Reflections on “The Sermon in the Guava Tree” by Kiran Desai

            During my reading of “Sermon in the Guava Tree” by Kiran Desai, I must say that I was refreshed with its touch of humor and with the author’s ability to describe its characters simply using situations and their dialogue. The story was interesting to me for many reasons; mainly that despite being a short story, it gave lots of details about Indian culture. From reading this story, one gets a good picture of Indian family, priorities in an Indian family, cultural norms, customs and even gender norms (like the description of what to look for when choosing a woman for a bride). I was very impressed with this aspect of the story and I was especially taken with the very animated and humorous character of Mr. Chawla who portrayed an anxious and ambitious Indian father.

            I noticed some relations to this story and to “My Son the Fanatic” by Hanif Kureishi when Mr. Chawla states to his wife, “Your son leaves home and climbs up a tree and you say ‘Let him be.’ With you as his mother no wonder he has turned out like this. How can I keep normality within this family? I take it as a full-time job and yet it defies possibility. We must formulate a plan. Only monkeys climb up trees” (p.1228). The relation between these two stories can be seen here because this quote displays a father’s frustration because his son is emitting a behavior unlike his and one that he refuses to understand and even blames on delusion. This frustration as a father with his son to be a certain way can cause anger, confusion and a refusal to see rational reasons as to why they are acting this way. This is so because such actions are so outside of the father’s or parent’s conception of how one is to live from their perspective that insanity or fanaticism must be the only conclusion. Furthermore, in the father’s frustration, they become the “insane” one’s or even “the fanatics”.

            In the article “Sermon in the Guava Tree”, the author expresses a relation of this story to Buddhism when they say, “This is a clear parallel to how Buddha began his life with a vast amount of things but left them for a sense of fulfillment and peace and went to sit underneath a Bodhi Tree in order to begin his search for enlightenment”. I found this to be interesting since there are some similarities between Hinduism and Buddhism. But I also found it to be interesting because when we examine both cases of the Buddha and of Sampath, we can see that they went against the grains of their society so that they could be enlightened to a more substantial truth. In these instances, both figures were looked at oddly for going against societal expectations and norms, however, both characters displayed that society’s conventions are not always the road to that which is better or produces the most.

We as people often frown upon different demonstrations of life styles because when someone does something different it calls our own way of living into question by asserting that their way is the way. However, once that lifestyle in some way affirms our own or brings about a production that we can understand and identify with we are no longer against it. Such as, when Sampath gains wealth and popularity among the community for his spiritual gifts. I think that a lot can be said about this story and I especially was taken with the author’s ability to make her words come alive.

Work Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen, and Jahan Ramanzi. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. W.W. Norton, 2018.

http://cgablebritishliterature.blogspot.com/2017/04/sermon-in-guava-tree.html

Reflections on “Punishment” by Seamus Heaney

During my reading of “Punishment” by Seamus Heaney, I must admit I was appalled at the contents of the text. However, I think that is what Heaney wanted. When we observe this piece, there are many elements present that may be subliminal to some and apparent to others. I think that this piece speaks for itself when it graphically and yet poetically describes the punishing and the torturous death of a young “adulteress”. The poem highlights the nature of a time period where women were condemned for being sexually expressive and for committing adultery.

 In Andrew Spacey’s “Analysis of Poem Punishment by Seamus Heaney” he states the author references his poem with “the punishments handed out to modern girls by the IRA (Irish Republican Army) during the Troubles in his native Northern Ireland. These girls were shaved, stripped, covered in tar and feathers and tied to railings in Belfast for being too friendly to British troops” which gives us an idea of where he was coming from when he wrote this.

When reading the lines that state, “I almost love you but would have cast, I know, the stones of silence. I am the artful voyeur of tour brain’s exposed and darkened combs” (lines 29-34) we get an odd sense of artistic appreciation for the scene being described.

 This poem creates an environment where the reader can take an aesthetic and artistic approach to something gruesome and horrifying such as a torturous death. I think this may be done in order to raise questions on the nature of “female possession” and domination in general. This woman is exploited, stripped naked, publically punished with her head shaved forcibly for being committing adultery. What does this say about the one’s who are exploiting her? Are they condemning her sin or are they relishing in it? Or are they enveloped in seduction that gives them a pleasure in shaming a person? I think that this is where the artistic aspect of this comes in that the author may have wanted to convey. The punishers of this girl have painted (like an artist) a picture of her that they intend to display (like in an art gallery) for everyone to marvel at. They show her nudity, they dehumanize her, they shave her head to take her femininity and they do this so that their painful afflictions against her seem justified.

