Our family recently watched My Fair Lady together. I love that movie. Everything about it. Except the ending. It always leaves me unsatisfied. So thisOur family recently watched My Fair Lady together. I love that movie. Everything about it. Except the ending. It always leaves me unsatisfied. So this time, after watching the movie, I decided to read the play. I remember reading it years ago, when I was maybe 14, and enjoying it. But given my disgruntled feeling after the movie this time around, I decided it was time to reread this classic. I loved it. Everything about it. Except the ending. It’s even worse than the ending of the movie! But I do understand the ending better now after reading Shaw’s explanation, which he says would be unnecessary “if [my] imagination were not so enfeebled by a lazy dependence on the ready-mades and reach-me-downs of the rag-shop in which Romance keeps its stock of ‘happy endings’ to misfit all stories.” Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about! A happy ending. A romantic ending. Even if its an overused misfit from the rag shop.
Oh, well, this is still a great story about transformation, the power of language, friendship, class distinctions, and the sexual tension that exists whenever men and women interact no matter how different they are from each other in age, race, or class. It’s that blissful sexual tension Shaw is such a genius at creating on stage that sets me up to be so disappointed in that endlessly unsatifying ending. ...more
My teenage son wants to know why all the books that are considered classics are so depressing. I tell him that’s not so, but his complaint has me wondMy teenage son wants to know why all the books that are considered classics are so depressing. I tell him that’s not so, but his complaint has me wondering. I guess I won’t give him this book to read any time soon or he’ll have more proof for his argument. This book is depressing but it is also fascinating. The themes are what intrigue me most, depressing as they are. This text is rich with opportunities for interpretation. The story is simple on the surface but complex in its layers of meaning. I could write several different essays about this book, but I’ll limit myself to a few main ideas.
The narrator of the story, Marlow, tells his fellow seamen of a mysterious journey into the unknowns of the African Congo. His physical journey, with all its evocative geographical and cultural detail, mirrors the moral and psychological journey Marlow undertakes within himself. There in the Congo, Marlow confronts images of death and exploitation, avarice and degradation. It becomes a journey not just to the center of a continent, but into “the heart of darkness,” the horrible depths of the human soul.
Kurtz, a mysterious man Marlow hears much about before finally meeting, represents the fall of man from the great height of idealism. He represents all of Europe and its Imperialistic zeal. He represents civilized man. But stripped of the constraints of civilization, far from the influence of law, of women, of culture, his lofty ideas cannot sustain him. He turns to savagery and greed, possessiveness, murder, demonic rituals, murder, self-diefication. And his example throws a strong light of caution on Marlow’s path.
The steamboat Marlow operates is to him a “grimy fragment of another world, the forerunner of change, of conquest, of trade, of massacres, of blessings.” With the choice of that last word, Marlow seems to maintain hope that civilization can ultimately conquer the primitive wildness in man, that the terrible price paid for Imperialism bring ultimate blessings, but he is by no means certain. His philosophy of life he expresses in this dreary way: “The most you can hope from it [life] is some knowledge of yourself—that comes too late—a crop of unextinguishable regrets.” He wishes he could sum up some lesson, some final judgment about life, like Kurtz did, but when he confronts death for himself, he finds he has “nothing to say.” It’s an ironic statement, however, because now, years later, he actually has a great deal to say about the experience and the wisdom to discern it imparted to him, as he relates his story to his companions—and to us.
What redeems this story is the narrator’s ability to discern the darkness and see it for what it is. Unlike the manager, Marlow is not insensible to the moral implications of the dark deeds around them, of their affect on the soul. Unlike Kurtz, he has not descended to the depths, but like Kurtz, he has glimpsed “The horror! The horror!” He recognizes as evil the “unspeakable” rites Kurtz has participated in. He recognizes injustice in the conquest of the Congo by Europeans. He makes moral distinctions among the people he interacts with. Somehow he manages to keep a moral footing. I think he finds salvation in purely physical work. He also struggles with issues of compassion and basic decency in trying circumstances. And he is changed by what he sees and experiences. Having seen the darkness, he can better recognize it for what it is, and can see the darkness within himself too, the demons and natural man all of us have to fight against.
