Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Waiting for Godot

In "Waiting for Godot" by Samuel Beckett, the characters' lives are full of meaningless repetition. Beckett portrayed them as he would describe human nature in his eyes which is purposeless unless you can find some sort of reason to live on. Most of the characters are stuck in a mindless vortex and can never quite escape it, nor do they seem to notice it's existence. For example, Gogo started and ended the play in the same fashion  with no real progress throughout the plot. He finds himself tied to Didi and the tree waiting for Godot to appear. And even though he expresses the want to move on, he cannot seem to find the motivation to carry out any sort of action. Gogo lacks any sort of conscious or comprehend able thought processes. Didi seems to represent the human race as a species with no outer purpose in life and one of repetitive and circular events. Beckett poses the question on whether or not humans do have some sort of reason for being on earth and living besides one of just existence.

Though it may seem like an easy question to answer based on the play, at the very end of the book Gogo realizes to some extent how absurd his life is at the moment. I think that even though he became aware of his situation, he was scared of how to treat his discovery. He soon reverted back to the bland life of the past. Gogo did not know where to start looking for meaning in life and I think at the time, it may have been a larger task than he would like to have tried to accomplish. Plus, he probably thought it was better to have no meaning in life than to try to find meaning, fail, and be forced to return to a purposeless living style.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Crime and Punishment

      One of our recurring questions in book club was whether Raskolnikov was always crazy or if unfavorable situations sparked his insanity. In the first pages of the book, Raskolnikov started to "mutter something, from the habit of talking to himself" (2) supporting the theory that he was a somewhat crazy man to begin with. However, he remains a decent man until he walks into the tavern and overhears a few people talking about murdering his land lady. "why had he happened to hear such a discussion and such ideas at the very moment his own brain was just conceiving...the very same idea?... This trivial talk in a tavern had an immense influence on him in his later action..." (69) The talk about a hypothetical murder provided Raskolnikov with proof to justify his crime in his mind. Instead of focusing on the fact he was taking a life away, he shifted his stream of consciousness to the benefit he was providing the rest of society. I think he convinced himself he was doing good so that the reality of the murder would not make him feel guilty. Overall, I think had Raskolnikov not committed those murders, he would have been viewed as an anti-social member in society. However, since he did murder two women, I don't think Raskolnikov realized the psychological impact. The murders acted as the catalyst to Raskolnikov's whirlwind of confused and paranoid thoughts.
     Raskolnikov's increasing madness, however, was not without purpose. His crazed mind accentuates Raskolnikov's internal and external battles between morality and logic. One of the prime examples was the actual murder scene. Before he murdered Alyona, he "felt that he was losing his head" (79) and didn't feel like himself until afterwards. However, even though he trembles knowing what he did, Raskolnikov doesn't feel guilty (something he never admits to throughout the entire book). And yet, when Alyona's sister comes in unexpectedly, he loses his head once again and is dominated by fear (similar to that of the previous murder). Unlike the murder of Alyona, Raskolnikov feels "simple horror and loathing of what he had done" (83) after the murder of the sister. The two different reactions depict Raskolnikov as a man who thinks he knows justified actions from unjustified. It also gives a reader insight that evokes a better understanding of the complex ambiguity in Raskolnikov's consciousness.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Beloved. Her presence changed the lifestyle of the family in 124 significantly. The story starts with just Sethe, Denver, and a so called "baby ghost" living in an old house where no one dares to visit. While dysfunctional, the family was content and able to live somewhat peacefully together. That is, until Paul D came. His presence shifted the style of household living that was the "normal" before. The ghost no longer wreaked havoc. Denver no longer held Sethe's attention. And Sethe could no longer hold back her repressed memories of her former life in slavery, much of which was connected with Paul D. And the biggest change, for all of them, was when they found a young woman lying against a tree stump.

Her name she said, was Beloved. Slowly, she wormed her way into the lives of the residents of 124 until she was considered a resident herself. Only Paul D was suspicious of her and felt uncomfortable around her. With Beloved's arrival, Sethe in particular started having her memories resurface. All of her past life from slavery to freedom. Some good and some bad, but mostly bad. One in particular was the day she took her baby's life in a shed shrouded by trees. Throughout the story, Morrison alludes to the possibility of Beloved being a reincarnation of the baby Sethe thought was long dead. There are little signs that support this theory such as Beloved asking about Sethe's earrings or humming a song the Sethe only hummed to her dead daughter. The real question is what is Beloved's purpose in the book? 

