The Fractured Form of Eliot’s Ellipsis

“Make it new!”

That was the rallying cry of Ezra Pound harkened to by young artists of the early twentieth century. This period would later be coined “modern” due to the rapid advancement in industry, technology, science, and women’s liberation among other things. Western civilization was pulsating with electricity. Continue reading

Flannery O’Connor: A Good Man Is Hard To Find

Flannery O’Connor lived only thirty-nine short years before dying from lupus in 1964, but in those thirty-nine years she left a legacy through her writing. Although she completed two novels, it was her short story collection that left an indelible mark on the literary world. One of her most noteworthy stories, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” was published in 1953 on the horrific heels of World War II and the devastating act of opening Pandora’s box releasing the atomic bomb, following the Korean War, and during the throes of McCarthyism and witch hunts that defined the Cold War. Considering the violence that permeated the world during her time, it is not a wonder that her writing was also permeated by violence.

As Gretlund and Westarp note in Flannery O’Conner’s Radical Reality, “O’Connor’s fictional world is so full of mental and physical deformities that her fate among readers is often to be placed among the writers off southern gothic whose horrifying characters and plots are seen as decidedly “grotesque” (4). It is from her Southern background and her religious background, Catholicism, which Flannery O’Conner writes with such a unique and disquieting voice.  It is also the conflict between her religious faith and the intellectual, existential, growing mindset of a country bombarded by conflict and death that O’Conner writes: “I dread, Oh Lord, losing my faith. My mind is not strong. It is a prey to all sorts of intellectual quackery. I do not want it to be fear which keeps me in the church” (3).

From a reader response critic’s view point, Bertens explains this kind of critic “mostly starts from the phenomenological position that since we cannot with absolute certainty know that we know the outside world, we must focus on how that world appears to our senses and is constituted by our consciousness” (96). In “A Good Man is Hard to Find” many readers will struggle with the very same conflict that O’Conner writes about: religious faith versus hopeless despair and even worse, an intellectual apathy. Whether the audience lived through the angst and confusion of Vietnam or whether the audience suffers from the post 9/11 terror and the seemingly uncertain beginnings of the 21st century, the reader will most likely be able to recognize the fear through the character of the Grandmother and the apathy which unfolds through the Misfit.

Other themes like the collective feeling of disconnect which comes through the actions of the family (children with their comics, mother with baby, father with his paper, and grandmother…well, grandmother with herself) is also a theme that is relevant today and felt by many people. With the ever growing isolation that social media perpetuates, divorce, and two income families in which infants are sent away to daycare among other social issues, O’Conner’s story will resonate painfully with many readers today.

From a deconstructionist viewpoint, “the words we say or read never achieve stability, not only because they are related to, and take part of their meaning from, the words that have just preceded them, but because their meaning is always modified by whatever follows” (Bertens, 108). It can most certainly be argued that O’Connor’s story is unstable up to the very end and leaves the reader with a continuing sense of instability to take away.

Bertens mentions that the deconstructionist critic believes “…there is a category of literary texts that confess to their own impotence, their inability to establish closure,” which makes them, “far more interesting than texts that try to hide their impotence, such as philosophical texts or realistic novels that claim to offer true representations of the world” (120). O’Conner’s story fills the criteria for a “more interesting” text in that while there is a conclusion (ultimately the death of the entire family) to the story, there is no resolution. The final act of the grandmother of reaching out to the Misfit can be interpreted in more than one way but regardless of the interpretation, there is no closure.

 

Works Cited

Parker, Robert. How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. New York: Oxford, 2015. Print.

Rivken, Julie, and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory: An Anthology, 2nd edition. Malden: Blackwell Publishing, 1998. Print.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide. New York: Routledge, 2015. Print.

Bertens, Hans. Literary Theory: The Basics. New York: Routledge, 2014. Print.

O’Conner, Flannery. Prayer Journal. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2013. Print

 

Loyalty Then and Loyalty Now: Cordelia, Kent, and Snowden

 

Loyalty is a principle on which many relationships and institutions have been built since the beginning of time. In Shakespeare’s day, if a person was unlucky enough to have his or her loyalty questioned, it could result in their imprisonment, torture, and/or execution. Sometimes they were accused falsely and paid the price for the paranoia that ran rampant at court. Other times, the paranoia had basis and those accused of disloyalty and treason were indeed guilty. Shakespeare captures the predicament of true loyalty versus perceived loyalty perfectly in his play, King Lear, which follows the tragedy and downfall of King Lear when he misjudges the true meaning of loyalty.

Shakespeare certainly had ample enough material to inspire him from current events of the time. One such event was the notorious Gunpowder Plot, which took place a year before the first performance of King Lear, conceived by Catholic citizens who wanted to see England back under the rule of a Catholic. Those same elements defining the story of the Gunpowder Plot are the very elements that Shakespeare uses in King Lear.

The overriding theme of loyalty in the play is a reflection of the overriding theme of loyalty in Elizabethan England. Not only was loyalty to the divinely ordained throne mandated, but also loyalty to the family. The family was considered a microcosm of the kingdom; huge importance was placed on obedience and respect for the hierarchy (Mahabal).  As King James warned Parliament, there was not only the benefit of unity to be considered but the dangers of division (Shapiro 36). The monarchy and stability of the kingdom relied not only on the subject’s loyalty to the monarch but their unity as well.

This idea of loyalty and the necessity of it has not changed since the 1604 when Shakespeare first performed King Lear. Every morning millions of children in the United States pledge their loyalty to the United States government when they say the Pledge of Allegiance. But what is loyalty and is true loyalty rewarded or punished? In this post, the idea of loyalty shown through the dissention of Cordelia and Kent is paralleled with the idea of loyalty through present day whistleblower, Edward Snowden, in order to answer those pertinent questions.

In King Lear, the question of loyalty is presented in the opening scene. King Lear, upon desiring his retirement, decides to split the Kingdom between his three daughters. It is thought that this will also prevent any division or war over the kingdom. Before King Lear divides the Kingdom, he requests that each daughter tells him how much they love him.

Goneril and Regan profess their empty words of affection but Cordelia, whose love is true, refuses to put words to her feelings. King Lear sees this as an offense and a sign of Cordelia’s disloyalty. You mean you’re not going to flatter me? Naturally, He refuses to give her a part of the Kingdom.

