Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Histories

The Histories: Tudor Propaganda
One of Shakespeare’s three distinct genres, the histories explain the history of the British, mostly during the War of the Roses. These histories can be compared to the action movies of today. Since these plays are based on actual historical figures, many question how accurate these plays are to the real history. Unlike real history however, Shakespeare’s historical characters differ in their persona corresponding to the time period Shakespeare was living in. Shakespeare lived during the Elizabethan era in Great Britain, during which Queen Elizabeth I ruled. Queen Elizabeth is from the house of Tudor, the house that ended up ruling Great Britain after the War of the Roses starting with the crowning of Henry VII, also known as Henry Tudor, also known as Richmond in Shakespeare’s play Richard III. In order to coincide with his country’s patriotic feelings and the British peoples’ feelings towards past kings, Shakespeare accordingly made characters to fit these needs. Richard III is portrayed as the ultimate evil, the ultimate snake in the grass; this power-hungry monster who will stop at nothing. On the other hand, Henry V is shown as a pious, righteous, and glorious leader who never shirked his kingly duties. Regardless of how these characters are viewed, however, Shakespeare excels at creating two highly dynamic, developed, and interesting characters. In these plays a lot of foreshadowing is hinted at since the people seeing these plays at the time already knew what was going to happen since this was their history. Even though these plays Shakespeare has written are slightly biased the character development is still very critical. For example in both Henry V and Richard III the actions of the main characters develop in intensity exponentially as the play progresses. While Richard is killing a king in the beginning, he then moves on to his brothers, the princes, and then to even his best friend, Buckingham. Henry V, however, is seen as being viewed by others as childish yet over the course through multiple tests of masculinity, he proves his kingship by the end of the play. It is this development of these well-known historical characters, whether they are fictitiously created or not, that gives the histories such literary acclaim.

* * *

In the plays Richard III and Henry V we are presented with two very different sides of the spectrum in terms of characters. Richard is truly the ultimate evil without a lack for morality. Meanwhile Henry is the embodiment of heroism and chivalry; of a true underdog. What really sets these two characters apart is power; how they use their kingly power and how they view it. In Richard’s case it is how he wants this power since he was only king for two years. In fact, Richard is only king halfway through act four and shortly after is killed in act five. Richard is utterly consumed by this lust, this yearning for power he so greatly wants. In his famous opening speech the audience is already shown how he justifies his reckless actions:

Richard: And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain
And hate the idle pleasures of these days.
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,
By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,
To set my brother Clarence and the king
In deadly hate the one against the other:
And if King Edward be as true and just
As I am subtle, false and treacherous,
This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,
About a prophecy, which says that 'G'
Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.
Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: here
Clarence comes.

This entire speech shows how Richard is driven to the point of madness over his desire for the crown. In fact, just from the beginning of the play we can see that he is willing to even kill his brothers, his own flesh and blood, just for one chance to have the power he so greatly desires. The reader can somewhat understand his plight; he is a lonely person, rather disfigured and discontent with himself. Yet it is from this uncontrollable aspect of his life that Richard decides that the only way to alleviate his pain is by becoming a villain; and this is where the perverse realms of Richard’s mind begin to take hold over him. By the end of the play Richard is seen as so inhuman due to his lack of humanity for the countless people, many who were close to him, that he murdered. In fact, what is paradoxical is how he has done so much for his kingly power yet in the heat of battle he would willingly give it all away just to save his own life. What is also paradoxical is how Richard embraces death, uses it as an instrument of self-fulfilling pleasure but when he faces death himself, he refuses to die.
Henry V, on the other hand, is the exact opposite of Richard. At the beginning of both plays both characters are seen as unfit to rule yet Henry has had this power thrust onto him from the very beginning. In fact, he really had no choice and now must face the world as a grown, mature individual. Henry had just as much potential to become Richard-esque yet he changes his ways from his youth as an immature boy to a powerful and courageous ruler. Unlike Richard, who desires the throne so much, Henry doesn’t use his position to flaunt his power or to feel like he has a legitimate purpose in the world. In fact it is Henry’s selflessness that makes him and Richard two completely different characters:

King Henry: I am a king that find thee, and I know
'Tis not the balm, the sceptre and the ball,
The sword, the mace, the crown imperial,
The intertissued robe of gold and pearl,
The farced title running 'fore the king,
The throne he sits on, nor the tide of pomp
That beats upon the high shore of this world,
No, not all these, thrice-gorgeous ceremony,
Not all these, laid in bed majestical,
Can sleep so soundly as the wretched slave,
Who with a body fill'd and vacant mind
Gets him to rest, cramm'd with distressful bread;
Never sees horrid night, the child of hell,
But, like a lackey, from the rise to set
Sweats in the eye of Phoebus and all night
Sleeps in Elysium; next day after dawn,
Doth rise and help Hyperion to his horse,
And follows so the ever-running year,
With profitable labour, to his grave:
And, but for ceremony, such a wretch,
Winding up days with toil and nights with sleep,
Had the fore-hand and vantage of a king.
The slave, a member of the country's peace,
Enjoys it; but in gross brain little wots
What watch the king keeps to maintain the peace,
Whose hours the peasant best advantages.

While Richard envies those in power, Henry, in fact, envies the slave who has life easier than he does. Henry would give away all of his power to live a worry-free life but at the same time he realizes that his troops and all of Great Britain need him. From the beginning of the play others have told him he wasn’t fit to be king. The Dauphin of France even sends him tennis balls to make a statement on how immature he is. Many question his past where he affiliated himself with scoundrels such as Pistol and Bardolph; doubt hangs in the courtroom. It is this inner confrontation about whether he is worthy or not that plagues him throughout the entire play until he comes of age at the battle of Agincourt. It is this selfless behavior that sets apart Henry from Richard and shows Henry’s true colors. The desire for power and how these two characters handle it differently show Shakespeare’s biased history writings in full effect. Regardless, however, it is the dynamic development that makes the audience cheer at Richard’s death and shed tears of joy at Henry’s victory over France.

* * *

I found Shakespeare’s histories to be very intriguing. The astounding leap of character development from the comedies is what, to me, makes these plays astounding. In both plays the character development of Richard and Henry had me turning until the last page. I loved Richard’s character; the perfect epitome of a villain. Never before have I seen a character so ruthless and evil. It was this inherent evil that made the play so realistic; I truly could imagine in my head these events happening. On the other hand while Henry V is a little over-the-top in terms of the perfect hero, in character development we get to see some flaws he has in his character such as playing tricks on other people. I felt that both plays provided what I like to see in a piece of literature: real characters. Not cookie-cutter characters that remain the same but dynamic characters that have emotion (or in Richard’s case, a lack of emotion), that are biased, that react as a real person would. Overall I found Shakespeare’s histories an interesting look into his own twist on british history woth some extra drama thrown on for good measure.

It's a trap!!!!!!

The Comedies

The Comedies Analysis: Tragedy Potential
Shakespearean comedies and tragedies have the same plot potential; the same ball of clay, if you will. But it is the how Shakespeare molds this clay through the plots of his plays that defines the difference between tragedy and comedy. Unlike the tragedies where the worst possible things can happen, comedies always end light-heartedly; yet that chance for tragedy was present during the play. For example, the opening conflict for each comedy is a lightly tragic scenario that could have spun out of control in a tragedy. For example, Lysander and Hermia’s forbidden is strikingly similar to Romeo and Juliet, yet both plays end on totally different ends of the spectrum. Prospero’s desire for revenge can be compared to Hamlet’s desire for revenge on Claudius. Yet again, however, the two different genres end with totally different endings. While in tragedies a single character is greatly explored, in comedies the characters remain relatively static. The endings themselves between the two genres show the striking differences; utter disparity on one side and sheer joy on the other.
While tragedies employ the grim reality of life, comedies play down on the reality and rely more on an illusioned life where, in the long run, everything works out. In order to dispense this illusion, Shakespeare often utilizes magic as seen in The Tempest and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Not only does the illusion provide for the comedic value but the situations themselves supply the audience with more than enough humor. In all of the comedies the characters are placed in situations that entirely go out of expected context: suitors begin to reject the fair maiden they once loved while under a magical spell, monsters worship drunkards, eccentric men marry shrewish wives and employ unorthodox tactics to gain their obedience, and the list goes on and on.
When many think of Shakespeare, the first thought their mind conjures are usually the horrific tragedies yet let’s not forget the tragedy’s lesser-known yet still exceptionately written cousin, the comedy.
* * *