Many theories are being tossed around about the real reason Beloved makes an appearance at 124, and all of them have multiple instances to support it. If Beloved truly was Sethe's dead daughter, what did she do to influence Sethe? Was she there for revenge? Want? Need? Was Beloved destined to reemerge and alter Sethe's life, reminding her of the past she thought was done for? If Beloved never appeared before Sethe, would Sethe have ever thought to face all those demons? I think in some way, Beloved was supposed to bring some closure to Sethe and her family by letting her know how her decision impacted her daughter. And in a way, she brought the members living in 124 closer to each other and the community by forcing them to relive and come to terms with their past. 

However, there was a passage in the last few pages that made me pause and rethink about who Beloved really was: "Down by the stream in back of 124 her footprints come and go, come and go. They are so familiar. Should a child, an adult place his feet in them, they will fit" (Morrison, 324). In this small snippet Beloved seems to be more of a symbol of slavery and the hard times that come with it because the fact that everyone can fit into her footprints makes her relatable to more people than just Sethe, Denver, and Paul D. Her journey can be traced by all people who try and find it. So maybe, in fact, Beloved was not destined to be the reincarnation of Sethe's long lost child. Perhaps she is just a lost young girl that reminded Sethe of her daughter, but really ended up there on pure coincidence.

I don't think anyone could ever be sure exactly who or what Beloved is. Not even Toni Morrison, the author, is willing to share her thoughts about Beloved. She could be both a symbol and a reminder. Or just a symbol. Or just a ghost. What's great about Beloved is that even though you feel like you have started to figure her out, she can be something completely different. Her purpose is up to interpretation, but one thing for sure is that she forced the characters to drudge up their past and in a sense, brought them and their community closer together when all was said and done. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Invisible Man

In Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, a man struggles with discovering himself and his role in society. One of the biggest factors in the book that can be tied back to fate/destiny is race. The narrator was living in a time period where African Americans were not treated equally nor were they respected in any regard. He struggles trying to find acceptance and finding a place in society where he could fit in and feel somewhat accepted. In the Prologue, he explains why it is that he is invisible: "That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact. A matter of the construction of their inner eyes, those eyes with which they look through their physical eyes upon reality" (3). So his invisibility was only his fault truly because he was born not white. The rest of the blame can be put on society's shoulders because they were the ones who chose not to see him and to pretend as if he never even existed. And even though they were not seeing him, he still tried his hardest to become seen. He pushed against the fate of his race to try and define himself as an individual. He first got into college and tried to get a decent job. Then he started to work for the Brotherhood and give speeches to try and get other people noticed as well. However, even with all of his efforts, he was still left alone and unseen.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Henry IV, Part One

In Henry IV, Part One, Shakespeare does not imply a lot of fate within the play. He based the play off of real life events and instead of changing the outcome, he kept it and added to it. Of course, there are always the "what if" questions, and I think many of those questions are actually answered in part in Henry IV, Part Two. One of the most relateable questions about fate is the nature vs. nurture debate. In this play, that would seem the most important allusion to fate. For example, would Hal have been a great king if he was taught more by his father instead of Jack Falstaff? Maybe he was born a king and was destined to become great. However, even if he was born great, he would still have to learn how to become great. Falstaff become somewhat of a secondary father to Hal. So how much more or less of an impact did Falstaff have on Hal than his own father? Did Hal's nature allow him to be a respected king or did Hal's knowledge and experience from Falstaff allow that? Or maybe a bit of both. Hal was viewed as one of the greatest kings to ever rule England however his father, King Henry VI was considered an unfit ruler.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Wuthering Heights