Kent, who also holds the King in dear affection, beseeches the King not to do this, that the King is indeed wrong. “Do: Kill thy physician, and the fee bestow upon thy foul disease. Revoke thy doom; or, whilst I can vent clamour from my throat, I’ll tell thee thou dost evil” (I.i.180-184). Once again, King Lear misinterprets true loyalty from Kent as disloyalty and banishes him. This form of narcissism and ignorance of what constitutes loyalty is Lear’s hamartia, the tragic flaw that brings his otherwise successful reign and life to a heartbreaking conclusion.

We can see the importance of loyalty and the swift action against disloyalty in other Shakespearean plays such as Henry the V when Henry must act quickly and decidedly without mercy upon the conspirators including one he holds dear. In that case, Henry was correct in his actions against the conspirators who sought to harm him. King Lear, however, misconstrues Cordelia’s good intentions for bad. This error in judgement becomes the catalyst for disaster. Though the audience can clearly see where true loyalty lies (Cordelia and Kent) and where true deceit lies (Goneril and Reagan), King Lear succumbs to his ignorance until it is too late. The message Shakespeare sends through the idea of misperceived good and misperceived loyalty is the danger that can befall a Kingdom.

In modern times, the idea of loyalty to one’s nation or sovereign is still as relevant. In present day America, there is no King. Citizens pledge their allegiance and loyalty to the nation, which is composed of the citizens. But when the nation’s citizens find fault in the government’s procedures and politics, as did Cordelia and Kent in Lear, if they are truly loyal then they will speak truthfully and defend the good of their nation against the will of their government. On May 13, 2013, a United States citizen by the name of Edward Snowden released top-secret NSA documents to the world: “‘My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them. The US government in conspiracy with client states…have inflicted upon the world a system of secret pervasive surveillance from which there is no refuge'” (Greenwald, 23).

In explaining his motives for what some could conceive of as treason, Snowden says, “I want to spark a world-wide debate about privacy, Internet freedom, and the dangers of state surveillance” (Greenwald 18). Snowden goes on to say, “I am not afraid of what will happen to me. I accept that my life will likely be over from doing this. I’m at peace with that. It’s the right thing to do” (Greenwald, 18).  Kent similarly justifies his actions by his loyalty to Lear: “My life I never held but as a pawn to wage against thy enemies; nor fear to lose it, thy safety being the motive” (I.i.169-171). Cordelia also acknowledges what she has lost through her honesty and true allegiance to the King: “A still-soliciting eye, and such a tongue as I am glad I have not, though not to have it hath lost me in your liking” (I.i.257-259). All three clearly act out of their loyalty for their King and nation even knowing the consequences of that loyalty.

It seems apparent from King Lear that loyalty, while noble and good, if not understood by King as it pertains to Lear or nation as it pertains to Snowden, will lead to nothing. Cordelia gave her life as a result of Lear’s lack in understanding her loyalty, and Kent was left to mourn the King he loved. Snowden lives in exile, away from friends and family and the country he loves, and will most likely die on foreign shores. Is loyalty rewarded? In these two circumstances, no, unless of course loyalty is its own reward and doing the right thing for the sake of what’s right. It seems, given the present day circumstances and liberties being eroded through such things as the Patriot Act and gun legislation, people would do well to remember the tragedy that befell King Lear.

“Some sixty versions of the Lear story were in circulation when Shakespeare set about to dramatize the tale of the old King in 1605. Nobody remembers these prior versions today. But King Lear continues to fill theaters” (McDonald 162). Shakespeare’s ability to tap into the psychology of human nature, translating onto paper and stage the emotions, thoughts, errors, brutality, betrayal, heroism, sorrow and all of the other attributes that define man as something divine and something hellish, is nothing less than brilliant. As each generation comes face to face with the Law of Nature and, what some may argue as the universal morality which inevitably conflicts with subjective morality and self-interest, they too will have to struggle with the same themes in which Shakespeare wrote about over four hundred years ago. From whistle blowers like Edward Snowden to the man contemplating breaking his vows of loyalty and leaving his wife, the theme is timeless. Because of this, Shakespeare is also timeless.

 

Works Cited

Greenwald, Glenn. No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. NY: Henry Holt and Company, LLC. 2014. Print.

Shapiro, James. The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606. NY: Simon & Schuster. 2015. Print.

McDonald, Russ. The Bedford Companion to Shakespeare: And Introduction with Documents. NY: Palgrave. 2001. Print.

Mahabal, Prasad. “Daily Life in England during the Elizabethan Era”. Elizabethan England Life. 2015. Web. 19 Jan 2016.

Fraser, Antonia. Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot. NY: First Anchor Books. 1997. Print

Shakespeare, William. King Lear, Modern Library Paperback Edition. NY: Modern Library. 2009. Print.

 

 

Deconstructing A Good Man is Hard to Find

There are multiple ways to experience life as there are multiple ways to experience literature. We each, individually, experience both in our own unique way, with our own ideologies guiding us, and looking through the lenses of our own subjectivity. This is deconstruction; it does not take the meaning away but multiplies it. Lois Tyson so aptly observes, “Change the lens and you change both the view and the viewer. This principal is what makes knowledge at once so frightening and so liberating, so painful and so utterly, utterly joyful” (9). So it is with Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” As O’Connor herself once noted, “there are perhaps other ways than my own in which [“A Good Man Is Hard to Find”] could be read, but none other by which it could have been written.” While the author wrote the story, guided by her own subjectivity and looking through her own lens, she acknowledges that her readers may, and some most definitely will, read it through a different lens. In this paper three tenets of deconstruction will be used to analyze “A Good Man is Hard to Find”: Derrida’s idea of impossible aporias or internal contradictions, undecidability and the way in which that erodes any sense of concrete binaries, namely good versus evil, and the concept of tout autre or responsibility to the other.

What is a good man? The question is first posed when the family makes a stop during their road trip to Florida at Red Sammy’s, an old dance hall/barbecue shack. Red Sammy bemoans the fact that you just can’t trust people anymore while wiping his forehead on a grey handkerchief. The color grey comes when you mix white and black. These are two binaries with underlying binaries, good and bad. Symbolically speaking the handkerchief represents the mixture of good and bad and how the two are becoming hard to differentiate between. According to deconstruction theory, there is no one good or bad. The binaries do not take their meaning from each other only, but from other traces left behind by other binaries, likened to a long chain and resulting in a chain reaction.