Passage Analysis: The Fool
One of the archetypes implemented by Shakespeare to inject humor into the situation of the comedy is the fool. There are three major things that differentiate a fool from a regular character. The first is the acute form of mortal vices they have. For most of these fools one of these vices is a lack of intelligence. Other major vices include alcoholism/drunkenness, impulsiveness, clumsiness, over-enthusiasm, etc. The second is the fool’s lack of reality. Shakespearean fools don’t realize they are fools or are doing foolish things and this brings their comedic situations to a new level of humor since the fool is unaware of why he is in such a predicament. The final differentiating facet of the fool is their lack of character change. While the fool goes through a situation where he is ridiculed, his lack of realistic viewing causes the fool to remain the way he was at his first appearance. What differentiates the comedic fool from the tragic fool such as the one from King Lear is the fool’s illusionary temporary ascension into a higher status that in reality the fool would be completely unable to achieve. However, while the fool is a secondary character that at first seems unimportant to the play as a whole, it is through the fool’s antics that most major messages of the comedies are delivered. For example, Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream from a static perspective is unimportant to the plot yet when one delves deeper into the use of Bottom we can see the true message that Shakespeare delivers. For example, the following line indicates Bottom’s fool-status: When we first see Bottom in the play he is portrayed as a true ass; somebody who thinks he is above all reproach and who believes he is not bound by any obstacles. In reality, however, Bottom is truly a mediocre person, somebody who can barely even put on a decent performance. It is this foolish illusion conveyed by Bottom that sparks the greatest aspect of humor in the play. With his mortal vices of hubris and mediocrity and his failure to see these faults, Bottom is indefinitely a fool. In Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew the fool is again implemented yet in this play he is used in a much interesting fashion. The fool Sly is introduced at the beginning of the play, yet the first entire opening scene is not even the play itself as The Taming of the Shrew is a play within a play. The use of a fool for a play introduction allows for this comedy to start off on a light-hearted note from the onset. Sly is a drunken beggar who is dressed as a noble and treated as one as a joke by the nobles of the castle. In his drunken state Sly too believes he is nobility that once again portrays the temporary rise to power. While A Midsummer Night’s Dream begins with a somewhat tragic situation among the young Athenians, the use of a fool at the beginning allows the audience to laugh right from the start. One of Shakespeare’s greatest implementation of the fool, however, is seen in his play The Tempest, a romance which is essentially a mix of the tragedy and comedy genre. The while the plight of Prospero is shown, Shakespeare injects some comic relief by implementing the fools Trinculo and Stefano. Stefano, a drunk, gives Caliban some of his wine and inebriates Caliban. In his drunken state, Caliban proclaims Stefano a god, a powerful man. It is this scene that yet again brings the fool from a lowly state to a high status in the eyes of another. It is the common humor and the common archetype that makes all comedies the same, yet their plots different.
The Tempest

I'll kiss thy foot; I'll swear myself thy subject.

Come on then; down, and swear.

I shall laugh myself to death at this puppy-headed
monster. A most scurvy monster! I could find in my
heart to beat him, --

Come, kiss.

But that the poor monster's in drink: an abominable monster!

I'll show thee the best springs; I'll pluck thee berries;
I'll fish for thee and get thee wood enough.
A plague upon the tyrant that I serve!
I'll bear him no more sticks, but follow thee,
Thou wondrous man.

A most ridiculous monster, to make a wonder of a
Poor drunkard!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Come, sit thee down upon this flowery bed,
While I thy amiable cheeks do coy,
And stick musk-roses in thy sleek smooth head,
And kiss thy fair large ears, my gentle joy.

Where's Peaseblossom?


Scratch my head Peaseblossom. Where's Mounsieur Cobweb?


Mounsieur Cobweb, good mounsieur, get you your
weapons in your hand, and kill me a red-hipped
humble-bee on the top of a thistle; and, good
mounsieur, bring me the honey-bag. Do not fret
yourself too much in the action, mounsieur; and,
good mounsieur, have a care the honey-bag break not;
I would be loath to have you overflown with a
honey-bag, signior. Where's Mounsieur Mustardseed?


Give me your neaf, Mounsieur Mustardseed. Pray you,
leave your courtesy, good mounsieur.

What's your Will?

Nothing, good mounsieur, but to help Cavalery Cobweb
to scratch. I must to the barber's, monsieur; for
methinks I am marvellous hairy about the face; and I
am such a tender ass, if my hair do but tickle me,
I must scratch.

The Taming of the Shrew

Am I a lord? and have I such a lady?
Or do I dream? or have I dream'd till now?
I do not sleep: I see, I hear, I speak;
I smell sweet savours and I feel soft things:
Upon my life, I am a lord indeed
And not a tinker nor Christophero Sly.
Well, bring our lady hither to our sight;
And once again, a pot o' the smallest ale.

