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Showing posts from February, 2008

The Imagery, Atmosphere and Irony in Macbeth

Chaucer's Presentation of two Women characters--the Prioress and the Wife of Bath in the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

In the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales Chaucer frequently uses the device of contrast as a major means of characterization. One of the most striking of these contrasts is that between the prominent women among the pilgrims – the prioress and wife of Bath. However, in spite of the fact that these two ladies belong to two different social spheres, they surprisingly share some common characteristics. The personality of the Prioress cannot be easily summed up. As Phyllis Hodgson says in his edition of the Prologue, “By silent omission, banter and the tactful veiling of ambivalence, Chaucer himself seems to remain detached and finely poised between affection and exposure”. The Prioress belongs to the withdrawn cloistered life of prayer and administration, vowed to poverty and chastity and indifferent to the vanities of the world. Strictly speaking, she should not have been on this pilgrimage at all, for there was an ecclesiastical edict forbidding nun from going on pilgrimage. In violatio…

The Conflict between Science and Religion in the later half of the 19th century of the Victorian period

England during the reign of Queen Victoria developed strange features, some of which were quite contradictory. In the latter half of the 19th century while at home England had absorbed the essential features of Industrial Revolution, she had established herself as the greatest colonizing nation along with her unquestionable supremacy in overseas trade abroad. Again quite paradoxically, under the impact of the liberal humanist ideology of the Enlightenment, ‘progress’ became the buzzword of the day. Under the smooth surface of British culture lay the inevitable ferment of religious and scientific ideas. A few decades ago the poet-naturalist, Erasmus Darwin, who was interestingly the grandfather of Charles Darwin, almost shocked Englishmen when he argued against the concept of the Scale of Being or Ladder of Life, a concept derived from the Genesis, in favour of the spontaneous origin of life in minute forms in the ocean. A few years later Lamarck came out with his theory that altered …

Presentation of Women Relationship in Sense and Sensibility

Michel Facoult once pointed out how private conversations among women constitute a world which plays a counter subversive role in relation to the male dominated society and prepares the way for securing women’s power at least in certain areas. Jane Austen’s novels amply illustrate the validity of Facoult’s speculation not simply because she was a woman novelist, but because she shows the inner landscape of women’s inner social world. In Sense and Sensibility the reader encounters an internal world wholly separated from the knowledge of the man folks. It is, however, not to suggest that this internal world is wholly an independent one, but to suggest that women in Sense and Sensibility create a space for them by being closely associated with one another. Perhaps it was because of her being a woman herself that she succeeded in understanding the close relationship existing among women in a male dominated society, where behind the Romantic talk of love a woman’s social position was to be…

Essay on Arnold's "On the Modern Elements in Literature"

Arnold essay On the Modern Elements in Literature was occasioned by an unusual event, his election to the Chair of Poetry in Oxford. Unusually still, he did not choose to eulogise any person or institution. According to George Watson, it was “a lecture against the modern element in literature, in which Arnold seeks alliance with the classical dons in his audience against the prevailing tide of middleclass romanticism.” In fact, Arnold was one of the great spokesmen of the Enlightenment, and that is why, what speaks about in these lines constitutes a view of history widespread in his day. It was put forward by Herder, Goethe and Novalis in Germany, by Saint Simonians in France and by Carlyle in England. In fact, he seeks a synthesis out of the past and present in the Hegelian mode. Added to this is Arnold’s concern with literature as a criticism of life.Arnold begins the essay with an anecdote—illustrative of moral deliverance of man, from the vast body of Buddhist literature in order …

Othello as a tragic hero

The tragic hero’s downfall, said Aristotle, in the Poetics, was brought upon not by vice and depravity but by some error of judgement. Aristotle’s theory is not the final word on tragedy, but it happens, can usefully point to what is going on in Othello. This tragic ‘flaw’ has sometimes been incorrectly interpreted in moral terms, and some critics have looked for some moral weakness in the tragic hero. For Othello, this has led to the commonplace assertion that Othello falls because he was too jealous—hence the arguments about whether he was naturally or racially prone to jealousy or easily made jealous. But this is to miss Aristotle’s points. Obviously Othello becomes jealous, but we can defectively avoid the argument about whether he was naturally jealous or not by looking for error of judgement rather than moral flaw. The same may be said about the debate concerning Othello’s ‘nobility’. Up to the beginning of this century there seems to have been general agreement among the best a…

Moral or Didactic Design in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility

There arises a sharp controversy among critics as to whether or not Jane Austen, while writing her novels, consciously had in mind certain serious moral concerns of her times; whether or not as a novelist she wanted to pose as a teacher for her society. The problem which baffles the critics is that her oeuvre turns out to be multi-dimension and can be interpreted in various ways. It is often felt that the stories in her novels are oriented towards the education of the heroine/s. The same is true of the novel, Sense and Sensibility, all the more so as it lays equal attention to the two heroines, Elinor and Marianne, and presumably the title points towards that. But it must be emphasized here that the greatness of Austen as a novelist does not depend on whether she moralizes or not; in fact, her major works are complete in themselves and aesthetically independent of any moral concern. Deliberate or not, however, on her part, a moral design is discernible in the novel, Sense and Sensibil…

Batter My Heart, Three Person’d God by Donne

John Donne’s life, more than any poet’s, illustrates how the Elizabethan and Jacobean views of the world, which was basedmedieval world view, came to collide with the Renaissance one provided by the Copernican science. The result was confusion and scepticism. The contemporary intellectuals searched for a moral pattern that governs the world. However, in many their cases, the intellectuals fell back on to the traditional religion for ontological support as the new science could not provide at one all the answers. The same happened with Donne, who after spending a rather fiery youth, became afraid of God’s wrath and looked for His grace. However, it is to be noted that despite old age, his habit of using metaphysical conceit remained with him. But it should be pointed out that in his religious poetry, he drew his images from the Bible. Donne begins the poem in his characteristic conceited manner:“Batter my heart, three person’d God; for YouAs yet but knock, breath, shine, and seek to me…

Critical Interpretation of Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea

Albert Camus in Le Mythe de Sisyphe summed up human existence on earth by drawing a parallel with the myth of Sisyphe. Sisyphe, cursed by Zeus, constantly fails despite his incessant attempts to keep the stone on the hill-top, whence they are sliding down. Though this is a typical existentialist approach to life and can never be applied to The Old Man and the Sea, the main outlines of the myth comprise an archetype which has been exploited by writers since the times of the Greek tragedians. The philosophical explanation for the crux of the matter is that man is compelled by necessity to struggle for existence—to launch himself/herself into some kind of action, which at some plane is transformed into an ambitious project. This innate human tendency to achieve the impossible does not care for the limit of human capacity, drawn by the universal laws of nature. This tendency ultimately leads to fall or defeat. Hemingway conceived of and wrote The Old Man and the Sea with this awareness of…

The Character of Lady Macbeth