Red Sammy then proceeds to recount a story about two men who stopped to get gas. They seemed like good enough men to Red Sammy and so he let them charge the gas with the expectation that they would return and pay him. This is one example of undecidability in the form of decisions that can be found throughout the story. From a deconstructionist view, every decision is the equivalent of taking a leap of faith because there is no certainty to how the decision will unfold (IEP). For Red Sammy, he made the decision to let the men charge the gas with the faith that they would return to pay for it.

According to Derrida, the idea of hospitality is one such impossible aporia. “His point is relatively simple here; to be hospitable, it is first necessary that one must have the power to host. Hospitality hence makes claims to property ownership and it also partakes in the desire to establish a form of self-identity. Secondly, there is the further point that in order to be hospitable, the host must also have some kind of control over the people who are being hosted. This is because if the guests take over a house through force, then the host is no longer being hospitable towards them precisely because they are no longer in control of the situation” (IEP).

Initially, Red Sammy has the power to host because he is the owner of the gas station. While Red Sammy does have the power to let the men charge the gas, he lacks control over them which is determined when the men do not return to pay for the gas they charged. When the men do not return, Red Sammy’s act of hospitality no longer has a fixed meaning and can in fact be seen as something other than hospitality. “Often to show how those meanings cannot settle into a stable structure, we would seek out internal contradictions or internal differences that frustrate any interpretations of the text as holding a single, stable meaning” (Parker, 93).

They never returned and Red Sammy despairingly asks, “Now why did I do a thing like that?” The grandmother replies emphatically it is because Red Sammy is a good man. Red Sammy says that things are getting terrible and a good man is hard to find. The grandmother had just pronounced Red Sammy a good man because of the kindness or “hospitality” he showed the two men by letting them charge the gas. But Red Sammy is still pronouncing that a good man is hard to find. So what exactly is a good man?

It is interesting to note that the conversation between Red Sammy specifically and the idea of good and bad more generally is a reference to the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan. In the parable a Jewish man is beaten, stripped of clothing, and left in a ditch to die. A priest comes by but crosses the road to bypass him. Then a Levite passes by without helping. The Samaritan, who is the despised enemy of the Jews, comes by and takes him to an inn where he pays for the beaten Jew to be cared for (NIV, Luke 10:29-37). This act of mercy and grace by the perceived enemy is the contradiction that will resurface throughout the story.

The next passage where the idea of “good” is explored is when the family careens off the road into a gulch. The Misfit, who is an escaped and dangerous murderer, comes upon the stranded family with his gang in tow. Upon realizing that the man she is seeing is indeed the Misfit, the grandmother pronounces emphatically that he is a good man. One is left to wonder, if the “hospitality” and kindness Red Sammy showed the men was what determined him to be a good man in the opinion of the grandmother, how she could possibly see goodness in the violence and murder the Misfit takes part in. This but another contradiction. Kindness and evil cannot both denote goodness. Or can it?

The signifier “good” has somehow shifted in its meaning for the grandmother. As Jack Reynolds states, “the meaning of the term changes depending upon the particular context in which it is being employed” (IEP). One explanation of the grandmother’s aporia is explained by Lois Tyson, “Every signifier consists of and produces more signifiers in a never-ending deferral, or postponement, of meaning” (239). The grandmother is relying on other traces of signifiers denoting good such as ethnicity perhaps. In her desperation in the current situation, to rely on the meaning of the signifier “good” as relating strictly to the kindness displayed by Red Sammy would leave her no hope in her current situation that the Misfit might also be good. Therefore she seeks out other meanings of the signifier “good” which she can rely on to convince herself and the Misfit that he is a good man and as such would never shoot her.

In the final scene of the story, we see the grandmother’s tout autre, or responsibility to the other occur. Her entire family has been shot to death one by one and she is now left alone, facing the man responsible for their murders. As the Misfit kneels in front of the grandmother, his face close to hers, she gains a moment of clarity and says, “Why you’re one of my babies. You’re one of my own children.” She then makes a decision without knowing the results of that decision but for once, not even caring to calculate the results. For one moment in her life, the grandmother demonstrates what is so incredibly hard to do in this world. She reaches out to touch the Misfit and by doing that offers him unconditional forgiveness. Forgiveness, according to Derrida is one of those aporias because the notion of absolute forgiveness “…requires a radically singular confrontation between self and other” (IEP). The grandmother, who has acted irresponsibly throughout the story in regards to her manipulation, is finally accepting the responsibility. “For Derrida, the paradox of responsible behaviour means that there is always a question of being responsible before a singular other (eg. a loved one, God, etc.), and yet we are also always referred to our responsibility towards others generally and to what we share with them (IEP). The grandmother, in reaching out, has found the common bond between herself and the other (the Misfit) and in doing so has revealed that to him. In claiming their oneness in her last words and in reaching out in a moment of grace, the grandmother has become the Good Samaritan.

Regardless, the Misfit shoots the grandmother dead, and as he looks down on her he says, “She would of been a good woman…had it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.” And so the final aporia of the story is that perhaps goodness does spring from many different meanings and that it was only through evil that the grandmother was able to become a good woman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Parker, Robert. How to Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies. NewYork: Oxford, 2015. Print.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide. New York:   Routledge, 2015. Print

Reynolds, Jack. “Jacques Derrida (1930—2004).” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource, n.d. Web. 10 Jan. 2016.

Flannery O’Connor, “On Her Own Work,” in her Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, edited by Sally Fitzgerald and Robert Fitzgerald, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1969, pp. 107-18.

 

 

 

 

Richard Wright’s The Man Who Was Almost a Man and the Inevitable Failings of Capitalism (Just in Time For the Election)

American author, Richard Wright, was born in Natchez, Mississippi forty-five years after the emancipation of slaves. Though slavery was technically no longer practiced, codes and laws were still set in place which limited the rights and freedoms of African-Americans. It was in this atmosphere that Wright began writing. The focus of this research in regards to Richard Wright’s story, “The Man Who Was Almost a Man,” is analyzing the story through a Marxist lens and identifying how the characters in this story are a part of the capitalist machine in which racism, produced by colonization in the form of slavery, is an important aspect. The components of capitalism- alienated labor, commodification, colonization of consciousness, and the ideology of the rugged individual – will be examined and how those structures work together to move the character of Dave Sanders through the entire story to the very end where his decision to hop the train illustrates the inevitable failings of capitalism.

