Kubrick’s Labyrinth of the Mind

Maze-Jack-630x354

6 November 2014

Francesco Casetti says, “To present a story that has already been told, means to explore how cinema is capable of renewing and intensifying the relationship between text, representation, and spectatorship” (Casetti 84). King’s novel, The Shining makes liberal use of literature’s ability to dip into a character’s consciousness to show the mounting psychological instability of the characters as the story progresses. But while King writes The Shining in third person perspective, Kubrick Films his version of The Shining in third person subjective perspective using the subtlety of the actors’ body language and influences of scene, set, sound effects, and musical score to show the inner workings of the characters’ minds. While it is true that film is limited to visual and aural representations where literature is not, Kubrick’s changes show that intense focus on the minute details of setting can be used to show the state of a character’s mind without the need of internal dialogue. Kubrick’s film, The Shining uses the physical spaces of the hotel to represent the psychological space within the minds of Danny, Jack, and The Overlook itself.

The hallways of The Overlook are a physical representation of the workings of the mind. Danny’s tricycle rides show that the hallways defy the laws of physics and therefore cannot exist in the physical world. In Rodney Ascher’s documentary, Room 237, Danny is tracked as he rides his tricycle through the hallways. He travels from the kitchen, which is on the first floor down the hallways passing the stairs that lead down to the Colorado Lounge. He travels through multiple floors of the hotel without using the stairs or the elevators (Room 237 2012). The way the hallways linearly connect nonlinear areas of the hotel recreates the way that the stream of consciousness connects thoughts that are not normally connected.

The rooms that are connected to the hallways stand in as flashes of thought that surface from the unconscious mind. These hallways are flanked by nearly identical doors set at regular intervals on both sides of the hallways. The regularly spaced doors are nodes on the stream of consciousness that lead to connections to memories that are buried in the subconscious. According to Rob Ager, many of these rooms cannot exist in the spaces that they are given. The doors on the side of the wall nearest the Colorado Lounge are shown to have only four or five feet of wall in which to contain a room, and room 237 is a large suite with a living room, a bedroom, and a large bathroom that extend off of it overlapping the room next to it (Ager 2008). As subconscious memories, the walls of the hallway do not need to have the space to contain the rooms because the doors are just access points in which to connect to memories that are stored in another place.

The hallways are used to gain insight in to the minds of the characters. The camera shots of the hallways are often shown at a four way intersection of halls (The Shining 1980). The shot is set up to show almost nothing of the three different directions that the character could have possibly taken while showing the hallway ahead fading off in the distance like it goes on forever. The floors in the hallway are covered by carpet with a uniquely labyrinthine design that is focused on by a head down camera shot that shows more of the floor than the ceiling (The Shining 1980). In the context of this shot, the carpet pattern, the hallway fading off into nothingness, and the character standing at the crossroads between the hallways work together to show the inability of the human mind to accurately predict the consequences of an action, and these things show the mounting confusion in the characters’ minds. The camera shots and the set design work together to show chaotic mental state of the character that is being focalized in the scene.

Jack and Danny, in particular, are singled out for the focalization in the halls. Both Jack and Danny have scenes in which they are standing alone in the crossing of two hallways as if at a point of decision when they contemplate whether or not they will enter room 237 (The Shining 1980). Both Danny and Jack find reason to go into the room. Danny falling in to temptation and Jack entering out of duty to protect his son. The context of the character’s interaction with the ghost in the room serves as a hallucination showing the fear of the character that has entered at the moment.

Because the rooms act as access points to stored memories along the stream of consciousness, the visions that the characters’ see takes advantage of their bad memories. Danny chose to enter room 237 after he had been warned not to go into the room. Halloran warns him of the ghost, and Jack warns him not to want him roaming the hallways (The Shining 1980). Danny’s vision of the ghost plays off his fear of getting caught for breaking the rules. The vision of the dead woman in the tub grabs him by the neck and strangles him leaving bruises around his neck (The Shining 1980). The film hints on more than one occasion that Jack had been violent in the past, and he had even broken Danny’s arm for having dropped his papers (The Shining 1980). So the ghost’s attack on Danny shows that deep down he is afraid of his father becoming violent again.

Jack, on the other hand, enters room 237 out of his fatherly duty to his child. Before he enters the room he has an argument with his wife where she accuses him of causing the bruises to Danny’s neck (The Shining 1980). Since Jack enters the same room that Danny did, he accesses the she same node of the stream of consciousness and the memory of the same night from his point of view. The ghost appears to Jack as a nude young woman. As Jack gives in to his lust, she turns into the bloated corpse of the dead woman (The Shining 1980). Jack’s hallucination shows his fear of giving in to his passions.

