Essays on Literature

1. Discussion of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night (Fiction) Tender is the Night (1934) is the last novel of American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940). At present, it is available in two versions. Rosemary Hoyt’s enthrallment with Dick Diver’s intelligence marked the opening of the original published version. The Malcolm Cowley edition (published posthumously in 1951), on the other hand, began with Dick’s studies during World War I (Limon, 1994). The novel was known for its pessimistic outlook, as well as the discussion of taboo subjects like incest, homosexuality and mental illness.

Most interpretations of Fitzgerald’s works attributed these to the fact that Fitzgerald wrote Tender is the Night during some of the most difficult years of his life. When he wrote the novel, he was suffering from poor health and alcoholism. Furthermore, he was facing serious financial problems and received little acclaim for his works. Set in 1925, the novel’s plot tells about Dick and Nicole Diver, a glamorous couple who lived in the French Riviera. To all appearances, the Divers lived the good life – they resided in a posh seaside villa and enjoyed a circle of equally wealthy and influential friends.

Dick, however, met Rosemary Hoyt, a teenage film actress with whom he later had an illicit affair. Their adulterous relationship is not without serious consequences – Dick’s marriage was destroyed and Nicole experienced a subsequent mental breakdown (Pelzer, 2000). In order to avoid alienating the reader’s sympathy for Dick, Fitzgerald shifted the novel back in time to 1917, when Dick was still a medical student in Zurich. The reader’s sympathy for Dick is rekindled when it was revealed how the complicated circumstances of his marriage to Nicole shattered the promise of a brilliant professional career for him.

The narrative then goes back to 1925 in order to further elaborate on the disastrous effects of Dick and Rosemary’s extramarital affair. Although Dick became a partner at a Swiss sanatorium, his alcoholism cost him this position. Nicole, meanwhile, gets back at Dick for his infidelity by divorcing him for their common friend Tommy Barban (Pelzer, 2000). Given the unusual chronological arrangement of its plot, it is clear that the novel’s focus is on Dick’s rise and fall. But in revealing Dick’s past, it is also apparent that Fitzgerald wanted the reader to sympathize with Dick’s struggles.

In the process, the novel sends the message that looks are indeed deceiving and that simplistic judgments are not applicable at all times (Pelzer, 2000). Despite their opulence and high social prestige, the Divers lived anything but a charmed life. And while Dick may have his faults, the reader must understand that these are merely the results of the misfortunes that hounded his life since the beginning of the novel. A common criticism of the novel is that it “(reacted) against the ideology of domesticity that represents moral values as feminine” (Herndl, 1993).

Simply put, the novel argued that women are the source of temptation and moral decadence. Nowhere in the novel is this assertion more evident than in its symbols and the characterization of its characters. Dick, for instance, is depicted as “a man corrupted by women” (Herndl, 1993). All of his misfortunes in life are blamed on his relationships with women – his marriage to Nicole and his illicit affair with Rosemary (Herndl, 1993). Nicole, on the other hand, is characterized as a schizophrenic simply because she is more financially well-off than Dick and controls her family’s finances instead of her husband.

Rosemary, meanwhile, was presented as an adulteress because her job as an actress granted her financial independence and a lifestyle that was considered deviant in her time (wearing short skirts, smoking, drinking, driving automobiles, etc. ). Even the novel’s most enduring symbols – reckless driving and homosexuality – are interpreted as the results of a woman’s “immorality. ” In Chapter 15, an unstable Nicole tested her husband’s courage by forcing a car carrying her family off a steep Swiss hillside: “She was laughing hilariously; unashamed, unafraid, unconcerned…‘You were scared, weren’t you?

’ she accused him. ‘You wanted to live! ’” (Fitzgerald, 1994) The image of the reckless driver served as a metaphor of the patriarchal belief that allowing a woman to take control over an institution (family, government, business, etc. ) is akin to inviting disaster (Curnutt, 2004). The novel’s staunch adherence to traditional gender roles led to its argument that “Dick is in essence a woman and Nicole (is virtually) a man” (Washington, 1995). Nicole’s assumption of conventional masculine responsibilities (running her family’s business, managing her family’s finances, etc.

) served as the premise for the erroneous belief that she eschewed traditional feminine obligations (taking care of the children, looking after the house, etc. ). In the white bourgeois culture of the 1930s, which considered traditional gender roles as the determinant of human sexuality, such “refusal” was a sign of homosexuality (Washington, 1995). Her husband’s “homosexuality” was therefore her fault – Dick became a “homosexual” supposedly because he had to assume conventional feminine responsibilities. 2. The Symbolism of the Voice in The Secret Sharer (Novel)

Voice is one of the most important symbolisms in the John Conrad’s novel The Secret Sharer (1910). It must be noted that most of the narrator’s communication with the fugitive Legatt were in the form of whispers as they lay side by side in the darkness. Common sense dictates that people talk in whispers whenever they are discussing a sensitive topic. Thus, in the context of the novel, it would be fair to say that a hushed voice (whispering) symbolized the narrator’s refusal to openly acknowledge his Unconscious (symbolized by Legatt).

The narrator, however, cannot be blamed for denying his Unconscious – the latter represented the monsters of his own mind (evil thoughts and desires, vices, etc. ). Thus, the narrator took great pains to hide Legatt. In doing so, the former suppressed the existence of his Unconscious, which, in turn, would preserve his respectable image as an authority figure (ship captain). Apart from hiding Legatt in his cabin or bathroom, the narrator talked to him only in whispers and in total darkness. For the narrator, whispering enabled him to discreetly recognize the existence of his Unconscious while maintaining a facade of respectability.

