I don't know why I hadn't read this complete text sooner. Very much like Elie Wiesel's Night, Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of FrederickI don't know why I hadn't read this complete text sooner. Very much like Elie Wiesel's Night, Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, renders an embarrassing and tragic epoch in human history personal and gives a human face and heart to the mind-numbing statistics of a painful past. Much like Wiesel, Douglass does so with eloquence, precision, introspection, and feeling. I feel strange comparing Douglass, who wrote over a hundred years before Wiesel, to Wiesel, as if Wiesel were the precursor. But this is the order in which I've been introduced to them. I find it strange, as well, that Night is constantly read in American high school classrooms while, to my knowledge, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass is not. Are events that took place two hundred years ago and subsequently (in part) shaped American race relations today less important than events that took place seventy years ago? Or is it just that educators don't want to ask students to plod through yet another nineteenth century text? Interesting.
Douglass is an articulate writer (which is in and of itself impressive, and even more so considering the manner in which he learned to read and write) and a brilliant rhetorician. The strength of Narrative, as a rhetorical work, is Douglass' ability to vividly and graphically show the dehumanizing effects of slavery while, at the same time, offering a testament to the humanity, intellect, agency, and potential of the heretofore stunted Black community. He shows himself hungering for pigs food and white-haired men kneeling submissively to be beaten, but he also shows his earnest attempts to learn to read, the sacrifices his friends made to be educated, and his constant and overwhelming awareness—even as a child—that his position as a slave was unfair and unnatural.
I also admire the way in which Douglass focuses on the institution of slavery as the problem. He does not shy away from condemning white slave owners or overseers as malicious, sadistic, or wrong; however, he focuses his attack on the institution of slavery. Slavery, he shows, makes monsters out of masters and brutes out of slaves. His story shows that the slaves, at the very least, can find redemption.
Coolest fact about Frederick Douglass: Slave narratives were very, very popular in antebellum America. However, most fugitive slaves wrote them anonymously; having escaped to the North, they changed names and locations to keep their identity safe and avoid recapture. To lend legitimacy to his story, Douglass did not change any names and made a point to name names often. And then--and then!--he mailed a copy of his manuscript to his old master, Thomas Auld, challenging him to refute it. So bad ass.
From introduction, quoted from New England Magazine in 1834: we "know our enemies better than ourselves, because we judge them with more severity; we can write better lives of them than memoirs of ourselves."
"I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and incur my own abhorrence."...more
I can't resist Emerson. I enjoyed Nature much less than "Self Reliance" but I still found myself admiring his prose. For a writer who said "I hate quoI can't resist Emerson. I enjoyed Nature much less than "Self Reliance" but I still found myself admiring his prose. For a writer who said "I hate quotations," he sure supplies a plethora of pithy lines.
My main problem with Nature was how anthropocentric it was. Nature is a powerful force through which the poet experiences the sublime and can gather fundamental truths, yet Emerson repeatedly asserts that it is a servant of "man," which bothered me. I was also slightly disturbed by Emerson's enthusiastic acceptance of the myth of progress at the same time that growing industrialization threatened his precious natural world.
Still, full of some very nice prose and ideas that dramatically transformed American culture. My favorite parts were when he talked about the role of the writer....more
My first introduction to Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest was on the last day of my Victorian America seminar class my senior year of undMy first introduction to Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest was on the last day of my Victorian America seminar class my senior year of undergraduate college. We watched the 2002 film with Colin Firth and some other famous people who wish they were as amazing in period pieces as Colin Firth. (They were all wonderful in the film, actually.) The professor, whom I loved, said that we were supposed to pick out aspects of the film that would have been unacceptable in Victorian society. But I quickly picked up on the fact that she simply loved the film and wanted to share it. I immediately bought the movie, which became one of my husband and my staples. We also went to see the play. But I never read the play. Until now.