The hallways of The Overlook hold their own hallucinations as well. Danny and Jack May have been drawn to the memory of the woman that died in room 237, but the traumatic memory for The Overlook takes place in the Colorado Lounge. The hallway that acts as the stream of consciousness is open the Colorado Lounge on the ground floor, where Danny rides straight through it on his tricycle trip through the hotel, and on the main stairway that leads down into the lounge. Something so traumatic happened in the Colorado Lounge that the memory stands as an open wound in the psyche of the hotel, and The Overlook tries to fill the hole with the souls of the Torrance family.

The connection between the physical spaces of the Overlook’s hallways and Danny and Jack’s minds leaves more questions than it answers. The movie follows at least one character that has the ability to read the thoughts of others and tell the future, but none of the characters foresee what happens except maybe the hotel itself. But that may just be the point of the film; the mind is such a confusing and convoluted place that even if one could access the power to see the future that person would not be likely to understand what is revealed. The Overlook Hotel is secluded amongst the mountains like the consciousness of the characters’ minds, and like the labyrinthine pattern of the carpet in the hallways and the hedge maze that stands in front of hotel, The Overlook symbolizes the convoluted and confusing actions of the subconscious mind.

Work Cited

Ager, Rob. “MAZES, MIRRORS, DECEPTION AND DENIAL: An In-depth Analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING.” The Shining (1979) Analysis.  2008. Web. 9 Dec. 2014.

Casetti, Francesco. “Adaptations and Mis-adaptations: Film, Literature, and Social Discourses.” A Companion to Literature and Film. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.

King, Stephen. The Shining. New York: Anchor, 2012. Print.

Room 237. Ascher, R. IFC Films. 2012. Film.

The Shining. Kubrick, S. Warner Brothers. 1980. Film.

The Law of the Road

9 December 2014

The biblical allusions in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road are fairly evident. The story follows a father and a son. The father in The Road follows a vengeful path, and the son advocates to temper the father’s wrath (McCarthy 256). The father and the son are on a pilgrimage of sorts searching for the Promised Land. This is very much like the Israelites who wandered forty years in the desert.  And like Moses who led the Israelites, the father does not get to enter the Promised Land. The allusion to Moses is particularly interesting because he was known for giving the law to the Israelites, and the father and the son in The Road are on a mission to find a community that follows some semblance of law. Francesco Casetti’s concept of fields of discourse allows McCarthy’s book and John Hillcoat’s film The Road to work together using subtle hints to show that even in the seemingly lawless world, the rule of law still holds sway.

In Hillcoat’s film, the father and the son encounter much less danger once they reach the coast. The cannibalistic communes that hunt the woods for human prey and the armed bands of cannibals roaming the roads on broken-down vehicles are no longer seen. And the roads are safe enough for an old man to wander the roads alone without fear from cannibals (The Road 2009). Although they have seen little to prove it at this point in the film, the father feels safe enough in this area to approach another person on the road. As the father and the son approach, Ely does not attempt to hide from them or hide in any way. Instead he drops his bag and offers to let the father and son search his things but informs them that he has nothing to take (The Road 2009). This interaction shows that while there is definitely the possibility of bandits on the road looking to take things they do not want to eat the victims. Their encounter with the man that stole their things on the beach shows the same thing. Even though the thief catches the boy asleep and the father away, he only steals their things (The Road 2009). If there had been no law he would have likely killed the boy and taken his corpse along as additional food.

Both the theif and the man that comes to help the son after the father dies have fingers missing. While this could be seen as one more proof that there is law along the coast, this missing digits do not register in the film like they should. The depiction of the world in which these fingers were lost is an unforgiving and violent one. The opportunities in which one could lose a finger are likely numerous. But the book shows that fingers are removed from people who have been ejected from the communes and the thief is ashamed to show the hand without the fingers (McCarthy 255). But with this knowledge gleaned from the book, the missing digits are a strong indication of an existing law in the film.

In fact, the film’s version of things could be an indication of a more nuanced and widespread law than the one explained in the book. In the book, all of the fingers are removed from one hand and the bearer of this mark is expelled from the commune. But the way that the thief from McCarthy’s book tries to hide his maimed hand shows that having been punished puts him at risk by anyone that comes into contact with him. This indicates two things. The crimes that receive punishment are horrific ones, and the only law is that which exists within the individual communes. However, in Hillcoat’s film, only the thumbs were cut from the thief and he was not reluctant to show them. Even the man that comes to save the son after the death of the father has one of his thumbs missing. The lack of stigma against having had fingers removed shows that there are more than just laws forbidding the most grievous of crimes. Less stigma means that more people run afoul of the law because there more laws covering a variety of offenses both large and small. More laws means a safer society. Therefore, the film’s ending is a more hopeful one than the books because the son has a much safer society because even the good guys sometimes run afoul of the law.

