Of Cities founded, Common-wealths begun,
For my mean Pen are too superior things;
Or how they all, or each their dates have run,
Let Poets and Historians set these forth.
My obscure lines shall not so dim their worth.
But when my wond'ring eyes and envious heart
Great Bartas' sugar'd lines do but read o'er,
Fool, I do grudge the Muses did not part
'Twixt him and me that over-fluent store.
A Bartas can do what a Bartas will
But simple I according to my skill.
From School-boy's tongue no Rhet'ric we expect,
Nor yet a sweet Consort from broken strings,
Nor perfect beauty where's a main defect.
My foolish, broken, blemished Muse so sings,
And this to mend, alas, no Art is able,
'Cause Nature made it so irreparable.
Nor can I, like that fluent sweet-tongued Greek
Who lisp'd at first, in future times speak plain.
By Art he gladly found what he did seek,
A full requital of his striving pain.
Art can do much, but this maxim's most sure:
A weak or wounded brain admits no cure.
I am obnoxious to each carping tongue
Who says my hand a needle better fits.
A Poet's Pen all scorn I should thus wrong,
For such despite they cast on female wits.
If what I do prove well, it won't advance,
They'll say it's stol'n, or else it was by chance.
But sure the antique Greeks were far more mild,
Else of our Sex, why feigned they those nine
And poesy made Calliope's own child?
So 'mongst the rest they placed the Arts divine,
But this weak knot they will full soon untie.
The Greeks did nought but play the fools and lie.
Let Greeks be Greeks, and Women what they are.
Men have precedency and still excel;
It is but vain unjustly to wage war.
Men can do best, and Women know it well.
Preeminence in all and each is yours;
Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours.
And oh ye high flown quills that soar the skies,
And ever with your prey still catch your praise,
If e'er you deign these lowly lines your eyes,
Give thyme or Parsley wreath, I ask no Bays.
This mean and unrefined ore of mine
Will make your glist'ring gold but more to shine.
[Jo Weatherfield Bingo] September 2006
American Literature Colonial Literature Essay
Men as Quills Floating, not Soaring, in the Sky
"Authority without wisdom is like a heavy axe without an edge, fitter to bruise than polish”: Anne Bradstreet was a seemingly demure, deferential, uncomplicated woman colonist of the seventeenth century; however, her poetry reveals a proud feminist character, bold in her sarcastic praise of man’s power, and confidence in her and women as a whole’s skill. A quick first read of her poem “Prologue” would misleadingly depict her as shy and apologetic for her lack of talent, but in reality she is far from repentant, quite self-assured, and a manipulator of men’s assumptions. The inner workings of her poem cast unholy tints to the historical superiority of men, and suggest the higher intellect and actual control belonging to women. Bradstreet’s covert account of who has the entitlement and possession of authority is a general discord; she criticizes man’s insistence on the patriarchal hierarchy, indicates that man’s lack of approbation simply means his lack of understanding, and asserts the superiority of women.
Bradstreet indirectly pokes fun at men’s sensitive need for dominance in order to be masculine, which, when threatened, will rise to a hostility, and reveals this established chain of command as mere pretense. To describe the men who would discourage a women’s writing on account of gender roles, she used the word “carping” in order to imply that such complaints are petty, unpleasant, and therefore unadmirable. She also uses the phrase “For such despite they cast on female wits” (Bradstreet, Line 28) in order to generate the image of literally throwing contempt, indicating that men feel malice towards educated wives, which might turn to violence. While describing the quick process in which men would render women’s connections with muses and inspiration in art and writing meaningless, she uses the two homophones “knot” and “nought” (Bradstreet, Lines 35, 36). This is significant because there are two interpretations to their related meanings which point in opposite directions: either it reinforces man’s power to turn the “knot” (women’s connection with intelligence) “nought” (nonexistent), or it distorts the purport of the phrase by causing the “nought” (what men meant by saying the Greeks know nothing) into a “knot”, literally twisting the clarity, authenticity, and authority of man – she is slyly stating she is reluctant to swear allegiance to men who will with careless disdain shrug off the worth of the entire civilization of learned Greeks, albeit non-Christian. By writing “it is but vain unjustly to wage war” (Bradstreet, line 39), she gives the impression of submittance to man; however, she is not only making a political comment on men’s tendencies to wage war unjustly (since they were the only ones at that time who dealt with war at all), but is also remarking that men, in perceiving intelligence in a woman, would perceive it as a attack as in war, the start of a struggle, since it threatens his supremacy. Even though she applies the word “unjustly,” she does not connote “unfair,” but rather “unfaithful” – indicating that men take a poet wife as synonymous with a traitorous one.
Throughout Bradstreet’s seemingly self-deprecating lines, there is a general undertone of sarcastic condescension towards man’s need for material rank and insinuates that man’s prejudice is a combined result of women’s handling and man’s absolute conviction that masculine means better. She feeds the male ego by using words such as “simple” (Bradstreet, line 12), “plain” (Bradstreet, line 20) to describe herself, - which are not all that insulting because they merely imply a lack of complexity – in order to distract from words such as “obnoxious” (Bradstreet, line 25), which doesn’t necessarily mean unpleasant, and can also mean effective, and phrases such as “My obscure lines shall not so dim their worth” (Bradstreet, line 6), which can not only indicate that her words are so bad that it will make their works look even better, but also that her poem will instead of casting shadow on the male reputation, will emit radiance all on its own. In describing the “irreparable” (Bradstreet, line 18), Bradstreet uses the analogies of a expressionless schoolboy, broken strings on an instrument, and a physical blemish, all of which can in reality either be taught, fixed, or overlooked, therefore rendering her argument, or rather, man’s argument, quite weak, just as she intended. She tickles and mocks the masculine fancy to associate everything with dignity, by asking if man might give her the privilege of reading her work and perhaps even allowing it small value, as shown in the line “If e’er you deign these lowly lines your eyes” (Bradstreet, line 45) and the phrase “Yet grant some small acknowledgement of ours” (Bradstreet, line 42). The word usage of “grant” is significant because it implies bestowing a favor through conceding – as men would be partially giving up their supposed supreme authoritative role. The use of the word “acknowledgement” is also important because is denotes recognition, the act of admitting the truth of something that is already existent, and even implies approbation – even as she teases men for their rejection of women, she neither doubts herself that women have equal potential to men nor loses hope that men are incapable of appreciating women.