“From a Marxist perspective, because the survival of capitalism, which is a market economy, depends on consumerism, it promotes sign-exchange value as our primary mode of relating to the world around us” (Tyson, 60). Wright’s story revolves around the seventeen-year-old Dave who so desperately wants to buy a gun because he is sure owning a gun will earn him the esteem of his fellow African-Americans and his white boss, Mr. Hawkins. For Dave, the gun holds a sign-exchange value because he is under the mistaken impression it will cause the men he works with to have some respect for him. “One of these days he was going to get a gun and practice shooting, then they couldn’t talk to him as though he were a little boy…and if he were holding his gun in his hand, nobody could run over him; they would have to respect him” (Wright, 899, 903). The gun symbolizes not only respect but power, the power that has always eluded African-Americans.

One reason for Dave’s angst and feeling of separation could be seen as a result of what Karl Marx refers to as alienated labor. Alienated labor occurs when the worker is separated from the production, the product of his production, himself, and as a result others. Richard Wright was the son of a sharecropper and so was well familiar with the practice of sharecropping and labor in general for African-Americans in the South. As History explains, many African Americans “went into debt or were forced by poverty or the threat of violence to sign unfair and exploitative sharecropping or labor contracts that left them little hope of improving their situation” (“Sharecropping”). It is from this feeling of alienation that Dave first begins to want a gun.

Commodification is perhaps one of the biggest traits of capitalism and is illustrated in the relationship between Dave and his family,  Dave and Mistah Joe. The capitalist ideology promotes the viewing of “objects or persons in terms of their exchange value or sign-exchange value” (Tyson, 60). “In a capitalist economic system, an objects value becomes impersonal. Its value is translated into a monetary “equivalent” –  the term capital means money – and determined solely in terms of its relationship to a monetary market” (Tyson, 59). Dave Sanders and his family work, along with other African-Americans, on Jim Hawkins farm for low wages. In this respect, the African Americans laborers hold a value for Mr. Hawkins that is detached and impersonal and merely relates to the cheap labor that benefits him financially. Equally, Dave can be seen as a commodity for the Sander’s family. His labor provides an income that helps support the family unit. But much like the early slaves who were beaten into submission, Dave is also beaten. “Nobody ever gave him anything. All he did was work.  They treat me like a mule, n then they beat me” (Wright, 906). Dave can also be seen commodifying his mother. Her value lies in the fact that she is the one that can give him the money for the gun. He exchanges his sweet talk and words of love in order to gain the money. And she willingly complies.

“To colonize the consciousness of subordinate people means to convince them to see their situation the way the imperialist nation wants them to see it, to convince them, for example, that they are mentally, spiritually, and culturally inferior to their conquerors…” (Tyson, 61). “Whut’s the use talkin wide m niggers in the field…Them niggers can’t understand nothing” (899).  Though Dave is speaking of his fellow Negro workers, he is also (whether he realizes it or not) speaking of himself. “He felt very confident until he saw fat Joe walk in through the rear door, then his courage began to ooze” (Wright, 899). This is another example of the feeling of inferiority that has been colonized in his, as well as other African-Americans, consciousness.

The idea of the rugged individual, and individualism in general, is one of the biggest attributes of the foundation of the American dream. This is encouraged by the competition that capitalism involves. This idea of the rugged “individual who strikes out alone in pursuit of a goal not easily achieved, a goal that often involves risk and one that most people would not readily undertake” has been romanticized throughout America’s history. One example of this rugged individual trait is when Dave goes to shoot the gun while plowing the fields. Though he doesn’t go far, he is striking out alone to achieve a goal he has been forbidden to achieve and entails risk if it is discovered. “Although it may sound like an admirable trait, Marxist thinkers consider rugged individualism an oppressive ideology because it puts self-interest above the needs – and even the survival – of other people” (Tyson, 57). In the end of the story, Dave decides he is no longer going to submit to anyone. He digs the gun back up from where he buried it, symbolically digging up the power and illusion of respect, and hops on a train. It could be conceived as a heroic feat but for the fact that has now robbed his family of the extra income and has left them with a huge debt, a debt that he created. In effect, he put his own self-interests before that of his family’s. Though the reader could interpret his actions as those that are “bucking” the capitalistic society that has oppressed him, he is actually participating in it.

Though America has been hailed as a land of freedom, wealth, and opportunity, through the story, “The Man Who Was Almost a Man,” the opposite picture is portrayed. Through the character of Dave Sanders, the reader is able to see the incredible failings of a capitalist society selling the American dream especially for a “liberated” race. Through the alienation Dave feels as a result of hard labor without reward or pride, the inevitable commodification which strips away any meaning to be found for Dave in his life or family obligations, the colonization of consciousness and the idea that the consciousness of both whites and blacks have been conditioned to believe in the superiority of one over another, thus retaining the status quo, and the idea of the rugged individual propelling Dave to take his gun, claim his “freedom” and hop the train, the darker side of capitalism is displayed along with the inevitable failings. Wright does well to explore the dark side of capitalism in “The Man Who Was Almost a Man.” He explores it through the character of Dave Sanders and ultimately shows that there is no escaping the oppression that comes with such a system.

Works Cited

Bertens, Hans. Literary Theory the Basics. NY: Routledge. 2014. Print.

“Estranged Labour.”  Marx Engels Collected Works. Lawrence & Wishart. Web. 2 April 2016.

“Sharecropping.” History. A+E Networks Corp. Web. 2 April 2016.

Tyson, Lois. Critical Theory Today: A User Friendly Guide. NY: Routledge. 2015. Print.

—. Using Critical Theory: How to Read and Write About Literature. NY: Routledge. 2011. Print

Wright, Richard. “The Man Who Was Almost a Man.” The Norton Anthology American Literature Volume C. Ed. Baym, Nina. Crawfordsville: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. 899-907. Print.

 

 

The Outcasts of Poker Flat: A Story of Redemption

“The Outcasts of Poker Flat” was published in 1869 by Bret Harte. Harte, who lived in Northern California, was familiar with the mining camps of the West and he was a master of portraying the stereotypical characters of the West, from the prostitutes with “hearts of gold” to the stoic, chivalrous, and “coolly desperate” gambler. Harte was also familiar with the greed of the Western gold mining camps where people came to find their fortunes and explored the theme of morally-superior-white-vigilante justice in his writings. In fact, it was because of an article he wrote and published in The Northern Californian, “expressing outrage over the massacre in nearby Eureka of sixty Native Americans, mostly women and children, by a small gang of white vigilantes,” that Harte was fired from his job as assistant editor (351). It is this theme of religious hypocrisy that is explored in “The Outcasts of Poker Flat”, but moreover, it is the idea of redemption through the characters as well as nature that makes a lasting and meaningful impact.

The story begins in a gold mining camp in California with the protagonist, John Oakhurst, noting the change in the atmosphere, “There was a Sabbath lull in the air which, in a settlement unused to Sabbath influences, looked ominous.” This line is the first indicator that the citizens are not in reality good Christians who are living the good life, but are people who for some reason have decided to put on the cloak of Christian righteousness, which Oakhurst understands to be a dangerous thing if they are not indeed Christians. Harte gives an indication of the local landscape and local morality when he describes Oakhurst “whipping away the red dust of Poker Flat from his neat boots.” In the Bible, Jesus says, “Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: the Kingdom of God is near” (Luke 10:11). The color red of the Californian mining camp can be construed as symbolizing the sin of the “righteous” citizens, and Oakhurst – who actually committed no sin other than being a very good gambler- is obeying the words of Christ.

Harte further illustrates the hypocrisy of the town when he writes, “It was experiencing a spasm of virtuous reaction, quite as lawless and ungovernable as any of the acts that had provoked it. A secret committee had determined to rid the town of all improper persons.” The hypocrisy in the town’s actions resemble that of the high priest, Caiaphas, in the gospels who calls a secret and illegal meeting of the other chief priests in order to try, judge, and condemn Jesus. Harte then introduces two of the other characters, Duchess and Mother Shipton, who are being banished for their profession. They are prostitutes but it is obvious that they would not be able to sell their wares if there were no buyers. There were indeed buyers and it is those guilty buyers that are exiling the two fallen women. There is yet another correlation to scripture that shows the town is not acting the part of good Christians and are in fact hypocrites. In the New Testament, a woman is brought before Jesus. By law she is to be stoned for committing adultery. Jesus does not stone her but shows her mercy. He then says, Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7).

As the group of outcasts, which also includes Uncle Billy who is likely the only legitimately guilty person, are led out of town by an armed escort, the reader catches a glimpse of Oakhurst’s kindness when he trades his horse for Duchess’s mule. Harte then begins to describe the landscape: “A wooded amphitheater, surrounded on three sides by precipitous cliffs of naked granite, sloped gently toward the crest of another precipice that overlooked the valley.” Though Oakhurst cautions against delay and foreshadows the tragedy that is to come when he warns them against, “’throwing up their hand before the game was played out,’” the group decides to stop and partake in a few drinks. It is in this amphitheater, as in the amphitheaters of ancient Greece where many tragedies were performed, that the tragedy of the outcasts of Poker Flat will be played out.

When considering the religious symbology of the story as well as the natural aspect, the following passage is important: “He looked at the gloomy walls that rose a thousand feet sheer above the circling pines around him; at the sky, ominously clouded; at the valley below, already deepening into shadow.” The imagery of clouds is littered throughout scripture and is usually connected to the presence of God. In fact, during the crucifixion, for three hours the sky was dark. Christ, having been innocent, was a sacrifice for the sin of mankind. When considering the fate of the outcasts, they could be seen as having been sacrificed by the citizens of Poker Flat who were gamblers themselves as well as frequenters of prostitutes. In a natural sense, it is easy to assume the increasing danger in the outcasts’ situation knowing that the story takes place at the end of November when snow is likely to fall.

When Harte introduces Tom Simson, the Innocent of Poker Flat, and his fifteen year old fiancée, Piney Wood, the reader begins to get a glimpse at the goodness contained in the outcasts, minus Uncle Billy who steals away in the middle of the night with the mules and provisions. The reader learns that Oakhurst, after having won a significant amount of money from Tom some time ago, gives the money back and advises him to no longer gamble. This is a characteristic far from the swindler that the citizens of Poker Flat made Oakhurst out to be. Mother Shipton and the Duchess transform into something self-sacrificing and angelic: “the virgin Piney slept beside her frailer sisters as sweetly as though attended by celestial guardians.” Oakhurst, Duchess, and Mother Shipton spare Tom and Piney the anxiety and fear that would surely have overwhelmed them had they known Uncle Billy had stolen the mules with no intention of sending help: “For some occult reason, Mr. Oakhurst could not bring himself to disclose Uncle Billy’s rascality.”

Then the snow comes. Harte describes the brutality of the California Sierras to a tee: “The third day came, and the sun, looking through the white- curtained valley, saw the outcasts divide their slowly decreasing store of provisions for the morning meal. It was one of the peculiarities of that mountain climate that its rays diffused a kindly warmth over the wintry landscape, as if in regretful commiseration of the past. But it revealed drift on drift of snow piled high around the hut–a hopeless, uncharted, trackless sea of white lying below the rocky shores to which the castaways still clung.” Harte then references Poker Flat using the ironic word “pastoral.” The fact that the outcasts can see the smoke rising from the warm settlement miles away is perhaps the reason they join in the hymn that Piney and Tom are singing, not out of devotion but with defiance: “I fear that a certain defiant tone and Covenanter’s swing to its chorus, rather than any devotional quality, caused it speedily to infect the others, who at last joined in the refrain: “I’m proud to live in the service of the Lord, And I’m bound to die in His army.”

It is not much later that Mother Shipton does indeed die, having sacrificed her rations so that the young Piney would have a better chance of surviving. It is with Mother Shipton’s passing that the story takes a turn for the worse. The Innocent, Tom Simson, follows Oakhurst’s direction and heads for Poker Flat on snow shows made from a saddle while John Oakhurst decides his game is done. While Oakhurst hands in his cards with a bullet to his heart, it is the picture that Harte paints of Piney and the Duchess that brings the theme home. When Piney and the Duchess truly understand their fate is death, the Duchess asks Piney if she can pray. Piney replies, “No dear.” This refusal to pray is Harte’s separating the truly righteous, in the form of Piney, from the truly unrighteous, the citizens of Poker Flat and their new found religion who surely pray every morning and every night.

Though Nature has seemed impersonal and brutal throughout the story, it is towards the end that Harte uses it in a very personal and beautiful way: “The wind lulled as if it feared to waken them. Feathery drifts of snow, shaken from the long pine boughs, flew like white-winged birds, and settled about them as they slept. The moon through the rifted clouds looked down upon what had been the camp. But all human stain, all trace of earthly travail, was hidden beneath the spotless mantle mercifully flung from above.” Doves, or white birds, are referenced throughout scripture. They represent guilt offerings and the Holy Spirit. In many respects, the Duchess could well be seen as a guilt offering for the people of Poker Flat. And as the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ as he was baptized, the Holy Spirit descends on the two women. In this scene, the Duchess’s sins are covered by white just as it says in the Bible, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalms 51:7).

In the end, the outcasts of Poker Flat are condemned to death by the citizens of Poker Flat. But it was their condemnation that ultimately brought out the goodness in them, the parts of themselves that perhaps they had forgotten about or believed no longer existed. And it was through that goodness and their ultimate deaths that they were able to be redeemed and perhaps were able to touch the citizens of Poker Flat and show them the meaning of sin and forgiveness: “And when pitying fingers brushed the snow from their wan faces, you could scarcely have told from the equal peace that dwelt upon them which was she that had sinned.”

 

 Works Cited

Harte, Bret. “The Outcasts of Poker Flat.” Selected Stories. n. p. 17 Dec. 2012. Project Gutenberg. Web. 14 Feb. 2016.

Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology American Literature Volume C. Crawfordsville: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. Print.

 

Harte, Chopin, Zitkala-Sa and the Beauty of Landscape Description


“Landscape description was once an important element in novels not only to give meaning and shape to the story but for its strange ability to carry the reader deeply and intimately inside the fiction, to establish the fiction’s truth” (Katz, 6). I find this sentiment to be true, especially in regards to the last bit, fiction’s truth. But fiction is made up, right? Fiction is merely a creation of one’s imagination, yes? While this is true, there still must be truth in it for the reader to have trust, trust in the author and trust in the story.

“This use of landscape as a massive presence in a novel to shape and control the content, direction, plot, and the character’s psychological profiles distinguishes it from mere regionalism or local color” (Katz, 7). In Bret Harte’s, “The Outcasts of Poker Flat,” we can see how the landscape directs the plot perfectly. In the beginning we are given a visual of red dust coating the boots of gambler, John Oakhurst. It could well be interpreted that John Oakhurst is wiping away the hypocritical sin of Poker Flat, the sin represented by the color red, when he wipes his boots before being exiled by the growing “morality” of the citizens of Poker Flat. As the Norton Anthology mentions of Harte, he was known to “…ridicule religious hypocrisy” (352).

Not only does Harte describe the dusty atmosphere of California, but the magnificent mountains as well: “The spot was singularly wild and impressive. A wooded amphitheater, surrounded on three sides by precipitous cliffs of naked granite, sloped gently toward the crest of another precipice that overlooked the valley” (Harte).  But while Harte captures the beauty and majesty of the landscape, he also describes the danger: “As he stirred the dying fire, the wind, which was now blowing strongly, brought to his cheek that which caused the blood to leave it–snow!”(Harte). The mountains and the peril the California Sierra’s offers through its snow storms is pivotal for the plot.

While the dust of California’s Poker Flat begins the story, the pure white snow of California’s mountains ends it. “And when pitying fingers brushed the snow from their wan faces, you could scarcely have told from the equal peace that dwelt upon them which was she that had sinned” (Harte). While it was nature and the land which resulted in the demise of the “sinners” of Poker Flat, it was also what brought forth the best in them and eventually redeemed some of them.

Among other local color writers was Kate Chopin. The Norton Anthology explains, “Chopin, who wrote about her own time, did not concern herself with the prewar South , but her depiction of the present revealed the unhappy residues of an outdated social ideology” (551). In Chopin’s, “Desiree’s Baby,” the residue is portrayed powerfully in the relationship between Desiree and her adoring husband, Armand Aubigny, who are both respectable white folk. Armand falls madly in love with Desiree and insists on marrying her even against the words of caution that Desiree’s past was unknown:“What did it matter about a name when he could give her one of the oldest and proudest in Louisiana?” (552).

Chopin paints a forceful and compelling scene when Desiree realizes that she is mixed. “The baby, half naked, lay asleep upon her own great mahogany bed, that was like a sumptuous throne, with its satin-lined half canopy. One of La Blanche’s little quadron boys-half naked too-stood fanning the child slowly with a fan of peacock feathers.” This contrast that Chopin makes between Desiree and her baby lying in luxury and the half-naked boy right before Desiree and the reader realizes that Desiree and her baby are both mixed is jarring. Desiree having been blinded by the purity of her love for her baby had not seen it before. Armand having been blinded by his racist inclinations had seen it and ultimately his prejudices triumphs over his “love” for Desiree and she leaves.

Zitkala-Sa, perhaps to me, is the most beautiful and lyrical of the three authors. Perhaps it is because she is a Native American that her words seem to flow so naturally. When I read her words, I am there in her story. In “The Trail Path,” the opening lines draw me in to this time, place, and people that existed long before me: “It was an autumn night on the plain. The smoke-lapels of the cone-shaped tepee flapped gently in the breeze. From the low night sky, with its myriad fire points, a large bright star peeped in at the smoke-hole of the wigwam between its fluttering lapels, down upon two Dakotas talking in the dark. The mellow stream from the star above, a maid of twenty summers, on a bed of sweetgrass, drank in with her wakeful eyes. On the opposite side of the tepee, beyond the centre fireplace, the grandmother spread her rug. Though once she had lain down, the telling of a story has aroused her to a sitting posture.” I am lying on the floor of the teepee and I am looking out through the smoke hole. I can feel the tradition of her people.

The Norton Anthology reminds us, “though often suffused with nostalgia, the best work of regionalists renders convincing details of a particular time and investigates psychological character traits from a broad perspective” (13). From the California mountains and the hypocritical newfound morality of the mining camps to the Louisans South and the ever pervasive prejudice that kills love to the beauty and intrigue of the Native American life, all three stories illustrate how using the landscape and characteristics of an area can deepen the characters, plot, and experience the reader has.

Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology American Literature Volume C. Crawfordsville: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. Print.

Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology American Literature Volume C. Crawfordsville: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. Print.

Harte, Bret. “The Outcasts of Poker Flat.” Selected Stories. n. p. 17 Dec. 2012. Project Gutenberg. Web. 8 Feb. 2016.

Zitkala-Sa. “A Warrior’s Daughter.” American Indian Stories. n. p. 3 Dec. 2003. Project Gutenberg. Web. 8 Feb. 2016

Mahoney, Timothy, Katz, Wendy. Regionalism and the Humanities. University of Nebraska. 2008. Print.