* * *

While the comedies provide a great laugh, to me their literary merit just can’t add up to Shakespeare’s more serious plays. While A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Tempest were well-written, I found that The Taming of the Shrew provided a more realistic comedic situation. The use of magic in the plays to me just seems to account for a lack of creativity. Anybody can make a story where in the end a magical unicorn comes and strikes a lightning bolt down on the antagonist and everyone is happy. It takes a lot more skill to make a comedic situation that can apply to real life which is why I found The Taming of the Shrew to be the most enjoyable read. However, I found the fools in all of the plays equally funny in their lack of reality perception and their ridiculous behavior. I especially found Bottom’s hubris so hysterical since in truth he is a mediocre person at best. Compared to other genres, though, I did not particularly enjoy the endings to all of the Comedies. That lack of reality, to me, really takes away from what could have been a really good play. While the tragedies may be very heartbreaking at the end, this ending is so realistic that it impacts me more than a “happily ever after” ending. Overall, I found the comedies to be a nice read, however, I would suggest Shakespeare’s other genres over this one.

"I pity the Shakespearean fool!"

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Importance of Being Earnest

A) Absurdity

Oscar Wilde's farce, The Importance of Being Earnest, is a social satire on the absurdity of the upper class in the Victorian Era and on self-deemed members of "high society". Throughout the entire play, the characters, who remain static, simply talk of literary fluff; there is no weight whatsoever in what they say. The character Algernon is a prime example of someone who can't differentiate important situations in life from frivolous ones. When he talks to his "friend" (How they consider their argumentative relationship, a friendship is completely ridiculous) Jack, they always argue over foolish things, such as how to correctly eat muffins, how to keep possession of one's cigarette tin correctly, and so on. These characters satirize high society in that they always believe that they are right, no matter how absurd the conversation is. When talking about what they should do Jack simply replies how everything is horrible and the only great thing to do is absolutely nothing. And the absurdity by no means stops here. The characterization of Cecily and Gwendolyn lends further credence to the ridiculousness of this need for high social standing. Both appear outrightly the epitome of high class, in a physical sense, yet on the inside both are as dull as the numerous things they reject. Cecily is so bored with her life that she foolishly believes the lie about earnest and writes letters from Earnest addressed to her. She even goes as far as to buy herself her own gifts from "Earnest". The entire lack of any concrete storyline or characters helps Wilde project his opinions of a truly foolish class of society.

* * *

"Lady Bracknell: Well, I must say, Algernon, that I think that it is high time that Mr. Bunbury should make up his mind on whether he is going to live or to die. This shilly-shallying with the question is absurd. Nor do i in any way approve of the modern sympathy with invalids. I consider it morbid. Illness of any kind is hardly a thing to be encouraged in others. Health is the primary duty of life. I am always telling that to your poor uncle, but he never seems to take much far as any improvement in his ailment goes. I should be obliged if you would ask Mr. Bunbury, from me, to be kind enough not to have a relapse on Saturday, for I rely on you to arrange my music for me. It is my last reception and one wants something that will encourage conversation, particularly at the end of the season when everyone has practically said whatever they had to say, which, in most cases, was probably not much."

The flamboyant attitude and revolting opinionated character that is Lady Bracknell is Wilde's greatest implementation of satire from a singular character in this play. Bracknell's entire opinion is one that is incredibly ridiculous both in its logic and in its compassion. She expects someone to simply get healthier on request or die, which is absolutely absurd. Along these lines the made up practice of Bunburying is one that shows the frivolous nature of Jack and Algernon. They both use this practice as a shield to deflect any responsibility. At the end of the novel, however, the lies they formulate come back to bite them and they both momentarily lose the "loves" of their lives (which doesn't make even more sense as they all just recently met each other and Gwen and Cecily will only marry a man named, 'Earnest"). It is absurd comments and opinions like these that Wilde uses to better satirize the absurdity of the haughtiness of those in "high society".

* * *

C) Like most farces, this was an enjoyable work in its hilarity and its simplicity. With a lack of need for character development, the entire play simply focuses on a hilarious situation with side-additions of wit. It was certainly a fun read in class ;), however, in terms of literary weight it simply can't compare to a full-blown novel such as A tale of Two Cities. Overall, i would give this book a 4/5 because although it was rather hilarious quick read, it didn't really lend as much literary weight as a novel. however, for 54 pages to convey at least some literary meaning makes this novel worth reading.

Oscar Wilde is just awesome like that.