Bradstreet emphasizes her feminist standpoint through deliberately avoiding generalizing about women even as she allows for a generalization of the Greeks, and through various types of rhyme. She purposely avoids making the phrase “Let Greeks be Greeks, and women what they are” (Bradstreet, line 37) symmetrical by writing “women be women,” because that would have denounced and degraded women through its patronizing tone. Since the phrase is unbalanced, it also stresses the inequality both between women and Greeks and between women and men. In the line, “Men do best, and women know it well” (Bradstreet, line 40), Bradstreet uses the word “know” to denote both the false admittance of authority, the existence of being acquainted, namely with men’s impudence, stubbornness, and pride, and women’s superior knowledge in the situation (it is they who are duping the men into thinking themselves better). The spelling resemblance of the last words in the last two lines of stanza 7: “yours” (Bradstreet, line 41) and “ours” (Bradstreet, line 42) is significant because it alludes to the likeness and equivalence between the word’s subjects, specifically, men and women. The fact that the two words don’t properly rhyme indicates the dissension between gender roles, since women, particularly at that time, were not treated the same. Also, Bradstreet often uses masculine rhyme, occurring in a stress of the last syllable of each line, in order to symbolically defy the set stereotype that women cannot accomplish what men can (i.e., “expect/ defect” (Bradstreet, lines 13, 15) and “excel/ well” (Bradstreet, lines 38, 40)). After all, no matter how subservient Bradstreet’s poem might at first appear, the very fact that she wrote it, and in eight rhyming stanzas, proves her viewpoint to the contrary.
“And oh ye high flown quills that soar the skies,/ and every with your prey still catch your praise” (Bradstreet, lines 43, 44): these two lines of “Prologue’s” last stanza summarize Bradstreet’s opinion of gender roles: man’s dependency on his own supposedly independent and dominant role, women’s decision to quietly rule man unbeknownst to him due to his own predetermined bias, and women’s ultimate dominance over man. Its imagery, the literal concept of quill feathers in the sky, is comical, contrasts with its apparent allusion to the high and noble writings of men. It not only deride’s man’s arrogance, pomp and circumstance, but personifies it in the concept of feathers (often used to accentuate fine clothing) and degrades its meaning by purposefully discussing single feathers as opposed to the more typically masculine imagery of an eagle as the king of the sky. Bradstreet is stealthily pointing out that men, like feathers, men cannot fly on their own, but need the wind’s assistance – the wind being analogous to the Greek muses or old, or the Tenth Muse herself, Anne Bradstreet. The word usage of “prey” and “catch” hint that men are predators, hunting down and mandating praise as opposed to deserving it on its own accord. In the end, women, because of their use of intelligence and tolerance for man’s suppression sprung from low self-esteem, gain the authority justly earned.
Amazon.com, Anne Bradstreet, http://www.annebradstreet.com/anne_bradstreet_quotes.htm
This analyzes "The Metamorphosis" by Franz Kafka and "Thousand Cranes" by Yasunari Kawabata. The first link directs the reader to a full e-text. The second goes to the Amazon page with a "Look Inside!" option.
Word Count: 1500
Women as the Instrument of the
Impossibility of Human Constancy
in Kafka’s Metamorphosis and Kawabata’s One Thousand Cranes
“Although Gregor told himself over and over again that nothing special was happening, only a few pieces of furniture were being moved, he soon had to admit that this coming and going of the women, …he would not be able to stand it much longer… now he really had no more time to examine the good intentions of the two women, whose existence, besides, he had almost forgotten, for they were so exhausted that they were working in silence, and one could hear only the heavy shuffling of their feet” (Kafka, 33)
Women, according to Kafka and Kawabata, should be the glue of society, but instead are major catalysts of the disintegration of cohesive relationships between humans, and the inevitable alienation of the fallible individual. In the above quotation, Metamorphosis’ Gregor experiences his one major epiphany: that ultimately the supposedly loving women in his life forget their original “good intentions”, are consumed by the drama that is the human condition, and unwittingly fall into the position of ignorant apathetic managers of events, which naturally leads to destruction of their true association with him. The significance of the women’s “forgotten” “existence” lies in Kafka’s belief that their progression towards distorting relations and eliminating common understanding is maneuvered by an invisible unstoppable hand, personified in the self-destructive, cowardly, selfish quality of human nature, that all individuals are destined to be alone. So too, in One Thousand Cranes, do the women aggravate the passivity in Kikuji enough to unwittingly cause universal imbalance. Kafka and Kawabata use the characterization of women’s multiplicity of roles to illustrate the failure to connect in human relationships through the development of sympathy, common sense, and finally, manipulation and the termination of shared common feeling.