Marlow wants to see and know the truth. He hates to lie. But lie he does in the final scene of the story, because the truth is “too dark—too dark altogether.” I’ve been thinking a lot about that lie ever since I finished the book. Why did he do it? What does it mean? Marlow could have carried the truth to Kurtz’s betrothed and shattered her illusions, but then he would have shattered his own hope that a man can travel so far into the darkness without being consumed by it. I respect Marlow less for his lie, but I have compassion for why he did it. All his hopes for himself, for civilization, for humanity, are wrapped up in that lie.
Yeah, it’s depressing, but it gave me a lot to think about. It’s a classic. ...more
Mary Shelley creates a monster hideous enough to be frightening, but one we sympathize with because of his pathetic life. This monster quotes Milton aMary Shelley creates a monster hideous enough to be frightening, but one we sympathize with because of his pathetic life. This monster quotes Milton and Goethe. He is articulate and self-aware. He can understand and explain the reasons for his own fall from virtue to evil. He is sensitive and emotionally complex. And he does not have a name. Frankenstein, I was a little surprised to realize, is the creator of the monster, not the monster.
The contrast between the hero, who acts less than heroically in abandoning his duties, and the sympathetic villain, who has qualities we admire, even while we fear his malice, is striking and creates the major conflict in the story. Which is the evil character and which the good? Dr. Frankenstein has everything: a home in a beautiful country, kind family and friends, a woman who loves him and the prospect of happiness with her, a noble appearance, astounding intelligence and talents that amazed his professors, education, and money. The monster, on the other hand, has not one person to love or to love him, no home, no education, except the crumbs he can steal from the table of another. He lives with ugliness, isolation, and loneliness, spurned by everyone he comes into contact with.
This novel raises the question of the responsibility of a creator to his creation: When man plays God in creating something in the world, he takes on the responsibilities of a god. A creator is a father to his creation. He should take a father’s interest in his “child.” And when a scientist creates something, is he not responsible for the affect of that creation on the world? In a sense this novel shows that a scientist can never predict the ultimate results of his scientific discoveries and inventions. And if scientific knowledge and experiments advance to the level where science can supplant spirituality, what monsters will be unleashed?
Or, to look at the theme of the novel on a more cosmic level, is Shelley saying that her view of God’s relation to us is like Frankenstein’s relation to his monster? Did God unintentionally create a Monster in forming the human race through Adam? Is he as frightened of our powers and yet as disinterested in our progress as Frankenstein is in his monster? Shelley only briefly makes the comparison between Frankenstein the Heavenly Creator, but it is enough to raise these questions. ...more
**spoiler alert** Is this book a biography, autobiography, or novel? It reads like a biography, but is a fictionalized account of author’s life, so in**spoiler alert** Is this book a biography, autobiography, or novel? It reads like a biography, but is a fictionalized account of author’s life, so in a sense it is all three. This is the story of a young man, Ernest, who studies to be a clergyman but ends up leaving the faith. His life is set in context of the generations who came before him, so we learn about his father and grandfather for several chapters before we meet the main character. The whole novel is essentially a commentary on family life and parent-child relationship, as well as religion and religious upbringing.
It is hard for me to decide what to make of this book. I find myself thinking about it a lot, even now, a few weeks after I finished it. But its theme is so cynical that I can’t feel very fond of the book. It makes me think, and for that alone I will rate a book highly, but the more I think about the philosophies undergirding the story, the more I dislike the author’s stance.
Butler seems to be implying that some people just aren’t cut out to be parents and it would be better for their children to be raised elsewhere by those few who are. The parents in this story don’t like children and are impatient and lack understanding. They care more about their money and see their children as a drain on their resources, but feel duty-bound to support them anyway. They use their children only to gratify their vanity; they imagine the supposed glory their children will bring to them and feel let down when children don’t live up to their idealized notions. The father is unhappy in his own life and uses his son as a scapegoat. He blames and teases and abuses his son in order to displace responsibility for their own unhappiness. Every mother, father, and father-figure in this story is controlling and manipulative. There is something of Jane Austin’s keen eye and ironic wit here; identifying the foibles of these parents makes us examine ourselves to see if we share any of their flaws. But Jane Austin’s parent characters are somewhat lovable in spite of their foibles. These parents are so unsympathetic that they are unlikable.