A Tale of Two Cities

A) Dualism and the Doppelganger

Dickens's novel, A Tale of Two Cities, implements the literary theme of the doppelganger as a means of creating more vivid characters. The greatest situation of which comes from the clash of characterization between Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay. While both look alike, they are the complete foil of each other, which helps to amplify the traits of both characters. Carton is an alcoholic lawyer who works as the assistant to Mr. Stryver a less intelligent, but more ambitious lawyer. Carton is an idle and certainly uncompromising man who doesn't care how insolent he is. However, he knows exactly where he stands and is not afraid to admit that he is not a good person, yet he is unwilling and unable to change his ways. Darnay, on the other hand, is the epitome of a young gentleman. Charles is a former French aristocrat who renounced his title and now works as a French tutor in England. He is ambitious, courageous, and certainly not an alcoholic. This great contrast further portrays the characters in their actions. In fact, Carton envies Darnay as they both love the same woman, yet he knows that his personality, the complete opposite of Darnay's, will never win the love of Lucie manette. The most striking feature of this dualist relationship, however, is their nearly identical looks. it is this physical similarity yet great schism in personality that makes Darnay and Carton almost two facets of the same person, which in effect places Carton as a doppelganger. However, the greatest change in character occurs when Carton nobly switches places with Darnay and sacrifices himself for Darnay and ultimately, Lucie. He realizes that Darnay is undeserving of execution and switches with him to justify his own existence. Therefore, by sacrificing himself (Christ figure) he enables self-justification for his actions by performing this one great selfless act that he has gone through life being the complete reciporical of. It is this skillful use of dualistic characters that Dickens further embellishes the plot into something with more meaning for both Darnay and Carton.

* * *

B) "When he was left alone, this strange being took up a candle, went to a glass that hung against the wall, and surveyed himself minutely in it.
'Do you particularly like the man?' he muttered, at his own image, 'why should you particularly like a man who resembles you? There is nothing in you to like; you know that. Ah, confound you! What a change you have made in yourself! A good reason for taking to a man, that he shows you what you have fallen away from, and what you might have been! Change places with him and you would be looked at by those blue eyes as he was, and commiserated by that agitated face as he was? Come on, and have it out in plain words! You hate the fellow.'
He resorted to his pint of wine for consolation, drank it all in a few minutes, and fell asleep on his arms, with his hair straggling over the table, and a long minding-sheet in the candle dripping down upon him." (Dickens 64)

This passage conveys the true character and desire of Sydney Carton. Sydney looks at the life he is in now: a scraggly drunkard with little passion for anything in life. When compared to Charles Darnay, he sees just far he has fallen from grace. This emotinal scene shows truly the futility of Carton's struggle and also provides a foreshadow for Carton's justification at the end by literally switching with Darnay and taking the blame. This perfect description of Dickens's most profound doppelganger creation in the novel portrays just how truly opposite these characters truly are and how when compared to each other, incites a great desire for emotional change from the fallen half of the doppelganger.

* * *

C) While I usually recoil from the writing style of Dickens, it is one that makes him one of the most notable writers in history. While some of his description may be described by some as arduous and toilsome, in they end they truly blend together to form a perfect plot line with eloquent characterization and a rather emotional ending. Dickens's descriptive style, while time-consuming, provides such a clear and vivid image in the reader's mind, that it is truly remarkable in and of itself. His metaphors and allusions provide such great pieces of literary spice to the book that it felt realistic in and of itself. I have to say even I originally complained about reading Dickens, yet after reading this book, i recant on what I have said. As many say, "If you can master Dickens, you can master anything in literature." This novel deserves nothing short of a 5/5.

Typical student's reaction to Dickens

Cat's Cradle

"This is the way the world ends; not with a bang, but a whimper." -T. S. Eliot

A) The Pursuit of Happiness:

In Vonnegut's satirical novel Cat's Cradle, the small island nation of San Lorenzo becomes the contrast to Ilium, New York. San Lorenzo, an experimental utopia on a small caribbean island, becomes the reciporical for Ilium, the industrialized focal point of science and technology. However, while both may revolve around different ideals, inhabitants of both of these places are constantly in the pursuit of happiness. While Ilium revolves around the illustrious scientific genius, Dr. Felix Hoenikker, San Lorenzo revolves around the enigmatic Bokonon, the founder of the religion of Bokononism. Bokononism is founded on the on principles that appeal to human nature. For example, Bokononism is deemed illegal on San Lorenzo, therefore it appeals to the human psyche of reverse psychology. The first sentence of the book of Bokonon reads, "All of the true things I am about to tell you are shameless lies." This even further compounds the integration of the pursuit of happiness in this religion. While in other major religions, major components of the faith are often questioned, in Bokononism it is already spoken outright that this religion will not provide all of the answers, which ironically, is the answer many people seek to find.
The characterization in the novel helps lend further credence to the theme of the oursuit of happiness. A prime example of this is found in the children of Dr. Felix Hoenikker. The Hoenikker children, Newt, Angela, and Frank, who seem fairly harmless at first, simply want to be happy. However, their seemingly innocent attempts to gain an impossible happiness leads to the destruction of life on earth. Newt's futile quest for love from someone who shares the same disabilities as him leads to the Soviet Union acquiring a piece of the destructive Ice-Nine. Angela uses her Ice-Nine as a means to find her own love as well. Frank, however, who resembles his father the most, uses his Ice-Nine to gain power over San Lorenzo. However, when "Papa" Monzano passes, even Frank realizes he doesn't want this seat of power and simply wants to be happy; and so he relegates the power over to John, who is himself a sort of wayward magazine journalist that has also arrived at San Lorenzo for happiness. In this way, the Hoenikker children come to represent the people of the world searching for happiness. This search for happiness is viewed by some as perhaps the most universal of human endeavors and a noble goal. However, Vonnegut portrays this very humanistic effort as being neither as simple, or as moral, as it is generally perceived to be. Ultimately, this pursuit of happiness and lack of mature responsibility culminates in San Lorenzo and brings about the end of the world.

* * *

B) "Ice-Nine was the last gift Felix Hoenikker created for mankind before going to his just reward. He did it without realizing what he was doing. He did it without leaving records of what he'd done......Dr. Hoenikker had only to go calling on Laboratory neighbors--borrowing this and that, making a winsome neighborhood nuisance of himself--until, so to speak, he had baked his last batch of brownies." (Vonnegut Chapter 23)

This entire quote focuses on the true danger that belies something that is seemingly innocent. Dr. Hoenikker was a peculiar sort of person. A true savant, Dr. Hoenikker can only focus on one project at a time, which leads, overall, to the destructive power of his concentrated thought. While Dr. Hoenikker was a childish man who couldn't even look after his own kids, he was in the meantime a Nobel prize winner and father of the atom bomb and Ice-Nine. The utter destructive power contained inside such a tiny crystal shows the dark face of science. This entire quote is satirical in nature, as it is a major understatement of Dr. Hoenikker's invention. Comparing something exponentially more dangerous than the atom bomb with a "batch of brownies" displays just how ridiculously dangerous the entire situation is. Vonnegut stresses the theme of power throughout his entire novel. Overall, every character in the novel is given power by the Ice-nine they have, yet are definitely unsuited for the destructive power it holds. This entire novel portrays how a dangerous weapon, if fallen in the wrong hands, can lead to misuse and ultimately the destruction of mankind altogether.

* * *

C) As a previous reader of Player Piano and Slaughterhouse-5, I had very high expectations for Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. As the master of satire, I often enjoy his realistic yet, subtle approach to his literary motifs. Instead of writing a novel where he preaches on "the soapbox", Vonnegut delivers a clever situation laced with irony and connotation. I found this entire novel a pleasure to read and overall, a very well-thought-out practical novel. The entire chapter setup Vonnegut gives in this book makes it seem more easy to read, and yet informative as well. Many of the short chapter titles actually contain significance to major themes of the novel. Overall, I found Vonnegut's characterization, plot, and flow of the novel as up to par with his other literary masterpieces with a somewhat more tasteful and certainly more censored storyline. If I had to rate this novel, I would definitely rate this a 5/5 for a satire novel. Vonnegut's timeless presentation has earned him a mark of fame in the literary community and that aspect of his writing certainly shines in this novel.

Whoops, sorry........wrong Armageddon

Fahrenheit 451

A) Fire:
In Bardbury's novel Fahrenheit 451 there are many major symbols used throughout the course of the plot, the most illustrious of which, is fire. In the beginning of the novel, fire is used as a means of suppression, a form by which the government can cleanse all of the impurities from their society, the largest of which being books. The title of the first section, 'The Hearth and the Salamander" shows Montag's characterization with fire at the beginning of the fire. A Salamander, which is a mythical creature that is unaffected by fire, is the fitting definition for Montag as he happily goes about his occupation of fireman. The opening sentence of the novel reads, "It was a pleasure to burn, to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed." This opening statement personifies fire as a destructive entity implemented for censorship. As the novel progresses, this viewpoint of fire is amplified when it consumes the old woman who refuses to leave her books. This high-tension situation strikes a certain chord in Montag's mind that causes him to rethink about society's opinion on books. At the climax of the novel, fire is used in the ultimate form of purging by purging all of Montag's connections with his former society. When he burns down his house, it is symbolic of his rejection of all the material entities of the society and when he burns incinerates Beatty, it represents his rejection of the philosophical nature of the society. however, by the end of the novel, fire is dramatically changed in Montag's eyes. what was once a form of destruction becomes a form of necessity and comfort. When Montag escapes from the society, he discovers the importance of fire and its true use when the other men build one and cook their meal over it. This shows Montag how fire is also life-giving as well. This allusion is also paralleled by Granger's relation of humanity to the story of the phoenix. The phoenix dies by consuming itself in flames, yet in the end, a new phoenix is reborn from the ashes. The symbol of the phoenix's rebirth refers not only to the collective rebirth of humankind but also to Montag's spiritual resurrection. The final form of this cleansing actually occurs when the city is bombed and consumed by the fire, representing the destructive power of human ignorance. Throughout history man has viewed fire as friend and foe. It has killed lives, yet it has saved countless others. It has destroyed many aspects of human progress, yet it has also helped stimulate this same progress. In the end, this double-edged sword comes to symbolize the whole mindset and change in Montag's ways from a mindless drone to a free-thinker.

* * *

"Colored people don't like Little Black Sambo. Burn it. White people don't feel good about Uncle Tom's Cabin. Burn it. Someone's written a book on tobacco and cancer of the lungs? The cigarette people are weeping? Burn the book. Serenity, Montag. Peace, Montag. Take your fight outside. Better yet, into the incinerator. Funerals are unhappy and pagan? Eliminate them too. Five minutes after a person is dead he's on his way to the Big Flue, the Incinerators serviced by helicopters all over the country. Ten minutes after death a man's a speck of black dust. Let's not quibble over individuals with memoriums. Forget them. Burn all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean." (Bradbury 59-60)

This entire passage, spoken by Beatty and directed towards Montag, illustrates the empty ideal of censorship. Bradbury implements the discontent of different groups of people as the spark that incinerates the fires of totalitarian government regulation. As the old saying goes, "You can't please everyone", yet everyone in this society wishes to be happy and hollow rather than be offended and full of life. Mildred manifests these ideals by the actions she commits throughout the novel. She goes through every day a leech, living in a fantasy land created by a television screen, and ends up committing suicide every time she feels discontent. After which Montag has her blood repumped and she is primed for another day of pointless existence. Wash, rinse, repeat. This futile existence is further amplified by the mention of funerals in the passage. In the present day, a funeral is a time of great emotion and personal inquisition. It is a time where the dead are honored for their life accomplishments. In this society, however, the only thing remaining of a person 10 minutes after they've died is a "black speck of dust." This is a symbol as well for the emptiness and lack of worth in these peoples' lives. This passage is also yet another reference to fire as a cleansing agent. All of these ideals ultimately form into the dystopia that is Montag's society.

* * *

C) Fahrenheit 451 was a captivating read that kept me hooked until the final conclusion. Bradbury's blending of symbolism with rich dialogue is what makes this book a literary great. The profound transition of Montag's mind was most captivating to me and by the end, Montag became one of the most dynamic characters I have ever witnessed. The novel was easy to read, had a very simple yet genuine flow, and had a rather resolved ending in terms of Montag versus himself. Overall, I'd give this book a 5/5, a must-read for sci-fi/dystopia fans.

The Mechanical Hound is the premier killing machine

The Handmaid's Tale

A) Religion as a Front:
In Margaret Atwood's novel, The Handmaid's Tale there are many moral questions raised in the novel that are addressed by Atwood's stylistic symbolism, allusions, and connotation. The largest of these questions addresses the validity of religion. The Republic of Gilead, where the main character Offred is forced to reside in, is an extreme fundamentalist christian society. In this society, religion is taken to the extreme by forcing the separation of the sexes, forcing their religion upon nonbelievers, and subjugating and degrading women.
One central component of any religion is faith, which is one of the three religious virtues along with love and charity. One of the central symbols in the novel is the "faith" embroidered pillow. The pillow is dingy, used up, and the word "faith" is faded. This represents not only Offred's questioning of her own faith in this horrible society but also poses the question of the validity of faith in a radical sect of religion. However, Atwood subtly points out that the pillow is, "worn, but not used up". This shows shows how no matter how dire or hopeless the situation, faith will always be prevalent, even if it has been battered and bruised and is at the breaking point. Faith is the major component of religion and if faith is lost in the religion at large, then it is truly not a religion at all.
Some philisophers proposed that, "Religion was created by man as a means to control the masses." Atwood exploits this philosophy throughout the entire novel and questions if religion can allow personal freedom for all. One such way in which she poses this question is through the characterization of the Commander. In the beginning of the novel the Commander is percieved as a stern keeper of the "faith", with the greatest freedoms among any other members of society. However, as Offred gets to know the Commander, she sees the Commander is truly a man of appalling values who remains miserable, even with all of the freedoms he has. The Commander, who is the personification of the high command of society, reveals to Offred all of the hyprocisy and double standards the seemingly orthodox society have upheld as "sinful" actions. The lack of compassion even in other people such as the Commander's wife opens Offred's eyes to the true evil of the society. The fact that the commander mentions, "We had to break a few eggs to make an omelette" is a major understatement about a society where women are subjugated and forced to become walking uteruses.
Religion is something that should be heartfelt and true. Atwood questions just how heartfelt and true the religion is in the novel and in various extreme sects today when she introduces the Soul Scrolls shop. Soul Scrolls, a building where prayers are mechanically processed and ordered mock the devout parctice of prayer by making it into a comemrcialized, monotonous, and mechanized entity. These soul scrolls question just how valid the religion in Gilead can be if it isn't heartfelt.
Overall, while the novel appears to many a direct attack by Atwood upon religion in general, one must remember that the setting is in a fictional extremeist society. On the other hand, Atwood's novel is an attack on extremist sects of religion that promote some of the practices that many members of society find questionable. It doesn't proclaim how religion is bad, but how religion, when used as a front, can get out of hand and ultimately ruin the society at large. Atwood emphasizes the golden rule of religion, 'Do unto others as you would do unto yourself." Questioning the validity of religion in a totalitarian, hypocritical society allows the reader to connect with the novel and better sympathize with Offred's plight for change.
* * *
B) "It's a club?" I say.
"Well, that's what we call it among ourselves. The club."
"I thought this sort of thing was strictly forbidden," I say.
"Well, officially," he says. "But everyone's human after all."
......"Who are these people?" I ask him.
......"Well, some of them are real pros. Working girls" -he laughs- "from the time before. They couldn't be assimilated; anyway, most of them prefer it here."
"And the others?"
'The others?" he says. "Well, we have quite a collection........." (Atwood 237-238)

Throughout the entire novel, the Republic of Gilead is shown as a society of impregnable standards that not even the men appeared to be able to break. However, with the introduction of this quote, that entire buildup goes down the drain as the Commander explains how there can be exceptions to the rules. This helps attribute to the clause that Gilead implements religion in order to suppress the masses. Power corrupts. And Absolute power corrupts absolutely. This entire personifies the full-blown extent of hypocrisy in a society that suppress all sexual activity.
* * *
C) The setting of The Handmaid's Tale is one that to me was extremely too farfetched of a concept to deliver Atwood's message. While Atwood's motiffs were generally clear, they just simply couldn't be purveyed to me in such a bizarre setting. While Atwood rejects religious fanaticism, what ends up popping up in mind is the reassurance that this is a ridiculously figmented situation. Comparing such an extreme form of mysogyny to the treatment of women today is truly absurd and to me the message becomes muddled by Atwood's awkward attempt at making pseudo a world where she can direct her criticism on certain aspects of modern society by over-exaggerating the fake society in her book. Yes it is true that in the past that the world cultures were greatly mysogenic. And yes it is true that even today women aren't treated as equally as they should be. However, that doesn't deviate from the fact that the message Atwood sends is through a rather biased situation where she can implement over-the-top situations that just don't compare to the situations of our modern day society in the United States. While some may argue that in today's world a similar situation is happening in the Middle East, i am not denying that. I am simply saying that Atwood's setting is in the USA and that her idea of a radical and abrupt change in the USA's government is slightly airing on absurdity. While one could go off on a tangent about the objectible themes in this novel, it would simply drive one askew from enjoying the book.
In closing, I found the plot and the themes of this novel somewhat questionable. The disturbing nature of the entire novel definitely did not convince me to read another one of Atwood's works. Overall, I give this book a 2/5 for its failure to convey a thoughtful, moral statement in a far fetched setting.

General reaction to "The Ceremony" scene