Initially the women begin with naïve behavior from a limited psychological perspective, and seemingly unlimited effort towards lessening the protagonist’s cares, when faced with the trial of transformation; for Gregor, the challenge is his insectival form, for Kikuji, becoming his father. This pinpoints the good intentions of mankind when facing mere physical stimuli, with obvious, superficial concerns and a tendency to forget that issues may exist other the in the corporeal world. Grete, as the “only” one who “remained close to Gregor” (Kafka, 26), immediately responds to his transformation by making him as comfortable as possible. However, she is incapable of looking ahead or deeper into the situation – nevertheless, at first Gregor is touched: “His sister, in the goodness of her heart…. to find out his likes and dislikes, she brought him a wide assortment of things” (Kafka, 22-23). Kikuji likewise is touched by woman’s initial apparent ingenuousness, “could not detect the faintest suggestion of hostility in Mrs. Ota’s manner. She seemed wholly warm, tender… she was wholly unaware of her place” (Kawabata, 17), but is astounded that she is capable of avoiding questioning her association with three like men, not exploring the psychological implications, and is instead just allowing herself to walk through life answering simplistic urges. He even questions her humanity, in being so apparently present physically and in denial intellectually: “He could ask himself if she was human. If she was pre-human, or again if she was the last woman in the human race. He could imagine her in this other world, making no distinction between her husband and Kikuji’s father and Kikuji.” (Kawabata, 63)
“When a person is too much of a man or too much of a woman, the common sense generally isn’t there” “Oh? Common sense goes with neuters, then?” (Kawabata, 96): here Kikuji defends the flawed quality of imbalance inherent in gender, though Kawabata soon indicates that it is the common fate of all women (and possibly, by virtue of association, all men) to gradually with age become neutered, sterilized of the erotic “white slender neck” (Kawabata, 17) and “fur boa” (Kafka, 1), and the sympathetic idiocy that the that the male protagonists admire in both novels. The “other world” (Kawabata, 63) of the women soon degenerates into “romantic enthusiasm” (Kafka, 30), a conceit of purpose that fails to recall the empathy that initiated the relationship. This world instead dedicates itself to “common sense,” which causes a loss of identity (personified by Kawabata in a concomitant loss of gender), and a complete retreat of the conflict into the mind. Mrs. Ota and possibly Fumiko commit suicide in order to escape this fate, Mrs. Mitani and Mrs. Samsa accept it and recede into the background, Chikako and Grete fail to recognize the tragedy of “common sense”, and employ it for social leverage under the pretext of being “useful”. Although Kafka and Kawabata are depicting this movement to false self-consciousness devoid of affection as distinctly feminine, the underlying critique consists of the faith of humankind in the stereotype of supportive unthinking unblinking reliable woman. Kawabata spells this out for the reader: at first, he has Kikuji be “tempted to feel safe with her. There was something in what she said” (Kawabata, 96) after Chikako sings the praises of her supposedly practical judgment derived from her unsatisfying grunt-work life – however he is pulled back when he realizes that it is not only Chikako or Mrs. Ota that has poison, but all women. He realizes that his passivity has been so easily recognized and taken advantage of by all the women who know him. When Chikako hisses, “Pure she may have been, but to the rest of us it all sounds like some terrible curse, some witch’s net she was laying for us” (Kawabata, 98), Kikuji slowly makes the realization that such a statement is applicable to every woman with whom he has been in extended contact; for after her pronouncement, he realizes his universally manipulated position: “His position had been weak from the start” (Kawabata, 98). So, too, does Grete become selfishly possessed by her protective drive, her previous confidence and respect for Gregor’s well-being easily eroded by his new vulnerable state that has allowed her to taste dominance more precious than the loss of a brother. Gregor realizes that her change in behavior might be more than “childish flightiness” (Kafka, 30): “she had become accustomed, certainly not entirely without justification, to adopt with her parents the role of the particularly well-qualified expert whenever Gregor’s affairs were being discussed” (Kafka, 32).
The final step towards ambiguity in breaking up the archetypal family home is the woman’s desire for an end, a rupture, blatantly belligerent activity, and complete internal mental struggle that no longer has a grip on cold hard fact, that manifests itself in lethargy, death, or aggressive arrogance. Just as “the lassitude of woman” (Kawabata, 34) ultimately causes Mrs. Ota, filled with remorse at both using Kikuji as a substitute for his father and secretly planning to set him up with her daughter, exhausts herself with her dehumanization of him in her mind. She tortures herself mentally so that suicide is the only release from being reminded of how she has unnecessarily complicated his life without consideration for his psyche. Thus the result is complete, “simple” abandonment: “She leaned back in one corner, her eyes closed, a thoroughly helpless figure… As she left the cab, her cold fingers simply left his” (Kawabata, 64). Similarly, Gregor’s mother abandons him by allowing her grief and inner turmoil of lost affection to wear her completely out – she is weak, and “dies” to him, and simultaneously kills him – his last glance of humanity is of her desertion, her failure to maintain her endeavor to defend his worth and potential healing. In almost an identical fashion to Mrs. Ota, “His mother lay in her armchair … her eyes almost closing from exhaustion… his last glance ranged over his mother, who was now fast asleep” (Kafka, 50). Grete and Chikako, however, spiritually die voluntarily, because they have lost any appreciation of “belief” or loyalty, without the support of common sense. “It has to go… that’s the only answer, Father. You just have to try to get rid of the idea that it’s Gregor. Believing it for so long, that is our real misfortune… If it were Gregor, he would have realized long ago that it isn’t possible for human beings to live with such a creature” (Kafka, 49, italics mine): here Grete makes use of the rhetoric of “reality” and effectively obliterates Gregor the human’s existence. She illustrates the reversible argument that the family hasn’t been using practical reasoning in continuing to believe a bug was a brother, and that Gregor wasn’t being reasonable in expecting his family to sustain such an unfounded belief. Grete in essence kills the human in Gregor, both in the viewpoint of the rest of mankind, and then in his alienation convincing him of his lack of worth. Likewise, Chikako pokes fun at Kikuji’s bad opinion of her, because she feels assured that her arguments and stratagems are based on common sense, and thus affection, merit, and loyalty are irrelevancies – she is thus at ease with a position of hostility: “Well, I’m used to being the villain… I’m here to play the villain today” (Kawabata, 96).
“I should think the important thing would be whether or not there was milk, not whether or not there was a birthmark.” (Kawabata, 7): Kafka and Kawabata find that the mere surface meanings of events become complex even within the controlled context of their novel setting – that the concept of “impressions” chaotic and merciless govern hapless and hopeless relationships, and that human beings are incapable of fully understanding and empathizing with each other. In the end it is the composition of human nature, with its overwhelming potentialities – in the case of women, that of supporter, companion, and leader – which proves to confuse, misdirect, and split the purpose and disposition of the characters in the two novels, and no one escapes unstained by delusion.
(a) Kafka, F. (2004). The Metamorphosis. New York: Bantam Classics.
