‘dirty passage’ create a dank, dark impression of his location, making it seem to be very undesirable and unpleasant. The ‘condemned cell’ is his insanity because he is on the cusp of falling into a different type of reality and he has no power to control what is happening. The black border also represents this cell because it encages the rest of the image and is shaped like a cell, with no curves or bends, just straight lines. The pale yellow pathways could also represent this path. Though they are not dark, the yellow represents hope and a path toward the light, or truth. Therefore, this represents the characters’ path to insanity because it is something he cannot control and is what he is destined to do. Thus, he is continuing on to the truth.

To end the page, Phillips’ character comes to terms with the two realities he faces. He “thought of the lake, the starlight.” These are familiar sights to him, as they are the only things he can remember as he transitions between reality and his insanity. They are both relaxing images in comparison to the dark, dirty pathways. The starlight is similar to the pale yellow color in the image because the light is illuminating his path toward the reality he is about to enter.

Lastly, at the end of the page, Phillips’ character sees “both realities…once.” The ‘once’ may really mean ‘at once’ because of all of the dualities presented in the image. The word ‘once’ is separated from the rest of the text by a long pathway which represents the final step of the path the character takes between his two realities. This final moment of contrast can also be seen in the primary colors in the image. They consist of long stripes of tomato red and grape purple that run the length of the page. The red and purple are indications of a contrast in the image between the different realities because they are both extremes in different types of color; red is part of the ‘warm color’ family, while purple is part of the ‘cool colors.’ Upon first glance, they immediately clash, as they are not typically seen together in nature. This is also indicative of the craziness because it varies from what is natural or normal. Also, red has certain connotations of anger, while purple is more relaxing and tranquil, consequently reflecting this contrast.

Overall, Phillips creates an image of contrast to reflect the convergence of two different realities: sanity and insanity. To a sane person, life is reality. However, an insane person also believes that the way he lives is reality too. Therefore, reality has a different meaning for different people. Phillips’ character’s reality in A Humument is the path toward his pending insanity, as exemplified by contrasting colors and imagery, a fate he cannot alter.

Critique of Hamlet's Soliloquy from Act 3 Scene 1

The Laurence Olivier version of Hamlet gives the best interpretation of Hamlet’s soliloquy from Act 3 Scene 1. On the whole, Olivier, the cliff-side setting, the climactic music, and the darkness of the set best portray Hamlet’s inner struggles between life and death.
The soliloquy begins with the roaring of the dark sea from the top of a cliff and Hamlet looking down onto the ocean from atop the cliff. Hamlet is at a very rough point in his life, so the sea represents the turbulence and turmoil he is battling through. The music swells in intensity, and the camera zooms all the way into the top of Hamlet’s head until the screen goes black. It is almost as if the camera delves straight into the mind of Hamlet in order to better understand his inner feelings that proceed in his soliloquy. Then, in a blur, the scene of the ocean returns as Hamlet recites the famous line “to be, or not to be, that is the question” (3.1.55). The blurriness of the view emphasizes Hamlet’s feeling of disillusionment because his mind is swarming with mixed emotions. He does not know if it is “nobler in the mid to suffer” (3.1.56) or “to take arms against a sea of troubles” (3.1.58). The reference to his troubles as a sea fits right in with the image of the raging sea.
As he concludes with the phrase “end them [troubles],” (3.1.59) he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a dagger, indicating his possible thoughts of suicide. He cannot decide whether or not he should “die” (3.1.59) or “sleep” (3.1.59), because each has its own way of ending the troubles he has in his life. During this section of the soliloquy, Hamlet does not physically recite the lines; rather, he strains his face as though he is thinking very hard and as he is thinking, a voiceover reads the lines. This is extremely effective because Hamlet is struggling so deeply within himself that it flows nicely coming from in his mind rather than being recited out loud. He then returns to recitation with the phrase, “perchance to dream” (3.1.64) and with it, he is snapped back to reality from the trance-like state he was previously in. He continues with a slow paced tone, but softens his voice at the mention of “the pangs of despis’d love,” (3.1.71) which shows that he’s probably referencing his love for Ophelia that no one else seems to agree with. The softened tone indicates the feelings of emotion and affection he has for her.
The next transition occurs when Hamlet mentions the “bare bodkin” (3.1.75) and at this line, pulls out a dagger from his pocket. He uses this line and reference to the dagger as one possible pathway out of his conflicting emotions: death. Hamlet then, as a result, toils again with the contrast between life and death. He realizes that what lies beyond death is “undiscover’d country” (3.1.78) that no one can understand ad one that “no traveler returns [from]” (3.1.79). Because humans cannot understand what lies beyond a mortal life, a person “would rather bear those ills” (3.1.80) than end their lives and enter into the mystery of the afterlife. Hamlet’s tone during these lines is also soft and subtle, indicating that Hamlet is intimidated and fearful of death, even though he sees it as an option or way to get out of the struggles and conflicts he faces in his life.
Hamlet then concludes his soliloquy as he stands up and walks around, looking over the edge of the cliff. He describes that the “currents” (3.1.86) of life “turn awry” (3.1.86) as he looks down at the sea, which ties into the reference to his thoughts as a rough ocean. His wandering hints that he feels lost and confused, unsure of which way to go. Clearly, his mind has been swayed because he realizes that taking his own life will not improve the quality of his life or the events in his life. As he finishes his line, he walks off into the fog with the music swelling around him, indicating that he is off to ponder his new thoughts. The film is black and white, so it is often hard to distinguish darkness from grey, but the shadows in the background of Hamlet hint that the scene is meant to be darker than normal to show that he is still shrouded with doubt, despair and unsure thoughts.