They paint a picture that aims to show what an adulteress really is, a naked “whore”, not a woman or not even a human. But what is an adulteress? Is she really this? Or is she still feminine? Maybe she is even an upstanding, wealthy individual. Maybe a person who has only made this mistake once? Or maybe even a person who is not very sexual but fell in love with someone else to find happiness. But would anyone want to defend her even if she was all of this? No, most of the time they would want to punish her and brand her with this title “adulteress” while making her the face of it; not human and instead one worthy of pain. I think that this poem really raises some questions about why people comply and why people punish. As well as the importance of how a message is conveyed and when it is our job as individual’s to truly discern individual circumstance.

                                           Work Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen, and Jahan Ramazani. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. W. W. Norton, 2018.

https://owlcation.com/humanities/Analysis-of-Poem-Punishment-by-Seamus-Heaney

Reflections on “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad

During my reading of “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad I was impressed with how his plot, character development and writing abilities could draw such a detailed picture of racism, colonialism, imperialism and what some call “the law of the forbidden”. The story’s focus and intimidation revolves around the mystery of Africa and its “uncharted-ness” which almost calls, captivates and begs “the white man” to possess it. In the text, I find that this desire to overcome the unknow is described well when Marlow describes the North Pole, “it had got filled since my boyhood with rivers and lakes and names. It had ceased to be a blank space of delightful mystery-a white patch for a boy to dream gloriously over” (p.77).  I find that this story has many layers to it which deal with the unconscious struggle of the mind of man. In his lack of understanding for himself as a creature on the earth, he strives to find meaning outside of himself that validates his desire for self-purpose and even hierarchy.

            We see this with the character of Kurtz whose desire to possess, to conquer and to dominate the heart of darkness (what he perceived as Africa). His journey to its center, his brutality of its people and his self-appointing of himself as a king displays the very insecurities of man which arise when confronted with something different or mysterious. His frustration with something other than his world causes his own existence to become “the other” and his desire to reassert his superiority must be satisfied. He must know what is unknown and to know it he must possess it, dominate it, control it. And for this knowledge to validate him, he must make it concern him and reiterate his superiority. Marlow could be said to represent the bureaucracy of colonialism in his journey and to be disillusioned by its evils as he seeks Kurtz. Whereas, Kurtz is the representation that the heart of darkness is not Africa but is truly the “white man’s” heart and desire for greed. In the article “Significance of the Title Heart of Darkness” the author explains that Marlow “notices that he has become totally a devil, deviating from his main aim to civilize the savages. Marlow, despite the truth that Kurtz has been transformed into the barbaric self, praises him and is attracted towards him”.

            When observing this quote, we can see the other layers added to this story that elaborate further on the “white man’s” need to civilize. Kurtz’ desire to control, dominate and “civilize” the natives comes from his own primitivism, his own animal nature for self-preservation. The author of this same article continues to state, “Kurtz has become a devil being failure to control his moral restraint. He lets his inner self, the primitive self, dance freely in the lap of darkness and becomes the representatives of the darkness”.

 We must then ask ourselves, is there any universal rule that calls us to feel compelled to interfere in the differences of others? I personally would argue that we are only compelled to do this when the rights of others are being interfered with. In the Britannica article “Categorical Imperative” its editors go on to explain the concept of the “Categorical Imperative” that was coined by the philosopher Immanuel Kant. It is defined as, “A moral law that is unconditional or absolute for all agents, the validity or claim of which does not depend on any ulterior motive or end. “Thou shalt not steal” for example”.

            This may seem like a very solid view to live by however problems arise for it when we apply it to different scenarios and events in history. For example, “The White Man’s Burden” was a selfless duty that “the white man” felt that he was called to fulfill by divine order; it was a categorical imperative. But we must ask ourselves, how much of this “burden” this “categorical imperative” was based on man’s confusion and his frustration when confronted with something mysterious to him, something other than what he knows, something different? His primitive nature for his greed to know (and as we stated, to know is to know in the sense of possession, domination and recirculating what is known to serve the validation of one’s existence) which arises from him thinking the world must be him or be exactly like him ultimately consumes him and exposes itself; like with Kurtz. I think that Conrad did an amazing job with this piece of literature. It shows a lot of insight on his part as a writer during his time and also as a reporter which all writers of great literature should be.