The author several times makes the point that the abuse and injustice a young person suffers at the hands of parents and schoolmasters (father figures) actually help to shape him in ironic ways by exposing the foolishness of the parents’ positions and traditions. Parents end up pushing children away from whatever they try most desperately to push their children into, in this case religion. The author implies that religious upbringing creates naive children who do not understand themselves or the world and so end up getting into more mischief than they would have if they were raised with more street sense. Their ignorance of sin is a hindrance and a liability. In this sense, he implies that the poorer classes who live in baser conditions and are exposed to more worldly ways are smarter, in spite of or maybe because of their lack of formal education. Yet the character the narrator admires more than any other is actually of the upper class: Ernest’s friend Towneley is rich, sophisticated, practical, worldly, discreet about his vices, educated, friendly, charming, and helpful. This seems to be the ideal persona to the author’s way of thinking.
As Ernest faces the realities of the world, he eventually comes to a crisis of faith. His missionary efforts bring him into contact with an agnostic or perhaps atheistic man who causes him to question the viability of the New Testament. His further studies lead him to the conclusion that the Bible is inconsistent in its details and that the miracles are unbelievable, especially the resurrection. Christ was a historical figure, not a god. The implication is that any thinking young person will ultimately come to see this as well. And beyond the crisis of faith, on the other side of it, lies maturity. Here rationality is king and the goal is to avoid extremes and polarity. A mature man does not take religion too seriously, but neither does he oppose it too vocally. He does not invest himself in family life, although he does recognize its duties. He keeps himself unattached and unbiased, so that he can examine everything from a rational standpoint. To my way of thinking, Butler’s ideal is a man without loyalty.
Basically, The Way of All Flesh repudiates what I hold most dear: faith and family. However, I think it was a valuable read because it helps me understand the mindset of those who think differently from me. It is especially interesting in historical context, since the book is set in a time period when many people began to question the faith of their fathers. It was the advent of Darwinism. It was the beginning of the modern era. This book chronicles the first steps down a path our society has traversed a long ways by now.
**spoiler alert** I found this book more disturbing and yet more thought-provoking than the other dystopias I’ve read, perhaps because it is more beli**spoiler alert** I found this book more disturbing and yet more thought-provoking than the other dystopias I’ve read, perhaps because it is more believable. I cannot write everything I thought and felt during this story, so I’ll focus on one aspect that gave me the most pause and the most hope—the women in the story.
First is the nameless woman in the movie theater who protests the violence on the screen in behalf of the children in the audience. A mother’s instinct to protect children—in this case from desensitization to violence and the corruption of their innocence—is an instinct stronger than her fear of harmful consequences to herself. The woman risked her life, gave her life, to make her public protest and she did it for the children. She only appeared for a line or two in the story, but the image of her resistance and her courage, which are squashed with yet more violence, makes her a haunting figure for me when I think of this book.
Then come the memories of Winston’s actual mother, her love and sacrifices. We know she is the reason Winston is capable of any resistance to Big Brother, the reason he is not swallowed up in the false ideology. Her love, though he took it for granted in the selfishness of childhood, continues to ground him in truth long after her disappearance from his life. The little games she played with him, the way she gave up her small rations of food for her son, her very love for her child that could not be diminished and subdued by the state, are a testament to the power of mother-love to change the world.
Julia is femininity, the adored lover, someone to live for, someone worth risking life for. Julia and Winston’s initial meeting in the clearing even has the feeling of a church about it, as if the encounter were sacred, but sensual at the same time. For Winston and Julia, the sexual act between a man and a woman becomes a sort of rebellion against the state. The thrush who sings in the clearing that day is associated later in Winston’s mind with the singing of all humanity, a sound of hope: “The birds sang. The proles sang. The party did not sing.” Their pathetic little apartment, where they try to create a semblance of domesticity, is symbolic of the sanctity of the home, of personal privacy, of beauty, and of everything that Big Brother stands against.
The wife who disappeared from Winston’s life, a sexless, stiff, mechanical woman, is a foil for Julia. She represents the tragedy of what happens when the state takes over the mind, heart, and body. She has been brainwashed and denatured to the point that she is a shell of a woman, unable to inspire a man, incapable of love or passion. Their marriage is meaningless to Winston because there was basically no one inside her body, no one awake or alive enough to have a relationship with.