Round 3 Blog Posts from Madame Bovary Blog


So, I just finished the book, and I have to say, WOW! There were so many twists and turns at the end, and I couldn’t believe how successfully Flaubert fooled me. I didn’t expect half of what happened!

Now that I’ve gotten my amazement out of the way, I’d advise that if you haven’t finished, stop reading this post so that I don’t ruin the end. However, I want to continue posting, so I’ll answer Sarah’s question and then off I go to the end-ish of the book…

To address Sarah’s question, I think Flaubert wants to build up this struggle between Emma and Charles. Emma tied her emotions and feelings for Rodolphe so deeply into her everyday life that she physically could not stand to lose him. Charles deeply loves her, yet she pushes him away. So, to build this tension for an event that is going to happen later.

This leads me to the first passage that I want to bring up. It is the last paragraph of Chapter 7 in Part Three. “Emma made no reply. She was gasping and staring wildly around her; the peasant woman, frightened by her face, stepped back instinctively, thinking she had gone mad. Suddenly she clapped her hand to her forehead and uttered a cry, for the memory of Rodolphe had just burst into her mind like a great flash of lightening in a dark night. He was so good, so sensitive, so gorgeous! And even if he should hesitate to help her she could easily make him change his mind by reminding him with a single glance of their lost love. And so she set out for La Huchette, not realizing that she was now rushing off to offer herself to the same thing that had made her so furious only a short time before, totally unaware that she was about to prostitute herself” (304).

I think this could tie into Sarah’s comments because while Emma is in a crisis about where to find money to pay off her debt, she finally digs down into her soul to the one person she never thought she would see again: Rodolphe. It hit her so hard that she could feel it, so I think she was holding back feelings about him, but the fact that she says she is going to ‘prostitute herself’ implies that she no longer has feelings for him and is going to see him purely out of need of money.

This leads me to another passage, her reaction to Rodolphe refusing to give her the money:

“But I would have given you everything, I’d have sold everything, worked with my hands, begged in the streets, just for a smile or a look, just to hear you say ‘thank you.’ And you sit there calmly in your chair, as if you hadn’t made me suffer enough already!...You made me believe it: you led me on for two years in a sweet, wonderful dream…” (307-308).

I think it’s very interesting how Emma finally voices her opinion about how much Rodolphe hurt her. She normally keeps everything inside, but to see her explode in desperation was kind of relieving to me because this is the first time we actually see Emma’s personality and her ability to stand up for herself. What do you guys think this means to the plot and to what Flaubert is trying to accomplish with the book?

ANOTHER SPOILER WARNING!!! Read no further if you have not finished!

Well, Michelle, you’re right on! That is exactly what I wanted to discuss here. I thought it was interesting that Emma chose arsenic poisoning as her method of killing herself because I’ve seen on crime shows (they’re my favorite) that women are more likely to resort to poison for murder/suicide because their nature is to create the least mess and the least chance to have it traced back to them. Sure, it’s stereotypical, but in Emma’s case it holds true. I just thought that was slightly interesting.

Moving on, I want to say first and foremost that unlike Michelle, I couldn’t catch on to the idea of Emma committing suicide. I was completely unaware that it would happen because even thought Emma was so lost and unable to find herself, I saw her as determined to get what she wanted. Taking her own life was the “easy” way out, and I feel a little disappointed now because I always hoped she would overcome her outlandish ways. I guess this is really why she is called a tragic heroine. She had her downfall and I was wondering what you guys feel it actually was. Pride? Fear? Shame? Inability to persevere? Let me know what you think.

There is a passage, though, that I want to bring up about the last few hours of her life. Charles finally finds out what she’s done to herself, and he asks:

“Why? What made you do it?”
“I had to, my dear,” she answered.
“Weren’t you happy? Is it my fault? I did everything I could!”“Yes…that’s true…You’ve always been good!”
She slowly passed her hands through his hair. The sweetness of her touch brought his grief to a climax; he felt his whole being collapsing in despair at the thought of having to lose her just when she was confessing more love for him than ever before. And he could think of nothing to do; he no longer knew anything or dared to try anything: the need for immediate action had thrown him into a state of utter bewilderment.

This moment is so bittersweet because it’s the one moment Emma is starting to realize how wonderful Charles was to her and what she missed out on while she went on all her escapades. When people are on the brink of death, the reality of what they’ve endured throughout their lives comes out, and Emma is spurred to admit her feelings. At this moment, I also realized that Charles’ fate is really tied to Emma’s. He lives his live solely to please her and take care of their child, as all of his actions are made to benefit the family as a whole. After Emma dies, I knew it was a moment of foreshadowing for Charles’ future.


Katie, I want to answer your question as to why Flaubert kills of Emma. We are told from the beginning that this story is a tragedy, which I did not believe up until the end. Emma digs herself into such a deep hole that there is no way to get out. She is overwhelmed by debt, consumed by the illegitimacy of her marriage, and unable to prioritize her life. She lets her greed and desire for wealth and pleasure take precedence over her family and the people who truly care about her. So, I feel that Flaubert had her commit suicide because it really exemplifies her weakness and her inability to face the consequences of the actions she makes during her life.

Anyways, I wanted to bring up a passage similar to one point Katie made about the black coming from Emma’s mouth after she dies:

“Emma’s head was turned toward her right shoulder. The corner of her mouth, which remained open, was like a black hole at the bottom of her face; both thumbs were bent inward toward the palms; her eyelashes were sprinkled with a kind of white dust; and her eyes were beginning to disappear in a viscous pallor that was like a fine web, as though spiders had been spinning on her face. The sheet sagged from her breasts to her knees, rising again at the tips of her toes; and it seemed to Charles that in infinite mass, an enormous weight, was pressing down on her” (325).

This passage, Flaubert’s imagery of Emma’s corpse, was probably the most intense scene for me. I don’t know how many of you (besides Katie) have seen The Lord of the Rings movies or read the books, but this description reminded me of The Return of the King when Shelob stabs Frodo and wraps him in her web, and Sam stumbles along and finds Frodo and thinks he’s dead. The way Frodo looked at that moment, pale white with a vague look in his eyes wrapped in the web, completely reminds me of this imagery. Though Frodo wasn’t really dead and Emma was, Sam really believed Frodo was dead. So, this imagery of being eaten by a spider (very creepy) might symbolize the realization that a loved one is dead, because right after this scene, it finally sinks in for Charles that Emma is gone. (Did anyone else notice the use of the word viscous in that passage, because I did =])

I’m not sure what I think happened to Berthe in the factory, but it seems that she’s suffering the repercussions of her parents’ poor decisions. She’s paying for their actions because they couldn’t handle life anymore and chose to leave it all behind. I honestly don’t think Emma or Charles took Berthe into account in any decision they made, especially to take their own lives. She was never a priority for them, and I was wondering why you guys thought Berthe was the last person to be thought of, when parents, no matter how inept they may be, normally put their children first?


I completely agree with Michelle; Flaubert ends the novel quite abruptly and almost sweeps Charles and Emma under the rug. I think he does this and concludes with Homias toward the end because the reader can get a good sense of what the town is feeling as a whole through him. The town just seems to go on as usual, and I think that Flaubert is trying to show the reader that even though the Bovary family endured so many hardships and so much pain and confusion, life will continue to endure regardless. After Emma dies, Charles is forced back into the routine of life, suggesting that the world will not stop for him to grieve and that he needs to continue on. Maybe this is similar to the situation at the end. Flaubert might be hinting at the insignificance of an individual life in comparison to the greater good here, but I might just be a little cynical.

I also thought it was a little insensitive that Berthe was just sent off to work without so much as thought into what she’s feeling without her parents. I think in this way, Flaubert may also be emphasizing that feeling of insignificance because Berthe is never discussed in detail after she sees her mother for the last time. It’s almost as if the entire family disintegrated after Emma died; she really was the common thread that held it together, despite her adulterous actions. She kept Charles close because he was so in love with her, and she paid attention to her daughter only when it suited her. However, Charles would continue to love her and Berthe would always call for her mother, so in essence, without Emma, the Bovary family ceases to exist.

What other themes have you guys seen throughout the book? I’d be curious to see if anything you guys got was similar to what I related to or found in the story. Can you guys relate to Emma or any of the characters? Out of sympathy? Pity? Empathy?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

James Joyce Critical Essay

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce juxtaposes elements in Stephen’s life as contrasting pairs to emphasize the division he feels within himself. These pairs include the clashes between religion and politics, love and lust, fantasy and reality, and the ultimate conflict between male and female. According to feminist thought, children learn this contrast at a very young age, when they are first learning language. When the child is fully able to recognize this distinction, it signifies that a clear differentiation has been made between the mother and the father. As he ponders these thoughts, Stephen slips into a state of confusion. Through the juxtaposition of these contrasting feelings, Joyce suggests that the intoxicating power of memory and its relationship with the current state can drastically affect the mentality of an impressionable teenager and his growth into adulthood.

n the case of Stephen,ation has been made between the mother and the father. , when they are first learning language, and thisIn the passage in Chapter 1 when Stephen recalls the boys at school stealing wine from the sacristy, Joyce contrasts Stephen’s different takes on sin and religion through the religious or “ecclesiastical” (Henke 331) mother and his departure from it. Stephen first explains that “it had been found out who had done it by the smell” (Joyce 54). The sense of smell is tied very heavily to memory, so the fact that the boys are caught by sense of smell implies that the memory of what they did is potent enough to stick with them because it essentially brought about their demise.

When Stephen next addresses the issue of sin, he declares that it “must have been a terrible sin” (Joyce 54) to “steal the flashing gold thing into which God was put on the altar” (Joyce 54). So, it is Stephen’s first instinct to see the sin in this situation, which implies he has been brought up with morals that reflect his religion. The image of flashing gold represents the power the chalice holds, as gold is normally connoted with power, authority, and masculinity. In the idea of dichotomies, religion is typically related to the feminine side, but the reverence Stephen has for the gold chalice suggests his fear of God as a paternal threat. According to psychoanalytic criticism, “a series of father figures…knock Stephen down” (Brivic 282), and God is the one that Stephen fears the most.

However, Stephen challenges this authority with curiosity and confusion. Stephen logically and innocently states that “God was not in it of course when they stole it” (Joyce 54). Though it shows that he is beginning to think more rationally, it also shows that he is starting to question the beliefs that he grew up with. Stephen also calls the boys’ actions a “terrible and strange sin” (Joyce 54) that “thrilled him” (Joyce 54). This is a sign of Stephen’s insecurities and confusion because he realizes his inner conflict between what he has been taught and what he is developing in his own mind.

Stephen further goes on to explain the memory of the smell of wine that made him “feel a little sickish” (Joyce 54). Similarly to the boys who stole the wine and were caught by the smell on their breaths, Stephen recalls his “first holy communion” (Joyce 54) when the rector “had a winy smell off [his] breath after the wine of the mass” (Joyce 54). This imagery of smell is tied strongly to one of his earliest religious memories, and in the Catholic religion, the first communion is supposed to be the “happiest day of your life” (Joyce 54). This is a childhood memory of Stephen’s, and he remembers calling it that because his family or other religious influences at school referred to it as such. Stephen also acknowledges that Napoleon said “the happiest day of my life was the day on which I made my first communion” (Joyce 55). His recognition of Napoleon’s beliefs indicates that he also sees Napoleon as a strong paternal figure. Thus, the contrast between the feminine connotation of religion and the male influence of a renowned leader like Napoleon also develops Stephen’s confusion regarding religion.

To end the passage in between the religious references, Stephen describes the connotations he has of the word wine. He says it is “beautiful” (Joyce 54) and makes him think of “dark purple because the grapes were dark purple that grew in Greece outside houses like white temples” (Joyce 54). Calling the word beautiful suggests that Stephen is starting to find an appreciation for words because beautiful has a strong tie with things that are heavenly or unable to be described in any other way. French feminists tie language to the “period of fusion between mother and child” (Henke 300) and the eventual “separation” (Henke 300) of mother and son. So, as Stephen is learning to be independent and have his own thoughts, he is forsaking what he has been brought up with, namely what his mother taught him. His appreciation for language and words is indicative of the art he wishes to pursue, and in turn, to follow his dream, he must let go if his past and start anew.

Also, drawing on the reference to Greece and using the simile to compare the houses to white temples also suggests a heavenly feeling because of how spiritual temples are. The contrast of white houses and dark purple grapes through color imagery is also indicative of Stephen’s confusion because he is battling between conflicting feelings. The white of the houses, as in religion, represents purity and the feminine, while the dark purple represents the darkness or sin that often tries to overtake the purity, as with the grapes growing over the houses. The imagery here could also relate to Stephen’s mind. A “temple” (Joyce 54) is also a part of the head typically associated with the brain, so the “grapes” (Joyce 54) represent the growing thoughts within Stephen’s mind that are overtaking the ideas he originally had.

Though Stephen is fairly young when the wine incident takes place, he cannot help but feel the struggle between boyhood and adolescence. He battles with the aforementioned religious topic, as young adults often become more quizzical and question what they have been taught. Later on, he also toils with the location in which he lives: the “political” (Henke 331) mother.

In Chapter 2, Stephen’s family is facing financial problems, so they are forced withdraw him from his school and move to Dublin. In Dublin, Stephen looks to find adventure and answers to his complex questions. He sees himself through the story The Count of Monte Cristo and imaginarily falls in love with the character Mercedes. He looks up to the character of Edmond Dantes as “his model” (Henke 322) because he sees Dantes as “an isolated hero who eventually conquers the woman he loves through a complex process of amorous sublimation” (Henke 322). Therefore, he battles with differentiating fantasy from reality because he can only picture himself the fantastic setting of Dantes’ world.

With the new territory of a new city comes a new liberty. Stephen becomes “freer” (Joyce 70) and roams the city, looking vainly for Mercedes. He makes a “skeleton map of the city in his mind” (Joyce 70) in order to trace the streets, describing his passage as “unchallenged” (Joyce 70). The word unchallenged suggests that Stephen is completely unrivaled, with no one checking his actions and the ‘skeleton’ reference indicates that he sees the area as barren, cold, and empty. This is very different to what he experiences at school, where he is constantly monitored. Now that his family has transitioned into a new home, he is able to do as he pleases, and these new privileges bring about conflict because he does not now how to handle it.

As Stephen wanders through the streets of Dublin, the “vastness and strangeness” (Joyce 70) of life hit him again. This pair of nouns reflects Stephen’s ambiguity and confusion regarding his surroundings because he looks at it in terms of its massive size, but also how foreign it appears to him; he seems very uncomfortable. He walks from “garden to garden in search of Mercedes,” (Joyce 70) passing by the “bearded policeman” (Joyce 70) and the “bales of merchandise stacked along the walls” (Joyce 70). This vivid imagery of the town shows how overwhelmed Stephen is in a new city because he was very sheltered in the small community at his school. However, as he reminisces back to his old town, he misses “the bright sky and the sun-warmed trellises of the wineshops” (Joyce 70). In this way, his very intricate memories manipulate his thoughts. The warmth given off by the shop in contrast to the cold feeling of wandering the streets alone suggests that even though he is in a new place that will bring him adventure with fantasies like Mercedes, he still dreams of the comfort of his old home. Stephen then remembers the feeling of “vague dissatisfaction” (Joyce 70) but “continued to wonder up and down day after day” (Joyce 70). Though he knows that she is not real, he still continues to sulk around looking for her, a wild figment of his imagination. The repetitive back and forth motion, which can be interpreted as a pair as well, ultimately relates to both his futile search for Mercedes and his inner conflicts over what reality really is.

As the novel progresses, Stephen is shrouded in doubt and cannot seem to grasp a single, solid feeling. He continues to struggle between the “binary pairs” (Henke 300) he encounters throughout his final years at school, especially with regards to his feelings about women. Even as the novel comes to a close in Chapter 5, Stephen continues to brood over the duality he feels in his daily life, especially with his confusion between love and lust.

In Chapter 5, Stephen develops feelings for a girl named Emma, but he is unsure of the intentions of these feelings. He experiences many lustful images of women, but believes to a degree that his feelings for Emma are stronger than that. She walks past both Stephen and Cranly, but only acknowledges Cranly. Stephen notices a “slight flush on Cranly’s cheek” (Joyce 206), which infuriates him. As a result, he “could not see” (Joyce 206). Joyce suggests that Stephen is blinded by his anger, and according to psychoanalytic criticism, “the loss of eyes is an image of castration” (Brivic 281). This moment, therefore, is indicative of Stephen’s feeling of losing his masculinity. He is unable to elicit a reaction from Emma, while Cranly is able to garner her attention. Stephen even goes as far as to call Cranly’s actions “rudeness” (Joyce 206) because he had once trusted Cranly with his “wayward confessions” (Joyce 206). Stephen is constantly let down and chastised by the male influences in his life, so Cranly’s ‘betrayal’ reminds him of when he “dismounted from a borrowed creaking bicycle to pray to God in a wood” (Joyce 206). However, “two constabularymen had come into sight round a bend” (Joyce 206) and “broken off his prayer” (Joyce 206). Stephen already sees God as a paternal threat, but men who approach him intimidate him so much that it halts him in mid-prayer. By using this comparison, Joyce juxtaposes Stephen’s fear of paternal threats that are both divine and mortal.

Stephen questions for a moment if Cranly had “heard him” (Joyce 206) but then automatically responds that “he could wait” (Joyce 206). Though the pronoun “he” is ambiguous, it is most likely referring to Cranly because Stephen incredulously questions Cranly’s intentions but automatically shifts his attention back to Emma. She “passed through the dusk” (Joyce 206) as the “air was silent…and therefore the tongues about him had ceased in their babble” (Joyce 206). It seems as though those tongues are the voices in Stephen’s mind that present him with constant struggles and conflict. Emma “provides a substitute for the mother” (Henke 334) because as previously mentioned, Stephen is enduring a struggle to remove himself from his three different mothers and has nowhere to turn in his time of need. In place of the three that he is separating himself from, Stephen is looking for a culmination of protection, strength, attraction, love, and lust, and he believes he has found it in Emma.

The conflicting voices in Stephen’s head, however, are pacified when he acknowledges the darkness. Stephen then misquotes a poem by claiming that “darkness falls from the air” (Joyce 206). The original line of poetry had “brightness” (Joyce 206) instead of darkness. Darkness and brightness, typically two opposites, do not often work interchangeably. However, Stephen replaces the word because he feels more comfortable in darkness. The brightness blinds him, as in the aforementioned paragraph, so the darkness settling in signifies that he is becoming more comfortable with his thoughts. He continues his path toward the darkness as “he walked away slowly towards the deeper shadows” (Joyce 206). Stephen can take solace there because he knows that there is no threat and he is in control.

Once Stephen reaches the darkness, however, his eyes “open from the darkness of desire” (Joyce 206). Any time the eyes open, it signifies a rebirth or reawakening, so at this point Stephen begins to see differences between himself and Cranly and how differently Emma sees both of them. Although Joyce explains that the darkness represents desire, Stephen still feels the most comfortable there because desire is all he knows. He cannot create a meaningful and lasting relationship based on emotions or feelings, so he chooses to live his desires through fantasy. Stephen, though “horrified by the realization that he has besmirched the icon of his beloved Emma by making her the object of his…fantasies,” (Henke 326) continues with his thoughts of her; he cannot resist the temptation. Stephen then “tasted the language of memory ambered wines” (Joyce 206). This implies that he is looking into his past, which has aged over time to develop into the feelings he has now.