The Importance of Being Earnest is a hilarious study of nineteenth century society (and many of those values upheld by contemporary society) filled with endearing characters: the excessively pretty young woman who writes fictional entries in her diary, the upright gentleman who poses as a dissolute idler in the city, the wit... The tone throughout is light and clever so that the entire play is simply a joy to watch or read. Though The Importance of Being Earnest is much lighter than most of Wilde's other works, it is still heavily decorated with the biting wit and intelligent satire for which the author is famous. I laughed out loud. A lot. The play is simply entertaining. I can't imagine anyone not enjoying it.
In the introduction for the play, I learned quite a bit about Wilde. My favorite anecdote is this:
Gilbert and Sullivan wrote a musical making fun of dandies, particularly Wilde. They wanted to take the musical to America, but were worried that audiences wouldn't recognize their representation of Wilde, an English celebrity. So Wilde was paid to tour America first. That in itself is funny, but even better is Wilde's interaction with a customs officer on arriving in America.
Customs: "Do you have anything to declare?" Wilde: "Nothing but my genius."
Hilarious. Like The Importance of Being Earnest. ...more
**spoiler alert** I discovered book reviews that I wrote in 2003 and happened to have one for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It is a sure sign of my tot**spoiler alert** I discovered book reviews that I wrote in 2003 and happened to have one for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It is a sure sign of my total burnout that I'm allowing 2003 me to speak for 2008 me, but there you go. My comments from my most current read will follow my cookie-cutter structured review of a past read.
"Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is an intellectual and emotional jewel. The novel, which has been reduced to a silly horror flick by many modern interpretations, is an engaging look at human nature and the role of science.
One of my favorite aspects of the story was how the plot was conveyed. Shelley tells the story through a grapevine of letters and narration, framing the story of Frankenstein and his creature in the story of R. Walton’s own scientific quest, a device which exalts the role of storytelling and correspondence, while at the same time creating a parallel between Walton and Frankenstein, who are driven by ambition to accomplish dangerous tasks of discovery.
Such parallels are common throughout Shelley’s work, tantalizing the reader with accessible comparisons between the plights of characters. Walton is compared to Frankenstein, Frankenstein’s melancholy dismissal of the world is compared to Clerval’s intense love of it, Frankenstein’s successful trial is compared to the disastrous trial of Justine, Frankenstein’s desire for happiness with Elizabeth is compared to his creature’s desire for a female of his nature. The parallels often lead the reader to further scrutinize the similar situations that characters find themselves in, granting characters sympathy where he or she normally would have failed to do so.
The most incredible aspect of Shelley’s story is the amount of intense contemplation that such a short text can thrust upon the reader. Frankenstein leads the reader to question the limits of science, consider the limits of humanity, reexamine the causes of criminal behavior, ponder the culpability of villains, rethink the role of loneliness, scrutinize the role of love, explore the duty of parents, appraise the act of creation, etc. It’s really quite stunning.
Frankenstein is definitely worth the time it takes to sift through the short text. I highly recommend it to anyone willing to challenge their views of humanity, justice, and science."
Shelley read Milton's Paradise Lost two times in the year that she wrote Frankenstein, and it is quite easy to see the influence of that work on her text. (It was really really cool to read Frankenstein pretty much right after finishing Paradise Lost.) Shelley, in writing her story of a creator and his progeny, is rewriting Paradise Lost, and through her clever use of doubles, references, and allusions (I caught some that the footnotes didn't!), she raises many provocative questions: Is the creature Satan or Adam? What determines the creature's role? How is Frankenstein like Satan? How is he like God? Though (Milton's) God is a more generous creator, aren't both he and Frankenstein motivated by the same selfish goal? Very interesting.
And then we are left with quotes:
"The labours of men of genius, however erroneously directed, scarcely ever fail in ultimately turning to the solid advantage of mankind."
“If the study to which you apply yourself has a tendency to weaken your affections, and to destroy your taste for those simple pleasures in which no alloy can possibly mix, then that study is certainly unlawful, that is to say, not befitting the human mind.”
“Do not despair. To be friendless is indeed to be unfortunate; but the hearts of men, when unprejudiced by any obvious self-interest, are full of brotherly love and charity.”
