Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Historical Context in Master Harold and Death of a Salesman

Both "Master Harold and the Boys" and "Death of a Salesman" take place in tumultuous periods in their respective countries' history. These periods provide the backdrop for both plays and the basis for many of the thematic elements present in the narratives. Using the conditions imposed by apartheid in South Africa and the aftermath of World War II in the U.S, both dramas explore the response of a contained group to certain stressors.

"Master Harold and the Boys" takes place during the apartheid era in South Africa, the period in which racial segregation and discrimination were institutionalized in the country. Social reform is a major thematic element discussed in the play, with Sam and Hally stopping to discuss what it truly means to be a “social reformer”. Each suggests his own examples of “a man of some magnitude”, but while Sam’s first instinct is a man who has made tangible societal and racial progressions, Abraham Lincoln, whereas Hally suggests Charles Darwin, a man who only reformed society in terms of high-browed intellectual dialogue. Darwin's theory of evolution didn't help improve conditions for slaves in 19th century America or blacks in apartheid-era South Africa. Rather, he suggested a concept that only the intellectuals and aristocrats of Europe were really exposed to.

"Death of a Salesman" follows the Loman family in the aftermath of the second World War and chronicles their catastrophic financial failures.  The World War II era occurred 30 years after the American Great Depression and the era that followed was idealized as a "golden age" for the United States, a period of unbridled capitalist success in the face of Soviet Communism. Willy possesses a similarly romanticized perception of life and work as he continuously contends that Biff and Happy will be successful, even when all evidence points to them being wholly unsuccessful. When discussing Biff's work ethic with his wife Linda, Willy rationalizes that "Certain men just don’t get started till later in life. Like Thomas Edison." The most apt comparison in Willy's opinion for Biff, a kleptomaniac who threw away his college education, is Thomas Edison. Willy operates under the assumption that there is always hope for his sons even when, with the financial reality of a working class family and his sons' blatant lack of work ethic.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Sets of 'Worlds' in Death of a Salesman and the Importance of Being Earnest

In "Death of a Salesman", our protagonist, Willy Loman drifts into nostalgic daydreams and memories of a bygone era of success and hope, often inhibiting his already limited capacity to work and function in daily life. The result is a man attached to an idealistic imagining of the "American Dream", one in which everyone can succeed, especially a football star who refuses to study. In many ways the play mirrors The Great Gatsby, in that they are both social commentaries with much to say about the state of the American Dream. Both Willy and Gatsby believe that they'll "break through" and reach validation through perseverance in the American capitalist system, and both men have an interesting relationship with the past. Whereas Willy is stuck in the past, Gatsby refuses to acknowledge that the past is static. 

Both "Death of a Salesman" and "The Importance of Being Earnest" involve separate 'worlds' that the characters interact with. In "Earnest" the division is between the city world and the country world, a divide that is bridged through the act of Bunburying. Both Algie and Jack are forced to develop alternate personas in order to freely operate in the city and in the country. In "Salesman", the different 'worlds' that are explored are the idealistic, optimistic memories of Willy's past, and the true, bleak reality of the present. Both sets of realms function in order to allow the playwrights opportunity for social commentary. The disparity between Willy's idea of how his life should have turned out and his current state of affairs is emblematic of the disconnect between the American Dream and economic realities in the great depression. The way in which Algie and Jack change temperament and behavior to fit either the country or the city demonstrates the ease with which British aristocrats changed how they acted. Wilde and Miller both implement contrasting 'Worlds' in order to comment on societal phenomena.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Importance of Being Meme-est

In the opening of the play, Algy, most likely out of pride for this 'invalid' construct that he has created, constantly repeats Bunbury and Bunburying. At that moment, the reader is relatively ignorant, so the repetition of the term can be frustrating, a frustration that is mirrored in Jack's feelings towards Algy.

Presumably as a critique of the fashion in which British aristocrats readily augmented their personality in order to portray themselves in the best light possible, Wilde has written Jack and Algernon to literally live dual lives. While this may seem like unrelatable, aristocratic grandeur, the idea that people shift their behavior to accommodate circumstance is very applicable in daily life.

 Before the gambit ends with Jack's proposal to Gwendolyn, it is left rather ambiguous which 'half' is dominant, Jack or Ernest. Is Jack the Dr. Jekyll to Ernest's Mr. Hyde, or are those roles reversed? However, as the play progresses and Jack is noticeably frustrated by Gwendolyn's love for the name Ernest, it becomes evident that Jack is the dominant half.
Revealing himself as Jack to Gwendolyn would help Jack tremendously as it would help avoid so much of the conflict that later occurs with Algy. However, a rural life would not go over well with Lady Augusta, and after all, it is a story. Contrivances and coincidences must occur.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Heaney Memes


The final stanza of "Follower" is left rather ambiguous and the narrowing of the eyes is an evocation of that uncertainty.  Heaney remarks that his father's "stumbling behind" him mirrors Seamus' own behavior as a "tripping, falling" "nuisance", but it is unclear how the father's following of Heaney is actually manifest. While some interpretations make one believe that the father is dead and is stalking his son as a ghost, it may also be concluded that the father's aging has led the two to reverse roles (Seamus being capable and his father being a nuisance).


A through-line that is present in many of Heaney's poems is the description of the Irish landscape, which is often manifest through the presence of bogs. The landscape that is described, dotted with mines and deposits of peat, is representative of the hardworking nature that Heaney believes the Irish possess.