(b) Kawabata, Y. Thousand Cranes. New York: Vintage International A Division of Random House, Inc.
This is of course concerning "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Here is where you can find the complete text.
I used to as a joke sign my middle name as "Weatherfield" as a tribute to Holden Caulfield's little sister, and what's funny is, my teacher didn't notice at all for months, and of course when she did notice, she didn't really care. Well, I thought it was funny. :/ Hahaha.
I was really excited about this subject. And I am a wordy-ass person. Result? The essay makes next to no sense. sigh.
[Jo Weatherfield Bingo] February 2007
American Literature, Slot D Great Gatsby Final Essay
The Win and Loss of Nick Carraway’s American Dream:
The Transition of Jordan Baker from Clean Refreshing Wise
down-to-earth freethinker to Selfish Subordinate in Self-Denial
“I was walking along from one place to another half on the sidewalks and half on the lawns. I was happier on the lawns because I had on shoes from England with rubber nobs on the soles that bit into the soft ground. I had on a new plaid skirt also that blew a little in the wind and whenever this happened the red, white, and blue banners in front of all the houses stretched out stiff and said tut-tut-tut-tut in a disapproving way
On the surface, the character of Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald seems moderately secondary, appearing haphazardly throughout the story either because she is following the impressive Buchanans or she is being followed by a devoted Nick; however underneath this misleadingly inconspicuous and adaptable image lay a solid steadfast resolve, that one feature which Nick Carraway was constantly yearning to find in humanity with a queer thirst: constancy of sentiment. Nick, an ambiguous third-wheeler character himself, identifies with her, and throughout the development of the novel her opposing traits of conformity and originality constantly ambiguously merge as Nick asses his her with reference to his own ideal of “an unbroken series of successful gestures” (6). This process leads to a complete drainage of hope and an apparently absolute transformation of Jordan’s character, a loss of his own American Dream, which, like Gatsby, he couldn’t help tying with the fate of a romantic interest; of course Jordan’s character never so much mutates, as Nick’s perception of reality does. The course of his perception of Jordan can be dissected into four stages, and are all represented in the above quote – he admires and relates with her intense depth of feeling (“I was happier on the lawns” – finding meaning in the trivial, also metaphorically taking “taking a walk on the wild side,” not following the status quo of sidewalks), then appreciates her level-headedness in a setting of total 1920s chaos (this quote describes calm, and also divides an apparently worthless scene into bite-size rational meaningful bits), third notices with a strained indifference her ambiguous adherency to society’s scale of dignity (commercial references are constantly made – “shoes from England,” “new plaid skirt”), and finally reluctantly acknowledges her arrogant dedication towards preserving dominance, preserving a distant and making impossible the intimately connected relationship Nick hoped from her (she derives enjoyment from lawns the most because she can dig her heel into it, leave her imprint on its soft exposure without any like damage on herself). That Fitzgerald consciously intended all of this is clearly indicated by the fact that he too late asked for a change in title form “The Great Gatsby” (an appellation he was never proud of), to “Under the Red, White, and Blue,” purposefully singling out this quote, the only time a reference to America is made close to overtly, signifying that there is indeed a relevant connection between Jordan Baker and the American Dream. Nick Carraway experiences and eventually realizes the false ring of his own American dream, Jordan Baker, - though identifying with her heart-felt emotions, and their frankness, she was ultimately a member and therefore a dependent supplement of society – the resolve Nick had discerned was not committed, as he first assumed, to vitality, but instead a resolve to be resolved (a.k.a., to maintain steadiness of character): Nick had found a “personality” (6), but one founded on a false, selfish foundation, the comprehension of which resulted in his disillusionment in ever finding a valuable being in East Egg, the East, all of America, or the entire Earth.
Nick describes himself as “one of the few honest people [he] has ever known” (64), and although Jordan is classified by him as “incurably dishonest” (63), he in fact identifies with her truthful and well-meaning intention, and sympathizes that her resultant actions are not as untarnished and pure, assuming that the lies that emit from her mouth are not a fault of her own but the product of, like Gatsby, being “preyed on” (6) by “foul dust” (6) that is the outside masses of corruption. Jordan is introduced to the reader by Nick as not typical – not strictly physical, “easy,” or insincerely flirtatious – as shown by the fact that Jordan’s escort at a part wrongly (and that is strongly insinuated by the fact that she immediately deserts said escort for Nick) expected “that sooner or later Jordan was going to yield him her person” (49). He finds her direct and not ostentatiously exacting in her appearance, finding she wears dresses less self-consciously then other women who aim to be looked at (55), and her deeply felt appreciation of reality and not society is connoted by her address to the romantic moon, “you’ve died your hair since then” (47), illustrating that she did not care that no heard her or that the observance was insignificant in the large scheme of things, but rather that she derived comfort from solely personal recognition of reality. Nick himself is drawn to her not only for these qualities, but for is apparent lack of obligation to provide entertainment or change his manner when in her company, or so he thinks – that he can take comfort and absorb a sense of immortality in her presence (“the formidable stroke of thirty died away with the reassuring pressure of her hand” (143)) without, like Gatsby, being ensnared in the spell of “[feeling] married to her” (157). At this point, Nick is extremely tolerant of her less-admirable characteristics because she is beautiful and impressive in all of her doings, even yawning, a act that would otherwise be categorized as almost bestial, “she yawned gracefully in my face” (57) – instead he finds this yet another version of her admirable tendency to straightforwardness, on the verge of being rude, but pleasant aesthetically, not ill-meant, and therefore pleasing. The most out-of-the blue and richly layered outlook on life which is dictated though Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby is as follows: “I love New York on summer afternoons when everyone’s away. There’s something very sensuous about it – overripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands” (132), which expresses an understanding of the world, life, and indeed the American Dream, which Nick (and Fitzgerald) embraced with a vengeance; the idea of practically positively deriving pleasure from a sad reality for the sake of romanticism, recognizing that humans (in the east, New York, especially) are past their best flavor, “overripe” – beyond their peak of potential – and yet this she finds “sumptuous”, grand in appearance, attractive, quixotic in its very loneliness of strained fertility.
“But there was Jordan beside me who, unlike Daisy, was too wise ever to carry well forgotten dreams from age to age” (143): the second phase of Nick’s puzzling and enigmatic relationship with Jordan, and thus his re-evaluation of what a “good” quality is, was his infatuation for her composed, rational self-possession, in short, for the common sense in her which he saw no where else – not even in Gatsby, which he assumed was bred from her inexhaustible strength of character. This actually causes him to freshly examine and even criticize his old-fashioned home, the West, a huge step away from his old self, the only time he will do so: he sketches her and Daisy in the following manner: “[they were] as cool as their white dresses and their impersonal eyes in the absence of all desire… It was sharply different from the West where an evening was hurried from phase to phase toward its close in a continually disappointed anticipation” (17) – here Nick would not classify Gatsby as “great,” here Nick makes an effort to define “greatness” by a measurement of contentment, settlement devoid of vulgar eagerness or expectancy – directly following this quote, he notices that he is still to keen for an upcoming change in his life, and therefore calls himself “uncivilized” (17). And under this pretty portrayal of veracity Jordan fits even more comfortably than Daisy, for she is not only sensible at a moderately peaceful dinner with friends, but also at crises, not only singling out non-sequiturs in Tom’s rage from infidelity to inter-mingling of the races “we’re all white here” (137), but also not putting on the mask of serenity, as when she is offended by Tom she demands, “Listen, Tom, If you’re such a snob why did you invite [Gatsby] to lunch?” (129), a display of audacity that poor Daisy was never capable of. Particularly note that at this stage, Nick especially clings to Jordan because he is loosing faith in Daisy, and indeed all the corruption of the 1920s; his standard is beginning to lower, making Jordan’s heroism all the more elevated. At first, Nick had been captivated by Daisy’s “rippling” (90) voice: “I had to follow the sound of it for a moment, up and down, with my ear alone before any words came through” (90); but gradually he begins to value Jordan’s voice as a more reliable, solid contrast, that required no “high-bouncing” of the ear or mind (epigraph on title page) to comprehend, “uninflected” (22), and “running together in a soothing tune” (22), connoting that, unlike Daisy, Jordan was readable, without an intricate hopeless complexity and melding of motives. This “[hardiness]” (20) also allowed her not to feel constrained and required, like Daisy, to pump meaning into every turn of phrase – this Nick begins to cherish above all else. Compare Daisy’s artificial “Nick… You remind me of a- of a rose, an absolute rose” (which she “turns to Miss Baker for confirmation,” alluding to her fluid and Jordan’s secure opinions) (20), to Jordan’s decided avoidance of unnatural, overstressed, and labored connections, but rather deliberately tending to state fact and allow others to draw conclusions if they please: “They carried [the unconscious Biloxi] into my house… because we lived just two doors form the church. And he stayed three weeks, until Daddy told him he had to get out. The day after he left Daddy died… There wasn’t any connection.” (134). Nick esteems her unwillingness to misrepresent any major event in her life, like the death of a parent, for fear of under- or over-estimating its influence (he is at this point completely overlooking her propensity to lie, most probably because he forgave himself and his father for being “[snobbish]” (6), and associates her lying with a sort of “snobbish” recognition that she must alter the truth in order to get along with an “unequally parceled” reality (6)), setting this affinity of hers as identical with his self-proclaimed “[inclination] to reserve all judgments” (5) as an optimistic “matter of infinite hope” (6). The transition of his affection for her is less that she has violent emotions, and more that she is able to control them and not judgmentally turn her view of her own life into an epic tragedy, like Daisy as she idiotically and pathetically proclaims “You see I think everything’s terrible anyhow… I know. I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything” (22).
Unfortunately with “snobbish” reason and impartiality during devastating circumstances, slightly ignoring the writhing pain of others in order to keep a cool head, comes a dependency on society – and Nick, at first finding the greatest difference and an apparently insurmountable gap between the two, begins to see the lady of society in Miss Baker not only take over the proud separate aloof sporty Jordan, but to realize these two pretty pictures were in fact the same individual all along. This marks the initiation of his losing the Jordan American Dream, for she begins to seem less and less idiosyncratic in her movements and more and more of a follower and flatterer even of the affluent entities (if, perhaps, she is unaware of her less-than main role). She is often in the book coupled with Daisy; Tom first meets her on the couch with Daisy, and this image will recur later to haunt him, as both play the part of “pure” idols, with a special devotion to the color “white” – “Daisy and Jordan lay upon an enormous couch, like silver idols, weighing down their own white dresses against the singing breeze of the fans” (122), the “weighing down” serving as a strict contrast with the “buoyancy” (12) he associates with their likeness in elevated nature at first, mistaking their almost unapproachable remoteness as a result of their inestimable worth, especially with reference to beauty. Daisy and Jordan are often described as wearing the same outfits exactly “followed by Daisy and Jordan wearing…” (127), and Jordan often is treated as a subservient dependent who ought to obey by the Buchanans, as is illustrated by Daisy’s peremptory “come Jordan” (125). She is, in effect, one of the Buchanans, sharing their aimless lifestyle (“the uncertainty of her own movements… made her hard to find” (162)), and facing life in the same “careless” way (187); that hypocritical aspect that is not logical, but rather arrogant and ill-informed, resting on the shoulders of others more virtuous “They’ll keep out of my way… It takes two to make an accident… I hate careless people” (63). In the end, Nick would also learn to treat her in the same fashion as the Buchanans, with false condescending acceptance, shaking hands (186); however even as he was engrossed with her and worshiped her (even as he thought he wasn’t, as is indicated by his strained “Unlike Gatsby and Tom Buchanan I had no girl whose disembodied face floated along the dark cornices” (85)), even when his relationship with her was at its highest intimacy, still he noted, that “she felt safer on a plane where any divergence form a code would be thought impossible” (63), much like Daisy, who insisted that Gatsby’s radicalism and nonconformist expectations was “[wanting] too much!” (139). Also, she resembles Daisy by allowing herself to be inferior to Tom, as a sort of cutesy accessory, like a purse: even as she has that clear, monotonous voice which Nick admires, she is reading aloud to Tom in a sort of domestic manner, like a house wife (22) – her similarity to Daisy as the wife figure, the concept that they are interchangeable, is suggested by Myrtle’s “[taking Jordan] to be [Tom’s] wife” (131). Another demonstration of her identification with reference to Tom, is her emphatic response “Absolutely!” to his bitter statement, “Oh, I’ll stay in the East, don’t you worry” (15), denoting that she is willing to follow his rules of worth, even if it means that his very hands tie her and Daisy to the East of corruption out of whim, a contrast to Wilson’s resolve to transplant his wife to the more promising West (130). She is also pervasively associated with tea in the novel: often depicted as “sitting up very straight on a straight chair in the tea-garden at Plaza Hotel” (79) or something similar. This is going to surely but surely grow distasteful in Nick’s eyes, as representing a loyalty to society’s rules rather than your own soul’s: “I couldn’t have talked to her across a tea table that day if I never talked to her again in this world” (163). The impetus of this change in his opinion is launched by his sympathy towards Daisy’s rejection of Gatsby and the death of Myrtle – and Jordan’s apparent indifference– he felt she had been playing with Gatsby’s future as if it were a game, gossiping about it “across a tea table.” He also associated her leaving Daisy’s house is like abandoning ship – “tactful” in the eyes of society but not loyal to Gatsby – loyal to Daisy and the Buchanans instead: “Probably it had been tactful… but the act annoyed me” (162-163). This fidelity to the scale of worth determined by society in Jordan is also illustrated by her apparent benign friendly concern, “Daisy ought to have something in her life” (85), which suggests she, like Daisy, has low standards of the meaning of happiness (the term “something” is purposefully vague – suggesting that a mere affair, a fun fling, is all that Jordan or Daisy asks for), very unlike the uncompromising Gatsby, whom Nick his valuing more and more for his apparent steadfastness (since Jordan left Daisy’s house in a time of trauma, it suggests that she isn’t as immovable as Nick thought her to be, and , in contrast, Gatsby keeps “vigil” like a determined rock all night (153)). Fitzgerald also uses Jordan’s voice again as a tool to indicate Nick’s commencement of loss of faith in her: “usually her voice came over the wire as something fresh and cool as if a divot from a green golf links had come sailing in at the office window but this morning it seemed harsh and dry” (162).
In order to maintain an “absence of desire” (17) (and not, like Gatsby, plummet into fatal infection due to a passionate drive towards impossible goals, as it seems every character in the novel wishes to avoid above all else) Jordan needs to defend her own supremacy over all others, conserve a complete lack of wants – an obligation to dehumanize herself in order to properly personify Nick’s newly reconstructed American Dream, with yet a lower criterion of independence: at first he finds this a valid enough reason, “she wasn’t able to endure being at a disadvantage… had begun dealing in subterfuges… in order to keep that cool insolent smile turned to the world and yet satisfy the demands of her hard jaunty body” (63), but sooner rather than later, he learns to be disgusted by it as he was at first sickened by in the Buchanans. As his pairing of her with society becomes second nature, his confidence in her ability to “[turn] out all right at the end” (6) considerably withers, a sort of atrophy of even that “sensuous” (132) fertility she had seemed so devoted to previously. In short, not only does Nick have to acknowledge her little fault of identifying with society, but also he must witness her make selfish demands of him as to what treatment a noble lady such as herself must and will receive from him, if he is to maintain the status of “worthy gentlemen” in her eyes. He must swallow her betrayal, “You weren’t so nice to me last night” (163), for it shows him what before had never occurred to him might happen, that everything for Jordan is solely “reciprocal” (15), returning what she was given, never giving and giving and giving without receiving, like Gatsby – merely being “polite” (15) in the giving and taking, not heart sore, no passionate yearning, only exists in mutual relationships as long as the other is demanding the same or more than what she takes, she take pretentious pains to requires nothing. When, in his second before last effort to remain upfront and “frank” with her (for now she was making indirect “innuendos”(49) as egotistical as her earlier escort), he cries out, “How could it have mattered then?” he is unconsciously asking the unfolding of his own American Dream, his old comprehension of sanity, to explain itself – it had been a time of catastrophe, of death! He had been in a fragile position! Must he be cordial every moment he’s around her, around the Buchanans – must he be guarded in his wording and actions at all times in order to uphold this lofty happiness? The twisted irony and perfidy of his American Dream, is not only that Jordan, now representing society and the “foul dust” (6) failed him by insisting that he bend like a slave to all her whims, failed to inspire and enthuse him into relishing life, but that he also failed himself and the whole world. Jordan actually cleanses herself of all blame and accuses him, albeit indirectly, of being the vehicle of her own destruction of worth (for although she still perfectly personifies his original American Dream, that of a stubborn resolve for something, in her specific case independence - it no longer holds worthwhile spirit-arousing substance, but rather exposes his lack of understanding throughout): “Well, I met another bad driver, didn’t I?... I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person.” (186). Thus in her seemingly valiant efforts to preserve his perfect icon impression of her, she resorts to ugly means and in actuality self-destructs “You threw me over on the telephone. I don’t give a damn about you now but it was a new experience for me” (186). She distances herself from him forever, ironically enough, by placing him in the same category as herself, among the corrupt masses of “careless people” (187) who “preyed on Gatsby” (6). This all as an additional smart after she had harshly and objectively watched him spill his life blood as a sort of sacrifice to her, the last of his hope in her, his American Dream that never was: “I… talked over… what had happened to us… and she lay perfectly still listening in a big chair… when I had finished she told me without comment that she was engaged to another man” (185).