Finally, there is the proletariat woman outside the window, the large woman who sings while she endlessly washes and hangs laundry. Winston never meets her, but he comes to have a “mystical reverence” for her and sees in her the only hope for humanity. As he watches at her work from the window, he muses: “It had never before occurred to him that the body of a woman of fifty, blown up to monstrous dimensions by childbearing, then hardened, roughened by work till it was course in the grain like an overripe turnip, could be beautiful. But it was so.” Winston identifies the woman with the sky overhead, which is the same sky for everyone, and thus she becomes Everywoman. “All round the world,” Winston thinks to himself, “everywhere stood the same solid unconquerable figure, made monstrous by work and childbearing, toiling from birth to death and still singing. Out of those mighty loins a race of conscious beings must one day come. You were the dead; theirs was the future. But you could share in that future if you kept alive the mind as they kept alive the body, and passed on the secret doctrine that two plus two equals four.”
Sadly, even Winston cannot keep alive that mind that acknowledges truth, though his effort to do so is heroic. He is a failed hero, a fallen hero, but we were never given much hope that he could succeed and this is a dystopia after all, not an epic fantasy. Yet that woman hanging laundry in her yard, singing, is still there, indefatigable. She is the only hope this story offers that what is broken in society can someday be put right, but only if her strength can somehow be turned into consciousness. Only if she—or her children or grandchildren—only if we keep alive a mind that knows truth. ...more
I found myself wondering how the author came up with the plot for this story. Maybe he overslept one Monday morning and missed his train. He really diI found myself wondering how the author came up with the plot for this story. Maybe he overslept one Monday morning and missed his train. He really didn’t want to get out of bed, so he lay there wondering what excuse would be sufficient for him to miss work. “I know,” he may have said to himself. “What if I had turned into a bug during my sleep? Surely no one would expect even the most responsible man to go to work if he were a beetle.”
I’m glad I finally took the time to read this classic I’ve heard referenced for years. It is actually less grotesque than I feared it would be. I was also surprised to find it emotionally engaging and even funny at points.
The story begins with a famous inciting incident—a man wakes up as a bug—or is that actually the climax placed in the first sentence? Either way, the rest of the story depicts everyone trying to deal with the change. A young man who is the breadwinner for his father, mother, and sister suddenly can’t work anymore because . . . well, he’s an insect, or at least thinks he is. The author never explains how this happens and the rest of the story is written in such a realistic style, nothing fantasy about it, that it leads me to wonder if Gregor is actually a bug or rather mentally ill.
These are basically decent people. They clearly love each other. But under the stress of the new situation their humanity is put to the test. How will they treat this brother/son who has turned into a revolting creature they don’t understand? Grappling with the change in Gregor brings out their better natures as well as their worst selves. They find the inner resources to face the situation and make adjustments in their lifestyle. They each go to work to support themselves since they can no longer rely on Gregor. In fact, we begin to wonder why so much pressure was put on Gregor all along to provide for his parents and to pay off their debts. Gregor even feels an obligation to provide for the education of his sister. He seems to have no life of his own. His mother says he doesn’t go out at night. He sits quietly at home with his family when he isn’t traveling for his job. He feels the burden of financially supporting his family to such a degree that we see little evidence that he has any ambition to have a wife or family of his own. The only clue that he might have any desires for himself is the framed picture of a lady dressed in furs that he cut out of a magazine.
The family reacts to Gregor with surprise, horror, fear, revulsion, compassion, duty, anger, adjustment, neglect, isolation, embarrassment, and finally relief when he dies. Only after Gregor is gone do they leave the apartment together to go on an outing, begin to feel like a normal family again, make plans and have hope for the future. The final image is of the young, blossoming sister standing and stretching after a long ride. We are aware that the parents are pinning their hopes for the future on this girl and her marriageability. In that sense her youthful, healthy body seems a sort of sacrificial offering, much as Gregor’s. ...more
I've been asking myself what genre this book is. A dystopia, yes, but rather than a futuristic dystopia set in an imaginary time or place, this is anI've been asking myself what genre this book is. A dystopia, yes, but rather than a futuristic dystopia set in an imaginary time or place, this is an historic one. It illustrates, in the familiar and ordinary setting of a farmyard, the same story that has played itself out in history over and over again. Orwell himself calls it a fairy tale, and it is in the sense that the animals talk and take on human characteristics, as the fairy tale "The Three Little Pigs." But this is also an allegory because each animal represents a type. Each event represents the step-by-step process by which societies move from freedom to oppression.
This is a story of revolutionary idealism corrupted by the love of power. The animals overthrow their human masters, only to have the pigs set themselves up as the new upper class, taking on all the trappings of power and prestige. The pigs even adopt the human vices of those they conquered—alcohol, dishonesty, discrimination, violence, inquisitions, intimidation, etc.
As the pigs become more and more enamored with power, they remake their animal society, at first so idyllic, a little at a time, to suit their own ends. Some of the pigs' tactics are subtle, some blatant. The animals’ anthem of freedom, which aroused feelings of patriotism and pride, is replaced by a less stirring version. The tradition of marching around the farm property each Sunday, to admire their territory and symbolically re-stake their claim, is done away with. Their most outspoken and progressive leader is driven away and accused of evil intent. Their history is rewritten. Their creed is changed in wording and meaning Even their seven commandments, which they had painted on the barn wall, are first modified, then nullified. Finally their society is reduced to a single principle: “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
Sadly, most of the animals do not read at all or very well, and their memories are not sharp. They are slow to observe and naive about following their leaders. So they are not alarmed by the changes taking place and remain oblivious to the direction these changes are taking them—-toward servitude once again. The only animal who seems smart enough to realize what is really going on never speaks up in protest because he is old and experienced and has seen it all before. He seems to resign himself to the inevitable . Another animal, Boxer, has the brute strength to stand against the corrupting changes, but the two personal mottos he adopts—“I will work harder” and “Napoleon is always right” blind him to reality and even to his own fate.
This is a cautionary tale for us. We can see parallels, not just to the Russian or French revolutions, but to ourselves. Here are just a few of the warnings:
1. Know your founding documents and recognize when society is straying from them or changing them. The founding documents represent the ideals of the revolutionary generation, what they were fighting for, and these ideals are born out of the experience of oppression, so they are worth holding onto if we do not want to return to the same experience of oppression the revolutionaries sought to overthrow.
2. Remember your history accurately and do not let it be rewritten to fit the agenda of elitists. Keep patriotism alive.
3. Do not let one leader become a scapegoat; everyone needs to accept responsibility for problems in society.
4. Confront and expose the lies and inconsistencies in the ruling class. Do not blindly accept the “Squealer’s” version or spin on the truth. Naiveté in the citizenry is the downfall of the system. Some members of society are always going to think that they know best and feel that they are smarter than the rest, but the pigs can’t take over if the other animals don’t let them.
**spoiler alert** The back of this book sums it up well: “Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions,**spoiler alert** The back of this book sums it up well: “Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions, and rewards.” The narrative begins on Wang Lung’s wedding day, the moment he opens his eyes in anticipation. It ends as he approaches death, with a hint about what his sons will do with the legacy he leaves them. The scope of the book feels like the cycles of the earth itself, with its seasons, predictable recurrences, and startling surprises.
Wang Lung’s wife O-lan is practically silent and certainly undervalued by everyone in the story. Yet she is actually pivotal. It is when Wang Lung marries O-lan that he really starts to prosper. She economizes, repairs, helps in the fields, in addition to preparing the meals and making the clothes. With O-lan in his life, Wang Lung is much more comfortable and his life has more respectability. With the extra money he is able to save through O-lan’s economy, thrift and help, Wang Lung is able to buy a parcel of land. O-lan bears several sons and daughters to Wang Lung. She cares for his father. She acquires jewels that allow Wang Lung to buy even more land. For a time Wang-Lung loses sight of O-lan's value. He compares her to a beast. He takes from her the little pearls she treasures. He doesn't see that O-lan herself is a pearl of great price in his life, until she nears death and he suddenly comes to his senses. As I think of it, O-lan is much like the land itself—plain, humble, fertile, silent, offering riches!
The life-sustaining power of the earth is the over-arching theme of the book. The land is equated with life itself. As Wang Lung works side-by-side with his new wife in their fields, he feels a union with her and with the earth: “He had no articulate thought of anything; there was only this perfect sympathy of movement, of turning this earth of theirs over and over in the sun, this earth which formed their home and fed their bodies and made their gods.” When the couple announces to Wang Lung’s father that O-lan is expecting their first child, he says, “So the harvest is in sight!” The fertility of the land and the body are synonymous. Even the gods Wang Lung worships are fashioned from clay. The earth equals diety, food, prosperity, posterity.
