The but that’s no matter — tomorrow

 

 

The moment Gatsby died I
realised sometimes no matter how hard you work for something it still might not
work out for you: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the
orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but
that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther, and
one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back
ceaselessly into the past” (Fitzgerald, 2004).  Fitzgerald has a
keen eye and in The Great Gatsby presents a harsh picture of the world
he sees around him. Fitzgerald captures the frenzy of the society well as the
1920s was a time of great post-war economic growth. Although, of course,
Fitzgerald could have no way of foreseeing the stock market crash of 1929, the
world he presents in The Great Gatsby seems clearly to be headed for
disaster. They have assumed skewed worldviews, mistakenly believing their
survival lies in stratification and reinforcing social boundaries. They
erroneously place their faith in superficial external means (such as money and
materialism), while neglecting to cultivate the compassion and sensitivity
that, in fact, separate humans from the animals.

This is a captivating
novel. Just as the style is like a paradox in its ability to cut both ways, so
are the novel’s meanings. It is a celebration of intemperance, and a
condemnation of its destructiveness. It is about trying to recapture our
fleeting joys, about the fugitive nature of delight. It is a tribute to
possibility, and a dirge about disappointment. This is a novel in which the brilliance
of imagination swarms into the bleakness of real life. As Fitzgerald’s editor
Max Perkins wrote in 1925: it is “a story that ranges from pure lyrical beauty
to sheer brutal realism” (Perkins, 1925). The hard facts of power and economics
play out against the mythological promises of fantasy and ideology. Gatsby
learns the hard way that one will always be found out and that trying to escape
from the past impossible; but Nick beats a retreat home, escaping back into his
own nostalgic past. We find ourselves surveying the waste and wreckage after
the party ends, but ready to carouse some more.

This is one of my
favourite novels as I studied The Great
Gatsby for the Leaving Certificate. Fitzgerald
carefully sets up his novel into distinct groups but, in the end, each group
has its own problems to contend with, leaving a powerful reminder of what a
precarious place the world really is. Fitzgerald creates distinct social classes,
old money, new money and even no money. This sends strong messages about
the elitism running throughout every stratum of society.

 

F.
Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, 2004

Novel

 

Emma is indeed unlikable;
she is snobbish, vain, manipulative, power-hungry, self-deluded, often
indifferent to the feelings of others, and on at least one
occasion terribly cruel. This is evident at Box Hill through her comment
to Miss Bates: “Ah!
ma’am, but there may be a difficulty. Pardon me—but you will be limited as to
number—only three at once”(Austen, 1815). But do
these traits necessarily make her unlikable? Do her admirable traits redeem
her, such as her love for her father, her wit, her sense of social
responsibility, and her gradual admission of error? Maybe. But, honestly, what
I really love in her is the fact that she has flaws. She is imperfect, so
human.

Prior to my reading of
this novel I learned in lectures that the realm of action is quite narrow as
our focus is on a small village and community. I feel the sense of hear and now
offers energy and excitement. The everyday becomes extraordinary. I think there
is a comparison between Emma and Robinson Crusoe, as both act
irrationally at the beginning of the novel. They undergo many troubles and crises
due to their misjudgement and impulsive decisions. Gradually, they mature and
realize their faults. They admit their faults and at the end of the novel, they
try to rectify their mistake.

Beneath Austen’s
satiric comedy is a moralistic realism. By picturing the real incompatibility of
social matters, she implies what may be right: the ideal balance between head
and heart, between common sense and goodness, between rationality and
imagination or emotion. Hers is not a naturalistic world inimical to or
destructive of the individual. Rather, it is a quite stable social world that
operates comfortably if there is no major aberration from it. It can, in fact
operate effectively despite an aberration, secure that the deviation can be
rectified and absorbed so that the deviant (Emma) finds and accepts her proper
place.

I believe Emma does not have one specific quality to describe her. One
can evaluate Emma’s character as clear distinctions can be made between her and
other women in this novel. Mrs. Elton, like Emma, is independent and imposes
her will upon her friends, but her crudeness and vanity reinforce our sense of
Emma’s refinement and fundamentally good heart. Isabella, who is Emma’s sister is
the stereotypical feminine—soft-hearted, completely devoted to her family, dependent,
and not terribly bright. The novel implicitly prefers Emma’s independence and
cleverness to her sister’s more traditional deportment, although we are still
faced with the paradox that though Emma is clever, she is almost always
mistaken.