This is further exemplified by Joyce’s juxtaposition of two different types of women. He sees “kind gentlewomen in Convent Garden wooing from their balconies” (Joyce 207) who are nuns or other types of religions women, and “poxfouled wenches of the taverns” (Joyce 207) who are women that are looked down on by society like prostitutes similar to the one he experiences. The women of the Convent are described with more delicate diction, like ‘kind,’ but the other women are referred to as ‘wenches,’ which is a word with a very strong connotation of dirtiness and impurity. According to Freudian thought, boys see “two aspects of women” (Brivic 287), one being the “virgin” (Brivic 287) and one being the “temptress” (Brivic 287). Stephen examines both types, as he can “dictate his actions” (Brivic 287) to the virginal type but can “find expression” (Brivic 287) in his fantasies of the tempting type. Unable to decide which he feels about Emma, Stephen realizes how both types of women “yield to their ravishers” (Joyce 207). In the religious women’s case, they answer to God, while the others answer to men who seek comfort in their bodies and sin. Stephen realizes that he “sees both in Emma” (Joyce 287) because he both fantasizes about her and can see himself in a relationship with her, but he continues to remain torn. Stephen’s ability at the end of the novel to make this distinction shows how he has developed into a young man, but it is this ability that tears Stephen away from women and pushes him toward his art.

Stephen’s conflicting feelings stem from the contrast between opposing forces. The Greek god Dionysis is a perfect example of this dichotomy that Stephen faces. Dionysus is the god of wine, but is also the god of intoxication. This contrast clearly represents Stephen’s situation because he is caught in between what he has been taught and what is logical, between the real world and his imagination, and between feelings of love and lust. The wine that Dionysus represents is a pure substance, as it is used in sacraments in the Catholic Church as the blood of Jesus. However, too much wine can cause a person to become drunk, and being under the influence elicits a person to think or say things they typically would not think or say otherwise, just like Stephen does when he contemplates the theft of the wine, Mercedes, and Emma. Overall, these pairs rule Stephen’s life and his decision making process because he is unable to see one side of something without another side to compare it to.

How it must have felt to read Lolita in Tehran Continued

Well, this a continuation of my previous is the passage explication from Reading Lolita in Tehran. As you might be able to tell, I got really into this book. It is another one of my favorite pieces.

In Reading Lolita in Tehran, author Azar Nafisi and a group of her students meet secretly to read and discuss literature. Though her bond with these girls is strong, one of the most supportive yet unrecognized relationships that Nafisi relies on is her marriage to her husband Bijan. In one brief chapter, Nafisi recounts a conversation between herself and Bijan, and she uses metaphors and detailed description to capture the nuances of the moment and represent the dramatic change that takes place in their relationship as their surroundings change.

The conversation between Nafisi and Bijan begins with would typically be an awkward topic between two people, but Bijan is genuinely interested. She comments that “living in the Islamic Republic of Iran is like having sex with a man you loathe,” (329) and this comment takes Bijan slightly aback. He notices everything around his wife, her “student’s notes scattered on the table and…a dish of melting coffee ice cream” (329). Normally, having the coffee ice cream is one of Nafisi’s favorite things to do in the evening, but the fact that she has ignored it and let it melt warns Bijan that she must have been “feeling rotten” (329). Because he knows his wife so well, he is able to be sensitive to her seemingly random comment, and by asking her to “explain a little” (329) about what she means, he is enticing her let her emotions out. Through their dialogue that is not in quotation marks but rather in average sentences, Nafisi suggests their conversation is fluid and casual, as opposed to their former, argumentative conversations. This emphasizes the deep connection they have with one another and their mutual understanding and tolerance of each other’s feelings.

Nafisi then goes on to explain how she and Bijan came to be so understanding of each other; her heartfelt and intricately powerful words reflect this power of their relationship. She describes his many “silences” (329), as they can be “disapproving,” (329) “appreciative,” (329) or “loving” (329). Her knowledge of these subtle differences in his moods shows how well she knows him, because the words she chooses are specific to each individual feeling and she would be unable to pin them down so well if she didn’t understand him. They began this process of understanding as they discussed how they “felt about Iran” (329) and they finally “began seeing the matter through each other’s eyes” (329). The turmoil and obstacles they face in Iran was finally enough to bring them together to talk it out. Though they have different perspectives about Iran, Bijan’s being more “traditional and rooted” (329) while Nafisi’s is more “portable,” (329). The words she chooses to describe Bijan’s attitude are more concrete, and would typically be used to describe these types of feelings of nationality and pride in one’s country. However, the use of the word portable makes Nafisi’s feelings seem like an object that just be moved without consequence. Through these words, Nafisi emphasizes the difference between her own feelings and her husband’s feelings.