Work Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen, and Jahan Ramanzani. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. W.W. Norton 2018.

https://www.britannica.com/topic/categorical-imperative

https://www.bachelorandmaster.com/britishandamericanfiction/significance-of-the-title-heart-of-darkness.html#.XPhR71MpCd0

Reflections on “The Other Boat” by E.M. Forster

As I read E.M. Forster’s “The Other Boat”, I was refreshed by how it reflected so many social dilemmas that still exist today. I found that it touched on racism, homophobia, “homosexual shame”, broken families, prejudice and the very natural feeling of caring about what other people think of you. An example of racism in this story is when Mrs. March references Cocoanut when she says, “Touch of the tar-brush”. And we see class prejudice mixed with this element of racism when she calls him “a silly idle useless unmanly little boy” (p.252).

            The broken family aspect of this story appears in the life of Lionel whose father left his mother Mrs. March, which I also feel is a contributing factor for her need and even his to strive to keep themselves “highly placed” on the social ladder. I find that this story displays homophobia and “homosexual shame” from Lionel who is engaging in and experiencing homosexual desires for Cocoanut later in the story. What is odd enough about this phenomenon is that often homophobia is internalized by those with homosexual desires who feel their environment will not allow for them to express them. Individuals in this battle sometimes develop an anger towards themselves, a disgust, a guilt and homophobic tendencies in order to train themselves away from their desires. Usually this is because we as humans have a natural tendency to care about what others think of them. We want to fit in, we wanted to be treated equally and we want to be socially acceptable.

            Lionel exhibits this; however, it seems that he is mainly worried about being caught and punished. We see this when he gets angry at Cocoanut for leaving the door unlatched when they are making love. He cares about societies perceptions of him and he cares about keeping his rank and social status. Cocoanut even expresses the legal severity of their relationship when he states, “If we got caught there’d be absolute bloody hell to pay, yourself as well as me” (p. 254).  What is fascinating about this story is that it has so many different levels to it concerning the human mind with its motives and desires. For example, why is Cocoanut distraught that he “planned wrongly”? In “The Other Plot on the “Other Boat”” the answers these questions when he says, “It could be that Cocoanut is jealous of Lionel and his life in Britain, of his apparent wealth and status”. The author also mentions that the mysterious nature of Cocoanut’s identity and behavior towards Lionel is attributed to the fact that, “They’re not just lovers, they’re brothers” and Cocoanut “believes he deserves something of Lionel’s based on shared blood”. Regardless of whether or not this is true of the story, it is apparent that Cocoanut is hiding something and does want for Lionel to get caught in their homosexual act.

            The interesting aspect of this is that it raises the age-old problem of people using the shame, secrets and the sexual desires of others to destroy them or to get what they want. So, ask yourself, how much of Cocoanut’s attraction to Lionel is authentic and how much of it is for an ulterior motive? In the end of this story, the motives of Cocoanut and Lionel’s suppression destroys the both of them. This element of the story really points out how dangerous secrets can be and how dangerous overly suppressing our natural feelings can be. A major example of this is those suffering from sexual abuse hide their abuse for fear of punishment or being looked down. Or people who commit suicide for struggling with their internal passions because they feel that they never truly be who they are in the world.  Could Lionel have ever openly been with Cocoanut? A man of a different class and race? Lionel’s desire to be looked at appropriately and to have a high-ranking status in society overruled his true passions and turned them into a crippling fear. A fear that in the end, boiled into a rage that ultimately costed him dearly. This story was insightful to read because it touched on many issues that we still deal with today and it directly displayed the power that society can have over our feelings.

                                                            Work Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen and Jahan Ramanzani. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. W.W. Norton, 2018.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/psubritlit2.wordpress.com/2018/05/09/the-other-plot-on-the-other-boat/amp/

Reflections on “Glory of Women” by Siegfried Sassoon

This sonnet style poem may appear to be too short to raise any deep and fundamental questions. However, its powerful words and argument proves contrary to this notion based on its length. After reading “Glory of Women” by Siegfried Sassoon, I was left baffled by the amount of questions about the role of women, the nature of war and psychological analysis that this poem had left me with. Why did women glamorize war and soldiers during Sassoon’s time? Was it due to these women projecting on men the appreciation that they wanted to have for themselves if they could do something outside of their role in society? Was it because their role as women was taught to glorify men for any reason? Did they glorify men at war because they in a sense felt glorified by being associated to their husbands and relatives who fought?Or did women glamorize war because they had a need to make sense of war with the limited scope they had of it because of their role as women?
            In “Glory of Women – Siegfried Sassoon”, Griffith addresses the topic of the poem head on by interpreting a quote within the poem when he states, “Sassoon suggests that women romanticize the war, focusing on “chivalry” and honor. The war, meanwhile, is described as being precisely dishonorable: it is a “disgrace”. Sassoon brings light to the idea that the women during this period believed that the horrors of war could be masked behind brave war tales, medals, chivalry and “honor”. We see this when Sassoon says, “You worship decorations; you believe that chivalry redeems the war’s disgrace” (lines 3-4). Sassoon directly attacks the mindset that is advocated by women of his time which blindly promotes war for frivolous reasons and does not address the true and brutal nature of war. The nature in which the mutual violence of fellow men and brethren of humanity strive to reach their goal to destroy one another.

