2.The hollowness of the upper class
One of the major topics explored in The Great Gatsby is the sociology of wealth, specifically, how the newly minted millionaires of the 1920s differ from and relate to the old aristocracy of the country’s richest families. In the novel, West Egg and its denizens represent the newly rich, while East Egg and its denizens, especially Daisy and Tom, represent the old aristocracy. Fitzgerald portrays the newly rich as being vulgar, gaudy, ostentatious, and lacking in social graces and taste. Gatsby, for example, lives in a monstrously ornate mansion, wears a pink suit, drives a Rolls-Royce, and does not pick up on subtle social signals, such as the insincerity of the Sloanes’ invitation to lunch. In contrast, the old aristocracy possesses grace, taste, subtlety, and elegance, epitomized by the Buchanans’ tasteful home and the flowing white dresses of Daisy and Jordan Baker.
What the old aristocracy possesses in taste, however, it seems to lack in heart, as the East Eggers prove themselves careless, inconsiderate bullies who are so used to money’s ability to ease their minds that they never worry about hurting others. The Buchanans exemplify this stereotype when, at the end of the novel, they simply move to a new house far away rather than condescend to attend Gatsby’s funeral. Gatsby, on the other hand, whose recent wealth derives from criminal activity, has a sincere and loyal heart, remaining outside Daisy’s window until four in the morning in Chapter 7 simply to make sure that Tom does not hurt her. Ironically, Gatsby’s good qualities (loyalty and love) lead to his death, as he takes the blame for killing Myrtle rather than letting Daisy be punished, and the Buchanans’ bad qualities (fickleness and selfishness) allow them to remove themselves from the tragedy not only physically but psychologically.
Throughout the novel, places and settings epitomize the various aspects of the 1920s American society that Fitzgerald depicts. East Egg represents the old aristocracy, West Egg the newly rich, the valley of ashes the moral and social decay of America, and New York City the uninhibited, amoral quest for money and pleasure. Additionally, the East is connected to the moral decay and social cynicism of New York, while the West (including Midwestern and northern areas such as Minnesota) is connected to more traditional social values and ideals.
As in much of Shakespeare’s work, the weather in The Great Gatsby unfailingly matches the emotional and narrative tone of the story. Gatsby and Daisy’s reunion begins amid a pouring rain, proving awkward and melancholy; their love reawakens just as the sun begins to come out. Gatsby’s climactic confrontation with Tom occurs on the hottest day of the summer, under the scorching sun (like the fatal encounter between Mercutio and Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet). Wilson kills Gatsby on the first day of autumn, as Gatsby floats in his pool despite a palpable chill in the air—a symbolic attempt to stop time and restore his relationship with Daisy to the way it was five years before, in 1917.
1.The green light
Situated at the end of Daisy’s East Egg dock and barely visible from Gatsby’s West Egg lawn, the green light represents Gatsby’s hopes and dreams for the future. Gatsby associates it with Daisy, and in Chapter 1 he reaches toward it in the darkness as a guiding light to lead him to his goal. Because Gatsby’s quest for Daisy is broadly associated with the American dream, the green light also symbolizes that more generalized ideal. In Chapter 9, Nick compares the green light to how America, rising out of the ocean, must have looked to early settlers of the new nation.
2.The valley of ashes
First introduced in Chapter 2, the valley of ashes between West Egg and New York City consists of a long stretch of desolate land created by the dumping of industrial ashes. It represents the moral and social decay that results from the uninhibited pursuit of wealth, as the rich indulge themselves with regard for nothing but their own pleasure. The valley of ashes also symbolizes the plight of the poor, like George Wilson, who live among the dirty ashes and lose their vitality as a result.
3.The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg
The eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg are a pair of fading, bespectacled eyes painted on an old advertising billboard over the valley of ashes. They may represent God staring down upon and judging American society as a moral wasteland, though the novel never makes this point explicitly. Instead, throughout the novel, Fitzgerald suggests that symbols only have meaning because characters instill them with meaning. The connection between the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg and God exists only in George Wilson’s grief-stricken mind. This lack of concrete significance contributes to the unsettling nature of the image. Thus, the eyes also come to represent the essential meaninglessness of the world and the arbitrariness of the mental process by which people invest objects with meaning. Nick explores these ideas in Chapter 8, when he imagines Gatsby’s final thoughts as a depressed consideration of the emptiness of symbols and dreams.
The 1920s was the jazz era in the big cities of the USA. It was an era of high living and all-night parties to the rhythm of the sax and trumpet. It was an era of gangsters, of prohibition and of ostentatious new-found wealth. Scott Fitzgerald was part of that world, and with his glamorous wife, Zelda, he became a pin-up personality of the time. The main character in his best-known novel, The Great Gatsby, is a man who, like his creator, climbs the ladder of social success. The foundations on which this success is built are fragile, and consequently his fall into obscurity is almost as rapid as his rise to meteoric success.
In The Great Gatsby the first person-narrator is a minor character, Nick; the reader does not have direct access to the thoughts and feelings of the main character of the story – what he learns he must piece together from the information that is provided. This narrative technique can be used to create an air of mistery and tension, and to engage the reader’s attention by slowly allowing him to put together the pieces of the puzzle.
Fitzgerald’s greatest talent as a writer was his ability to create atmosphere and characters. His rich, elegant prose style is dense in metaphors, similes and symbols, and often has the evocative beauty of poetry.
ABSALOM, ABSALOM – WILLIAM FAULKNER
William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, in September 1897; he died in Mississippi in 1962. Faulkner achieved a reputation as one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century largely based on his series of novels about a fictional region of Mississippi called Yoknapatawpha County, centered on the fictional town of Jefferson. The greatest of these novels—among them The Sound and the Fury, Light in August, and Absalom, Absalom!—rank among the finest novels of world literature.
Faulkner was especially interested in moral themes relating to the ruins of the Deep South in the post-Civil War era. His prose style—which combines long, uninterrupted sentences with long strings of adjectives, frequent changes in narration, many recursive asides, and a frequent reliance on a sort of objective stream-of- consciousness technique, whereby the inner experience of a character in a scene is contrasted with the scene's outward appearance—ranks among his greatest achievements. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.
Absalom, Absalom! is perhaps Faulkner's most focused attempt to expose the moral crises which led to the destruction of the South. The story of a man hell-bent on establishing a dynasty and a story of love and hatred between races and families, it is also an exploration of how people relate to the past. Faulker tells a single story from a number of perspectives, capturing the conflict, racism, violence, and sacrifice in each character's life, and also demonstrating how the human mind reconstructs the past in the present imagination.
This comes to be the central theme of the "house" of Sutpen and the "house" of the South. According to the final and most complete Sutpen legend, Henry Sutpen killed Charles Bon and brought down his father's dynasty to prevent him from marrying Judith--not because Charles was their half-brother, but because Charles had a bit of black blood. This revelation makes it clear how the values of the South have affected not only Henry Sutpen, but also the narrator of the story, Quentin Compson. Faulkner leaves room for some ambiguity as to whether or not Charles Bon actually had black blood, thereby making it clear that the even the suggestion of black blood is enough to put someone in the South beyond the pale in a horribly destructive way. Race is a central theme in many Faulkner works, including his famed A Light in August. Faulkner recognizes that race is the central problem for the South in the post-Civil War period, and that without a healthy discussion of this topic, the South will never move forward.
This theme is weaved into the very structure of the book. Each character tells the Sutpen legend from his or her own memory; each character exercises selective memory. Both Miss Rosa and Mr. Compson omit important details from their stories and the implication is that Quentin does as well. Memory plays an important role in the plotline of the book as well: Thomas Sutpen's memories of Charles Bon stir him to follow the young man back to New Orleans and make crucial discoveries, Miss Rosa has lived her whole life obsessed by memories, and Quentin is attempting to escape his own memories by fleeing to the North, and Harvard.
The history of the South, and especially of the Civil War, forms a compelling backdrop to the book. It is intriguing, however, that Faulkner does not make a huge effort to ground the novel in the hard-and-fast dates, locations, and events that many great historical novels do. Instead, Faulkner's goal is to present an emotional history of the South that matches the strength and power of the factual history.
Quentin is asked, over and over again by Northerners at Harvard, about the South. "What's it like there." When his roommate Shreve asks him to talk about the South, Quentin responds by telling him the story of the Sutpen legend as he knows it. And in telling this story, Quentin exhibits all the ambivalence, love, and hatred towards the region that most Southerners have. It is also important that Quentin tells the story of Sutpen, unknowingly, as a metaphor for the South and its post-Civil War history and memory.
The structure of this book is a series of different, intertwining narratives. Each narrator brings his or her own set of preoccupations, misinformed knowledge, and interests to the narrative. As a result, there are three different stories to piece together. Crucial to this theme is the role of the reader him or herself--Faulkner expects you to participate in restructuring the Sutpen legend and, through this action, understand how biased each narrative, each memory, each history, is to each individual.
Sutpen's "design" rules his life and causes his downfall. The futility of directing one's life towards an idea or a "design" without emotional concern for other human beings is well-illustrated through the figure of Sutpen, who is unable to engage the people that surround him as people, rather than as objects. Sutpen's failure to achieve his design strictly based on his will is proof that the only designs that succeed in life are those that account for people as humans rather than as objects.
The original title for this book was Dark House, symbolizing both the work's Gothic roots and its depiction of the "dark house" of the South. Sutpen's haunted house on Sutpen's Hundred is a metaphor for the South and all of the sins that it is responsible for, including slavery and the repudiation of the black "sons" of the South. Just as Sutpen's haunted house fell because it failed to reconcile the black sons with the white, the South, too, fell for the same reason.
Many readers find that Faulkner's style is the most difficult aspect of this particular novel to overcome. In fact, Faulkner's style throughout many of his novels has been a restraining hindrance for many readers.
What Faulkner attempts to do is to adjust his style to his subject matter. Therefore, to see how his style functions in this particular novel, we must review briefly his approach to his subject.
We have already seen that Faulkner does not begin his story at the beginning. Likewise, he does not use a straightforward method of relating the story. In other words, he will tell the reader a little about a certain event, and then he will drop it and later return to the event and tell the reader more and then drop it and then later return once more and tell more. During this technique of circumlocution (that is, a technique whereby the author approaches his material in circular movements rather than heading directly to the heart of the story), the reader gradually becomes aware of events, facts, motivations, and emotions.
This type of technique would fall very flat if Faulkner used a simple expository prose. Part of the thrill and excitement of the novel is that the style is therefore adapted to the subject matter and the emotions. As the subject matter is told in circular movements, so is the style involved and circular. Every sentence is almost as involved as is the entire novel; every sentence reflects the complexity of the subject matter. And every sentence reminds the reader that this story is not one that can be told with simplicity.
The complexity of the narration is another way Faulkner uses to indicate and to suggest the complexity that man (particularly Quentin) must face in arriving at the truth. Truth is not easy to discover. The Sutpen story conceals many important revelations and truths which need to be revealed. The style, then, emphasizes the difficulty which man must encounter when he seeks after the real truth.
Possibly the story is too great or too violent to be told in a straight, simple narration. If we were suddenly confronted in simple factual prose with the facts of incest, possible homosexuality, fratricide, lust, etc., we would think the story too incredible and too fantastic to believe. But with the difficulty of untangling Faulkner's complex style, suddenly the very complexity of his style makes the bizarre plot more believable.
And finally, the style reflects the way which the story actually occurred. That is to say, Sutpen appeared in Jefferson for one day; nothing was known about him for a long time. Then gradually a little information was discovered by General Compson. Then later, years later, more information was uncovered. Then the death of Bon was announced to the town, but again it was years before anyone knew all of the facts surrounding this death. Faulkner's style suggests also the way that story actually occurred, that is, from fragment to fragment.
If, then, the difficult sentences retard the reader at first, they are supposed to. It would be dangerous to go too rapidly into the story. If the sentences surround you and envelop you and entangle you in the story, this is Faulkner's method of making you become a part of the story. And before long, the reader becomes accustomed to the style and becomes, as does Shreve, one of the narrators or one of the participants. We become or we identify with the strong, pulsating rhythms of his style until we become totally emerged in Faulkner's strange but vivid world so that when we follow Henry and Bon onto the battlefield, it is not just Shreve and Quentin following them, but it is also we the readers who are also following them. Faulkner's style has served its purpose: First, it held the reader back and confused him, and then gradually it brought the reader into the story so personally that he became one of the actors or participants.
Absalom, Absalom! is considered to be one of Faulkner's most difficult novels because of its complex narrative structure. In a sense, the story becomes part of an oral tradition among the residents of Jefferson and, as Shreve becomes involved, people living beyond Jefferson. Many of Faulkner's characteristic structural innovations are employed in Absalom, Absalom!, such as long sentences, flashbacks, and multiple points of view describing the same events. Because the narrative structure is so unusual, the reader is kept off balance from the opening pages to the end of the novel and must learn how to read it as the book unfolds.
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, THE SHORT HAPPY LIFE OF FRANCIS MACOMBER – ERNEST HEMINGWAY
1.The old man and the sea
Ernest Miller Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, the second of six children, and spent his early years in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. Hemingway began to hone his now-famous literary style during his years as a reporter. His editors instructed him to write short, factual sentences without too many negatives to deliver the facts in his articles. He later incorporated this writing style into his own fiction writing. Hemingway soon grew restless and left the Star to serve in the Red Cross, where he worked as an ambulance driver in Europe during World War I. While recovering from a knee injury in a hospital in Milan, he fell in love with a nurse named Agnes von Kurosky. Although their relationship didn’t last, he based his novel A Farewell To Arms (1929) on their romance.
The iceberg theory and Hemingway’s style
Many first-time readers read “Hills Like White Elephants” as nothing more than a casual conversation between two people waiting for a train and therefore miss the unstated dramatic tension lurking between each line. As a result, many people don’t realize that the two are actually talking about having an abortion and going their separate ways, let alone why the story was so revolutionary for its time. In accordance with his so-called Iceberg Theory, Hemingway stripped everything but the bare essentials from his stories and novels, leaving readers to sift through the remaining dialogue and bits of narrative on their own. Just as the visible tip of an iceberg hides a far greater mass of ice underneath the ocean surface, so does Hemingway’s dialogue belie the unstated tension between his characters. In fact, Hemingway firmly believed that perfect stories conveyed far more through subtext than through the actual words written on the page. The more a writer strips away, the more powerful the “iceberg,” or story, becomes.
Hemingway stripped so much from his stories that many of his contemporary critics complained that his fiction was little more than snippets of dialogue strung together. Others have called his writing overly masculine—there are no beautiful phrases or breathtaking passages, just the sheer basics. In “Hills Like White Elephants,” for example, both the American man and the girl speak in short sentences and rarely utter more than a few words at a time. Hemingway also avoids using dialogue tags, such as “he said” or “she said,” and skips any internal monologues. These elements leave the characters’ thoughts and feelings completely up to the reader’s own interpretations. Hemingway’s fans, however, have lauded his style for its simplicity, believing that fewer misleading words paint a truer picture of what lies beneath.
Analysis of major characters
Santiago suffers terribly throughout The Old Man and the Sea. In the opening pages of the book, he has gone eighty-four days without catching a fish and has become the laughingstock of his small village. He then endures a long and gruelling struggle with the marlin only to see his trophy catch destroyed by sharks. Yet, the destruction enables the old man to undergo a remarkable transformation, and he wrests triumph and renewed life from his seeming defeat. After all, Santiago is an old man whose physical existence is almost over, but the reader is assured that Santiago will persist through Manolin, who, like a disciple, awaits the old man’s teachings and will make use of those lessons long after his teacher has died. Thus, Santiago manages, perhaps, the most miraculous feat of all: he finds a way to prolong his life after death.
Santiago’s commitment to sailing out farther than any fisherman has before, to where the big fish promise to be, testifies to the depth of his pride. Yet, it also shows his determination to change his luck. Later, after the sharks have destroyed his prize marlin, Santiago chastises himself for his hubris (exaggerated pride), claiming that it has ruined both the marlin and himself. True as this might be, it is only half the picture, for Santiago’s pride also enables him to achieve his most true and complete self. Furthermore, it helps him earn the deeper respect of the village fishermen and secures him the prized companionship of the boy—he knows that he will never have to endure such an epic struggle again.
Santiago’s pride is what enables him to endure, and it is perhaps endurance that matters most in Hemingway’s conception of the world—a world in which death and destruction, as part of the natural order of things, are unavoidable. Hemingway seems to believe that there are only two options: defeat or endurance until destruction; Santiago clearly chooses the latter. His stoic determination is mythic, nearly Christ-like in proportion. For three days, he holds fast to the line that links him to the fish, even though it cuts deeply into his palms, causes a crippling cramp in his left hand, and ruins his back. This physical pain allows Santiago to forge a connection with the marlin that goes beyond the literal link of the line: his bodily aches attest to the fact that he is well matched, that the fish is a worthy opponent, and that he himself, because he is able to fight so hard, is a worthy fisherman. This connectedness to the world around him eventually elevates Santiago beyond what would otherwise be his defeat. Like Christ, to whom Santiago is unashamedly compared at the end of the novella, the old man’s physical suffering leads to a more significant spiritual triumph.
Manolin is present only in the beginning and at the end of The Old Man and the Sea, but his presence is important because Manolin’s devotion to Santiago highlights Santiago’s value as a person and as a fisherman. Manolin demonstrates his love for Santiago openly. He makes sure that the old man has food, blankets, and can rest without being bothered. Despite Hemingway’s insistence that his characters were a real old man and a real boy, Manolin’s purity and singleness of purpose elevate him to the level of a symbolic character. Manolin’s actions are not tainted by the confusion, ambivalence, or wilfulness that typify adolescence. Instead, he is a companion who feels nothing but love and devotion.
Hemingway does hint at the boy’s resentment for his father, whose wishes Manolin obeys by abandoning the old man after forty days without catching a fish. This fact helps to establish the boy as a real human being—a person with conflicted loyalties who faces difficult decisions. By the end of the book, however, the boy abandons his duty to his father, swearing that he will sail with the old man regardless of the consequences. He stands, in the novella’s final pages, as a symbol of uncompromised love and fidelity. As the old man’s apprentice, he also represents the life that will follow from death. His dedication to learning from the old man ensures that Santiago will live on.