“I’d had enough of all of them for one day and suddenly that included Jordan too” (150): and so however gradual Nick’s loss of Jordan Baker may now seem, to him and to a less precarious reader, his and her unanimous and simultaneous abandonment of each other may seem sudden and unrealistic; however, its apparent abruptness indicates the opposite, that their relationship proved all to slow and realistic a process for either of them to handle, so far a cry it was from their idealistic expectations of instant levity it turned out to be. In a flashback, Fitzgerald refers to Gatsby’s consummation with Daisy and his ultimate devotion to her as an “incarnation” (117) – intermingling the rebirth of a new hope and drive in life with the rebirth and reassessment of the self and the concept of the universe; this too Daisy undergoes on a smaller scale with her daughter, calling her girl you dream you. You absolute little dream” (123) because she sees in her daughter a fresher version of herself, full of potential and naiveté, in a sense granting her infinite life and opportunity to “do over,” the ambitious American Dream of immortality. Nick is for the same reason struck by Jordan, for her frank feeling and overall apparent ability to exist in the corrupted world of society but still be detached from – as Nick aspires for himself, a sort of Buddhist “within and without” (40), and devotes himself to her as an “[idol]” (122) for it, confessing when he first sees her the deepest reason for such devotion: “Almost any exhibition of complete self-sufficiency draws a stunned tribute from me.” (13) As she slowly loses her cover and must defend her idealistic image in society with treacherous desperation, she even allows herself to drag down Nick in an attempt to retain that “self-sufficiency,” but is all an act. “For just a minute I wondered if I wasn’t making a mistake, then” (186): this is last defining moment of doubt for Nick, for even as he withdraws her from his grasp in depressed recognition that he has, in losing her, lost his identity and hope for the future, he finds himself to give up even a pretend Dream, but then realizes this would be the last defining step of his towards complete destruction as a “beautiful fool” (21), that this recognition of doom was the last component of his personality that was different from the others, to withhold himself from the incarceration of ignorance so that, exposed “Under the Red, White, and Blue” banners of America, under the “eyes of Doctor T. J Eckleberg” (27) he might not be completely disapproved, that he might avoid Gatsby’s ill-begotten fate, that “his mind [might]… romp again like the mind of a God” (117).
Heart of Darkness
Outside the Heart of Darkness:
The Commonplace Individual
The opening and closing of a book are often the most significant and memorable; yet Conrad’s in Heart of Darkness is riddled with seemingly inconsequential extras in a setting outside the book’s main focus, the Congo. The detail, cohesiveness of metaphor, and heavily adjectival literary style of the book loudly connotes forethought. Therefore, the alien aspect of the opening and closing, compared to the rest of the book, must hold meaning beyond simple contrast to the wilderness. Marlow’s attitude towards women and men outside the Congo, which culminates in his portrayal of the Intended, consists in the rhetoric of the eternal, funereal, and non-individualism.
Marlow’s evocation of his Aunt and the fat and slim pair of women, through use of first close and concrete rhetoric, and second abstract rhetoric, brings forward the ideas of isolated worlds and life surrounded by death. He magnifies mundane movements and turns of phrase into microcosms of separate worlds and times, so that a woman is no longer a woman, but converted into something else, whether all women as a whole or concentrated into a single concept. His aunt is initially condescendingly and conventionally described as “a dear enthusiastic soul,” (8) introduced to his listeners in the form of her epistolary prose, mundane and stereotypical in their readiness and “enthusiasm,” “I am ready to do anything, anything for you.”(8) However later on an innocent remark of hers sparks a less ordinary train of description – he leaps from her tea and the “room that most soothingly looked just as you would expect a lady’s drawing-room to look,” images of security and conformism, to an inner sardonic simultaneous chastisement and endorsement of women’s “world of their own”(12):
“It's queer how out of touch with truth women are. They live in a world of their own, and there has never been anything like it, and never can be. It is too beautiful altogether, and if they were to set it up it would go to pieces before the first sunset. Some confounded fact we men have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creation would start up and knock the whole thing over.”(12).
Thus the futility yet permanent nature of a small, isolated, perfect world embodied in the naivete of his aunt begins a pattern of description of the remainder of the few women in this novel. The two women he encounters before his interview are immediately described in
material terms – “one fat and the other slim, sat on straw-bottomed chairs, knitting black wool”(10); the fatter one especially, has two entire sentences devoted to the specific description of her wear, her cat, and her headgear. From here Marlow quickly shifts in tone to the otherworldly, the slimmer likened to a “somnambulist”(10) and the elder to an emperor before gladiators marching to death, with “swift and indifferent placidity”(11) and “unconcerned wisdom”(11); both are portrayed as independent, separate from the men entering and leaving the building, remote and thus somehow eternally precious, all-knowing:
“She seemed to know all about them and about me, too… She seemed uncanny and fateful. Often far away there I thought of these two, guarding the door of Darkness, knitting black wool as for a warm pall, one introducing, introducing continuously to the unknown, the other scrutinizing the cheery and foolish faces with unconcerned old eyes. AVE! Old knitter of black wool. MORITURI TE SALUTANT. Not many of those she looked at ever saw her again -- not half, by a long way.”(11)
“Fateful,” “guarding the door of Darkness,” and “the unknown”: these two women are assigned because of their apparent cut-off existence the care of major abstract proper nouns and long-sweeping adjectives. Marlow’s finds women as the glowing kernel, that finds its light under false, but honest pretences, amidst a larger, darker reality.