I think Sassoon wants to point out that this mindset is a false one because it ignores the nature of murder and violence by setting the idea that violence can not only be justified, but can be praised if it is decorated well enough to the social eye. Another point I gathered from this poem is that Sassoon is condemning women for their limited scope or picture of what war actually is. However, it seems that their societal role causes them to only see the medals, to only hear the war stories and to only imagine what war is like or why it is honorable based on what little they actually can see.

Whereas, men in war and even women who worked in war hospitals have a much better picture of how gruesome and “disgraceful” war actually is. So, how much of this limited scope is the fault of the women themselves? And how much of this limited scope is due to the inability of women to directly observe “male matters” because of their role in society? We must ask ourselves this and we must also ask ourselves that if women did openly and blatantly look upon soldiers and wars with disgust, would they be punished for it? It seems to me that the female role of this time almost necessitates women to blindly and ignorantly worship the deeds of men, even if those deeds are obviously immoral. Overall, I really enjoyed this poem and found it remarkable how 14 lines of poetry could spark so many questions.

                                                Work Cited

https://movehimintothesun.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/glory-of-women-siegfried-sassoon/

Greenblatt, Stephen, and Jahan Ramazani. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. W.W. Norton, 2018.

Reflections on “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson

The story “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is not an unfamiliar one to most people. However, it may be closer to home to the human psyche than just “a story that everyone has heard of”. In this blog, I will focus on how this story can be interpreted as depiction of the struggle of the human condition. In this story, Dr. Jekyll struggles to control Mr. Hyde who he enabled to manifest from himself in order to pursue his ulterior desires.

This story can be interpreted to depict the internal struggle that humans have with the person they are in their deepest thoughts and who they are to the world. One side of the human personality may be sensitive towards others and may worry about what society thinks of them. However, the other side may have desires that do not equate with the person that society knows them as. These desires may not be appropriate too society and may demand a disregard for others and for what they think. The individual in this dilemma struggles because their desires are overwhelming and ache to be fulfilled. A part of this is because the personality in this case may not be as split as we think.

It is possible that the reason a person in this situation struggles so deeply is because their ulterior desires may be the deepest and truest part of their personal essence. In this story, Dr. Jekyll is the personality that we possess which molds itself, conforms itself and manipulates itself so that it can push itself into society and be considered appropriate with its standards.  And Mr. Hyde is the deepest part of the personality that is fueled by our strongest impulses and desires; the one’s that often violate norms and disregard others. It is the part of our essence that is fueled by self-preservation and is in a sense, solipsistic.

With that said, it may very well be possible that Mr. Hyde is the unmolded, unadulterated and raw essence of Dr. Jekyll. In Steven Padnick’s “What Everybody Gets Wrong About Jekyll and Hyde”, he does not differentiate between Jekyll and Hyde. In fact, he says they are the same person. Padnick states that Hyde “is just Jekyll, having transformed his body into something unrecognizable, acting on unspecified urges that would be unseemly for someone of his age and social standing in Victorian London”. However, as much as Jekyll enjoys reveling as Hyde, he fears the consequences of his actions and he does not want to be accountable for them.

Jekyll allowed himself to be Hyde so that he could exert his desires in a world without punishment or without obligations to “the golden rule”. But when Hyde’s identity catches up with Jekyll, Jekyll states, “I cannot say that I care what becomes of Hyde; I am quite done with him. I was thinking of my own character, which this hateful business has rather exposed” (p. 1691). So, the question stands, does Jekyll (or our “public self”) want to stop Hyde (our “deeper self”) because he is morally disturbed with Hyde’s actions upon others? Or does he want to stop Hyde because he is unable to continue executing his desires without being punished? 

This story raises a lot of questions for me. If Hyde (our deeper and truest self) is the same as Jekyll (the moral personality we display to be acceptable), does this mean that we are all inherently evil? I guess the answer to this question lies in what our true desires are. If they are to violate the rights of others, it could be conceived that the “true self” is evil. However, because we exist through our personal perceptions, it could be argued that our subjective mind struggles with the fact that we are not the only subjective mind. In James Campbell’s “The Beast Within”, he references Freudian psychology and says it “sees Jekyll as embodying the ego (rational), Hyde the id (instinctive)”. 

