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.





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.






Girl in the Willows

Mamma and Nanny was always working. Nanny always said a man’s either gonna fish or cut bait but you best be believin you gonna be stuck with the fish bones if you the one cuttin and not catchin. Mamma? Well she had a job down at the Berkshire Woolen Company. Mamma made real fine skirts for the ladies. They went for about two thirty five in Parkins. She’d get up real early in the morning and made the sun seem pretty darned lazy if you ask me. Mamma would walk four miles to get down to the mill which wasn’t so bad I reckon if the weather went with her. But if the weather wasn’t with Mamma, that four mile walk sure could be awful hard. But you wasn’t never gonna hear Mamma complaining.

Nanny was always washing and cleaning and cooking. She did some seamstressin for some of the ladies in town too. And when she wasn’t doing that she was takin care of the animals. We had chickens and pigs and an old milking cow named Maisy. Nanny sure did love that ol’ thing. When she got to milking Maisy she’d start carrying on a conversation like they was best friends. Every now and again Maisy would start in mooing like she was talking back. It was pretty darned funny.

Then there was ol’ Earl, the one eared llama. Nobody knew for sure how Earl done lost his ear never mind how a llama came to be in Kanawa County in the first place. Nanny said Earl probably done lost his ear on account of them foxes or maybe some barbed wire. But we didn’t judge Earl none. Besides, Daddy was the one who done brought Earl home. He went out to throw horse shoes with Jace, and Harlan, and Roscoe’s Daddy’s one night. They was real good friends only Mamma didn’t think much of them. She said an apple don’t fall far from the tree and those boys was rotten to the core. I never even told her what they did to Mr. Jitters down at the creek. Mamma just knew. Kind of like you don’t have to see a dung heap to know ones near. All you have to do is to wait for the breeze to be blowing just right.

But Nanny spoke up for Daddy. Nanny was always speaking up for daddy. She said every dog has a few fleas. Mamma come right back at Nanny though and said that might be well and good but if you going to lay down with the dogs, you’re bound to get up with more fleas then you started with. I guess mamma didn’t mind Daddy’s fleas but she sure won’t going to tolerate nobody else’s.  Mamma said her peace and just left it at that. I reckon she knew Daddy needed to get away from all the women in the house even if it was with a bunch of halfwits. That’s what mamma called them. Halfwits. Anyhow, daddy went out that night alone and came back the next morning with a moonshine hangover and a one eared llama.

We all had special affection for Earl. I guess its cause Daddy died the very next week. It was a Sunday and Daddy had gone night fishing. Daddy loved night fishing. He even took me on occasions. I must have been about nine the last time Daddy took me. I remember it like it was yesterday even though it’s been a good four years come and gone. The moon was high in the sky. A big fat moon so white and round. It was so big you could see the crate marks on it.

“Mmm…Jude Bean. That moon sure looks tasty girl. I’m getting a hankering for some cheese. What ya say Jude Bean? You want to take a bite out of that there moon?”

I can still remember the way my Daddy looked that night. Like a giant. But not a scary giant like the one on the stalk Jack took an axe to. He was more like a Paul Bunyan kind of giant. He was a tall man and so darned strong. I remember the way his arms felt underneath his red checked flannel. They was hard like rocks when he picked me up and held me high over his head so I could take a bite. And his voice was just as strong but there wasn’t nothing hard in it. Even more so, there was a knowingness there. Like when you heard my Daddy talking, you just knew everything was going to be alright. And if you weren’t for sure everything was going to turn out fine, well Daddy was.

“I swear Jude, that looks like the best Swiss cheese I ever had the delight of layin my eyes on. We get us some tomato and a couple a slices of Rye and we gonna have ourselves a mighty fine sandwhich.”

I can still remember giggling and feeling my Daddy so close, his chest like a big ol’ wall. There wasn’t nothing soft at all about my Daddy’s chest but it was still the most comfortable place you could ever think to lay your head on. And that’s just what I did that night. While the bull frogs got to croaking and the cicadas and crickets kicked up a fuss, I sat in Daddy’s lap leaning back into him with my head on his chest. And we sat like that together on the bank of the Kanawa River underneath the light of that Swiss cheese moon and I listened to the sound of his voice and the stories he had to tell. Daddy always had a story to tell. I guess that’s why so many people liked my Daddy. The knowingness in his voice and all those stories. Mamma once said Daddy could talk the ear off a deaf person. But his stories sure were good.

“Tell me again how you and Mamma met.”

There was a gentle breeze blowing that night filling the air with just a bitty chill. Daddy hugged me even tighter as he started to tell me my most favorite story.

Girl In The Willows

My name is Judith, born in the dead heat of summer, when it was too hot even for a man to spit proper. Mamma said it was so hot that summer, the Paw Paw creek ran dry and you could see little salamander bodies all dried up and burnt up mixed in with the creek stones and the Kanawa River was so low a person with the mind could walk clear across it without their knee caps getting wet. Mamma said it was so hot because the devil was fit to be tied that an angel was coming into the world.

That angel was me of course. Judith Clay Willis, but most people call me Jude. Daddy tried calling me Judy once but Mamma gave him a look fit to skin his hide. Daddy said he’d be darned if his little girl was going to have to wrestle with a name like Judith all her life. So he took to calling me Jude. Since Mamma knew good and well, once Daddy got a thought tied up in his head real tight like, there was no way on God’s green Earth of untyin it, she gave in. But mamma? Well Mamma never called me anything but Judith.

I was born in the black hills of West Virginia. They call them the black hills cause those hills are filled up with coal. Well they used to be but they ain’t filled with nothing much now except the ghost of old miners. Old except for the ones that was just kids. They used to work kids just like me and even smaller than little Jay down in them hills. My granddaddy, him being my mama’s daddy, was a coal miner and got some of the blackness in his lungs. He died when Mama was only three. He was young, but you’d never know by looking at the creases in his forehead. There was an old corner worn photograph of Granddaddy resting on the china hutch. He was wearing a pair of coal dusted coveralls and had one of them head lamps on. His forehead was creased something fierce and covered in coal dust all but for the white of his eyes and his lips so that you’d be mistaken him for a Negro if you didn’t know better. Mama said she didn’t remember much about her daddy except the way he smelled. Like sweat and sunshine all mixed up together. Sometimes I’d see Mamma just sitting and starin off, where I don’t know. Starin off and breathing in real deep and heavy, like she was smelling something, smelling a memory of her Daddy maybe. And it sounded like she was going to sigh real big. She’d breathe in, smelling that ghost smell, and I could see the softness of her chest rise up, but she never did let them sighs go. She’d keep them inside. And I’d see the softness of her chest settle back down and get a little hard. It never did seem right holding on to all them sighs. Seemed to me holding onto things like sighs and such, well, one day it’s all just going to explode. Mamma never said, but I knew she still hurt for her Daddy. Not having a Daddy does something terrible to a person. It’s like there’s a dark empty place in your heart, a hollow, where nothing takes hold. Just an empty place where all the sadness bumps around in the dark banging up against the sides of your heart. It hurts pretty terrible. I’d know cause my Daddy’s dead too. Seems like that’s what Daddy’s did around here. They died.

After Granddaddy died, it was just Mamma and Nanny. Nanny was my grandmamma, and I won’t afraid to say, at least when she wasn’t near enough to throw a pan at me, that she was meaner than a creek-tossed cat. And I know just how mean a creek-tossed cat is cause one day after school Harlan and Jace took Ms. Jones cat, his name’s Mr. Jitters and he was the meanest ole cat in the state of West Virginia, and swung him round by the tail like he was some kind of lasso or something, and sailed that poor thing clear to the middle of the creek. You aint never seen anything as sad I bet. I ran into the creek, shoes and all, to fetch that poor wailing cat out and got scratches clear up my arms for my troubles. Not only that, but when I came out the creek and let Mr. Jitters go, Jace pushed me down to the ground and I landed on one of them sharp creek rocks and got a tear in my dress not to mention a right nice pain. And as if it couldn’t get much worse, when I walked through the door for supper that night Nanny skinned my hide with her switch as “payment for her seamstress services” she said. I didn’t much care though. I know I’d done the right thing. Every time after that I’d see Mr. Jitters, he’d come strolling up to my legs, all prissy like, even for an old country cat like him, and rub himself up against my legs. Course he spit and hiss right after, but I know he was just keeping up appearances. You know, reputation and all.

Sometimes I wonder. When the sadness gets to bumping and banging around in that hollow place in my heart, I get to wondering about Nanny and Mamma. I wonder if Nanny would have been so darned mean if Granddaddy hadn’t gotten the black lung and had stayed around. Shoot, maybe if she’d had a husband to use her pan on, frying up some eggs or something, she wouldn’t have always been throwing it at someone. And I wonder about Mamma. My Mamma with the face of an angel. A dark angel with long black hair and even blacker eyes. Coal black eyes. My Mamma with the voice of an angel to match. Mamma used to sing all the time before Daddy died. She’d sing in the morning and she’d sing in the evening and all the hours in between. I wonder if Mamma would still have been singing if Daddy hadn’t died. I wonder if she would have been able to let go them sighs. Heck, I wonder if Mamma would even have had so many sighs needing to be let go if Daddy had still been around. I guess if missing a Daddy does something terrible to a person, I don’t even know what missing a husband does. If you were Nanny, it’d make you nasty and hard. Tough like a strap of leather. But if you were Mamma, well that sadness would just keep on whittling away at that hollow place until there’d be nothing left. Just a pile of ole saw dust.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.”



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.


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.


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.


Jekyll Gives Birth to Prufrock

Robert Louis Stevenson first published his short novel, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in the year 1885. Technically, Stevenson is considered part of the Victorian Era, the period of time between Romanticism and Modernism when Queen Victoria ruled England, a time in which the idea of propriety, manners, and position were increasingly important. However, “Victorian writing saw the seeds of rebellion against such idealized notions and stereotypical codes of conduct” (Kirschen). The seeds of rebellion, which made fertile the ground for the following modernist movement, came in the form of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. If there is any doubt of Stevenson’s modernist inclinations, one only needs to compare Jekyll with the foremost representation of the modernist movement – T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The similarity in description, setting, and character between the two leave no doubt Stevenson was a modernist before his time.

One of the most striking similarities between Jekyll and “Prufrock” is in the description. Industry, which began in earnest in the eighteenth century with inventions such as the steam engine and the Spinning Ginny, continued with a fury, changing the landscape of England. Farming communities gave way to urban communities as people flocked to the city to become laborers. “Mid-Victorian prosperity carried grim phenomena in its wake: there were bleak, sooty landscapes; exploited workers; crass materialism was rampant; and philistinism seemed to be the new buzzword which captured the essence of all this ‘progress’” (Kreis). One visual aide used in both Jekyll and Prufrock, which encapsulates this picture of industry, is the imagery of fog. There are multiple definitions for the word fog. Physically it is condensed water vapor lying low to the ground, an obscuring cloud of atmospheric dust or smoke, or a haze which conceals. There is also a mental reference as well in “a state of mental vagueness or bewilderment” (Meriam). Both Stevenson and Eliot use fog not only to describe the environmental consequences of industry but the mental distress it was beginning to have on man as well.

Stevenson uses fog to create an unsettling scene of darkness and secrecy in the reader’s mind, hinting at what is hidden, which is a reflection of modern man’s feeling of a growing darkness and uncertainty spilling forth. “A great chocolate-coloured pall lowered over heaven, but the wind was continually charging and routing these embattled vapours…for a moment, the fog would be quite broken up…the dismal quarter of Soho seen under these changing glimpses, with its muddy ways, and slatternly passengers, and its lamps, which had never been extinguished or had been kindled afresh to combat this mournful reinvasion of darkness, seemed, in the lawyer’s eyes, like a district of some city in a nightmare” (Stevenson). Embattled, broken, dismal, changing, muddy, slatternly, mournful, darkness, and nightmare are the descriptive words Stevenson uses in this one passage to pull the reader into this new world which would be coined modern not long after.

The same nightmarish quality is seen in Prufrock forty years later, after the destruction and horror of World War One which would be the impetus to launch people into a steady state of anxiety and alienation, “The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes / The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes / Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening / Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains / Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys / Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap / And seeing that it was a soft October night / Curled once about the house, and fell asleep” (“Love Song” III. 15-22). Though the fog acts as a metaphor for the pollution of the modern, industrialized world, Eliot also uses it as a metaphor for the mental state man has found himself in, as if a fog or haze has descended on his reality.

While the use of the same imagery, as is seen in the description of the fog, is an important correlation between Stevenson and Eliot, the setting also ties the two works together. Both Stevenson and Eliot use the urban city of London as their setting. In one regard, the reader is given a surface view pleasing to the mind, “The street was small and what is called quiet, but it drove a thriving trade on the weekdays…the shop fronts stood along that thoroughfare with an air of invitation, like rows of smiling saleswomen…and with its freshly painted shutters, well-polished brasses, and general cleanliness and gaiety of note, instantly caught and pleased the eye of the passenger” (Stevenson). This superficial view of life, of a proper society filled with citizens conducting themselves appropriately, achieving success and prospering, was important until it came into serious question during the modern era and discarded altogether in the post-modern era. As a true modernist who is beginning to see the edges of his socially-constructed world fray, Stevenson questions one version of society by illuminating the opposite version of society, “a certain sinister block of building thrust forward its gable on the street. It was two storeys high; showed no window, nothing but a door on the lower storey and a blind forehead of discoloured wall on the upper; and bore in every feature, the marks of prolonged and sordid negligence. The door, which was equipped with neither bell nor knocker, was blistered and distained. Tramps slouched into the recess and struck matches on the panels; children kept shop upon the steps; the schoolboy had tried his knife on the mouldings; and for close on a generation, no one had appeared to drive away these random visitors or to repair their ravages” (Stevenson).

Eliot attempts to reconcile the two realities as well. He speaks of one reality with “the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets / after the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor” (“Love Song” XIV. 99-103). This reality can hardly be considered concrete when set against the following, “Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets / The muttering retreats / Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels / And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells / Streets that follow like a tedious argument / Of insidious intent (“Love Song” I. 4-9). It is the battle between these two contradicting realities, one filled with tea and marmalade and talk of Michelangelo while the other is filled with cheap hotels, saw dust floors and insidious intent, which defines them both as modern.

Aside from the descriptive aspect and the similar settings, the most powerful correlation is that of character and theme. One of modernisms major themes is of man feeling alienated, consumed with anxiety that is overwhelming to the point of impotence. Stevenson’s Jekyll and Eliot’s Prufrock both embody those qualities. Jekyll battles with conflicting aspects of his inner self. In one respect, he is a well-respected, highly-regarded Doctor. He fits the Victorian mold of manners and respectability but below the “fog” there lies another hidden part of him, one that revels in drinking and debauchery and lust – all of the things society frowns on. It is a more primal side of his personality and the two conflict with each other causing Jekyll to be overcome with angst. Prufrock also seems to be a respectable member of society with his morning coat and a rich and modest tie “asserted by a simple pin” with “collar mounting firmly to the chin” (“Love Song” VI. 42-43). But like Jekyll, Prufrock battles an inner desire, “And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully / Smoothed by long fingers / Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers / Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me / Should I, after tea and cakes and ices /Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?” (“Love Song” XII. 75-80). Though Jekyll and Prufrock both are battling the duality of their personalities, the difference between the two is that Jekyll attempts to resolve his inner conflict while Prufrock remains impotent.

As Jekyll battles with conflicting aspects of his inner self, “It was on the moral side, and in my own person, that I learned to recognise the thorough and primitive duality of man; I saw that, of the two natures that contended in the field of my consciousness, even if I could rightly be said to be either, it was only because I was radically both; and from an early date, even before the course of my scientific discoveries had begun to suggest the most naked possibility of such a miracle, I had learned to dwell with pleasure, as a beloved daydream, on the thought of the separation of these elements” he seeks out an elixir that will allow him to separate the more noble and socially accepted side of his character from the baser side. This results in him becoming not only alienated from himself but from society as well. Instead of a reconciliation, he has divided himself and as result one part must die so that the other can live.

While Prufrock suffers from the same internal battle, perhaps it is his deep seated insecurity that prevents him in taking action as Jekyll did. Prufrock is so immersed in his vision and revision and his hundred indecisions he remains trapped within his own head (“Love Song” V. 32-33). In the end, his disabling anxiety prevents him from claiming any part of himself thus being a whole version and a part of society as well. As a result he dies over and over again, “We have lingered in the chambers of the sea / By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed / red and brown / Till human voices wake us, and we drown” (“Love Song” XX. 129-131).

While T.S. Eliot might be considered one of the most influential modernist poets in history, there was another who came before who explored modern themes. Robert Louis Stevenson broke new ground with The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde exploring such modern themes as man’s duality and inner consciousness and alienation. Both Stevenson and Eliot use similar description, setting, and character to reflect the inner turmoil of the Victorian sensibility and the evolving modern mentality. Though Stevenson does not belong to the modernist period, his story of Jekyll seems to mirror that of Eliot’s Prufrock. There is a battle in both story and poem, both Jekyll and Prufrock, between conflicting sides of their inner selves resulting in death for Jekyll and an infinite alienation for Prufrock.


Works Cited

Eliot. T.S. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. Baym, Nina, ed. The Norton Anthology American Literature Volume C. Crawfordsville: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2012. Print.

Kreis, Steven. “Lecture 25: The Age of Ideologies (3): The World of Auguste Comte.” The History Guide.  2012 Web. 31 July 2016.

Stevenson, Robert. Stevenson, Robert Louis. Project Gutenberg EBook #E-43: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. 26 Nov 2012. David Widger. Web. 30 Jun 2016.

Kirschen, Robert. “The Victorian Period.” UNLV. 28 October 2011. Web. 31 July 2016.