Austen
predicted that Emma would be “a character whom no one but me will much like”
(Austen, 1815). However, most of Austen’s readers have proven her wrong, as
there are ambiguities in her narration. The novel is narrated using free
indirect discourse, although the all-knowing narrator speaks in the third
person, she often relates things from Emma’s point of view and describes things
in language we might imagine Emma using. This style of narration creates a
complex mixture of sympathy with Emma and ironic judgment on her behaviour. It’s
not always clear when we are to share Emma’s perceptions and when we are to see
through them. Nor do we know how harshly Austen expects us to judge Emma’s
behaviour. Though this narrative strategy creates problems of interpretation
for the reader, it makes Emma a richly multidimensional character.

 

Jane
Austen’s Emma, 1815

Novel

 

 

We learned in our
lectures that the act of writing journals becomes part of the story. The
journals add realism to the novel. Crusoe grants one
access to the journal that he keeps for a while, beginning with an entry dated
“September 30, 1659,” that inaugurates his account of life on the
“Island of Despair,” as he calls it (Defoe, 1958). One can see how he continues
to narrate events that have already been narrated: his discovery of the ship’s
remains, his salvaging of provisions, the storm that destroys the ship
entirely, the construction of his house, and so on. He is unable to keep the
Sabbath religiously as he lost note of the days. Therefore, he didn’t know what
day was Sunday. He records the building of various pieces of furniture and
tools. He tames his first goat. Everything is a commodity in the novel. This
identifies how form and content come together. Crusoe’s writing becomes a
commodity too, thus adding a layer of authenticity which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Crusoe’s tone is mostly
detached and objective. He displays little rhetorical grandeur and few poetic
or colourful turns of phrase. He generally avoids dramatic storytelling,
preferring an inventory like approach to the facts as they unfold. He very
rarely displays his own feelings, or those of other characters. However, he
does so when those feelings affect a situation directly, such as when he
describes the mutineers as tired and confused, indicating that their fatigue
allows them to be defeated. The lack of emotional attachment, an inhumane characteristic,
tends to distance the reader and a barrier between the audience and the
protagonist. But Crusoe speaks directly to the readers, addressing us like we
are his trusted friends. We are invited into his world. There
is a real sense of intimacy to this story as Crusoe used open-dialogue, thus
allowing one to see him as a trustworthy narrator.

Crusoe narrates in both
the first and third person, presenting what he observes. Crusoe occasionally
describes his feelings, but only when they are overwhelming. Usually he favours
a more factual narrative style focused on actions and events. Starting in the
preface, an unnamed editor mentions Robinson’s story without using his name
explicitly but says the narrative describes a “private man’s adventure in the
world,” and advises the reader to focus on the novel’s realism and take its
“history of fact” into account (Defoe, 1958, 6). Going into
Crusoe’s adventures with the editor’s recommendation in mind allows the reader
to read Crusoe as a representation of something larger than his individual
character. The opening words of Chapter 1 are incredibly fact-oriented and
straight forward. We see Crusoe’s unsentimental and practical mind that
will carry him throughout his ordeal in the opening line, stating his
birthplace, year and family status. He exhibits no emotional attachment to his
origin of residence and continues to explain the timeline that his journey will
follow.

Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe plays with the
boundaries between fact and fiction. It is a novel associated with realism. The
novelist tries to recreate the word as it is.

 

Daniel
Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, 1958

Novel

 

 

 

 

I learned from the
lectures that Hawthorne made a note to say ”Another clergyman in New England, Mr. Joseph
Moody, of York, Maine, who died about eighty years since, made himself
remarkable by the same eccentricity that is here related of the Reverend Mr.
Hooper. In his case, however, the symbol had a different import. In early life
he had accidentally killed a beloved friend, and from that day till the hour of
his own death, he hid his face from men.” 
(Hawthorne, 1832). This helps to enable one to form an opinion on
Hooper’s character.

At the same
time, the veil is a symbol of the superficiality of Puritan society. The people
of the area judge Hooper on his behaviour, not on his behaviour or character.
It is implied that Hooper himself doesn’t change after he puts on the veil. He
seems gloomier to the people in the area as the veil covers nearly the most of
his face: ”On a
nearer view it seemed to consist of two folds of crape, which entirely
concealed his features, except the mouth and chin” (Hawthorne, 1832). However,
Hooper’s veil could symbolise his pride.

Without a
doubt, the most important symbol in ”The Minister’s Black Veil” is the black
veil. What is symbolizes is more complicated than it seems. People in the area
believe Hooper is wearing the veil for a purpose, which is to compensate for
his own sins. Mr Hooper didn’t believe the veil was a sign of wrongdoing, he believed
it to be a symbol of general sinfulness: ” Know, then, this veil is a type and a symbol,
and I am bound to wear it ever, both in light and darkness, in solitude and
before the gaze of multitudes, and as with strangers, so with my familiar
friends” (Hawthorne, 1832). I think it is possible that the two
interpretations of the veil are the same, as the people of the area might have
focused exclusively on Hooper’s sinfulness, because they recognise their own
and don’t want to admit to them.

Based on my reading of
this short story, I have come to the opinion that one
of the major themes of “The Minister’s Black Veil” is that anyone who
acknowledges or recognises their secrets, most likely bad ones and those who might
decide to stand apart from their companions will often find that they are
excluded and may well lead lives of loneliness, prisoners in their own hearts. When
the Reverend Mr. Hooper wore the black veil daily, he was instantly set apart
from his fellow townspeople in a very special way. The townspeople did not
accept him among them as they did before, when he never wore the veil. The veil
is an item that distinguishes him from the people of the town. The townspeople
even dread him approaching. Therefore, many people in the town lost their companionship
with him. This is such a serious matter that results in his fiancé Elizabeth
being unable to marry him, but she must love him until he dies in “secrecy” and
“solitude” (Hawthorne, 1832). Thus, because he chooses to make his secret
visible, the Reverend Mr. Hooper becomes a lonely man, who doesn’t enjoy life.

 

Nathaniel
Hawthorne’s ”The Minister’s Black Veil” (1832)

Short
Story

 

 

 

In the story this old man’s death is a very genuine experience, that could
happen any day: it occurred ‘out there’, in the real world, rather than in the
sheltered world the Sheridan’s inhabit, and in which Laura has been brought up.
Ironically, the fact that Laura was confronted with death, it made her aware of
the realness of life: what it is really like out there beyond the somewhat
limited confines of her house and garden. Here the symbolism of the garden
takes on a new meaning: like the paradise that was the Garden of Eden, the
sheltered world of the Sheridan household is blown open when Laura realizes knowledge:
knowledge of death and of life’s realities. But unlike the biblical narrative
which treats this as a dreadful thing, Mansfield’s story ends on a more
ambivalent note, suggesting that coming into such knowledge may be liberating. This
story was written just after the First World War. This event changed the way of
life for people in the country, as many changed the way they live. I believe this
to a significant point in relation to this story.

The closing line of the story can be compared to the moment discussed above.
When Laura has the surprising response to the sight of the dead man: ”it was
marvelous” (Mansfield, 1922, 87).  I
have a question for Mansfield – why does she feel almost elated, almost
ecstatically happy, by the experience of coming face-to-face with death? I know
many people wouldn’t react in this response. There are other ways of responding
to such a moment, such as shock, sadness, fear.

A simple yet complex story, this. From reading the story one can see that the
plot is straightforward, but the meaning – as with much modernist literature –
remains elusive and open to question. I wondered why does Laura change her mind
about the party when she spies herself in the mirror, dressed up in her party
outfit and her nice new hat? Such a moment is what James Joyce, called the
‘epiphany’ – an almost spiritual moment of consciousness, a little revelation
in a character’s life that alters their perception of the world and their
self-knowledge. Laura’s epiphany appears to be the opposite, as if it is in
reverse, making her realize that she doesn’t have to worry about what others
think about her and her family so much, and that she – Laura Sheridan – is a
person who has a right to live, to feel things, to enjoy herself, to be admired
for her beauty.

From attending lectures and reading the story the theme of social class
distinctions is evident. Laura realizes her family members are not so sympathetic
towards the man who died, they assume the man was drunk, revealing their class
prejudice: “Stop
the garden party? My dear Laura, don’t be so absurd. Of course we can’t do
anything of the kind. Nobody expects us to. Don’t be so extravagant” (Mansfield,
1922, 76). The narrator
comments, ventriloquizing Laura’s thoughts, these ‘absurd class distinctions’
have a lot to answer for (Mansfield, 1922, 68).  

 

Katherine
Mansfield’s ”The Garden Party” (1922)

Short
Story

 

 

 

 

 

O’Connor dropped some
religious language: ”meekly”, ”judgement” and ”miracle” (O’Connor, 1949).
This suggests the narrator sees himself in a new way. I think this suggests he
is maturing.

