Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pudd'nhead Wilson Thoughts

Mark Twain seems to have a style of writing that is simplistic and blunt, yet, interesting. He brings interesting thoughts and ironic facts to life that most authors avoid for need of sounding too "common." Ultimately, I find Twain's writing, whether it be Pudd'nhead Wilson or Roughin' It, to be a style that keeps the reader interested and evokes an interest for more.

I liked Pudd'nhead Wilson right from the start. Twain's plot line, which seems to somewhat parallel a mystery, has a type of irony that can be seen right from the start; the idea of two children switching places, one white and one an African American slave, makes for a great narrative. Yet, what I most enjoyed about this book was the "calendar phrases" at the beginning of each chapter. My favorite, "Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry," kept my mind substantially interested. While each of us has heard the phrase, "live like you were dying," Twain uses his amazing writing capabilities and irony to add an extra spin to it, hinting that we should live so greatly that even the Devil himself will be sad to see it. This phrase, amongst the many others in the book, add new dimensions to the book that could not otherwise be made, and allow your mind to "nibble" on a single thought or idea further immersing oneself in the story line. Brilliant!

Overall, I thought this book brought to light the vast differences in treatment between the Caucasians and African Americans previous to modern days. Whites were extremely privileged and completely spoiled, while African Americans were treated as animals or property with no real human qualities or important place in the world. Although racial issues seem to be a significant part of Twain's plot, he also seems to be suggesting that no matter what color, size, or heritage you are from, the treatment you receive growing up will serve as a foundation for who you will be in the future. Chambers, disguised as Tom, became a man of poor character and ignorance, while Tom, disguised as Chambers, was given nothing and, though a slave, carried an excellent sense of being and character. It seems Twain may be suggesting that you are the product of your surroundings, and should be more weary of what kind of life you choose to lead and who you choose to allow in it; it may very well determine who you are.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Does progression mean digression?

I have conceded that William Dean Howells has succeeded in writing a masterpiece. Although I do not necessarily find a great deal of interest in that matters which his book, The Rise of Silas Lapham, imposes on the reader, namely business ethics and success, I do feel the functionalities of family traditions and social stigmas quite interesting in this book.

In today's world, there is a great deal less thought put toward social status of individuals getting married; in essence, the matter has become almost solely dependent upon the couples feelings toward one another and decision to be wed. Yet, as Howell portrays, marriage used to be a matter that was much more concerning to a family unit. Social status, manners, and wealth were all very important subjects when creating marriage ties between families. Even as Tom and Pen are negotiating their marriage agreement, Tom notes that "We have our ways, and you have yours; and while I don't say but what you and my mother and sister would be a little strange together at first, it would soon wear off on both sides" (356). Ultimately, this conversation attributes to the idea that marriage is a matter of social customs and classes, and without a similar match, controversy can arise. In today's world, this scenario rarely, if ever comes into great effect when marriage is purposed, though money is still a matter of importance.

Ultimately, The Rise of Silas Lapham is a book that vividly depicts the progress our society has made since the time of Howells. Not only has our world become infatuated with equality and commonality, but removed any stigma which suggests a hierarchy of individuals in society. A poor individual is no less qualified to marry a rich individual than two wealthy citizens are one another. Yet, statistics have suggested that marriages have a higher likelihood of ending in divorce than previous to this day and age. I wonder, were the citizens of Howells time right by inflicting tight parameters on marriage agreements? Should marriage be more cautiously pursued between two "loving" individuals as in Howell's time?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Silas Lapham's Daughters

I must admit, as I began reading Silas Lapham, I found little to no interest in the plot. While I find it exceedingly exciting to see an individual improve his conditions by working hard to become a prosperous business man, I do not see it extremely exciting to read about. The book seemed to drag on for nearly 30 (or so) pages, until Lapham's daughters were introduced. Much like Jane Austen's classic, Pride and Prejudice, Howell's book seems to have much to say in it's underlying plot about marriage and status.
Lapham's two daughters, Irene and "Pen", are both nice girls from an honest family, yet, they are exceedingly different. Irene is a girl who is categorized mainly by her looks and flirtatious charisma, while Pen is characterized by her intelligence and witty humor. Essentially both are well bred girls, just with different mannerisms.
As the novel progresses, it becomes evident that Pen, in her loud and boisterous character, seems to be elevated above her younger sister. She carries on all the conversations, reads and stays informed on knowledge a great deal, and is portrayed as a great catch for any man to marry. Irene, on the other hand, is portrayed as simple, yet, very pretty.
What I find most interesting about this situation is that, while this novel was written not far from a time when women were expected to be shy and simple, it elevated the bold and independent characteristics of Pen; not only does she seem to have the most personality, but also most eligible for marriage to the handsome and rich Tom Corey. Even Mrs. Lapham states that "[Tom] hasn't fallen in love with Irene at all. If he had, it wouldn't matter about the intellect" (124). The foundation of the novel seems to be built on the idea that intelligent and individualistic women are to be sought after, and a meek girl with beautiful complexion is a simplistic luxury which will fade in time.
While I have not yet finished the novel, I look forward to seeing how this situation unfolds and, ultimately, who Tom Corey chooses to take interest in...i predict he will choose brains over beauty.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Woman's Fate

In many ways, it seems, The Blithedale Romance by Nathaniel Hawthorne is not only a very sacred window into the lives of those living in earlier times, but seems to be a piece of history (the Transcendental Period, that is) which touches on the hopes and dreams of many individuals today.

The inhabitants of the Blithedale Community, as it began, aspired for nothing more than a place of solitude from the daunting and hectic world. They were looking to change the way they viewed the world and, furthermore, the basic set of standards society had so deeply carved into the woodwork of their daily lives.

Of the many standards the citizens of Blithedale attempted to alter, the most fascinating seemed to be the way in which men and women were admirably looked upon - more specifically Zenobia and Priscilla. Not only were the two characters, according to Coverdale, complete opposites, but they were ultimate symbols that provoked insight to society's way of thinking.

As we know, Zenobia was strong. She carried herself "deficient of softness and delicacy" (15). Her hands were "larger than most women would like to have," therefore provoking a masculine picture for the reader to acknowledge (15). Throughout the book, Zenobia seemed to be a central character, both influential and picturesque, who brought both admirable envy as well as scorn to all who looked upon her. In the days of Blithedale's settlement, women with traits such as these were despised (though ironically, they are now envied).

Priscilla, on the other hand, was meek and gentle, in an almost helpless manner. Her face was an "almost sickly hue, betokening habitual seclusion from the sun and free short, there has seldom been seen so depressed and sad as this young girl's..." (27). From the moment Priscilla arrived in Blithedale, she was looked upon as a saddening individual which needed all the help she could get. Yet, her character, it seems, is one which was highly regarded for a female during this time period; she was pious and submissive.

Ultimately, I find it extremely ironic that this story concludes with the death of the vibrant and individualistic Zenobia, and the continuation of Priscilla's profitable and envious life, though she a lonely and weak woman. This conclusion, it seems, carries undertones of the ancient philosophy that happy and blessed women are those who keep to themselves and never aspire for more than mediocrity...fortunately, for women today, this is much less of an issue!