Saturday, April 3, 2010


When I started this blog, I expected to write about literature; giving my interpretations of symbols and meanings while supporting my claims with the critiques of authoritative writers. What I didn’t expect was the much self-reflection.

My Narration blog in particular forced me to do some introspection. I had to explain why I like Absurdist literature, and what brought me to like it. This was the hardest blog for me to write because it was about me. I don’t like writing about myself, and I feel a lot more comfortable writing objectively. Having done the narration blog, however, I learned a bit about myself, and it made me analyze further what it is that I see in such writings, and what it says about me.

I feel that after having written these blogs, I have become a better writer. Yes, I learned good writing techniques, such as using active verbs instead of passive ones, writing good first sentences, and tying in the first and last paragraphs. But I gained more than this. Over the last few weeks, I have become more analytical in my writing, more reflective and more thoughtful.

My first blog dealt with Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. I presented a clear thesis and then went to prove it. But I wouldn’t consider this great writing. Looking through my blogs, I can see that they become less and less about proving a thesis, but more about what the works say about mankind in general, and how the works tie into the philosophies of existentialism and absurdism. In this way, my writing has improved. Instead of viewing the works in isolation, I have been able to tie them into real life situations and see connections to the philosophies of the time. I still have a long way to go, and I plan on developing this further as I continue with my education.

As this is my final blog, I must say goodbye. I enjoyed writing the blogs especially because I knew that others would be reading them, and this made me want to improve even more, and make my writing more interesting. I appreciate the comments I have received on my blog over the last few weeks. Solipsunny, in particular, has written some very thoughtful comments on a few of my blogs, tying in the philosophies that she’s been reading with the works that I’ve been writing about. Magic Maker, as well, has provided some thoughtful comments on modern literature in general. Thank you to all who have read and commented on my blog. Writing means so much more to me when I know that people are actually reading what I have written.

One thing that I have tried to stress in my blogs is that of individualism, of thinking for oneself and using one’s free will purposefully. Many have a negative view of existentialism, seeing it as a pessimistic and depressing outlook on life. I have attempted to emphasize that existentialism is not a pessimistic philosophy, but a logical one which sees human beings as free and able to accomplish much. As Albert Camus, an existentialist states in his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus”: “The point is to live.”

This blog has allowed me to analyze works more thoroughly and read works that I have always wanted to read, but never made the time for. I have also learned a lot about myself, and learned about authors and philosophers. In the future, I plan on developing my ideas about these works more, and developing my writing further.

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

The actions in Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf gets stranger and stranger throughout. The play begins with Martha, who is obviously drunk, coming home from a party at two in the morning to find her husband, George, waiting for her. Martha tells her husband that a couple from the party, who are friends of her father’s, will be coming over shortly. The two bicker about it, as George is tired and doesn’t want company, and Martha insisting that they come over.

The two guests arrive, a young couple named Nick and Honey. Nick is the head of the Biology department at the college where George works, and Martha’s father is president of. Honey is simple-minded and innocent. At first, Nick and Honey seem to be normal people, especially when contrasted with George and Martha. Martha constantly emasculates her husband, attacking his low position at the university and comparing him to the younger, more successful and more attractive Nick. George retaliates by making fun of her constant drinking and her simple-mindedness.

Nick is horrified by the way the two treat each other. He says several times that he and his wife will leave, but he stays. Martha and George’s fighting gets more and more intense, and at one point, George points and shoots a fake gun at Martha, who thinks that it is a real gun. George becomes infuriated with his wife when he learns that she has only mentioned their son to Honey, and from this point forward, decides to torture Martha.

At first Nick and Honey seem to be a loving couple. Later, though, Nick admits to George, when the two women are out of the room, that he only married Honey because he thought she was pregnant, and his marriage with her was more out of convenience, as the two had known each other since they were children. As the play progresses, Martha’s flirting with Nick gets more and more aggressive. When Nick’s wife is passed out from drinking, Martha kisses Nick in front of her husband, who reads a book in the same room, pretending not to care. Later it is insinuated that Nick and Martha had sex in the kitchen.

The play is absurd because the characters in the play do not act like people normally act. George and Martha’s marriage is about nothing but the one trying to get the better of the other. Nick and Honey stay, even until the next day, despite being insulted by George and Martha and their constant fighting.

At the end of the play, George decides to play one more “game” in order to punish his wife for mentioning their son. He makes Martha tell about their son to Nick and Honey. Martha begins with their son’s childhood, speaking of events such as when he broke his arm. She then tells them that their son is away at college, to which George replies “Oh, come on, Martha!” (273). As Martha talks of their son, George constantly repeats Latin phrases. George then tells them all that their son is actually dead, and had died in a car accident that morning. Martha is hysterical and insists “You…can’t…do…that!” (245). The ending is absurd because George is able to think their son out of existence.