"The companions of our childhood always possess a certain power over our minds, which hardly any later friend can obtain." ...more
I am shocked at the drastic change of my opinion on The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. After I read it a mere three years agI am shocked at the drastic change of my opinion on The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. After I read it a mere three years ago, I swore I would take my MA Exam without rereading it to avoid undergoing such torture a second time. I gave it one star on goodreads. Having forgotten everything about the novel (aside from my distaste for it), I had to reread it for the exam. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. I wrote "ha!" in the margins more than I have in any other book. I laughed out loud. I read sections to people around me because I thought they were amusing. I put the book down hesitantly when I had to take a break from it. Very strange.
I think my main problem with reading Tristram Shandy the first time was that I was looking for the linear plot that reached its climax in the third act and then gracefully fell to its denouement. Sterne wants to shake up the expected system—something rather ahead of its time in the 1760s. On my first reading, I rebelled against his diversionary tactics and tangents and dangerously thrust my nose into the book searching for the next big plot development. And that is not how you should read Tristram Shandy.
If you're willing to sit back and let Sterne guide you through his “Cock and Bull” story of large attractive noses that (he swears!) are just noses, hobby-horses, hot chestnuts down the pants, do-it-yourself chapters, excommunication forms, unconventional circumcisions, a conscious narrator and constructed audience, swearing nuns, and marble pages, you are sure to have a blast. Just don’t fight it.
“Every time a man smiles,--but must more so, when he laughs… it adds something to this Fragment of Life.”
“Therefore, my dear friend and companion, if you should think me somewhat sparing of my narrative on my first setting out,--bear with me,--ant let me go on, and tell my story my own way:--or if I should seem now and then to trifle upon the road,--or should sometimes put on a fool’s cap with a bell to it, for a moment or two as we pass along,--don’t fly off,--but rather courteously give me credit for a little more wisdom than appears upon my outside;==and as we jog on, either laugh with me, or at me, or in short, do any thing,--only keep your temper.”
“Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine;--they are the life, the soul of reading:--take them out of this book for instance,--you might as well take the book along with them.”
“Endless is the Search of Truth!”
“Writing, when properly managed, (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation.”
“Every thin in this world… is bit with jest,--and has with in it, and instruction too,--if we can but find it out.”
“Sciences may be learned by rote, but Wisdom not.”
“There are a thousand unnoticed openings… which let a penetrating eye at once into a man’s soul… a man of sense does not lay down his hat in coming into a room,--or take it up in going out of it, but something escapes, which discovers him.”
“’Tis an undercraft of authors to keep up a good understanding amongst words, as politicians do amongst men—not knowing how near they may be under a necessity of placing them to each other.”
“Love, you see, is not so much a Sentiment as a Situation, into which a man enters.”...more
This was my second time reading John Milton's Paradise Lost, which is a mighty mighty epic, notable for its choice of material--the fall of Satan fromThis was my second time reading John Milton's Paradise Lost, which is a mighty mighty epic, notable for its choice of material--the fall of Satan from Heaven and his subsequent temptation of Adam and Eve--and its significant place in Western literary history. Milton is not the first (or the last) to explore the implications of Genesis creation stories or the fallen angels, but he is very influential. Even before I read Paradise Lost the first time, elements of his tale had already, interestingly enough, fused themselves with my understanding of the Biblical version. My interest in Paradise Lost is primarily as a very fun and very shiny academic toy. Feminist criticism, Marxist criticism, New Historicism, Post-colonial criticism, Psychoanalytic criticism... it invites them all. And that's fun.
My enjoyment while reading Paradise Lost varied drastically from book to book. Some parts of the text are simply stunning in their rhetorical power or psychological insight, especially Satan's speeches in Books one and two, Satan's anguished soliloquy, Eve's creation and dream, Adam's creation, and the temptation and fall. Other parts interested me significantly less. Any time Raphael spoke, for instance, it didn't take long before his long, patronizing explanations would sound like an adult from Charlie Brown cartoons: "Wah wahwah WAH!" And there was a little tendency toward Jules Vernization in there. I've realized writing lists is very, very fun for writers (I love it! I love to write lists about interpretive stategies, book highlights, favorite authors, favorite books, broken bones, favorite things to list...), it's not all that fun for readers. Nevertheless, the literary, theological, and psychological might of the other sections very much makes up for the slightly dry moments.