Bog Queen

Heaney appears fascinated with corpses, and many of his poems, including Bog Queen, Tollund Man, and Grabaulle Man, deal with the exhumation of bodies. Heaney connects the appearance of corpses to the imitation of life through art in Grabaulle Man and links the preservation of dead bodies to the conflict between paganism and monotheism in Tolland Man.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Parallels Between The Great Gatsby and A Mercy

      The Great Gatsby, a book I studied in sophomore year, describes the fall from grace of Jay Gatz, a soldier turned entrepreneur that remains fixated on his boyhood sweetheart. This tragic character actually exhibits parallels with one of the many protagonists present in Toni Morrison's A Mercy, Jacob Vaark. Both men are willing to compromise their moral values in the pursuit of reaching an object of fixation.
       Gatsby, in order to reclaim a part of his past, Daisy, resorts to bootlegging and a criminal lifestyle in the pursuit of accruing enough wealth to validate himself in her eyes. Similarly, after gazing upon Jublio, D'Ortega's estate, Vaark mimics the same "pagan excess" of which he had previously been so critical. Vaark constantly criticizes Catholics for their decadence and extensive opulence, yet his visit to Jublio instills within him a desire to build an enormous property, similar to Jublio. However, Gatsby and Vaark differ in the degree to which they are cognizant of their compromise of values. Whereas Jacob constantly rationalizes both his construction of his new estate and his conscription of slaves, Gatsby seems to be amoral, not recognizing the consequences of his actions. Gatsby is solely focused on reaching Daisy's ideal of success.
       In both The Great Gatsby and A Mercy  there are objects important to Vaark and Gatsby that are symbolic of the ideal that they are attempting to reach. Gatsby constantly stares across the bay adjacent to his house at a green searchlight, representative of his hope to change the past, so to speak, and become worthy of Daisy's love. Vaark has a similar object in the form of his final house, representative of his moral compromise, descent into the very decadence that he criticized, and general hypocrisy.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Determinism in Macbeth

     Determinism vs. Free Will, the quintessential philosophical debate that is present in everything from the Bible to the Matrix, makes a surprise appearance in Macbeth. This inclusion is a facet of the play whose prevalence I did not notice until I memorized my assigned Macbeth lines.
    Macbeth's character arc, his rise to power and inevitable demise, revolves around the prophecies told to him by the three witches, but before learning my lines I had not grasped the degree to which deterministic views figured into the play.
    After learning of his newfound title, Macbeth mumbles to himself "I am Thane of Cawdor, if chance will have me king, why chance may crown me, without my stir." Macbeth seems comfortable with the idea of Fate deciding his ascendence, and seems resigned to whatever his destiny may be. While I made a note of this line upon my first read-through of Macbeth, it was not until I memorized Macbeth's dialogue with Ross and Banquo that I noticed the how often the theme of Fate is utilized concerning Macbeth.
    As Macbeth continues his dialogue, he remarks to Ross and Banquo "Think upon what hath chanced." He seems obsessed with the idea that events are externally determined, and this deterministic viewpoint is eventually his downfall.
    Upon learning that Macduff was prematurely taken from his mother's womb, Macbeth loses all of the confidence and swagger that had allowed him to absolutely dismantle any previous challenger. Because of the witches' prophecy about a "man of woman born", Macbeth believes that he has met his maker as soon as Macduff is shown to fulfill the qualifications.
    In conclusion, as a consequence of memorizing my thirty lines, a task I initially thought unfeasible, I gained an awareness about how Macbeth's deterministic ideology leads to his eventual death.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Macbeth Song

I Didn't Kill the King (to the tune of Billy Joel's We Didn't Start the Fire)

Thane of Cawdor, killed some guys, King Duncan, was impressed
Glamis betrayed him, wasn’t happy, so he took his head

Thane of Cawdor, stole his title, like the witches, preordained
Lady Macbeth, started talking, so he lost his mind

So Macbeth, chose to, kill the king, foolishly
Lady, she was at fault, and didn’t feel guilty

Stabbed in his sleep, dagger, Scotland’s got a new king
Duncan’s sons are flee-eeing, Macbeth just killed some guards

I didn’t kill the ki-ing
He was always dying
Since he was so o-old
I didn’t kill the ki-ing
Even though it wa-as

Really advantageous

      The opening 2 lines set the stage for the play, explaining the betrayal that the Thane of Cawdor perpetrated that catalyzed Macbeth's rise to power. Transitioning to the next couplet, the witches' prophecies are introduced. These premonitions come to be a defining aspect of Macbeth's character arc as his deterministic views, specifically regarding the witches' warnings, end up leading to his downfall. Just as the witches' prophecies predict his ascendence to the throne, the credence that he provides them contribute to his death.
      In the 3rd couplet, part of Lady Macbeth's character is revealed, with her feeling no remorse, at least in the beginning, for the murder of the King. When reading Macbeth's letter, Lady Macbeth pleads for spirits to take away her kindness and replace it with gall. Whether or not we believe the spirits actually change Lady Macenth is immaterial. What matters is that after she asks for this change, we see her to react minimally to 5 murders, one of which is the killing of a child.
      The final verse is a satirical look at the ease with which Macbeth circumvents the blame of murdering the king. A day after being promoted, reaching one step closer to the crown, the king mysteriously dies and Macbeth murders the only 2 witnesses. Showing a thirst for blood the morning after moving closer to the kingship, Macbeth is somehow not one of the prime suspects.