The antithesis of dramatis personae, the deluge of minor characters in the opening and closing, are presented as humanity absorbed by earthly concerns, unaware of higher ideas, absorbed by goals and efficiency. Marlow emphasizes their relative “smallness” in the plot through continually derogatory adjectives throughout description. The doctor’s continual use of “the interests of science”(11) as justification and incentive causes Marlow to sarcastically respond, “Is that question in the interests of science, too?”(12) Though the Doctor has “a little theory… to prove”(12) it is not akin to Kurtz’ ambiguous drive but is his “share in the advantages my county shall reap from the possession of such a magnificent dependency.”(12) This has the air of exploitation and extrinsic motivation, it is clear that he would not understand Marlow’s need to explore the blank spots on the map; the Doctor understands too well what the Aunt did not, that “the Company was run for profit.”(12) This can also be observed in the bespectacled man, Kurtz’s cousin, and the journalist in the closing, all of which are continually described by means of close details that destract from their conversation, thus diminishing its quality. Thus metaphorically for Marlow the minor man represents the inverse of the Aunt; instead of the glowing kernel, he is the darkness crowding her in. Near the end of the book Marlow rises from his mortality to find himself disgusted at the London he has returned to, in the form of a rant:
I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretence, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew. (70-71)
He’d referred to the city as “sepulchral” before, but now new negative associations are dangling off each noun: “little,” “infamous,” “unwholesome,” “insignificant,” “silly.” Furthermore, more specific and accusatory nouns are inserted, “intruders” and “pretence.” Marlow sees the men around him as minor players, insignificant both to him and the world, and accentuates his conviction of their “smallness” compared to his and Kurtz’s great souls though belittling adjectives and the statement: “I felt so sure they could not possible know the things I knew,” specifically, he felt his capability of abstract thought made him a higher being.
Their bearing, which was simply the bearing of commonplace individuals going about their business in the assurance of perfect safety, was offensive to me like the outrageous flauntings of folly in the face of a danger it is unable to comprehend. I had no particular desire to enlighten them, but I had some difficulty in restraining myself from laughing in their faces so full of stupid importance. I daresay I was not very well at that time. I tottered about the streets -- there were various affairs to settle -- grinning bitterly at perfectly respectable persons. (71)
Here Marlow’s underlying thesis raises its head; he finds the assumption of security and commonplace individuals offensive, because of their unconcern for the very real danger – darkness – which surrounds everything, to the point where he cannot comprehend their smallness of mind, their “stupid importance,” their “pretence” at reality. Marlow speaks: “What redeems it is the idea only. An idea at the back of it; not a sentimental pretence but an ides; and an unselfish belief in the idea.”(7) Marlow finds fault with small-minded, selfish efficiency without that backing idea; he believes he and Kurtz have that idea, or at least that Kurtz has it and he understands it.
The Intended functions as the combination of the minor characters and female characters, belaboring Marlow’s thesis of the perpetual false conservation of humanity, which in reality is a thing rather than a being. Marlow includes the conjunction of the mediums of the book when he says
“the sound of her low voice seemed to have the accompaniment of all the other sounds, full of mystery, desolation, and sorrow, I had ever heard -- the ripple of the river, the soughing of the trees swayed by the wind, the murmurs of the crowds, the faint ring of incomprehensible words cried from afar, the whisper of a voice speaking from beyond the threshold of an eternal darkness.”(75)
The river is the Congo river and the crowds London, the voice from behind the threshold Kurtz’s from byond the grave, all key elements of the novel inspired simultaneously in Marlow’s mind in the ppresence of the Intended. Her fireplace has “cold and monumental whiteness,”(73) her piano is likened to a sarcophagus, the rhetoric of entombment just as in the “sepulchral city”(70). She is said to be “one of those creatures that are not the playthings of Time”(74) just as the fatter of the two women in the beginning of the book was described. Yet throughout she is described as th sole source of light, often through her forehead: “The room seemed to have grown darker, as if all the sad light of the cloudy evening had taken refuge on her forehead. This fair hair, this pale visage, this pure brow, seemed surrounded by an ashy halo from which the dark eyes looked out at me.”(73-74) and later “But with every word spoken the room was growing darker, and only her forehead, smooth and white, remained illumined by the inextinguishable light of belief and love”(74). Clearly her forhead is the kernel which was referred to earlier, the sole bringer of light “of belief and love” in the darkness, the “ashy halo” – she is alive, pure, and believes despite evidence to the contrary. Her hair is also absorbant of all possible naivete: “her fair hair seemed to catch all the remaining light in a glimmer of gold”(75). And Marlow wishes her to remain that way; before he sees her he feels “It was a moment of triumph for the wilderness, an invading and vengeful rush which, it seemed to me, I would have to keep back alone for the salvation of another soul”(73). He intends to save her from the truth, preserve her good will even if it is on false pretences, the value of that shiny forhead must be maintained; however he does not feel entirely equal to it and even hopes she will save him in her apparent insensitivity to the darkness that surrounds them: “I said with something like despair in my heart, but bowing my head before the faith that was in her, before that great and saving illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness, in the triumphant darkness from which I could not have defended her -- from which I could not even defend myself”(75). Notice she is a “saving illusion” not necessarily the glow of truth, but the glow of old-fashioned anglo-saxon traditionalist honesty, which is almost impossible to preserve once it is exposed to the Darkness of the Congo which is truth. On the other hand, the Intended is not allowed the dignifying classification of a true individual either, she is not a Kurtz or a Marlow, she is not given a name. In fact, Marlow considers her in the list of things to be “surrendered” of Kurtz’s life after his death:
“All that had been Kurtz's had passed out of my hands: his soul, his body, his station, his plans, his ivory, his career. There remained only his memory and his Intended -- and I wanted to give that up, too, to the past, in a way -- to surrender personally all that remained of him with me to that oblivion which is the last word of our common fate”(72).
He is to surrender her, now rendered inanimate, into oblivion, to see whether her light goes out. Her individuality is further diminished by the statement “But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle”(77). The saving of the Intended (through a lie about Kurtz’s last words) is “a trifle.” What would have been more momentous, as Marlow than hints, is telling the Intended the horrible truth, invading on her luminous falsehood, and allowing “Some confounded fact we men have been living contentedly with ever since the day of creation [to] start up and knock the whole thing over”(12-13).
Conrad introduces many individuals in his novel’s small 77 pages; however he introduces a condensed amount when the novel takes place outside of the Congo, which is during the beginning and ending. Though a first reading can allow Marlow’s fascination with Kurtz to overshadow their significance, these minor characters play an integral role in the very way Marlow thinks in his storytelling. The dimunition of the individual that has not encountered “the Darkness” is clear and pervasive, as Marlow looks first into the overly material aspects and second ascends into his abstract haven of light and darkness.