"Revenge, at first though sweet, Bitter ere long back on itself recoils."
The first time I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was on September 11, 2001. In the two or three times I've read it since, I have been unable to sThe first time I read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was on September 11, 2001. In the two or three times I've read it since, I have been unable to separate the medieval legend from the memory of sitting in my parents' computer room with my big Norton in front of me, watching image after image of burning buildings, falling bodies, and destruction. When I distance myself from the emotional element of such memories, I can't help but notice that my history with Sir Gawain does beg for a certain reading of the legend, juxtaposing the terrorizing figure of the Green Knight with modern day terrorists, and Sir Gawain's response with America's. But I'm not going to do that. I'm just going to engage in a paralipsis-style mention of it and then move on to a more conventional review.
Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is the only Medieval Arthurian Romance that I can stand. Unlike its more episodic story-friends, Sir Gawain has a central plot, as well as thematic and symbolic elements that unify it in a way that a novel-loving reader like myself enjoys. I love reading the legend in terms of facades, disguise, and deception. Aside from the obvious deceptions, every character and even Arthur's court engages in deliberate self-construction that doesn't always represent his/her/its true nature and capabilities. And when deception becomes an accepted tool of the protagonist's side, things get interesting.
I've now read two different translations of Sir Gawain and now, for the first time, can really appreciate the value of a good translator. I've read both Marie Borroff's translation and James Winny's translation. If given the opportunity, choose Marie Borroff's 1967 translation, which replicates the original text's alliterative style in vivid and articulate poetry. ...more
I wanted so badly to love Martian Chronicles. After reading Fahrenheit 451 and a few essays by Ray Bradbury, I was half ready to deify the man, becausI wanted so badly to love Martian Chronicles. After reading Fahrenheit 451 and a few essays by Ray Bradbury, I was half ready to deify the man, because he just blew me away. Maybe it was because of these high expectations that I didn’t much enjoy Martian Chronicles. Maybe it was because the loosely connected series of short stories are so different from the other Bradbury works that I’ve read. Either way, I was disappointed in Martian Chronicles.
What turned me on to Bradbury in what I had previously read was his writing style and the way that those issues he fervently believed in or opposed shaped his writing in an extremely powerful way. I didn’t really see this happening much in Martian Chronicles. The short snippets of action left little room for what Bradbury dubbed his “jawbreaker sentences” and he hinted at so many different themes in his different stories that no idea really reached its potential. Of course, during the course of a few stories, Bradbury critiques humanity’s unfortunate ability to consume and destroy everything it encounters—for instance, comparing humanity’s possible colonization of Mars with the colonization of the Americas and destruction of the Native American population—but I think that he could have done so much more powerfully in a novel than he did with his loosely stringed short stories, which is weird to say, since Bradbury seems to be primarily a short story writer.
As a further indication of my partiality to Fahrenheit 451 rather than Martian Chronicles, while I found numerous quotes in the former, I didn’t glean any from the latter. ...more
The New York Times raves on the back cover that Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is “Frightening in its implications… Mr. Bradbury’s account of this insaThe New York Times raves on the back cover that Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is “Frightening in its implications… Mr. Bradbury’s account of this insane world, which bears many alarming resemblances to our own, is fascinating.” And I agree. Although Bradbury’s original audience would have read his novel fifty years ago, it is still pertinent today. This well-written novel has climbed to the heights of my favorite book list, mingling with such favorites as Enders Game and Bridge of Birds, though not quite as high as The Count of Monte Cristo and Tale of Two Cities (though many times, admittedly, the difference in rank is indistinguishable.) I truly am passionate about the value of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.
The first feature of the story that must be praised is, as The New York Times noted, Bradbury’s creation of a world that, through its similarities with our own, acts as a credible indication (albeit exaggerated) of the horrible direction our society seems to be headed. This is the foundation for the story, and thus permeates the novel, but to give my attentive reader an idea of the small details or devises Bradbury uses, I’ll offer one example. In the parlor of most homes in Bradbury’s novel, each of the four walls is a screen, so that the occupant is completely enveloped in the television-like mode of entertainment. The same characters appear on the very flat, simplistic (at most) shows, and those characters are referred to as “family,” because this entertainment has so taken over the character’s mind and lifestyle. Friends come and go, but only to sit in the parlor with the “family.” Using this device (for which my explanation does little justice) among many others, Bradbury comments on society, often portraying the population heading toward a mindless existence.
