Awaiting Life

The Saddest Part of Life is We are Still Alive

Antagonists and Villains in Thomas Hardy

On reading Thomas Hardy�s novels chronologically, a change (or rather a maturity) is observed in his philosophy in general, and towards human nature in particular. Of course, this might not be due to any alteration in his outlook, but just the result of increased self-confidence, which naturally occurs if and when an author (and for that matter, to any person in any field) attains success (as Hardy does), enabling him to be more explicit in his works.                                               

The main difference between the early novels and the later novels is that the line demarcating the hero and the villain is blurred. In fact, it would not be too far off the mark to claim that the latter Hardy novels have antagonists and protagonists, while the early novels had villains and heroes and heroines. For instance, while in an early novel like Desperate Remedies (from here on DR) or Far From the Madding Crowd...


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A Post Colonial reading of Jim Corbett

Colonisation can be defined as a subjugation of one country by another, with or without any implications of imperialism. The term post-colonisation refers to the period after colonisation occurs. This can be read in two ways -- either as after the period of colonisation is over, or to the period after colonisation has begun. Post-colonial studies deal with the cultural, historical, and literary analysis of the influences that each- i.e. the coloniser and the colonised -- has on the other.

                             

This can be seen in most of the works- be they fiction or non-fiction, prose or verse, -- that come out of the colonised countries. India, too, being a country, which has been under colonial rule for nearly two centuries, has its share of colonial literature, like E.M.Forster’s  A Passage to India, or Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines. In my essay I want to look at Jim Corbett’s My India as a post-colonial text.

                               

There are two aspects that are dealt with in any post-colonial text -- alienation and objectification. This is also the case with Jim Corbett’s my India, which is a collection of short anecdotes of his life in the Indian villages, which he shares with the Indian village folk- whom he patronisingly terms the “simple, honest, brave, loyal, hard-working souls” in his Dedication to the book. And this patronising goes on in...


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Citizen Kane as a Love Story

    Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, incorporates into its narrative the love story of Charles Foster Kane and Susan Alexander. Though, Susan says, when she is leaving Kane, that he does not love her, and is doing all the things that he is doing for her out of a desire to make her love him, it is not true. Kane does love Susan. Welles brings out this fact in the movie, subtly.

    Unlike his relationship with his first wife, Kane is shown as being more caring towards Susan. Further, their marriage is not one of convenience. It is for that matter one of inconvenience as far as Kane is concerned as due to her he loses the election, thereby putting a premature end to his political aspirations. Of course, it might be argued that Kane later on tried to achieve the popularity he would have achieved through politics, through Susan’s singing capabilities. In this sense he can be seen as an extremely self-centered and ambitious person who uses all the persons he comes in contact with, however close they might be, to achieve greater success. This, though is true in the case of the first wife, is not true in the case of Susan. It cannot be presumed that Kane is such a fool as not to understand that Susan cannot sing, and is a total failure as far as ‘business’ goes. In fact, Welles takes the spectator into his confidence, and shows that Kane realizes the ‘capabilities’ of Susan too well, through two instances. Kane finishing the article started by Leyland, depicting Susan, as a poor singer is an obvious instance, though it might also be interpreted as Kane’s desire to ‘show it’ to Leyland and the others that he had not completely forgotten....


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King Arthur in Shangri-La?

On observing closely the two novels, James Hilton’s (1900-54) Lost Horizon (1933) (which is set in the imaginary land of Shangri-La) and T.H.White’s (1906-64) The Once and Future King (1958) (in which the legendary or mythical character King Arthur is the protagonist), one can find a curious similarity. It might even lead one to wonder if the imaginary Avalon, where there is eternal spring and to which King Arthur is supposed to have gone to get cured of the injury that he had sustained in the battle, is the same as Shangri-La. The significant term here is ‘eternal spring’ suggesting that people who live there do not age, even if they do probably die. This is similar to what happens in Shangri-La.

          But the similarity does not end there. A comparison of the protagonists in the two novels, ‘Glory’ Conway and King Arthur, brings out that essentially both are as good as alter-egos of each other. To begin with both are loners. In James Hilton’s Lost Horizon the protagonist, ‘Glory’ Conway is depicted as being aloof from society, and in fact, as having no relations or bondings. As he himself says to the other passengers once they realise that they have to stay at Shangri-La for some time: 

 “..it’s bad for those of us who have friends and relatives. Personally, I’m fortunate in that respect, I can’t think of any one who’ll worry over me acutely, and my work, whatever it might have been, can easily be done by somebody else.

This shows that he is a loner. Similarly Arthur before he pulls the sword out of the stone and becomes the king, is bullied by Kay: 

“The Wart was not a proper son. He did not understand this, but it made him feel unhappy, because Kay seemed to regard him inferior in some way. Also it was different not having a father and mother, and Kay had taught him that being different was wrong. Nobody talked to him about it, but he thought about it when he was alone, and was distressed. He did not like people to bring it up. Since the other boy always did bring it up when a question of precedence arose, he had got into the habit of giving in at once before it could be mentioned.” (Italics mine),

  shooed away by the others, and did not have any real friends resulting in his trying to make friends with the dog-boy, who is mad. This shows that he too is a loner. When he grows up and becomes a king he becomes....


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'The Grapes of Wrath' in 'Kanthapura'

        Raja Rao’s Kanthapura (1938) describes the coming of the freedom movement to Kanthapura, a small village in South India. However, the novel is not only about the political struggle that takes place, but also about the social exploitation of the Indian labourer by the British, and their realisation of this, leading to revolt. The way this social struggle is depicted in the novel is similar to John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939).

          Both the novels are similar in the sense that they start off describing the way the exploitation takes place, and then come up with a hero, who although seemingly beaten at the end, had meanwhile inspired others to take up the fight. In Kanthapura life on the Skeffington coffee estate is described in detail. The labourers come from all over south India and are at the mercy of the estate owner, an Englishman – who is called in the novel as the  ‘Red Man’. The exploitation is both financial as well as emotional and physical, as he not only does not give the labourers enough wages but also physically abuses them – by beating the men, raping the women, etc..

       However, in The Grapes of Wrath this sort of exploitation is not depicted. Similar to the labourers in Kanthapura, here also the workers come all the way from Oklahoma due to being displaced from their land to work on the cotton farms in California. But their exploitation is limited to the financial aspect. They are not paid adequate wages, but are not physically abused in a way reminiscent of the life on the Skeffington coffee estate in Kanthapura.

        This sort of exploitation naturally results in an uprising. However, while in The Grapes of Wrath, the uprising is initiated by....



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King Solomon's Mines: To Die Like A Man

       

     From ages past, if there is one phenomenon that fascinated people all round the globe it is death. What is death?  Why should a person die?  Is there a life after death? Are some of the many questions that philosophers (past and present) regularly discuss, and it is very much in the realm of probability that in the future, philosophers will discuss it, too.

        But, are these the only possible questions regarding death?  No! the attitude to death is also of considerable interest.  How should a person face death?  What is the acceptable way of facing death, according to society? -- Cringing?  Or facing bravely?  Or is it better to go out of our way and court death?  Or just wait for it philosophically?

         These are some of the other questions that have been the wont of man to ask.  Being somewhat rhetorical, these cannot be answered with conviction.  Hence, they can be, with justification, supposed as useless.

        However, Man is always interested in such questions.  And the Victorians seem to be more preoccupied with death than others.  In fact, the characters in Victorian novels seem to die more often, more vocally, more slowly and more melodramatically, than ever before or since.

           If there is any other thing that they are as interested in as Death it is sex.  Sex and death, thus, “provide an important matrix of artistic possibilities for the Victorian writer; these apparently irreconcilable forces combine, occasionally explicitly but more often implicitly, to produce an ineradicable alignment of sexuality and mortality in nineteenth century poetry and fiction”1

           While sex is always portrayed subtly, death is portrayed overtly.  Some times, it even seems that the writers indulge themselves in the death scenes.  Bill Sikes’ murder of Nancy, and after in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Maggie Tulliver’s fatal union with her brother at the end of The Mill on the Floss (by George Eliot), and Dorian Gray’s rather picturesque death in Oscar Wilde’s  The Picture of Dorian Gray, are some of the examples that immediately spring to mind.  Even in a comparatively late Victorian novelist, like Thomas Hardy, we find this trend:  Aeneas Manston’s suicide in the prison cell at the end of Desperate Remedies, to Jude’s death in Jude the Obscure.

            It seems as if the Victorians felt that the best suitable conclusion is one with a death – be it that of the protagonist (like Dr.Jekyll’s in Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) or the antagonist (like Black Michael’s, in Anthony Hope’s, The Prisoner of Zenda)

            In the novel under purview, Rider Haggard’s King Solomon Mines, too, death and discussions on the topic of death, occupy an important position. Of course, this is not the only novel of Haggard’s where death is prominent:  In Allan Quatermain (the sequel of King Solomon’s Mines) the narrator, pretty early on, reflects that...



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The Changing Face of the Villain.

        The villain is the centre of evil in the novel. There are various ways in which an author can deal with a villain in a novel – s/he can either punish him/her, or let him/her go, or even find justification for his/her actions. Of these variations, while the first two are only two modes of condemning the villain, the third shows the author is on the side of the villain. Whether the author condemns the villain or not depends on the society for which s/he is writing, and whether s/he is in agreement with the rules and regulations that it imposes on the citizens. If s/he were in harmony with the society (i.e. in agreement with the value systems of the society) s/he would condemn the villain; otherwise, s/he would not do so, and in that way show her/his disapproval of the society’s moral values. This sort of questioning attitude of the author helps society by making it realise its ills. However, we should remember that an author is not always free to write what s/he want to write, as a lot depends on the position of the author – whether it is one of ‘independence’ or not.  An author at the beginning of his career, more often than not, does not have the confidence, or rather the independence to say what s/he wishes to say, as s/he would probably be more interested in being published than in proving a point. The case of James Joyce (1882-1941) is too well known to be elucidated here; but it clearly shows the difficulties one has to face if one tries to experiment even if one is established. The case of Thomas Hardy (1840-1928) himself is not all that different if we think of his first written novel, The Poor Man and the Lady (1869), which was rejected not because of its fallacies, but due to the fact that he was an un-established writer going against the grain, and criticising the society of which he is a member. Thus, we can clearly see that what an author writes and what s/he intended to write may not be the same. In the same way, the villains’ depiction too depends on this.  

        We have already seen how the villains are depicted in the literature over the ages. The Victorian villain, though not considerably different from the villain of the previous ages, is yet a development on the villains of the preceding ages. The depiction of the villains also changes, if not radically, at least, significantly over the Victorian age.

           An important aspect of the Victorian villains is they are...




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Modernism and The Sound and the Fury

            Modernism is a general term applied retrospectively to various movements and trends that sprang up on an experimental basis in literature and various other arts. It began in the 1890’s, but it was only with the end of the First World War that it came into prominence. In literature, the year 1922 marks the beginning of what is termed by most critics as “high modernism” as it saw the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses, T.S.Eliot’s The Wasteland, and Virginia Woolf’s Jacob’s Room which were major breakthroughs in experimental fiction. The most important modernist writers are James Joyce, T.S.Eliot, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, Marcel Proust, and Ezra Pound.

            In the Novel, modernism becomes apparent in the plot, the structuring of the plot, the point of view, and characterisation, among others. The plot is more often than not is of an anti-realistic nature, and depicts individuals alienated due to urbanization, and the deteriorating family values. The structuring of the plot in most cases is no longer chronological, but indulges in flashback techniques. The structuring of the sentences does not follow grammatical rules and regulations as techniques like interior monologue and stream of consciousness are used. (A good example of stream of consciousness technique in a novel is Joyce’s Ulysses). The third person and first person narratives are still used, but along with these, the multiple person narrative is also used. Of course, it is not really a modernist creation as Wilkie Collins used it in The Moonstone in the Victorian age itself; however it gained popularity in the modernist period only. In the case of the first person narrative the ‘unreliable narrator’ (for e.g. Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw) became an important tool for the modernist novelist. The characters are of a nature who do not adjust to the changing times and are obsessed with past events leading them to become daydreamers if not positively psychotic. They are depicted as being alienated from society and feeling lost in a world of which they cannot make any sense.

        All these characteristic features can be found in William Faulkner’s novel The Sound and the Fury. The novel is divided into four sections that are narrated by Benjamin, Quentin, Jason, and the omniscient third person, respectively, thus making it into a multiple point of view narration. Unlike earlier attempts in multiple person points of view, Faulkner also includes.....

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