Christianity, an important existential and absurdist theme, can be seen throughout the play. In Steven Carter’s essay Review of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, he points out the religious allusions in the play. He brings out that the very first word of the play, uttered by Martha who is stumbling drunk in the dark is “Jesus” (Carter). Carter explains:

Terribly shaken at the very end of the play by the death of the imaginary son, she echoes this initial line: “Just ... us?” On both occasions, she and George are alone on stage (3, 241). This subtle play on the off-rhymes “Jesus” and “Just ... us? ” accomplishes three things: It links up the aforementioned motifs of religion and language, making of them in effect a single, overarching motif; it brings Martha, the uncertain atheist who is also scared of being alone, to a crossroads; and it refreshes, in a single homophone, the audience's collective memory of the play's central conflict among George, Martha, and the son.

Carter brings out that these two lines tie the play together because it ties two important themes in the play, that of language and religion. The two are tied together to make one motif, that of the language of religion. It may also be significant that their son, who is dead and probably never existed, represents Jesus. Another evidence of this is brought out in Carter’s same article, where Martha and George’s son is both a unifying thing that ties the two together, as well as a “doomsday weapon to use in their ‘total war’ against each other” (Carter). This could be a comment about religion and God in general, that it is make-believe and is brought into existence by mankind’s thinking and speaking, but does not exist on its own.

Works Cited:

Albee, Edward. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? New American Library: New York, 1983.

Carter, Steven. "Review of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." The Explicator 55.2 (Winter 1997): 102-103. Rpt. in Drama for Students. Ed. David M. Galens. Vol. 3. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Literature Resource Center. Web. 3 Apr. 2010.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

No Exit

Jean-Paul Sartre presents hell in his existential play No Exit. There are no pitchforks or demons, only an ugly furnished hotel room with three damned. There is no sleeping in hell, and no blinking. Hell, as Garcin says, is “life without a break” (5). The play starts with the Valet who brings Garcin into his room. Garcin is surprised to learn that hell is nothing by a series of rooms, connected by passages and stairs. Garcin, left alone for only a moment, is then introduced to Inez, who will be his roommate. Later, the Valet brings Estelle, a lovely young girl, into the room. The Valet announces that there will be no one else brought in, and leaves the three alone.

It becomes obvious that they will not get along. Garcin ran a pacifist newspaper and wonders if he was actually a coward, Inez is a lesbian and a self described “damned bitch” (25) and Estelle married a man for his money, and is obsessed with being pretty and attracting men. Inez is attracted to Estelle, who wants nothing to do with her, and Estelle constantly tries to get Garcin’s attention, who attempts to keep to himself. Even when Garcin is willing to give in to her advances, he cannot go through with it because he desires Inez’s approval too much.

Estelle wonders why the three of them have been put in the same room. She believes that there must be a reason, while Garcin states that it is mere chance. Inez presents her disturbing theory; that they will serve as each other’s torturers. Garcin, adamant that he will torture no one, comes up with a way to avoid this: “each of us stays put in his or her corner and takes no notice of the others…Also, we mustn’t speak” (17). Garcin’s plan does not work. Inez begins to sing, and Estelle asks the others if they have a mirror. Inez's mirror has been taken, and there are no mirrors in the room. Inez then offers to be Estelle's mirror. Garcin attempts to ignore the others, laying face down, covering his eyes with his hands. Inez and Estelle begin talking, and continually address Garcin, who is forced to come back into the conversation.

Garcin realizes that not speaking will be impossible, and decides that the best thing to do is have full disclosure among themselves, and asks the others what they have done to be damned. He confesses first: he has cheated on his wife and treated her badly throughout their five-year marriage. Not only this, but he does not regret it, and admits that he enjoyed making her suffer. Similarly, Inez confesses that she slept with her dead cousin’s wife, and made her suffer. She admits: “I can’t get on without making people suffer” (26). With much prodding, the two finally get Estelle to tell what she has done: she had killed her baby because she did not want her husband’s child.

One of the biggest ironies in the play is that the “no exit” implied by the title is not an outside force, but their own minds that entrap them in hell together. Garcin, who becomes so frustrated with Inez and Estelle, attempts to open the door. At first it does not open, but with much pushing, it finally does. Garcin, who declared he would leave them forever, and Estelle, who claims that she will leave if the door opens, both stay. Garcin stays because he needs Inez to convince him that he is not a coward. Estelle stays because she needs Garcin.

At the end of the play, Garcin comes to the realization that “hell is—other people” (45). The three then fully realize the extent of the situation, that they will be there, together, forever. “Estelle [with a peal of laughter]: ‘Forever. My God, how funny. Forever’ ” (46).

No Exit, with a setting of the afterlife, recalls Dante’s Divine Comedy, particularly The Inferno. Sartre’s allusion to this is ironic in that Dante’s works presents salvation through God, whereas in Sartre’s world, there is no salvation or even an explanation as to what has brought the characters to hell, or what their punishments will serve (Godfrey No Exit: Overview). In Gary Godfrey’s article No Exit: Overview, he explains the existential implications in No Exit:

Sartre’s plea is for authenticity, which he sees as an acceptance of our inherent liberty engaged in life so as to affirm that liberty. In order to find the peace which Inez, Estelle, and Garcin so painfully lack, we must act in good faith, or we too could find ourselves locked in an evil world with no exit.