3. Two Poets for the Introduction to Poetry Course (Poetry) The first two poets that I would assign to my students are William Blake and T. S. Elliot. I chose Blake and Elliot due to their honest discussion of social and sexual issues, respectively. In my opinion, the criticism that Blake is romanticizing serious topics is merely a misinterpretation of his poetry. Blake’s childlike approach in his poems adds more depth and honesty to whatever he is discussing. Below are some lines from his poem The Chimney Sweeper: When my Mother Died I Was Very Young (1789): When my mother died I was very young

And my father sold me while yet my tongue Could scarcely cry “‘weep! ’ ‘weep! ’ ‘weep! ’ ‘weep! ’” So your chimneys I sweep, and in soot I sleep. And so he was quiet, and that very night As Tom was sleeping, he had such a sight! The thousands of sweepers, Dick, Joe, Ned, and Jack, Were all of them lock’d up in coffins of black. And by came an Angel who had a bright key, And he open’d the coffins and set them all free; Then down a green plain leaping, laughing, they run, And wash in a river, and shine in the sun. Then naked and white, all their bags left behind, They rise upon clouds and sport in the wind;

And the Angel told Tom, if he’d be a good boy, He’d have God for his father, and never want joy. This poem clearly talks about poverty and child labor. Blake adds more credibility to the former by assuming the perspective of a child laborer (chimney sweeper). After all, who could give a more plausible account of a particular experience than the one who underwent it? In the cases of poverty and child labor, therefore, it is the child laborer who could be trusted to provide the most believable description. Because Blake wrote the poem using a child’s viewpoint, it follows that he would write the poem using a child’s language.

It is just a matter of common logic to assume that it is very unusual for children to come up with a description using an adult’s language. When asked about death, for instance, a child’s typical response would be it is an experience wherein a person would be taken either to heaven or to hell, depending on his or her conduct in life. Thus, it is no longer surprising if the narrator – who happened to be a child – described the deaths of his fellow chimney sweepers as an event that would finally liberate them from the drudgery of their earthly lives by taking them to heaven.

T. S. Elliot, meanwhile, writes his poems in a straightforward and frank manner. He used very minimal figurative language and or symbolisms – he described things as they are. This forthrightness is evident in Elliot’s poem Hysteria (1915). It must be noted that “hysteria” was a Victorian term which referred to the experience of sexual pleasure in women. In the Victorian Era, the prevailing belief was that women engaged in sexual intercourse only for procreation. Women who drew pleasure in sex were therefore considered promiscuous and or mentally ill.

By beginning the poem with the line “As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her laughter and being part of it…,” Elliot showed the narrator’s realizations that even women had the ability to enjoy sexual intercourse and that sex was more pleasurable if both parties enjoyed it. But these epiphanies were shattered with the appearance of the elderly waiter (a symbol of societal norms) who repeatedly said “If the lady and gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden. ” Thus, the narrator was reminded that women were not supposed to enjoy sex and focused instead on “(stopping the) shaking of (his partner’s) breasts.

” 4. Two Themes in Death of a Salesman and their Development in the Play (Drama) The “American Dream” and betrayal are two themes in Arthur Miller’s play The Death of a Salesman (1949). According to Susan Abbotson (2000), the “American Dream” is a phenomenon brought about by the “problematic and elusive (notion of happiness)” (Abbotson, 2000). The Declaration of Independence of 1776 guaranteed American citizens the rights to life, liberty and happiness. While the first two rights are somehow clear-cut, the third remains ambiguous.

Every American, after all, has his or her own idea of happiness – hard work, personal achievement, popular fame, great wealth, etc. The American everyman’s aforementioned pursuit of happiness eventually spawned the phenomenon of the “American Dream. ” Miller, however, believed that the desire to be successful has already poisoned the lives of many people. He thus developed the theme of the “American Dream” in the play by questioning how far would people go in order to fulfill their dreams (Abbotson, 2000). The answer to Miller’s question lies in his characters’ respective situations.

The Loman family has many grandiose dreams – a big house, cars, a huge bank account, social prestige. But the problem with them is that they do not take any concrete steps to fulfill these ambitions. Willy Loman, the father, believed that popularity and physical attractiveness are the only means of achieving the material comforts of modern American life. His sons Biff and Happy took after him – they shared his belief that hard work was unnecessary to attain success (Abbotson, 2000). Although Ben and Howard Wagner are wealthy and successful, they were likewise greedy and selfish individuals who obtained their fortunes at the expense of others.

Charley and Bernard, on the other hand, attained their success through hard and honest labor (Abbotson, 2000). Miller therefore concluded that the “American Dream” meant the attainment of one’s goals through honest means. There must be a clear difference between success that was attained through hard work and fairness and achievement that was obtained at the cost of others. In the context of the play, the theme of betrayal is closely connected to the theme of the “American Dream. ” Miller developed the theme of betrayal in the play by incorporating it the feud between Biff and Willy.

While Willy loved his sons, he taught them the wrong values and had the wrong set of expectations for them. As a result, Biff’s eventual disillusionment with and abandonment of his father’s firmly-held beliefs about success very much disappointed Willy. Biff, however, cannot be blamed for “betraying” his own father – Willy himself failed to become successful though popularity and good looks alone. Consequently, it would be impossible for Willy to expect his sons to emulate his values. Sick and tired of his father’s grandiose fantasies, Biff longed to move to the territories and make a name for himself there through hard and honest work.

But this plan of Biff’s ended up as just another unfulfilled dream – his upbringing resulted in “(the) inability to stick to anything and (quitting) anytime things get to be too hard” (Abbotson, 2000).

References

Abbotson, S. C. W. (2000). Student Companion to Arthur Miller. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group. Curnutt, K. (2004). A Historical Guide to F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York: Oxford University Press. Fitzgerald, F. S. (1994). Tender is the Night: A Romance. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions.