Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Favorite Work

I really enjoyed Edith Wharton’s works.  I had never read her before, and I really enjoyed her ability to tackle and look at messy, real-world issues.  She does not shy away from topics like divorce and the awkwardness accompanying remarriages.  I found her short story “The Other Two” very comical. 

While I enjoyed all her work, my favorite would be Summer.  I liked that the story was not a traditional love story where guy and girl meet, fall in love, and end up together.  I thought that it provided good insights into real life, where everything may not be a fairy tale, but things usually end up working out.  In my opinion, the drastically tragic and the drastically romantic views often found in literature or movies are interesting and perhaps even enjoyable to read or watch, but they do not provide a realistic look at life.  Rarely in life does everything work out perfectly, yet at the same time, life rarely ends in absolute tragedy.  Even in the midst of bad times, there are bright spots.  To me, Summer captures this truth of reality really well.  While Charity falls for a man who appears to use her for sex without much intention to marry her and winds up pregnant, her life does not fall completely apart.  Mr. Royall marries her and gives her security and a home for her and her child.  She may not end up with the love of her life, but a man who loves her and wants to protect her marries her.  She and her child will have a comfortable life with Mr. Royall.  It all worked out.  The semblance of a happy ending – the real-life happy ending – makes Summer an intriguing work because it examines real relationships and real truths applicable to daily life.

Thursday, April 5, 2012


In “Babylon Revisited,” Charlie is surprised when Duncan Schaeffer and Lorraine Quarrles arrive at the Peters’ home, wondering how they found the address.  He also tells Marion and Lincoln that “they wormed your name out of somebody” (339).  However, in the very opening of the story he gives the bartender his brother-in-law’s address to give to Schaeffer.  This discrepancy could be unintentional.  After all, Lorraine’s note comes to him at his hotel – the address he had left at the bar “for the purpose of finding a certain man” (336).  This suggests that perhaps the hotel address rather than the Peters’ address was given out in the beginning.  Yet, this seems like a rather blatant error for Fitzgerald and his editors to overlook.

Thus, there must be some reason behind it.  Perhaps Charlie simply forgot that he had left the Peters’ address for Schaeffer.  Perhaps he is initially surprised when they arrive, momentarily forgetting he left the Peters’ address, but then his protestation that he had not given them the address was a defensive mechanism in order to ensure he could get his little girl. 

However, even when he runs into Duncan and Lorraine at the restaurant with Honoria, he hesitates to give out his hotel.  Again, this suggests that he does not want them to know where he is at, which contradicts his leaving the Peters’ address for Schaeffer in the beginning.  Charlie also appears hesitant throughout to spend time with Duncan and Lorraine, so it seems odd that he would leave his address, let alone his brother-in-law’s address, for them.  He appears to understand that his association with them could damage his chances to get back his daughter, so why would he leave his brother-in-law’s address for Schaeffer?  Perhaps, he doesn’t believe he deserves his daughter back.  Or perhaps, he thinks she’ll be better off without him.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Best Option

I did not find Charity’s marriage to Mr. Royall that depressing of an ending.  Granted, Charity does not get to escape North Dormer, but her marriage to Mr. Royall seems to be a pretty happy ending considering that she was pregnant. 

Whether Lucius Harney loved Charity or not, he never appeared serious about marrying her.  He does not bring up marriage until after Mr. Royall asks him his intentions, and he will not set a date but claims he needs “time to ‘settle things’” (206).  If he knew about the child, he probably would marry her, but that marriage would likely be filled with resentment.  Charity knows this because she knows that the two of them are not meant to be married; she “had never been able to picture herself as his wife” (209). 

Mr. Royall, at least, seems to care genuinely for Charity, and while she doesn’t get away from North Dormer, she can hold her head high and live a life of relative comfort – or at least, one that is far superior to life on the Mountain.  Mr. Royall may have had a few moments of weakness in the past, but Charity trusted him not to take advantage of her as she continued to stay in that house with him.  Also, the fact that on their wedding night, he sleeps in a chair, relieves Charity and demonstrates that he cares for her and won’t hurt her.  Watching him, Charity realizes that he knows she’s pregnant and that was the reason “he had married her, and that he sat there in the darkness to show her she was safe with him” (240).  He knew she was pregnant, so that revelation won’t cause a problem later between the newlyweds.  He also married her to protect her honor and to keep her safe.  And, he does not take advantage of her in her vulnerable state.  He cares about her, so in the very least, he will treat her right and not resent her.  This marriage has the makings of being happier than she would be with Harney. 