In Godfrey’s article, he brings out that an important existential theme in No Exit is that of free will and how we use it. Existentialists emphasized free will, that humans have no one to answer to except themselves, and are therefore free to do as they wish. Sartre’s play, then, is not a warning of living a sinful life because it may lead to hell, (Sartre was an atheist) but a warning to not live one’s life in such a way that it becomes an entrapment, to live it in a way that we can find “peace.” We therefore, according the Sartre, must live a life of "authenticity."

Sartre also seemed to stress self-reflection and the importance of knowing one's self in his play. Garcin needs Inez to convince him that he is not a coward (which she never gives into) because he cannot convince himself. It is significant that there are no mirrors. The three are unable to reflect on themselves, and therefore need each other to do the reflecting for them (as Inez offers to be Estelle's mirror). This is hell; being forced to rely on others to reflect on ourselves, to live forever in constant judgement of others.

Works cited:

Gilbert, Stuart trans. No Exit and Three Other Plays. Vintage International, 1989.

Godfrey, Gary M. "No Exit: Overview." Reference Guide to World Literature. Ed. Lesley Henderson. 2nd ed. New York: St. James Press, 1995. Literature Resource Center. Web. 27 Mar. 2010.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Krapp's Last Tape

Krapp is a “wearish old man” (480). In Samuel Beckett’s short play Krapp’s Last Tape, which premiered in 1958, a clown-like sixty-nine-year-old man is presented. Krapp is described as wearing “rusty black narrow trousers too short for him. Rusty black sleeveless waistcoat, four capacious pockets. Grimy white shirt open at neck, no collar. Surprising pair of dirty white boots, size ten at least, very narrow and pointed.” Krapp also has a “white face. Purple nose” (480). Krapp eats a banana, throwing the peel on the floor, which he almost trips on. This is of course humorous, but the play is also very tragic. Krapp’s Last Tape, then, is a tragicomedy, which presents Krapp (the clown) as a lonely, unfulfilled, old man.

During the play, Krapp listens to recordings of himself at thirty-nine years old on an old tape-recorder, hunched over, leaning in to hear. His thirty-nine-year-old self is celebrating his birthday alone, and recalls a time when he was twenty-seven or twenty-nine, when he was living with his lover Bianca. Thirty-nine-year-old Krapp recalls a “memorable equinox,” which the older Krapp doesn’t seem to remember. He reflects on his past as a boy, and wonders about the future, reflecting on his old neighbor who sings: “Shall I sing when I am her age?” (486)

Time and memory are stressed in Krapp’s Last Tape, which are two important absurdist themes. Time can be a barrier, and is subjective, which makes it absurd. This can be seen in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, where the two tramps wait, doing all they can to make time pass quickly. The two also have a hard time remembering things from their past or even things that happened the day before. Similarly, Krapp has a hard time remembering (he doesn’t remember the “memorable equinox”) and he spends his time reflecting on his past, living in the past while in the present.

Krapp listens to the recording, and records himself at sixty-nine years old, saying “ Nothing to say, not a squeak. What’s a year now? The sour cud and the iron stool” (496).

Jeanette R. Malkin’s essay "Matters of Memory in Krapp’s Last Tape and Not I" discusses memory in Beckett’s works:
It is not the memories revealed or the words which suddenly "come" that are of the essence. Rather, it is the complex net of memoried states of being--the interplay of inner voices, the pluralisms of self-perception, the complexity of agency, of volition or its lack, the simultaneity of pasts and present, the multiple modes of repetition and recall, of traces and patterns: which evoke a sense of our own trivial yet inevitable multiplicity, simultaneity, fragmentedness.

Malkin brings out that time is important in Beckett’s works because it stresses our nature of being. Being involves thinking and remembering. Remembering involves thinking of things that are not happening now, but happened before. We therefore exist both in the past and in the present. This is why time and memory are absurd.

Listening to his younger self, Krapp must look up the word viduity, which his younger self uses in the recording. Krapp reads the definition from the dictionary: “State—or condition of being--or remaining—a widow—or widower” (489). Krapp reflects on the two words being and remaining: “(Looks up. Puzzled.) ‘Being—or remaining?’ ” (489). The question of what it means to be has been a question in philosophy for a long time. Existentialists stressed being as all we are, we are only beings existing, and this is all we can know. Krapp wonders what these two words mean. What does it mean to be? What does it mean to remain?

The play ends with Krapp listening to his younger self, who explains that his best years are probably gone, but he says “I wouldn’t want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn’t want them back.” Krapp ruminates on these words, while “the tape runs on in silence” (499). The title of the play suggests that Krapp will no longer record himself, as it is his “last tape.” The tape records silence. Inevitably, Krapp will die, and his voice will be silenced. He will no longer be and he cannot remain.