Nafisi, in the subsequent paragraph, has a moment of realization that suggests that the country that pushed them away from each other for so many years finally pulled them back together. She suddenly feels a “little lighter” (329), as if a weight has been lifted off of her. Physically and emotionally, her family has been ruled over by the Iranian government for so many years, and now, at this moment, she realizes that her marriage is stronger than the pressure they have been put under. Bijan goes back to her analogy, elaborating that her “girls must resent that fact that while you’re leaving this guy behind, they have to keep sleeping with him,” (330). Because he relates back to her analogy, he is trying his best to connect with how she is feeling, but he reminds her that “the memory” and “the stain” cannot be “slough[ed] off” (330) when she leaves. The word stain suggests that the impact her country has had on her will not be easily forgotten, while sloughed off hints that she does not take their leaving as seriously as he does. His warning has two parts: he is partially trying to help her understand the consequences of leaving, but he is also revealing his solid, traditional beliefs. Iran has made a lasting impact on the two of them, and he is not as easy to let it go.

Bijan’s final comment is a question to Nafisi about her effect on those who have impacted her, and his strong answer provides the motivation they both need to move on with their lives. Bijan says that the “relationship is not equal,” (330) between Nafisi and Iran, and by calling it a relationship, he defines the mutuality of “the good and the bad” (330) between the two. Nafisi always saw it as one sided because she was directly impacted by the actions and policies of the Iranian government, but she never realized that she, as a female professor, made an impact on Iran as well. Bijan believes that though the government has “the power to kill us or flog us,” it “only reminds them of their weakness,” (330). The weakness would be their cruelty and inhumanity because there is rebellion stirring within the country and the power of rebellion is much stronger than that of oppression in their eyes. His words are short, but they are sharp and powerful. Their connotation adds to Bijan’s point that the classes Nafisi teaches are her own form of rebellion, and that they have made a difference in Tehran.

Throughout the chapter, Nafisi dictates this dialogue in paragraph form without quotation marks, which adds to the fluidity of the text and highlights the melting of her thoughts with her husband’s thoughts. Bijan and Nafisi’s relationship is not always directly mentioned, except in places where they argue, but in this instant, they are able to connect together as they once did before all the turmoil began, and the manner in which they speak to each other reflects this mutual understanding in a tough situation.

Again, comments are very much appreciated!

How it must have felt to read Lolita in Tehran

I guess the chunk of work that I'm the most proud of (my favorite) would be from the independent reading project. I read Reading Lolita in Tehran, and it really touched me. When we had to do the author immitation, I didn't even have a clue as to how I would be able to emulate the style of such an amazing writer, but I knew what I wanted to write about. At the time, we were reading The Stranger so I thought it would be interesting to write about the characters reading The Stranger in Tehran. I did my best, so here it is:

After completing Gatsby’s trial, I thought I would give my students another novel that would challenge their beliefs, their philosophies on life, and their sheer will to understand a new perspective. I chose Albert Camus’ The Stranger for a few reasons. Camus was considered an existentialist writer by some, but is classified as an absurdist. Existentialists believe that each person has the power to create his own purpose in life, a concept completely foreign to my piously religious students. I wanted them to open their minds, but I was treading on thin ice; the infidelity in Gatsby was one thing, but a complete disregard for the existence of gods? Gatsby was put on trial, but as I waited for my class to enter that chilly January morning, I foresaw The Stranger receiving a slightly more lethal punishment.

I told them that this novel was written in France in 1942 by a man named Albert Camus. I went on to explain a little about Camus’ background, with the hope that they would relate to him. When he was young, I told them, he did not lead a very happy life. His father died in the First World War, and he lived in poverty until he went to University. He took part in the political turmoil in his native Algeria as well as in France. However, after being kicked out of the French Communist Party, he became a pacifist during the Second World War, and he worked around the world for human rights. His novel, The Stranger, will be your assignment for the next week, I said. It is short, I responded as they looked incredulously at the small book I placed in front of them, but there is much for you to comprehend.

I did not receive any comments throughout the week, so when the following Monday rolled around, I was unsure what to expect from my students. As the last few stragglers trickled in, I was about to ask them if they had any questions, comments, or observations, when Mr. Bahri shot his hand up. I looked around the room, hoping another student would want to comment, but the room remained silent and I had no choice but to call on him. Yes Mr. Bahri, I said, what would you like to say?
Professor, he began calmly, I would like to know what your intentions are in reading this novel. He paused briefly, and I asked him to clarify his question. Please, Professor, can you tell me what purpose this book serves? I could not find one single message within its pages. Meursault is a cruel man, and he received a punishment fitting of his crime. What else could there possibly be? He defies religion, takes an Arabian man’s life. Do you condemn men killing other men who come from very similar heritage to us?

Well Mr. Bahri, I started just as calmly, this seems to be my point. As I told you all a week ago, Camus was an existentialist. Meursault had no purpose, no point in existing, until the instance where he was faced with his impending death. He is completely unemotional during his mother’s funeral and he has no sympathy toward Raymond’s girlfriend or the Arabian man that he shoots. Does anyone have any suggestions as to the moment when this all changes?