And, there’s still a chance she could get away from North Dormer.  In one of his earlier proposals of marriage, he promises to take her away to “some big town” (156).  While he says nothing of leaving North Dormer in the end when he marries her, he still may take her away. 

Finally, the reservations over Mr. Royall marrying Charity because he’s like her father do not really bother me.  Yes, she was raised in his house, but she always called him Mr. Royall, never father.  He had never “legally adopted her” (108).  He also did not seem like he was ever real involved in raising her.  She seemed like she had likely raised herself; for instance, she made her own decisions regarding her education.  They lived in the same house, but he did not seem to act in a fatherly manner to her.

Works Cited

Wharton, Edith.  Ethan Frome & Summer.  New York: The Modern Library, 2001.

Thursday, March 22, 2012


At the end of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, the reader learns that Ethan, Zeena, and Mattie have all lived together in that house for over twenty years.  Wharton does not provide much of a glimpse into what that live has been like, but I would imagine that it would be rather awkward.  There’s essentially no resolution to the love triangle.  Zeena continues to live with her husband and the woman he loved and possibly still loves.  Twenty-two years earlier, Zeena could not stand that prospect, so she sent Mattie away.  Perhaps, taking care of Mattie gave her a sense of purpose and relief from the boredom of living on the farm.  Perhaps, she believed Ethan had been drawn to Mattie’s youth and vitality, which the accident had taken from the girl; as an invalid, Mattie may no longer have been threatening to Zeena. 

What are the relationships between three after the accident living in that house?  Wharton does not give us much insight, other than that the two woman do not get along.  Do they go along and pretend that Ethan and Mattie were not ever in love?  Is Zeena merely a caretaker or is she still Ethan’s wife?  Do they each have their own bedroom and live as three very uncomfortable, miserable people without speaking of the past?  Does Ethan still love Mattie?  Did his guilt over her accident affect his feelings for her?  Does he feel guilty?  I imagine that he does since his conscience seems to give him trouble earlier in the story: guilt prevents him from asking the Hales for money under false pretenses and Zeena’s face continually flashes before him.  Has the change in Mattie’s personality affected his feelings for her?  As Mattie whines that the fire went out, but Zeena was asleep, so Mattie was worried that she would freeze before it was restarted.  This one line of hers reminds me of Zeena earlier in the story.  Zeena had always been whining about her health and the lack of care she received from Mattie and Ethan.  As Ethan had not seemed to care for this quality in his wife, I feel that perhaps it dampened his feelings for Mattie.  I’d imagine that Ethan feels guilty toward both women – he betrayed one and physically injured the other.  I presume he feels responsible for the accident, but again, the reader is not given an answer.  As for the accident, does Zeena know that it was a suicide attempt?

All of the unanswered questions leave the story without a clear sense of resolution.  I suppose the narrator probably was not privy to the specifics as I doubt Ethan opened up about his story.  But, then again, this was the narrator’s “vision” of Ethan’s past (19).  It is presented in third person as though it actually occurred, but it is really just the narrator’s thoughts on what happened.  Major events are probably true since those are the anecdotes that the narrator picks up from people around town, but the interactions between Zeena, Ethan, and Mattie are only known to them – and I doubt any of them told the entire story to the narrator, who is an essential stranger, even to Ethan.  Thus, if the narrator is presenting a “vision” of the story, why can’t he wrap up his vision a little more completely? 

Works Cited

Wharton, Edith.  Ethan Frome & Summer.  New York: The Modern Library, 2001.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Stevens' "The Snow Man"

Wallace Stevens’ “The Snow Man” is one long thought.  There is only one period in the entire poem, so it is one “sentence.”  There are only two semicolons to offer a bit of a pause.  Stevens uses quite a bit of enjambment, but interestingly enough, he uses it from the last line of a stanza to the first line of the next.  I had always thought of stanzas as holding a thought or expressing an image, but his enjambment does not allow for pause after his second and fourth stanzas – and his third stanza only ends with a comma, which is not much of a pause.  Thus, I feel that the final stanza is where most of the meaning is as it is the only one that allows for much reflection while reading.