Bradbury’s creation of the enchanting Clarisse is also very noteworthy. Clarisse is a young woman who hasn’t been caught up in the brainless parlor families, a girl who admires the rain and loves to just sit and talk. Given the setting of the story, such characteristics are especially beautiful, strong, and endearing. I fell in love with the character. She was a wonderful source of hope for the world that seemed to have none.
It’s not often that I get to talk about the actual writing style in my book reviews. Often it seems too thorough, but in the case of Fahrenheit 451 I have no choice but to mention Bradbury’s engaging style. His novel has rhythm. His syntax moves the reader with the piece. For instance, in the following quote, the protagonist is worrying about/pondering his wife overdosing on drugs, as she had nearly done before:
"He tried to count how many times she swallowed and he though of the visit from the two zinc-oxide-faced men with the cigarettes in their straight-lined mouths and the Electronic-Eyed Snake winding down into the layer upon layer of night and stone and stagnant spring water, and he wanted to call out to her, how many have you taken tonight! the capsules! how many will you take later and not know? and so on, every hour! or maybe not tonight, tomorrow night!"
His very modern writing style enriches his words and sentences with more emotion, making his structure sometimes as crucial to his tone and theme as his context. It’s very rare in novels to see such unique and meaningful syntax throughout and I enjoyed it.
Alright, now for what you’ve all been waiting for… quotes! And, boy, lots of them! The ones at the end are from the “Coda” written in 1979 by Bradbury as a response to readers’ letters and pertaining to the issue of censorship. It follows the novel in most recent Ballantine publishing, and probably others. It was AMAZING. Read the Coda!!! Without further ado, quotes:
“Let you alone! That’s all very well, but how can I leave myself alone? We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while” (Montag).
“The magic is only in what books say, how they stitch the patches of the universe together into one garment for us” (Faber).
“The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies” (Faber).
“The things you’re looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book” (Faber).
“Those who don’t build must burn. It’s as old as history and juvenile delinquents” (Faber).
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies… Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree of that flower you planted, you’re there” (Granger).
“It doesn’t matter what you do… so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away” (Granger).
“The difference between the man who just cuts the lawns and a real gardener is in the touching… The lawn cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime” (Granger).
“I hate a Roman named Status Quo!” (Granger’s Grandfather).
“Stuff your eyes with wonder… live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than and dream made or paid for in factories. Ask for no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal. And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away. To hell with that… shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass” (Granger’s Grandfather).
“The point is obvious. There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches” (Bradbury, “Coda”).
“The real world is the playing ground for each and every group, to make or unmake laws” (Bradbury, “Coda”).
“If teachers and grammar school editors find my jawbreaker sentences shatter their mushmilk teeth, let them eat stale cake dunked in weak tea of their own ungodly manufacture” (Bradbury, “Coda”).
“In sum, do not insult me with the beheadings, finger-choppings or the lung-deflations you plan for my works. I need my head to shake or nod, my hand to wave or make into a fist, my lungs to shout or whisper with. I will not go gently onto a shelf, degutted, to become a non-book” (Bradbury, “Coda”). ...more
This was my third time reading The Scarlet Letter. The first time was during my junior year of high school. I actually enjoyed it, though literature oThis was my third time reading The Scarlet Letter. The first time was during my junior year of high school. I actually enjoyed it, though literature of the nineteenth century was such a mystery to me then that I shied away from the creaky long words and felt proud of myself for succeeding in merely following the plot. When I first read it to teach it last year, I was enraptured. This year was the same. Hawthorne has such an impressive command over language. The eloquence of his language carries such depth that it's like reading poetry. I find myself underlining multiple sections on every page, wishing I had months to spend teaching the book, just so I could spend hours with my classes exploring the complex meaning and patterns unfolding in his language. (My students probably wouldn't find it as fun as I would, I betcha.)
Reading the soap-opera-like plot is a guilty pleasure. Possibly because I'm accustomed to the quiet romance of nineteenth century novels, I find the love scene(s?) between Hester and her secret lover touching and sweet (I think I cried this time through when they were in the woods), where most people apparently find them stale and unrealistic. Even though the plot hinges on scandals and secrets, the novel is very much an exploration of human interior and motives, and I think Hawthorne creates very interesting characters. I love that, though Hester conforms to the austerity of her penance on the outside, Hawthorne occasionally affords the reader insights into her wild, turbulent, and rebellious interior. And I love Pearl. Oh, that silly little imp of evil.
I really enjoy Hawthorne's use of symbolism throughout the novel--the letter, Pearl, the rosebush, weeds, leeches, light, darkness, the scaffold, Hester's hair, etc. I don't know if all the symbolism is super obvious or if it now seems super obvious because I shove it down my students' throats, but it is admittedly gratifying catching patterns and reaching conclusions that Hawthorne repeatedly supports throughout the book. It just makes my ego feel good.
Next time I read The Scarlet Letter, I want to focus on the use of bird imagery to describe Pearl and on how Hawthorne's Romantic view of Nature and nineteenth century perception of women informs his interpretation/critique of Puritanism, a less "developed" American landscape, and Hester.
I really like The Scarlet Letter. It may be on my top ten. But I think if I ever sat down to write my top ten, it would have about forty books in it. Nevertheless, based on my interest in The Scarlet Letter, I'm seriously considering rereading The House of Seven Gables, which, after being forced to read it before my freshman year of high school, is my most hated book ever. I have a feeling I might like it more now than when I was 12.
(This review was from 2007. I've now read it several more times. It never gets old.)...more
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is probably my least favorite book that I teach. When I reread it last year, I was surprisingly happy with it--A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is probably my least favorite book that I teach. When I reread it last year, I was surprisingly happy with it--I very much disliked it in high school--but, this year, I was over it. Perhaps, unlike The Scarlet Letter, it cannot withstand a yearly reread.
After reading the book, I asked my two junior classes what they thought. This is a guilty pleasure of teaching. Even though most of them didn't actually read the novel, it's fun to just sit around and talk books. I think that my distaste for the book had unfortunately rubbed off on my second period, because in an astonishing turn of events, the majority of that class preferred The Scarlet Letter, with its dense, elevated language and everything. They kept asking me, "Why do we read this?" or "Why is this a classic?" and I honestly found myself sputtering, without a good answer, other than my usual calling into question of the designation of "classic," which, at this moment, just seemed like a cop-out.
Clearly, he is a good example of a modernist writer, with his minimalistic, sometimes stream of conscience-like prose, and his disillusioned characters. But I had trouble really uncovering the merits of his novel as more than an artifact from modern literary circles and the wreckage of World War I.
I know the book has value, because I enjoyed it last year, and found myself eagerly bent over its pages and emotionally touched this year, but it's definitely not one of my favorites....more
Tom Stoppard’s play, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead as = HILARIOUS. Anyway, I’m gonna try to sound somewhat educated and coherent now as I baTom Stoppard’s play, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead as = HILARIOUS. Anyway, I’m gonna try to sound somewhat educated and coherent now as I basically explore the concept, “Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead is an awesomely amusing play.”
I don’t want to reduce a brilliantly written work to a “funny play,” so before I explore the humor, I have a few other things to note. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are minor characters in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Stoppard takes these nobody characters and builds them up into somewhat distinct and very delightful individuals. (I qualify “distinct” because the characters often confuse their identities.) Also of note is Stoppard’s weaving of original Hamlet text and scenes into play, clarifying both the plot and the flow of events. Okay, now to the “funny play” part.
Stoppard’s dialogue and stage directions are especially amusing because he utilizes both high and low comedy. One scene can include humorous physicality similar to Charlie Chaplin or the Three Stooges and, a few lines later, display intellectual wit as the title characters contemplate life, death, probability, physics, et cetera. There’s humor for everyone. This is especially noteworthy as Stoppard does not deny the imposing death of his protagonists in order to reach this comic level; instead, as is evident in the telling title, he embraces the character’s inevitable demise and the play’s humor often stems from it.
I am sure these quotes will show both the wit and wisdom that is Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead:
“Fear! The crack that might flood your brain with light!” (Guildenstern, Act One).
“We cross our bridges when we come to them and burn them behind us, with nothing to show for our progress except a memory of the smell of smoke, and a presumption that once our eyes watered” (Guildenstern, Act Two).
“For all anyone knows, nothing is [true]. Everything has to be taken on trust; truth is only that which is taken to be true. It’s the currency of living. There may be nothing behind it, but it doesn’t make any difference so long as it is honoured” (Player, Act Two).
“The bad end unhappily, the good unluckily. That is what tragedy means” (Player, Act Two).
“GUIL: (fear, derision): Actors! The mechanics of cheap melodrama! That isn’t even death!... You die so many times; how can you expect them to believe in your death? PLAYER: One the contrary, it’s the only kind they do believe” (Act Two).
“You can’t act death. The fact of it is nothing to do with seeing it happen—it’s not gasps and blood and falling about—that isn’t what makes it death. It’s just a man failing to reappear, that’s all… here one minute and gone the next and never coming back… an exit, unobtrusive and unannounced, a disappearance gathering weight as it goes on, until, finally, it is heavy with death” (Guildenstern, Act Two).
“Be happy—if you’re not even happy what’s so good about surviving?” (Rosencrantz, Act Three).
Actually, looking at these quotes, it seems quite obvious that even the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s personalities were not distinguishable to them, they should be to the audience. So more props on that.
Two more things to note:
If you teach English and teach Hamlet, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead would be an excellent continuation, worthy of study and capable of lightening the mood. Even if it’s just playing the movie.
Also, if you are a theatre person and need to do some monologues or two person scenes, either comedic or dramatic, this is a good place to look. ...more
There's something about John Knowles' A Separate Peace that makes me not review it. When I reread it to teach it last year, it was already after I hadThere's something about John Knowles' A Separate Peace that makes me not review it. When I reread it to teach it last year, it was already after I had started the tradition of book reviews, but I never did one for it. This year, I finished it over a month ago and have yet to review it. Even as I start this belated review, I'm not enthused. And it's sad. Because A Separate Peace is a stunning book: it's painfully honest, with magnetic prose.
A Separate Peace conveys a complex theme through its dynamic and compelling characters. With World War II raging in the back of their minds, these nearly draftable young men must fight their own wars, with reality and with themselves. The cast of characters is fantastic: Leper, the naive outcast who lives in his own peaceful world as long as he can; Brinker, the politician and leader who is always passionate about his ever-changing views; Finny, the embodiment of youthful innocence, love, and peace, wrapped up in an attractive, charismatic, and athletic frame; and Gene. Who seems vaguely familiar. And whom the reader may start to hate. Until they come to realize where their war is truly fought.
This novel of friendship and conflict also stands up to an alternate reading. My students, with their very self-conscious and sadly homophobic fear of any overt acts of affection between boys, always ask if Gene and Finny are gay. And I wish I could just say no and move the conversation back to metaphors and dramatic irony, but I think that there's enough evidence to make the argument that Gene is attracted to Finny and confused by this attraction. It also helps explain Gene's very strange behavior. I'm not saying that that's Knowles' intention, but I am saying that it would make a pretty interesting analytical paper.
Reading the book, for the most part, is very entertaining and engaging. Finny's character, as it should, draws the reader in. Gene's internal monologue, while occasionally annoying, is insightful and colors the narrative. Situations thick in dramatic irony and foreshadowing are both amusing and thought provoking. The plot unfolds at a good pace for the most part. Toward the middle, it seems to stall. But that makes sense, thematically, because of a crucial absense.
A Separate Peace is a good read. And it does its job. As the reader is dragged through the darkness of Gene's mind, the mindful reader realizes that he/she might need to better explore his/her own.
(This book review is from 2008 or 2009. I've since revisited the book.)...more