The land also has healing power. Whenever Wang Lung is troubled by family life, when he is love sick for the prostitute Lotus, when he is lonely and afraid in a distant city, it is the land, or the thought of the land, that heals his soul and fills him with hope. Because he owns land, he is someone substantial; he has self-respect. The land he owns makes him valuable, only in his own at first, but eventually to his whole community. When the land is fruitless for a time and Wang Lung and his family have to leave to live in the city, the land pulls on Wang Lung, calling to him, and ultimately bringing him back to his home.
Wang Lung makes many mistakes in this story, but the most portentous is not grounding his own sons to the land. They become a scholar, a merchant, a soldier—but not a farmer among them. None of them care for the land the way Wang Lung does. None of them are emotionally tied to it the way he is. And we know by the end of the book that they will sell Wang Lung’s precious land and that his prophecy will come true: “It is the end of a family—when they begin to sell the land . . . Out of the land we came and into it we must go—and if you will hold your land you can live—no one can rob you of land.” When people forget their humble attachment to and dependence on the land, they forget who they really are. Their lives become unstable and vulnerable. The land—the good earth—is what holds a man up and gives sustenance to his life.
Chiam Potok has an incredible ability to hold two polarities in suspension, without endorsing or denouncing either side. This makes his novels rich wiChiam Potok has an incredible ability to hold two polarities in suspension, without endorsing or denouncing either side. This makes his novels rich with thematic tension. In this novel the tension is between art and religion. The calling to be an artist requires sacrifice and discipline. All other concerns and allegiances must be subsumed in the greater goal of producing honest, powerful art. At the same time, the life of a religious man requires sacrifice of self and strict obedience to a set of values. A Jew is expected to honor parents, assume a sense of responsibility towards his religious community, and dedicate his life to God.
Asher Lev is a protégé, a young Jewish artist whose gift, manifest since early childhood, cannot be denied, although his father, his community, and he himself fear it and at times try to squelch it. Neither can Asher turn his back on his religious faith, the faith of his childhood, the faith of his parents. Potok depicts that faith with respect, even reverence. It is held up as immensely compassionate and beautifully evocative. The leader of the Jewish community is wise and far-seeing. Asher’s parents are sincere believers whose lives are dedicated to the service of God and their fellowmen. Asher loves his parents and honors his leader, yet he has to follow his own path, develop his own artistic gifts, seek a mentor and an audience outside his religious community. In doing so he hurts those he loves most. This is a powerful, moving, thought-provoking book for anyone who loves art and loves God and has ever felt torn between the demands of both. ...more
This is a vivacious and farcical play, but not very memorable for me. At times I had the feeling I had read it before, probably in college, but I hadThis is a vivacious and farcical play, but not very memorable for me. At times I had the feeling I had read it before, probably in college, but I had almost entirely forgotten it. The setting is the English countryside. The inciting incident is a practical joke. Two young men are told that a private house—a house they have been invited to visit— is an inn, so when they arrive, they order dinner, put the chatty landlord (master of the house) in his place, and mistake his daughter for a barmaid. The instigator of the joke is Tony Lumpkin, the spoiled and roughish son of the mistress of the house. Like some of Shakespeare’s fools, he has the juiciest part in the play. This play is full of dramatic irony—the audience knows more than the characters. It is light and fun, one of the first romantic comedies. The best I can say of it is that it never becomes sentimental, always stays light. ...more
I’ve heard this title mentioned for years without ever really knowing what the novel was about. I’m glad I finally took the time to read it. This is nI’ve heard this title mentioned for years without ever really knowing what the novel was about. I’m glad I finally took the time to read it. This is now my favorite of the distopias I’ve read, probably because it is centered on books. What would a world without books be like? Like the world inhabited by Montag, the fireman in Fahrenheit 451—a world of diversion, superficial entertainment, speed, distraction, escapism, shallow relationships without history or future, and meaningless goals.
My son Morgan read this book right after I did and we had an interesting discussion about it. We both liked the idea of people being libraries, repositories of the ideas and images and language of the books they have read. When we read a book it becomes part of us and we can share the insights we gain, even the beautiful language, with other people. If books were banned or unavailable (or what is more likely in the real world, ignored), it is left to those who have read them to preserve the books inside themselves and to share what they know with others, in the hopes of inspiring them to try the value of books for themselves.
Bradbury says that for books to have an influence on a culture there must be two things present: 1) leisure to read the books and think about them and 2) the freedom to act on what we read and put into practice the ideas we encounter. If people are too distracted to read the books and if they lack the freedom to act on what they read, the books may as well have been destroyed.