 

 

 

 

 

What You Pawn I Will Redeem

What You Pawn I Will Redeem, is a beautiful short story about a homeless Native American, Jackson Jackson, who discovers his grandmother’s regalia in a mysterious pawn shop. He is given twenty four hours to come up with the money to buy it back. During the following twenty four hours, the reader follows Jackson Jackson on his quest to regain his grandmother’s regalia and in the process reclaim his lost heritage. Two of the biggest elements of postmodern literature found in the short story are the elements of black humor and magical realism.

In the opening paragraph Jackson introduces himself, “I grew up in Spokane, moved to Seattle twenty-three years ago for college, flunked out after two semesters, worked various blue- and bluer-collar jobs, married two or three times, fathered two or three kids, and then went crazy.” His flippant introduction is humorous but also suggests something depressing. That Jackson jokes about how many times he was married and how many children he may have is an indicator of the apathy Jackson has. The reader can hardly blame him because Jackson constantly hints at the displacement, alcoholism, and violence that saturates his people and alludes to this having to do with white people.

Black humor is woven throughout the story. The scene in which Jackson is sitting beside his friend, Junior, is a great example. “I put my ear to his chest and listened for his heartbeat. He was alive, so I took off his shoes and socks and found one dollar in his left sock and fifty cents in his right sock.” On the one hand, Jackson cares enough to make sure Junior is alive while on the other hand, Jackson steals what little money is stashed in his socks of all places. Words like “sacred bar” referring to the alcoholism common in the Native American culture and the “pawnshop radar” referring to the idea that Native Americans are well acquainted with pawn shops because they need money for alcohol are humorous. The humor is not used to merely incite a giggle but to unsettle the reader. Why is this funny?

Aside from the use of black humor, the magical realism made this story very affecting. The pawnshop seemed to have mysteriously appear and it was quite an amazing coincident that Jackson’s grandmother’s regalia would have showed up after fifty years. It’s possible but highly unlikely and the serendipitous way in which Jackson receives help in his quest urges the reader on. After Jackson spends the twenty dollars the pawnshop owner gave him on “three bottles of imagination” the reader might expect the situation to go downhill. But Jackson continues to fall into more money though he loses it just as quickly. In the end he finds his way back to the pawn shop with five dollars, the same amount he began his quest with.

Along with the mysterious pawnshop, the coincidental emergence of the regalia, and the pawnshop owner seeming to grow younger, the other magical aspect of the story was the characters that disappeared abruptly. Though it is realistic for people to come and go, there was something strange about it. The Aleut cousins’ disappearance was particularly poignant. They sat on the same bench waiting for their ship to take them home but the ship never came. Towards the end of the story Jackson describes what happens, “I heard later that the Aleuts had waded into the salt water near Dock 47 and disappeared. Some Indians swore they had walked on the water and headed north. Other Indians saw the Aleuts drown. I don’t know what happened to them.”

There was a mystic beauty in the ending and an affirmation of goodness, if not in humanity, then at least in Jackson Jackson. As Jackson puts on his Grandmother’s regalia and dances amid a frozen city, he has reclaimed his heritage, even if for just one moment in time.

Weary Blues

The Weary Blues

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway. . . .
He did a lazy sway. . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man’s soul.
O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
And put ma troubles on the shelf.”
Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
“I got the Weary Blues
And I can’t be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can’t be satisfied—
I ain’t happy no mo’
And I wish that I had died.”
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.

 

In Langston Hughes poem, “The Weary Blues,” the word that stands out is “moan.” Old Webster defines moan as “a long, low sound made by a person expressing physical or mental suffering or sexual pleasure.” The reader can be sure the word is not referencing sexual pleasure by the following adjectives used, “sad raggy” and “melancholy.” If the reader is still unsure as to whether the pianist is sexually aroused or emotionally distressed, lines 25-30 clarify, “I got the Weary Blues / And I can’t be satisfied / Got the Weary Blues / And can’t be satisfied / I ain’t happy no mo’ / And I wish that I had died.”   

       Hughes uses the word moan to personify the piano. It is not the fact that he is personifying the piano that calls for attention but the word choice he uses to do it. When one thinks of a piano, moaning does not particularly come to mind. Jingle and tinkle perhaps, but not moaning. The reader can infer a great deal from the word “moan.”

What is really notable is that the moaning occurs when the ebony hands make contact with the ivory keys of the piano: “With his ebony hands on each ivory key / He made that poor piano moan with melody” (8-9). The ebony hands represent African American society while the ivory keys represent White American society and perhaps the piano represents society as a whole. An instrument that is capable of playing such beautiful melodies, in Hughes’ poem, does not. When the ebony hands (African American society) and the ivory keys (White American society) come into contact discord results.

Hughes might not have redefined the meaning of the word “moan” but he did use it in a unique context. By assigning its negative meaning to an instrument generally known for its beautiful sound, he is able to highlight the conflict between African Americans and White Americans that create the American society as a whole.

 

 

 

 

Christian Symbolism, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Godot

Waiting for Godot burst on the scene, or rather stage, in 1953. Written by Samuel Beckett on the heels of WWII, which finally ended with a literal bang when the atom bomb was unleashed on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, post-modernism and the theater of the absurd was ushered in with the two act play considered highly existential in theme and concept. Existentialism is “identified with a cultural movement that flourished in Europe in the 1940s and 1950s”  stemming from the philosophy of Jean Sartre and contains all of the characteristics – “dread, boredom, alienation, the absurd, freedom, commitment, nothingness, and so on” – that are contained within Godot (Existentialism). Waiting for Godot follows two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, who wait for an unknown entity named Godot. If the –ot is taken away from the name Godot, the remaining word is God. If -ot is looked at separately from God-, it could very well be the beginning of the word other – other from God, or the self as it pertains to the individual.

god

Though considered existentialist in theme, in regards to the self, it is also a play about the existence of God. During a time when the prosperity of modern society of the 1950’s wrestled with the threat of annihilation aroused by communism, Beckett explores the struggle of the individual to define self, or man’s existence, and how to reconcile himself to God. Through the examination of Christian symbolism within the play and through the philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard and Fredrick Nietzsche, the struggle of man to reconcile himself to God in an increasingly godless world will be explored.

The setting for Godot can be seen as a representation for the destruction brought about by the atomic bomb and war itself – desolate and empty but for a tree, which is one of the major religious symbols that remains throughout the play.

tree4

The tree acts as the meeting place, the place in which Vladimir (Didi) and Estrogon (GoGo) are to wait for Godot or God. In scripture the tree relates to the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified therefor opening the door for man’s repentance followed by God’s forgiveness – reconciliation.

je

There is also a relation to the tree Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, hung himself from in unrepentant guilt. In order for man to be reconciled to God, one must first acknowledge the gift of Christ on the tree or cross which allows for forgiveness of man’s sins. Without repentance there can be no forgiveness and without forgiveness there is no reconciliation.

ju

Upon finding the possible willow tree, DiDi notes that it is dead in which GoGo replies, “No more weeping.” DiDi says that perhaps it is not the season. This is another very meaningful phrase. The idea that there is a season for everything under heaven in a man’s life is found in the book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3: 1-8. Many things that occur in the play are mentioned in these verses.

ececclesiastes81-3400x497ec.gif

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh” is verified by Pozzo: “The tears of the world are in constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another one stops. The same is true of laughter” (Act I).

“A time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing” is displayed when GoGo refuses to embrace DiDi as he is first taking his boot off and then again when DiDi refuses to embrace GoGo before finally relenting.

“A time to keep silence, and a time to speak” and “a time to mourn, and a time to dance” is illustrated through the character of Lucky who dances on command and is silent until he is demanded to “think.” Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes “to spare future generations the bitterness of learning through their own experience that life is meaningless apart from God” (Proverbs, 1348). It appears throughout the play the characters struggle with the futility of their lives as they are waiting for Godot: “There is nothing to be done.”

lucky

 

The idea of repentance is brought up by DiDi in the beginning of Act I, “Suppose we repented?” GoGo enquires what they should repent of in which DiDi says they would not have to go into detail. This is a crucial part to understanding why DiDi is unable to be reconciled with God or why Godot never shows up. Reconciliation is based on repentance which was bought for man with Christ’s blood at the cross. To skip the details of ones’ sins they are repenting of would defeat the purpose. This empty repentance would just be a delay and according to Kierkegaard leads to delusion and if “it is unable to check itself…it goes on and on: then it is called perdition” (25).

As the play unfolds, the physical pain in the form of the beatings GoGo receives and emotional pain as is seen in DiDi and GoGos willingness on more than one occasion to commit suicide (regardless of the possible erection), along with the bareness, the confusion, the despair, and loneliness are felt in a seemingly never ending circle which could certainly be construed as perdition, damnation, or hell on earth.

In Act I, after GoGo’s foot pain and DiDi’s unknown pain (possibly related to his nether regions) are compared, GoGo asks Didi what he expects when he always waits until the last minute. Kierkegaard refers to this as the eleventh hour and describes it as such, “How still everything is, as if it were the midnight hour; how sober, as if it were the hour of death; how lonely, as if it were among the tombs; how solemn, as if it were within eternity. Oh, heavy hour of labor…when account is rendered, yet there is no accuser there…Oh eleventh hour, how terrible if Thou shouldst remain, how much more terrible than if death should continue through a whole life” (27). The meeting place is certainly still until Pozo and Lucky enter. It is desolate and barren. The aspect of eternity in the eleventh hour is displayed in the conversation between DiDi and GoGo:

Estragon: And if he doesn’t come?

Vladimir: We’ll come back tomorrow.

Estragon: And then the day after tomorrow.

Vladimir: Possibly

Estrogen: And so on.

DiDi states, “Hope deferred maketh the something sick, who said that?” (Beckett). The passage refers to Proverbs 13:12, and interestingly enough, the completion of that verse is as follows, “but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” The persistence GoGo and particularly DiDi to continue to wait for Godot can reasonably be considered a longing. The fact that the tree is dead represents the fact that DiDi and GoGo’s longing has not been fulfilled.

“We may despair from ever being able to bridge the chasm, or we may develop faith. If we despair, we will try and get rid of the chasm by annulling one side or the other, either self or God” (Leone, 66). This attempt to nullify God comes when DiDi begins a discussion about the two thieves who were crucified along with Christ.

thieves

DiDi tells GoGo that one of the thieves was saved while the other was damned. He is convinced of the four gospels, only one mentions this. While it is true only Luke mentions any detail about the exchange between Christ and the thieves, the other three gospels do mention the thieves, and not one of them say that the thieves abused Christ as DiDi insisted. Also, only two of the authors of the gospels were disciples of Christ. Mark and Luke were companions of the apostle Paul. The attempt to contradict the scripture, which is believed to be the inspired word of God, or to misremember them is a common occurrence in attempting to prove their illegitimacy and thereby God’s illegitimacy.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to being reconciled to God is the lack of faith in God’s existence. Fredrick Nietzsche pronounced the death of God in the late 1800’s in his book, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, ‘Whither is God…Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?’ (Soccio, 527). This idea of chaos without the anchor of religion is seen in the stage directions as the characters move in all directions and in the character of Lucky who must stop, go, turn, backward, etc. The news of Godot’s delay (God’s death) has not yet reached DiDi and GoGo however. Conflicted between resisting the urge to leave (kill Godot in a manner) and killing himself, Didi insists on waiting in a perpetual purgatory of sorts. There is still a small hope that Godot will come (God lives) but the seeds of Nietzsche’s brand of philosophy (God is dead) born out of man’s scientific revelations is fighting to take root.

ni

By the end of the play, no conclusion has arrived. The end is as the beginning. DiDi and GoGo are discussing the tree and whether or not to hang themselves. In Beckett’s day new technologies, home improvements, and luxuries were competing with the trauma from two world wars and the anxiety of communist threats. In the modern world, incredible scientific discoveries such as the ability to grow human life from a petri dish for those who want children but cannot have them is juxtaposed against the ability to destroy human life within the womb of those people who can have children but don’t want them. The same irony and conflict that Beckett faced is the same irony people face today and it is indeed horrifyingly absurd. Though the feeling of meaninglessness and futility remains in the play as it does in life, there is a difference: the tree that was dead at the beginning of the play has five leaves at the end. There is life still in the barren land. This life does not come from science and it does not come from modern man’s newfound liberation from religion, nor does it come from the self.  It comes from faith. Though the reconciliation of man to God does not come to fruition in Waiting for Godot, faith still remains.

 

Works Cited

Kierkegaard, Soren. Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. Watchmaker Publishing. Trans. Douglas V. Steere. 2013.

Leone, George. Kierkegaard’s Existentialism: The Theological Self and the Existential Self. Bloomington: iUniverse LLC. 2014. Print.

Proverbs. Life Application Study Bible NIV. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005. Print.

Soccio, Douglas. Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy. 3rd ed. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing Company. 1998. Print.