The innocence is one of the
most memorable features of the short story. The funny fact that shows Gus is still an
innocent young man is when he does not recognize that his new friend is using
him for a taste of his cough syrup, at least in relation to the ways of the
world. Gus is still an innocent child, even though he acts like a man. His
reaction, after realizing that he was used, also points to his innocence. He
reacts in the manner that any child would, he ran home crying. I think this is
a very relatable moment for the reader.

I believe this is a very
realist short story as from attending the lecture on this I learned before
reading it that it shows innocence and experience as Gus navigates the codes of
the adult world. This shows masculinity in a matriarchal world, that was an
assumed role. The evident theme is love and a family relationship. This is shown in the relationship between
the mother and her son. Gus is frightened that his mother will die of
pneumonia, so, despite his fear, he enters a pub to ensure that she gets her
home-made remedy, and travels to an unsavory neighborhood to get her medicine. Gus’
mother is equally devoted to him, as seen in her guilt over the fact that he
has to take care of her. She is also very understanding when he succumbs to the
peer pressure of drinking her medicine. She understands that one cannot expect a
child to be a man, no matter how well he does at playing at being a man. Her
love for her child is also evident in the pride she feels when he displays the
level of maturity akin to an adult.

The story is mostly told in
one voice, that of the ten-year-old boy Gus, however on a regular occurrence the
voice of the older version of the boy creeps in, who is now grown up and
telling us the story, judging and explaining. In one glaring example the
narrator voices an opinion which enraged me: “It’s a funny thing about women, how they’ll
take orders from anything in trousers, even if it’s only ten” (O’Connor, 1949).
I think the story appears to
be timeless and fixed in a certain time all at once: a small boy is struggling
between childhood and responsibility; sometimes he’s good; sometimes he fails;
how he feels about it all. We’ve all been ten. We’ve all struggled with the journey
from being children to becoming adults and maturing, whether in rural Ireland,
the suburbs or a city. This makes the story so wonderful.

This story was first published
in ”The New Yorker.” It is a
wonderful example of how every line in a short story should contribute to the
story, the plot or the characterization.

 

Frank
O’Connor’s ”The Man of the House” (1949)

Short
Story

 

 

 

 

 

 I also felt Poe uses his words
economically in the “The Tell-Tale Heart” to provide a study of both paranoia
and mental deterioration. Poe strips the story of excess detail to heighten the
murderer’s obsession with specific and unadorned entities: the old man’s eye,
the heartbeat, and his own claim to sanity. The style Poe uses, and his pointed
language contribute to the narrative content. One could suggest this represents
paranoia.

I noticed like ”The Masque of the Red Death” the
denouement is key for the unity of effect, likewise with ”The Tell-Tale Heart”:
”I admit the
deed! – tear up the planks – here, here! – it is the beating of his hideous
heart!” (Poe, 1843, 10). It is the narrator’s belief that he is not mad, but that
he heard the heart of the old man still beating. I believe Poe has given one of
the most powerful examples of the capacity of the human mind to deceive itself
and then to speculate on the nature of its own destruction.

 I
learned from the lectures that the language used in the story flies apart, just
like the narrator’s mind. Unreliable narrators are captivating because they
represent a basic aspect of being human. We all experience moments of
unreliability, where we can’t perceive or remember events accurately. We all
get confused and do and say things we don’t mean or don’t mean to do or say. In
a story like “The Tell-Tale Heart,” this unreliability is taken very
far.  

The narrator says that due to his powerful
sense of hearing; “he can hear all things in the heaven and in the earth and
many things in hell” (Poe, 1843, 1). Sometimes, he also pretends to be an all-knowing
narrator. He informs us how the old man feels and what the old man is thinking:
“Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal
terror. I knew the sound well. Many a night it has welled up from my own
bosom” (Poe, 1843, 5). The narrator’s insight into the man’s head is just
a reflection of his own experience. However, what’s to say he is not right?  

Most of Poe’s stories have a kind of fun
and playful feel to them despite their themes of death, murder, and betrayal,
“The Tell-Tale Heart” makes one want to shed a tear. It seems to me
that the narrator has had a tough life, this will only get worse after he murdered
someone and then confessed out of madness. Poe wrote that “Melancholy is the most
legitimate of all the poetical tones” (Poe, The Philosophy of Composition,
1846). Most of Poe’s narrators are unreliable first-person narrators. They won’t
tell us what is truly happening. The narrator is trying to prove that he is
sane. The fact that he can conceal his thoughts offers proof for the reader
that he is sane.

 

Edgar
Allan Poe’s ”The Tell-Tale Heart” (1843)

Short
Story