Works Cited:

Malkin, Jeanette R. "Matters of Memory in Krapp's Last Tape and Not I." Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 11.2 (Spring 1997): 25-39. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Linda Pavlovski. Vol. 145. Detroit: Gale, 2004. Literature Resource Center. Web. 19 Mar. 2010.

Seaver W, Richard, ed. A Samuel Beckett Reader. New York: Grove Press, 1976.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Leader

Let’s get absurd. Eugene Ionesco’s play The Leader, one of Ionesco's short plays, can certainly be called absurdist. The plot is bizarre and highly symbolic, and the actions of the play are nonrealistic.

The plot goes as follows: the Announcer excitedly reports the actions of The Leader’s to the Young Lover, the Girl-Friend and the two Admirers. The Leader is off stage, only the Announcer can see him. The four anticipate The Leader’s entrance, listening to every word of the Announcer. The Announcer broadcasts each thing The Leader does, like shaking hands with people, eating his soup and petting a hedgehog. Finally, The Leader comes on stage, passing through where the five are waiting, who then discover that The Leader does not have a head. This does not matter to them because “he’s got genius” (116). At one point, the two Lovers chase each other across the stage, meeting the two Admirers in centre stage in confusion. The two couples exchange partners for a moment, embracing the other. The play ends with each character asking the others what their name is.

The Leader highlights some absurdist and existential themes. Depersonalization and loss of identity are most apparent. At the beginning of the play, the Girl-Friend tells the Young Lover “I’m afraid I don’t happen to know you!” (110). The two never exchange names, though they do proclaim their love for each other. In fact, no character is given a name at all, only titles. The Leader is only The Leader, the two lovers are called the Young Lover and the Girl-Friend and the two Admirers are called the Admirer and the Girl Admirer. The end is significant in that the characters still do not know each other: “[The Young Lover to the Girl Admirer, the Girl Admirer to the Announcer, the Announcer to the Girl-Friend, the Girl-Friend to the Young Lover:] ‘What’s yours? What’s yours? What’s yours?’ [Then, all together, one to the other:] ‘What’s your name?’ ” The play ends here, with no questions answered. What are their names? What are they doing there? Why does The Leader not have a head?

Marilyn R. Schuster brings out this depersonalization in her article Absurd Apotheoses. She states:
At the end of the play…the male Admirer embraces the Girl Friend, as the Female Admirer embraces the Young Lover. The fact that the play ends with interchangeable couples and a five-way chorus of “What’s your name?” makes as forceful a statement about depersonalization as the headless leader.

The Leader symbolizes mindless rhetoric used by one in power to sway others. The Leader has no personality. He goes through the motions of any other politician, kissing babies’ heads and shaking hands. The politics that he represents leads to the depersonalization of everyone, symbolized by the Announcer, the two Lovers and the two Admirers.

It is ironic that The Leader is so highly respected, given the status of a God. The Announcer states that The Leader “ ‘embraces the little girl…calls her ‘my child’ ” (112). The Leader also “ ‘Suffers the little children to come unto him.’ ” (113). The Leader, then, is compared to Jesus. This is of course ironic because The Leader doesn’t have a head.

The absurdists emphasized depersonalization and loss of identity because the world is absurd. The world is absurd to human beings because we are not capable of knowing ourselves, despite our will to know. We want to know where we came from and our purpose, but we cannot know these things. This is what makes the world absurd, and this is why we do not know ourselves. The absurdists, highlighted in Ionesco’s play, warn readers not to allow "leaders" to decide for them what the truth is. No one person is able to know such truths more so than another, and allowing another to decide for us is dangerous.

Works Cited:

Schuster, Marilyn R. "Chapter 7: Absurd Apotheoses." Eugène Ionesco Revisited. Deborah B. Gaensbauer. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996. Twayne's World Authors Series 863.
Literature Resource Center. Web. 15 Mar. 2010.

Smith, Peter, ed. Rhinoceros and Other Plays. New York: John Calder Publishers, 1960.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Beware of Becoming a Rhinoceros

One of the biggest ironies in Eugene Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros, is that those in Berenger’s town who should be the most intelligent and logical are just the opposite. The Logician, for example, uses flawed logic in the first Act.

In the first Act, Berenger meets with his friend Jean at a Café, where Jean berates Berenger for his unkempt clothing and hair, and for his lateness. Jean also points out that Berenger has been drinking a lot, noticing his hang-over. Berenger is contrasted to Jean, who is wears neatly pressed clothing and a perfectly straight tie. It is during their conversation when a rhinoceros suddenly stampedes through the town square, surprising everyone. The Logician then pipes up, saying “Fear is an irrational thing. It must yield to reason” (10). After the interruption, Jean and Berenger’s conversation is then mixed with that of the Logician and the Old Gentleman who sit behind them at the café.

Bestowing much wisdom to the Old Gentleman, the Logician begins to explain syllogisms: “Here is an example of a syllogism. The cat has four paws. Isidore and Fricot both have four paws. Therefore Isidore and Fricot are cats.” The Old Gentleman points out that his dog has four paws, to which the Logician replies: “Then it’s a cat” (18).