A shy hand from the back of the room slowly made its way into the air. The moment he confronts the priest in his jail cell? she asked in a small voice. Exactly! I said. The split second he is faced with his own mortality, he lashes out. But why would he push away religion? interjected Mr. Bahri. Religion is truth, it is what humans live by. I looked around the room. Does anyone want to answer Mr. Bahri’s question?
Because religion is not always the truth, it is an interpretation of how we should live, said the same small voice from the back of the classroom. Meursault lets life pass him by, feeling completely indifferent to emotion. So when emotion finally comes upon him, he does not know how to respond. Camus wants us to find our own purpose in life, not just let religion dictate it to us. Mr. Bahri’s mouth dropped. The class was silent. A loud bell sounded, marking the end of the class. I was astonished by what I had just heard. The words were caught in my throat. We will finish this discussion next time, everyone be prepared, I stuttered as the room emptied quickly.

I knew I had to have her in my Thursday class. A day or two passed, and she was not at the next meeting of the class. I asked if anyone knew where she was. No one did. This continued for two weeks, but I knew in my heart what must have happened. Mr. Bahri was not in class for a few days either, and because of the pull he had with the many student organizations on campus, something terrible must have happened to her. It was not until a year later that I found out that she had been jailed, tortured, and killed for daring to speak out against religion. They called her a “source of corruption and rebellion.” From that day on, no matter what happened, I had to continue working with my girls, giving everything I had to education, in memory of her.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Let's Start at the Beginning...

So, to start off this collection of my work from senior year, I figured I should start from the beginning. I was so nervous about applying to college that I started my college essay over the summer. After months of changing things around and editing countless times, this is the final draft that I submitted to colleges with my applications. Feedback is welcome! As for the picture, I took it of a painting I saw when I visited the Museum of Fine Arts over the summer. There's only one section where they allow you to take pictures, so I was glad I could capture this one.

“Hurry up!” I called to my family as we made our way across the field. I couldn’t miss this. As we took our seats, the music echoed around me. Pomp and Circumstance. As the Newmarket High School Class of 2007 paraded onto the football field and up to the stage, my heart swelled.

“Joshua Letourneau-Desmond!” echoed the principal. Tears welled in my eyes as he paraded across the stage, shook hands with the administrators, smiled at his parents, and triumphantly held his diploma over his head. That single instant was the culmination of deep resolve and immense faith. I beamed as he approached us, gave me a giant hug. Surprised, he said that he could not believe we had come 75 miles to be part of his graduation. I told him I would not have missed it for the world. And I meant it.

Ten years ago, doctors and family were skeptical that my cousin Josh would survive his operation to remove a brain tumor. But there he sat, smiling proudly in the direction of his parents and his sisters. He hadn’t seen me yet, but I could see him clearly; his illuminating smile outshined all of his peers.

As an infant, Josh had multiple seizures, but their cause remained undetermined until he was almost eight years old. At that time, the doctors found the tumor. He was referred to Children’s Hospital in Boston for the surgery, and he and his family stayed at my house. Traveling from New Hampshire to Boston without any help would have been taxing on them. We held our breath as we waited for news.

With a bandaged head but a positive outlook, Josh returned home to New Hampshire, hoping that his tumor would not return. As time passed, I would see him occasionally, maybe a few times a year, but the memories of what he endured lingered in my heart. Despite what he had been through, I cannot remember one instance during those visits that he was not smiling. Even at a young age, his bravery, courage, and zest for life astonished me.

As time passed, as it does in most families, we saw each other less often. Josh became part of my childhood memories. Then, one day during the spring of my junior year, my mother handed me an envelope. Inside, I found a letter from Josh. In his own simple but perfect grammar, he asked about my life and proceeded to explain the last four years of his life. He was excited about being a senior, his upcoming graduation, and his future plans to attend a vocational community college in the fall. It took me aback. I was amazed at my cousin’s accomplishments. I wrote him back a few days later, explaining my hopes and aspirations with just as much intensity as he had. But as I placed the stamp on the envelope and mailed it off, a feeling of guilt panged at my chest. Although I am proud of my own achievements, this letter from Josh truly gave me pause and a new perspective. Had I taken my extremely “normal” life for granted? Without encountering major challenges like Josh’s, were my accomplishments as remarkable?

I continued to dwell on this uneasy feeling until the following week, when to my surprise, another envelope arrived, addressed to my family, from Josh. I found inside another letter from Josh, in which he praised me for all I had told him in my letter, along with an invitation to his graduation. It was at that moment that I realized we shared a mutual pride in each other’s accomplishments. Neither was better than the other. We weren’t as different as I originally thought.

At his house after the ceremony was over, Josh told me about his girlfriend, his prom, and the cruise he and his classmates were taking that evening. As I listened, mesmerized, I realized that success can take many forms. I always viewed success as performing well in school, graduating from college, finding a job, and having a family. It was a very narrow definition. For Josh, success was persevering and overcoming traumatic brain surgery. This was his high school graduation, the pinnacle of all that he had worked for. It made me think that success is always when people strive for their personal best. Josh and I each had our own type of success. We truly weren’t that different after all.

Unfortunately, as my senior year progresses, I will inevitably continue to stress about the pressures of school, college acceptances, and my grades, but fortunately, Josh will always be in the back of my mind, keeping me in perspective.