The first four stanzas are mostly descriptions of images of a cold, desolate winter landscape.  The final stanza introduces a figure “who listens in the snow” (13).  This figure also “beholds / Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is” (14-15).  The “nothing that is” present refers back to the imagery of the previous stanzas; essentially the wintery landscape does not hold much but frozen trees and a bit of wind, which in the speaker’s mind amounts to “nothing.” It would not be possible to “behold” something that is not present, so the first part of the line makes sense.  However, the listener does not “behold… the nothing that is” there either.  This could just be an emphasis of the idea that nothing is there to behold; the few trees aren’t anything to bother about.  On the other hand, if the listener does not “behold” what is present, then the listener is not capable of perception.  This idea is enhanced by the fact that the listener is “nothing himself” (14).  A figure that is “nothing” would not be capable of perception or “behold[ing]” anything – but would also not be capable of “listen[ing]” in the snow, which contradicts the previous line.  The final images of a man frozen in the snow unable to perceive anything are rather depressing, which makes a fittingly dark ending for the depressing tone of the earlier descriptions of the landscape.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"The Law of Life"

In London’s “The Law of Life,” Koskoosh accepts being left behind by his tribe to die.  He realizes that it is the “law of life” that “all men must die” (1054).  It certainly is true that everyone eventually dies, but most people want to avoid death and even after a long life do not accept the fact that death comes.  Most people are not as understanding of the nature of life as Koskoosh; perhaps since he lived his tribal life more in tune with nature he had a more accepting view toward death.  London writes that Koskoosh “had been born close to the earth, close to the earth had he lived, and the law thereof was not new to him.  It was the law of all flesh.  Nature was not kindly to the flesh” (1054).  Koskoosh had seen death throughout his life as he lived “close to the earth,” so he understood that every living thing must eventually die; it was a law of nature.

As Koskoosh waits for death to take him, he reflects on his youth and remembers an old moose he had seen killed by wolves.  The moose was targeted by the wolves because he was “an old one who [could not] keep up with the herd” (1055).  The moose, even though he was old and had difficulty keeping up with his herd, made a stand; he did not want to die.  In many ways, the moose is like Koskoosh; both are old and left behind by their herd/tribe.  However, Koskoosh has accepted his fate, while the moose fought for life as many are likely to do even after a long life.  All living creatures are programmed instinctively to cling to life.  At the end of the story, wolves come up to Koskoosh, picking up on prey separated from the herd.  Koskoosh initially waves a torch to keep the wolves away, but he knows eventually the fire will burn out.  He knows death is coming, and he asks himself “why should he cling to life?” (1057).  And, he gives up and succumbs to his fate, the “law of life.”  In this he differs from the moose; when faced with the wolves the moose made a stand:  “he had done his task long since, but none the less was life dear to him” (1056).  Like Koskoosh, the moose was old and had accomplished the task of life: “to perpetuate” (1054).  Yet, the moose still valued life and fought for it instinctively while Koskoosh recognizes the “law of life” and yields. 

Koskoosh’s acceptance of this law is even more intetesting due to the fact that the moose still clung to life.  Most people would not accept death as Koskoosh did, but the assumption that he had lived “close to earth” and seen death as a natural thing and was thus able to accept it does not hold up as well.  Granted, the moose is an example of the nature being unkind to the flesh, but the moose did not accept death.  Koskoosh was able to accept death even when he had seen an animal instinctively cling to life. 

Works Cited

London, Jack.  “The Law of Life.”  The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 7th ed.  Ed. Nina Baym, Jeanne Campbell Reesman, and Arnold Krupat.  Vol. C.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2007.  1052-1057.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"We Wear the Mask"

Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poetry appears to explore the topic of slavery primarily, including poems written in slave dialect and poems about famous abolitionists Harriet Beecher Stowe and Frederick Douglass.  Due to this common theme, “We Wear the Mask” is likely a poem about the mentality of slaves.  However, “We Wear the Mask” could also apply to humans in general. 

Images such as smiling through “torn and bleeding hearts” and “tortured souls” could apply to slaves putting on a face for their masters; they are “wear[ing] [a] mask” (ln 4, 11).  However, it could also apply more generally to any person suffering from inner or external turmoil that wants to hide his/her pain from others by “wear[ing] [a] mask.”  The second stanza really captures this idea:
            Why should the world be overwise,
            In counting all our tears and sighs?
            Nay, let them only see us, while
                        We wear the mask.  (ln 6-9)
In other words, the speaker poses a rhetorical question, asking why the world should know of every problem of an individual person, and concludes that the world should see the face someone puts on.  The use of the plural “our” and “us” suggests that Dunbar is referring to a group’s shared pain, such as that of an enslaved people; if he were speaking more to an individual wanting to hide his/her pain, he could use the first person pronouns.  However, the idea holds true for an individual.  Plus, the plural could speak not just to a shared pain common to a group but to pain, which is common to all humankind.  I really enjoyed this poem because it did speak to something that is very true in human nature; we have tendencies to hide our problems from the world and “wear [a] mask.”