The Logician obviously uses flawed logic; an irony that is not lost on the reader. He presents syllogisms as synonymous to logic, though syllogisms are known to use flawed logic. The Old Gentleman, however, is impressed with him and takes him to be an intelligent person. He marvels: “Logic is a very beautiful thing” (19).

The Logician’s logic is flawed because he does not take into account other animals that have four paws. Having four paws does not make something a cat. If a cat were missing a leg, then, according to his logic, it would no longer be a cat. But this is, of course, not true. What else would it be if not a cat?

Wayne C. Booth brings out that it is important to supply evidence to your claims, and to supply objections to those claims. He advises writers in The Craft of Research:

If you plan your argument only around claims, reasons and evidence, your readers may think that your argument is flatfooted, even naïve. You will seem less like an inquirer amiably engaging intelligent but feisty colleagues in conversation than like a lecturer droning at an empty room…You have to imagine them [your readers] asking questions.

Booth states that if you do not offer objections to your claims and only present your evidence, your argument will not be a strong one. This is exactly what the Logician doesn’t do, he only offers supporting evidence of his bizarre claims, not allowing the Old Gentleman to prove him wrong.

One important line that the Logician tells the Old Gentleman is that: “Logic means justice” (24). This is the point of the play. Logic can be manipulated to prove things that are not true, and can get people to do things that are irrational or even horrible. So the Logician is actually proving the opposite, that “logic” can bring about things that are not just.

Ionesco wanted to warn his readers of blindly following the group. Assuming the claims made by those in authority or the “educated” are automatically logical, without closely evaluating them yourself, is a dangerous thing. Ionesco wrote Rhinoceros as an explanation as to how the Holocaust happened. People turn into rhinoceroses in Ionesco’s play, starting out with one person, then with many who give up their humanity in order to become a part of the increasing group of rhinoceroses. Even those who at first state that they would never assimilate, do, like Jean, who presents himself as a perfectly well-mannered and logical human being. This group-mentality is what made the Holocaust possible.

The Logician and Old Gentleman’s conversation is interrupted by Jean who tells Berenger that he is not logical. Another irony in the play is that Berenger is actually the only one who is logical in the entire town, and by the end of the play, Berenger is the only one who refuses to turn into a rhinoceros. Berenger adamantly declares: “I’m not capitulating!” (107) at the end of the play, when he is the last human being left.

Works Cited:

Smith, Peter, ed. Rhinoceros and Other Plays. New York: John Calder Publishers, 1960.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Hairy Ape

Yank is a hairy ape. In Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape, his main character, Yank is struggling to find where he belongs, fighting to prove to Mildred and ultimately the upper class that he is not an animal.

Throughout The Hairy Ape, Yank and the other fireman who work in the Transatlantic Liner are compared to animals or Neanderthals. The stage directions in scene I, describe the men as “Neanderthal” men are “hairy-chested” (251). Paddy’s face is “extremely monkey-like with all the sad, patient pathos of that animal” (254). In scene III, the men are again described as having “inhuman attitudes of chained gorillas” (269).

Yank is at first proud of his power and his place in the world. Though he realizes that he apart of the lower class, he argues that he is the one who makes the ship move, and therefore “belongs.” Long, another fireman on the ship, is not so comfortable with how things are. He points to the Bible and says that “All men is born free and ekal” and that all of them, and ultimately the lower class are “on’y wage slaves in the bowels of a bloody ship” (256). Yank dismisses Long’s rant and his religion, and calls him “yellow.” Paddy, an older fireman, joins in on the conversation, agreeing with Long. He compares himself and all of them as being “caged…like bloody apes in the zoo” (259). Yank again disagrees, saying that “We move, don’t we? Speed, ain’t it?...We split dat up and smash trou—twenty-five knots a hour!” (262)

Yank first questions his previous attitudes when Mildred, the daughter of the president of Nazareth Steel, insults him. She decides to come down from the upper deck (where the upper class stay) to see the bowels of the ship out of curiosity, as well as to defy her aunt. She is shocked at Yank’s attitude and appearance, who is unaware that she is behind him. Yank curses as he shovels coal into the furnace, angry that the whistle from above is being rung by the engineer, telling the men to shovel the coal faster. Yank, enraged, “brandishes his shovel murderously over his head in one hand, pounding on his chest, gorilla-like, with the other” (272). Mildred almost faints, calling Yank a “filthy beast” (273).

Though Yank is continuously compared to a beast, he is also described as a “highly developed individual” (252). In the first scene, he berates the other firemen for making noise, telling them “Can’t youse see I’m tryin’ to t’ink?” (254). At the beginning of Scene IV, after being insulted by Mildred, Yank’s stage directions say that he is “brooding…seated forward on a bench in the exact attitude of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ ” (274). Yank constantly thinks. He is compared to Rodin’s “The Thinker” throughout the play, at the beginning of scene VI, and again in scene VII.

Yank struggles between being an animal and a being a human being at the same time. He is aware enough to want to find his place in the world, but not enough to know any answers. The Hairy Ape is certainly a comment about the social order and class issues, but it goes deeper than this. We are all like Yank, we are all, really, apes. Yank is confused not because he is the only hairy ape, but because those of the upper class pretend that they are not. After his contact with Mildred, Yank asks the others “ain’t she de same as me?” (279)

Etta Worthington states in her essay An Essay for The Hairy Ape:
On the surface The Hairy Ape might seem to be a fairly political play. There is a marked contrast of the sweaty fireman whose brute strength propels the ship that provides diversion and pleasure to those privileged class denizens who inhabit the upper deck. There is obvious reference to the exploitation of the workers. But The Hairy Ape…is really about the existential condition of man, namely that humans rarely feels like they fit in, that they are always essentially alone and separate.

Worthington brings out that reading The Hairy Ape without analyzing it thoroughly will make it seem that the play is just about social issues. The Hairy Ape is about more than this, however; it is about the state of all of mankind, about how each human experiences this isolation. We are all really animals, unable to know absolute truths, while still possessing a mind and the capability to question and to wonder.

In The Hairy Ape, Yank decides to take action. He at first tries to take out his anger on the upper class. In scene V, Yank goes with Long to Fifth Avenue, waiting for the rich to come out of church. Long wants to talk with them, while Yank wants to start a riot. Long eventually leaves when Yank gets out of hand. Yank is unable to move the upper class, however. When they come out of church and into the streets, Yank insults them, calling them names. It does not faze any one; in fact the rich are not aware of Yank’s presence at all. Yank then gets physical, punching a man who is trying to get on a bus. The man is hardly fazed, and is only a little annoyed because he has missed his bus.

The rich citizens are all enamored with the monkey fur for sale in the store windows, which enrages Yank. Yank is the monkey, the ape, and he sees the fur being sold as a personal insult, as if the fur was taken from one of his brothers.

Yank then tries to join the I.W.W., or the Industrial Workers of the World, who are suspected of causing riots. When Yank tries to join, he is very enthusiastic, and talks of making trouble for the rich. He is suspected of being an undercover cop, and is kicked out. The secretary of the I.W.W. calls Yank a “brainless ape” (302).

In the last scene, Yank goes to a zoo, where he talks to a gorilla. Yank frees him from the cage, and the gorilla hugs and crushes Yank, putting him in the cage. Yank dies there, where he “perhaps…at last belongs” (308). Yank belongs more with the gorillas than with his own kind. But he doesn’t belong completely with the gorillas either, because he is a “thinker.” Yank, therefore, does not belong anywhere. This is Yank’s paradox, and the paradox of mankind.

Works Cited:

A.R. Gurney, ed. Four Plays by Eugene O’Neill. New York: First Signet Classic Printing, 1998.

Worthington, Etta. "An essay for The Hairy Ape." Drama for Students. Detroit: Gale. Literature Resource Center. Web. 20 Feb. 2010.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Is there “a” truth? Could we find it if there was? Jorge Luis Borges explores these questions in his short story The Library of Babel.

Published in 1941 in a collection of fictions called The Garden of Forking Paths, Borges lays out a universe that is an enormous (perhaps never-ending) library. The people or “librarians” that live in this universe ask many questions that we ourselves ask about our own existences.

They realize that “the” truth must be out there, as their library contains every possible book that could be made. Their reasoning is that one of these books must contain all possible truths: “There was no personal problem, no world problem, whose eloquent solution did not exist—somewhere in some hexagon” (115). And so, they wonder what the truth is, and some even go out and explore the library to find this one book that contains all truth. No one ever finds it, however.

They also wonder about their own truths, and some search out The Vindications, which contains future prophecy about each individual’s life. No one finds their Vindication, some die while searching, others have gone insane. The librarians also have speculations as to how their library formed, and search the books for answers, though, after four centuries of searching, “clearly, no one expects to discover anything” (116).

Clearly, the Librarians are us. They wonder about themselves and about truth, and come up with different explanations to answer these questions. The narrator of the story is a man who has searched the library for answers all his life, and is now dying and writing the story. He wants there to be a truth, an order. He writes: "I pray to the unknown gods that some man—even a single man, tens of centuries ago—has perused and read the book. If the honor and wisdom and joy of such a reading are not to be my own, then let them be for others. Let heaven exist, though my own place be in hell. Let me be tortured and battered and annihilated, but let there be one instant, one creature, wherein thy enormous Library may find its justification" (117).

The narrator does not care if he himself will not ever know the truth, just as long as there is “a” truth, as long as someone else has or will find it, so that the library will find “justification.” This echoes one of Thomas Hardy’s poems, Hap, which was written in 1891. The speaker of the poem also wants there to be an ultimate truth. The speaker wishes for a god, even if the god is vengeful. He would even endure suffering inflicted by this god: “Then would I bear it, clench myself and die…Half-eased in that a Powerfuller than I/ Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.” But the speaker must admit “But not so.” There is no god, vengeful or no.

The narrator in The Library of Babel explains that there must be an order: “If an eternal traveler should journey in any direction, he would find after untold centuries that the same volumes are repeated in the same disorder—which, repeated, becomes order: the Order. My solitude is cheered by that elegant hope” (118). He will settle for “an” order, any order. He does not even hope, now, for a benevolent god, or even a specific purpose, only just an order.

Many can relate to this. Many of us want, and some believe, that there is “a” truth. We look for order in a chaotic world. Borges story echoes this existential theme: searching for truth, but never finding it, wanting an order in a world that seems to have no order or no purpose at all.

As Dennis Vannatta writes in Reference Guide to Short Fiction:
He [Borges], his narrator, and the librarians who haunt their carrels are concerned with the most fundamental questions: Where are we? Why are we here? What is here? How do we know what we know? As is always the case with Borges, by the end we are no more—indeed, far less—certain than we were at the beginning. The reason for the uncertainty is the nature of the library (universe). The vast majority of the books contain what appears to be gibberish, or at least languages unknown to the librarians. The occasional recognizable phrases—‘Oh time thy pyramids’ (translated by James E. Irby)—are generally as inegmatic as life. The only thing certain about the exceedingly rare books (frequently fragments) written in a recognizable tongue is that somewhere in the universal library is another that contains the first's refutation. Where, then, is truth, certainty? Nowhere in the Library of Babel.

Vannata points out that there is no certainty in Borges universe. Because the library contains every possible book, any "truth" found in one book will certainly be refuted in another book somewhere in the Library. The narrator is aware of this ever present uncertainty. At one point in the story, he addresses the reader directly: "You who read me--are you certain you understand my language?" (118) The Library of Babel emphasizes questioning, and not ever being able to answer these questions definitively. All that the librarians can be certain of are their existences. This is existential.

Works cited:

Andrew Hurley. Trans. Jorge Luis Borges: Collected Fictions. New York: Penguin Putnam Inc. 1998.

Vannatta, Dennis. "The Library of Babel: Overview." Reference Guide to Short Fiction. Ed. Noelle Watson. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. Literature Resource Center. Web. 13 Feb. 2010.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

My Narration

When I started to read novels, I began journeying to places that did not exist and I met people who did not exist. But it all did exist, somehow, in my mind, and I think it was this that got me hooked.

I became in love with the feeling that, by the end of a novel, I knew the characters; and I myself was transformed somehow, having gone through an adventure and experienced what the characters experienced. I was there with Lyra and her daemon in their rescue mission to save Roger, and with them in their fight to stop Mrs. Coulter’s horrible experiments in The Golden Compass. I knew Jonas, who was so different from others in his society, burdened with the truth about “releasing” of older persons and sick children in The Giver.

At first, it was mostly about the adventures and the characters. It became more, though, my junior year in High School. My English teacher opened my mind to symbolism in the text and the depth of meaning that needed to be sought out. It was no longer just about the plot, but about what the text said about humanity in general.

My senior year, I took a literature course with the same teacher I had my junior year. One day, at the start of class, she put up on the board a large white piece of poster paper on which was drawn in black marker the setting of the play we were about to read. A bare tree, on top of a black line, representing the “country road.” She gave no indication as to what the play was about. She had already assigned the reading parts, setting aside four desks at the front of class for the four readers. She told us nothing except “this is like nothing you have ever read.” And then we started.

The play was Waiting for Godot. I was confused at first. What did this mean? Why was nothing happening? Though I was confused, I got the sense that this must mean something, and whatever it was, it was profound. After reading Waiting for Godot, I bought an anthology of Beckett’s works, including his plays, short stories, and poetry. I looked up other absurdist writers. I began reading Franz Kafka, Eugene Ionesco, Eugene O’Neil, Harold Pinter and Albert Camus.

The absurdists are different. Their texts are ambiguous and abstract. Their language is disjointed, fragmented, and unclear. The plots seem to be about “nothing,” where drama rarely happens, and what is emphasized and drawn out is the mundane and “boring.”

As Terry Niehuis, an associate professor of English at Western Carolina University said, in his article An Overview of Waiting for Godot: "The play has a beginning, but the beginning seems somewhat arbitrary because what happened before the beginning does not seem to be important.The play has an end, but the end seems to recall the beginning and create a sense of circularity rather than the traditional sense of closure that conventional stories generally provide. So Beckett's play could perhaps be described as 'all middle.' This, of course, reinforces the Absurdist or Existentialist idea of human life as having no clear purpose or direction, of life being an interminable waiting for a sense of purpose or closure that is not likely to ever arrive."

My searching out existential and absurd works continued. I did research on my own. Anytime I could choose the topic of a paper for a class, I chose to write about something to do with literature, usually the absurdists. I wrote about the French absurdists for French I, existential philosophy found in the works of the existentialists for Intro to Philosophy, and so on.

This is how I came to love absurdist literature. Why I love absurdist literature is another question, and a harder one to answer. It is the searching that I like, but it is more than that. It is seeking out truth, the meaning of truth, and about what we can know. It is about everything--about humanity, what it is to be human, existence, isolation, and questioning. This is why I will always be fascinated, maybe even obsessed, with absurdist works.

Works Cited:

Niehuis, Terry. "An overview of Waiting for Godot." Drama for Students. Detroit: Gale. Literature Resource Center. Web. 7 Feb. 2010.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Is Samuel Beckett’s Work "Waiting for Godot" Existential?

Samuel Beckett never gave much information about his Waiting for Godot, which premiered on January 5th, 1953 in Paris. This left many people wondering what the play meant, exactly. It has been labeled as “communist”, “avant-garde”, “existential” or just “boring.” Beckett himself said “My work is a matter of fundamental sounds made as fully as possible, and I accept responsibility for nothing else. If people want to have headaches among the overtones, let them.” I will argue that the play is existential above anything else.

Some say that Beckett’s play cannot be existential because Beckett never identified himself as such. They may also point to the fact that Beckett did not even associate himself with philosophy at all: “I never read the philosophers; I don’t understand what they write.”This is a good point. How can you give a work a label that the author himself has dismissed? Isn’t that a little egotistic?

But by focusing on what Beckett has said, rather than on the work itself, they overlook the overall tone and message that is conveyed in Waiting for Godot. They also ignore the nature of existentialism. Existentialism emphasizes freedom of choice. If Beckett was in fact an existentialist, he may have said the opposite so that readers could choose for themselves what the play meant, instead of being told what to think.

The overall feeling of isolation in Waiting for Godot is existential. The fact that Vladimir and Estragon do nothing except be and exist, highlight existential themes. The two wait for Godot, instead of searching him out, and, though they want to leave, they never do. By the end of the play, one gets the feeling that the two will remain in that strange place forever, waiting for a man who will never come: “Vladimir: ‘Well? Shall we go?’ Estragon: ‘Yes, let’s go.’ They do not move.”

Another major theme in the play is that of loss of identity. Estragon and Vladimir are called only by their nicknames, Gogo and Didi, and Vladimir is also called “Mister Albert” by the boy messenger. Estragon and Vladimir do not seem to know who they are, and their pasts are distant memories that are somehow disconnected from them.

According to existential thought, it is the loss of identity that causes mankind’s helplessness. This is why existentialists emphasized giving one’s life a purpose. They would argue that God has not given your life a purpose, and therefore it can mean nothing, unless you give it meaning yourself. Beckett’s play serves as a warning to its readers: do not do as Vladimir and Estragon do. Beckett warns against wasting one’s life by “waiting” instead of “doing.”

Pozzo also demonstrates this warning. Imagine the audience’s reaction when, watching Waiting for Godot for the first time, sees Pozzo come on stage with Lucky on a leash, treating him like an animal or a slave. This must have had a big impact, and I would imagine that Beckett wanted it this way.

Lucky is all of us, he allows himself to be tied up and controlled and only “thinks” when he is told to: “Pozzo: ‘Stop!’ (Lucky stops.) ‘Back!’ (Lucky moves back.) ‘Stop!’ (Lucky stops.) ‘Turn!’ (Lucky turns towards auditorium.) ‘Think!’…Lucky: ‘Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua…’ ”

Lucky’s “thinking” goes on for another three pages and consists of nothing but jumbled thoughts that seem to be recycled from other places and are not Lucky’s own thoughts or opinions.

Everyone is in danger of becoming Lucky. Many of us allow ourselves to be controlled by other people, social institutions, religion, etc and many seem content in only recycling others’ ideas and thoughts instead of creating their own. Waiting for Godot still has much significance today, in that Beckett wanted to wake up his audience, to show how one can live one’s life without meaning or purpose, and to make people contemplate and think about this, and maybe realize how they too are Estragon and Vladimir or Lucky, living one’s existence waiting or allowing one’s life to be controlled by another.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

First Post

My passion for reading started when I was in the seventh grade. I remember my father brought me to a Barns and Nobles where I picked out three books. I even remember which books I bought: The Golden Compass, The Giver and Holes. After that, I was not happy unless I had a book to read, and probably read one book every week. In the eighth grade I went through a sort of “Gothic" phase and started to read more classic horror, like Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and Frankenstein.

My junior year in High School, I was put into Mrs. Long’s English III class. It was in her class where I was first introduced to Modern literature. We read things like The Catcher in the Rye, The Sound and the Fury, and a lot of Modern poetry. Reading this literature really struck a chord within me. I loved analyzing the literature, looking for symbolism and metaphors. The themes of alienation and disconnection from mankind were real to me. What impressed me most about Modern literature is that it questions assumptions put in place by social institutions. I have been in love with Modern literature ever since.

I would like to use this blog to share my thoughts on different works from the Modern period, and would also like to connect its themes to our day. The literature I'm especially interested in are "absurdist" works, especially French absurdism. I like these works especially because they are highly ambiguous in their meanings, and can be analyzed from many different perspectives. In doing so, I would like to get other people's opinions on the literature and discover other people's perspectives in how they analyze the literature.