In  Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, I found most references regarding fate mostly revolved around the debate of nurture vs. nature. One of the most important quotes I found emphasizing this debate is: "Now, my bonny lad, you are mine! And we'll see if one tree won't grow as crooked as one another, with the same wind to twist it!" (222). This quote resembles a huge concept in the novel. Many of the characters throughout the novel start to change into different people generally when they are facing a new environment. Bronte leaves the reason for their shift sort of up to interpretation. The readers have to decide whether the characters act the way they do because of their genetics, or if they act that way because of the influence the people they grew up around had on them. The other day, I did a venn diagram about this topic and categorized the characters into the different sides. I found it hard because none of the characters are really concrete in their behavior or psyche. For example, Big Catherine was born a wild child, even Nelly says so: "Certainly, she had ways with her such as I never saw a child take up before; and she put all of us past our patience fifty times and oftener in a day; from the hour she came down stairs, till the hour she went to bed, we had not a moment's security that she wouldn't be in mischief. Her spirits were always at high-water mark, her tongue always going...A wild, wick slip she was...and, after all, I believe she meant no harm; for when once she made you cry in good earnest, it seldom happened that she would not keep you company; and oblige you to be quiet that you might comfort her" (83). So, ever since she was a little girl, Catherine seemed to be a wild child, but she still had a sweet and innocent side to her. However, when Heathcliff came into her life, her wild side grew and she was constantly in trouble and it was almost like Heathcliff corrupted her: "The curate might set as many chapters as he pleased for Catherine to get by heart, and Joseph might thrash Heathcliff till his arm ached; they forgot everything the minute they were together again, at least the minute they had contrived some naughty plan of revenge, and many a time I've cried to myself to watch them growing more reckless daily..." (87) The pair grew up together causing chaos wherever they went. Did Heathcliff cause Catherine to live as a crazy person or would she have become one even without his influences? Heathcliff is also a huge character who applies to the nature vs. nurture debate. When he was first found, he was treated as an "it", not even as a full person. Even though Mr. Earnshaw favored him, Hindley abused him because he was jealous. If Heathcliff was treated better as a little kid, would he have chosen the good side instead of embracing evil? But then, even Catherine describes him as a monster when she wanted to warn Isabella away from him: "Nelly help me convince her of her madness. Tell her what Heathcliff is-an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone" (141). Does this mean Heathcliff was always and always will be a figure? Throughout the book, he never really seems to change unless he's around Catherine. I think he was ultimately fated to be an immoral person, however he is allowed to escape all the bad through his connection with Catherine. Some of the other characters were a little harder to place just because Bronte never really specified their upbringings. I think the side a character is placed in could be debatable based on perspective. This makes me wonder if, in the world, whether nature is a larger contributing factor to a person's behavior or if nurture is. Maybe it's a combination of both? I know in my experience, nurture plays a bigger part, but I also know the balance of the two factors could differ between individuals.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Oedipus Rex

Often times in literature the authors refer to the fate versus free will debate. Their thoughts about the answer reflect in their writing style. In Oedipus Rex by Sophocles, Oedipus' parents hear a prophecy from an oracle about their son murdering his father and marrying his mother. They decide the best course of action is to kill him, however, the person sent to rid of Oedipus shows him mercy and leaves him to be found without checking to make sure he was truly dead: "Laius had the feet of this child bound and pinned. Someone tossed it in a mountain wilderness. So there. Apollo didn't cause this boy to be his father's killer. Laios didn't bear the terror he feared from his son. That's what the words of the prophecy defined" (Line 717). Unfortunately, he had no idea that his actions were going to set the prophecy into motion. As Oedipus grows up and hears his fate, in order to avoid the consequences, he leaves his home to stay away from his "parents". Oedipus seems to believe in the prophecy and yet, later in the play, he denies the validity of it. Sophocles plays with the concept of fate versus free will using the character Jocasta, Oedipus' wife/mother. When Oedipus brings in a blind man, Tiresias, to reiterate the prophecy, Jocasta tries to convince him he has nothing to fear because the account was false: "Then thou mayest ease they conscience on that score. Listen and I'll convince thee that no man hath scot or lot in the prophetic art. An oracle once came to Laius declaring he was doomed to perish by the hand of his own son, a child that should be born to him by me... As for the child, it was but three days old, when Lauius, its ankles pierced and pinned together, gave it to be cast away by others on the trackless mountain side...Such was the prophet's horoscope. O king, regard it not. Whate'er the god deems fit to search, himself unaided will reveal" (Lines 707-725). Jocasta convinces Oedipus to disregard Tiresias' warning, but Sophocles cleverly inserted irony into her statement by having her point proven by the use of a prophecy that will eventually come true. In the end, Oedipus realizes his actions caused the prophecy to come true anyways. So was Oedipus' life destined from the start or could his actions changed the outcome? The way in which Sophocles presents the idea suggests that fate played a bigger part and actions could not change the prophecy, just the order or the course it takes. Another factor to consider is Greek culture. Throughout many pieces of literature, prophecies and oracles are prominent and always come true. Generally, this is because the Greeks placed strong beliefs in destiny. One other question to consider is whether the prophecy would have come true if Jocasta and King Laius had no knowledge of what fate had in mind. Could it be possible that they could have avoided the tragic curse? Maybe, maybe not. One thing's for sure, the readers would be just as in the dark as the characters.