From this perspective, the self-preservation of our desires and subjective dominance over the world is our instinct and our understanding and responsibility to “the others” is the rational side that disproves the notion that we are the only reality. Our desire for self-preservation and our purely subjective lens often causes us to forget that we are not the only one who sees from a lens in which we appear to be the center. In this state of mind, self-preservation becomes the whole of our reality and the Hyde part of ourselves may only be evil if we choose to be like Jekyll and let him out to take over. Hyde is merely the solipsist in us and in some cases, Jekyll may just be a front that we put on for the world. But in other cases, the side we show the world may really care about morality because of an inherent love for humanity.  

                                                   Work Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen, et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. W.W. Norton, 2012.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/books/2008/dec/13/dr-jekyll-mr-hyde-stevenson

What Everybody Gets Wrong About Jekyll and Hyde

Reflections on “The Defense of Guenevere” by William Morris

            My encounter with “The Defense of Guenevere” by William Morris allowed me to consider the many elements and interpretations that it possessed. The contents of this poem brought light to the philosophical notion of subjectivity as well as the question of the validity of honesty. And it considered the historical issues of sin, forgiveness and the dogma therein. However, what I am going to focus on is how strong impositions of gender roles can have an eliminative nature when it comes to recognizing the subject and their circumstances.

            In this poem, Morris emphasizes the strong desire that Guenevere possesses to prove her innocence, her purity and her holiness to the court and (it seems) to herself. Morris depicts Guenevere in a state of sincerity where she professes her own weakness for her passions and confusion as being responsible for her errors. In Brian Eschrich’s “Truth and Sincerity in “The Defensive of Guenevere” he explains this when he says, “The argument begins with pleas for sympathy from the crowd for her spiritual confusion, her helplessness against the power of her passion, and her loveless yet immutable marriage”. However, we encounter Guenevere to be sure of her innocence when she cries out to her accuser, “God knows I speak truth, saying that you lie” (line 48) and yet when she begs for forgiveness from the crowd and describes her confusion, it can appear as though she has already confessed her guilt.

            When analyzing this poem, one can discern that Guenevere’s situation might be different if gender distinctions and imposed gender roles were not as harsh as they were during her time. Her role as a woman, a nobleman and the wife of a king limits her ability to be recognized as a subject who should not need to be interrogated and put on trial for wanting to choose to love another person. In “Defend or Die: The Women of Camelot”, the author describes this by comparing “The Lady of Shallot” to “The Defense of Guenevere” when they say, “Both Guenevere and the Lady of Shallot are expected to ignore their feelings of attraction and sexual desire because the role of women does not include having their own opinion, particularly when it comes to men”.

Guenevere’s imposed gender role nullifies her as a means in and of herself and instead recognizes her as being an object of the king that is obligated to explain herself. In her situation, all she can really do is proclaim her human nature, her faults, her subjective passions and the distance in her relationship with Arthur. In this poem, we clearly can see her stating her case from the standpoint of a human being who possesses circumstances, desires and subjective direction. For if she were to argue from the “rules” of her role as a woman; she would surely be guilty. However, in her argument she succumbs to this female role by expressing that she (and all of humanity) sins and that she is deserving of forgiveness; for she has salvation with God. Guenevere says, “Must I now prove “Stone-cold for ever? Pray you, does the Lord will that all folks should be quite happy and good?” (lines 87-89)

In this passage, we can see that she is living in a somewhat conditioned state of mind where she feels guilty for having desires of her own for another man. Desires that aren’t someone else’s but her own; desires that prove her to be a subject. Is Guenevere “less holy” for being an individual who experiences changes in interest, desires and for expressing these elements in her actions? Could she even have been honest with Arthur about her disinterest in their relationships because of things that he was potentially doing? Could she have been honest about her feelings for Lancelot?  Could she have done all of this and been set free? How could she when her role as a woman and as the wife of the king would not allow her to?

 Guenevere’s role as a woman and as a wife disallows her subjectivity to actualize itself. And so here she pleas as subject to the crowd who views her as object. Here she begs to be seen for her circumstances as a human and nothing other than this. I enjoyed this piece by Morris because it speaks for itself by simply telling a story. When one reads this story, they immediately become confronted with the question “what is truth and how do we analyze it objectively from the subjective reality?” But more importantly, this piece shines a light on the shadow that gender roles can have on an individual’s ability to actualize themselves.

                                                          Work Cited

Greenblatt, Stephen, et al. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. W.W. Norton, 2012.

https://www.google.com/amp/s/britlitsurvey2.wordpress.com/2018/12/06/defend-or-die-the-women-of-camelot/amp/

www.victorianweb.org/authors/morris/eschrich10.html