Morgan and I both wondered why Clarise seems to be such an important character, even though she only appears in one scene. We decided that Clarise shows that clarity and depth of thought are not dependent solely on the availability of books. Inquiry and curiosity and observation—about nature and people, about anything—these are the stuff of a valuable life.
I particularly like two images from this novel: first, books as birds. I had never thought about the way an open book looks like wings. That image struck me as so perfect and beautiful. It made me think about how birds can represent freedom and higher thinking. And I was also struck by Bradbury’s idea of the sun burning time. The sun burns time, like the firemen burn books, like bombs burn a city. Since 450 degrees Fahrenheit is the temperature at which paper burns, this is a story of destruction from the title to the last page. But out of the ashes of that destruction, the novel suggests, can arise something that could never really be destroyed at all, the greatness of the human spirit, long preserved in books, now carried inside those who care about the great ideas of the ages. ...more
My two older boys both read this book, and I decided the time had come for me to read it too. The story sounded dark and unappealing, but the volume iMy two older boys both read this book, and I decided the time had come for me to read it too. The story sounded dark and unappealing, but the volume is slim, so I ventured for sake of becoming familiar with a classic. And I was soon engrossed. The unfolding of mysterious information is what propels the reader through the story. Even though I already knew the ending, having seen the stage play and heard the Jekyll-Hyde duality of human nature alluded to nearly all my life, I was interested to see how the lawyer, Mr. Utterson, would discover the truth.
Mr. Utterson, who is characterized by his sobriety, his seriousness of mind, his forbearance, and his reluctance to judge his fellowman, is an effective vehicle for the story. If even this respectable, reasonable gentleman is caught up in the supernatural events, we know the situation must be strange indeed. From Mr. Utterson’s point of view the thematic question arises early: How much responsibility do we have to investigate strange, suspicious, and evil-looking characters? “The more it looks like Queer Street, the less I ask,” states Mr. Enfield, and his friend Mr. Utterson agrees that this is a good rule. But the story itself calls this rule into question by ending with Mr. Utterson breaking down the door to Mr. Jekyll’s apartment to uncover whatever evil hides there. Without Mr. Utterson’s reticence to pry, however, the story would unfold too quickly. So this thematic question is a helpful slowing device, so that the dramatic tension has time to build.
Doors are important in this book. “Story of the Door” is the title of the first chapter. And the breaking down of the door is the story’s climax. Doors represent choices. To go through a door is to enter another setting, another reality. There is a mystery associated with doors: What really lies behind that door? Doors have the power to conceal and to reveal, to separate and to connect. The duality of a door is the perfect metaphor for the duality of human nature that this novel explores.
From the scientist’s point of view, another question arises: Where does scientific inquiry end and ethical responsibility begin? Should a scientist experiment on himself? Should the risks and dangers of untried experiments be avoided? Dr. Jekyll chooses to push the boundaries of ethical science and pays a dear price.
Yet these first two questions are peripheral. The central question of the book is this: How can the good and evil within man be reconciled? Dr. Jekyll tries to do it through science, when only the atonement of Jesus Christ can succeed. “There is no other name nor way given under heaven.”
“Man is not truly one, but truly two,” Dr. Jekyll states. Recognizing the evil that resides in his own soul in spite of his aspirations to live a good and respectable life, he becomes fascinated with mystical science as a way to escape his own nature. His fondest dream is to separate these two elements within himself. “If each, I told myself, could but be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of his extraneous evil. It was the curse of mankind that these incongruous fagots were thus bound together—that in the agonized womb of consciousness, these polar twins should be continuously struggling. How, then, were they dissociated?”
With a drug he manages to separate the good and evil inside himself, only to find that the evil begins to grow stronger and to take over the good. Most dramatic is the illustration of evil’s effects in his life as it grows: isolation, hiding, cutting off old friends, indifference to the suffering of others, blindly pursuing one’s own goals at all costs, an insatiable need for more and more, and finally despair and death. And this is why The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, though dark, is worth reading. In a fictional character we experience what we would never wish to experience for ourselves. We see the small, beginning choices and the terrible end result. And if we can become familiar in story with the terrain that the path of evil leads through, we can hopefully find the motivation to avoid that path ourselves. ...more