But even in the anarchic world away from the coast, laws existed. Any form of social construction is governed by laws even if they are loosely constructed, informal, or unspoken laws. The communes of cannibals and the bands of cannibals hunting the roads would not be able to function together as a group if they were not constrained by laws. When the father and the son encountered the truck full of men on the road, the men looked dirty, tired, and hungry. The man that they stumbled upon their hiding spot could not restrain himself from staring at the son. He is so hungry that even though the father threatens to kill him if he looks at the son, the man attempts to capture and kill the son (The Road 2009). Once the father and the son returned to see if there were any of their belongings left behind, the camera pans over the road to reveal a pile of intestines sitting by the broken-down car, and a burned out fire pit with that contains the charred remains of human ribs that showed signs of sawing and hacking. If the roving band of cannibals do not follow any form of law they would not wait for one of their own to be killed before eating them. The man that stumbled upon the father and the son would have been more likely to find an alternative course of action that would not have resulted in his death at the hands of the father because they would have just eaten one of their own band before they had gotten that hungry.

Even the relationship between the father and the son works because they are governed by laws. The father and the son have two basic laws that control their relationship. While the father remains alive the son must obey his commands, and if the father dies the son must kill himself. The first law, the son must obey the father’s commands is an unspoken law but the film does not make the law evident by the many times that the son obeys the father as by the two times that the son disobeys him. But when the son runs after the kid that he saw when the father was in his childhood home, and when the son falls asleep on the beach and allows their things to be stolen, the father punishes him by yelling at him (The Road 2009). The father’s yelling is punishment for breaking the law, but Laws that are not enforced or are unenforceable typically do not hold sway.

The second law that the son must kill himself if the father dies is passed down by ritual and conversation between the father and the son. After the father and the son find the bodies hanging in the barn, the father opens the chamber of the revolver and shows the bullets to the son. The father says, “Two left. One for you, and one for me. Put it in your mouth and point it up just like I showed you.” The father then proceeds to demonstrate by putting the gun in his mouth (The Road 2009). But these measures only work to inform the son of the law and when it comes time for him to put the suicide law into practice, the son cannot do it. When the cannibals come back to the house and the father and the son are hiding in the bathroom, the father instructs the son to put the gun in his mouth and prepare to kill himself, but the son cannot do it (The Road 2009). However, when they escape, the father does not punish the son because he could not uphold his end of the law. And when he is on his death bed, the father decides that he cannot bear for his son to kill himself and he changes the law.

In both McCarthy’s book and Hillcoat’s film, the only laws that seem to be irreparably broken are the laws of nature. The worldwide ecosystem has been so misused that crops and animals no longer reproduce. But amidst this chaotic, dying world the laws, the seeds of civilization are still viable and have been planted in certain areas of the world. But McCarthy’s book ends with a hopeful vision for the future. The book ends with a scene of brook trout swimming in a stream (McCarthy 286-287). This idyllic scene ends the story with the hope that if the seeds of civilization, the laws can still take hold maybe the laws of nature can take root again as well.

Work Cited

Casetti, Francesco. “Adaptations and Mis-adaptations: Film, Literature, and Social Discourses.” A Companion to Literature and Film. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage, 2006. Print.

The Road. Hillcoat, J. Dimension Films. 2009. Film.

Controlling the Zombie

30 June 2014

The character of Murder Legendre looms large over the image of Haiti that is portrayed in the film, White Zombie. He is a well-known person on the island, and he is conspicuously European. Legendre owns a large estate and runs a large sugar plantation. But what makes this character the most dangerous to the Haitian people is that he is a zombie master (White Zombie 1932.) In the article “The Zombie Media Monster’s Evolution to Empty Undead signifier” Ryan Lizardi states, “Thematically, [zombies] exhibit … the importance and preoccupation with concepts of control, loss of control, and fear of being controlled” (Lizardi 92.) As a former slave colony, the people of Haiti have a particular fear of losing control or being controlled by others. The character Murder Legendre of White Zombie shows up as a symbol of their colonial past, and the only way for them to regain their own control is to remove him as a symbol of the former colonial regime.

In a movie set in Haiti dealing with Haitian myths, one might expect the welfare of the Haitian people would be one of the main themes.  In fact, in the article, “Thinking Dead: Our Obsession with the Undead and Its Implications” Murali Balaji said, “Race is another element of zombie texts, seen both overtly and subtextually, as zombies are seen as stand-ins for racial and ethnic others” (Balaji xii.) Most of the film only deals with race in a subtextual way. The narrative of White Zombie revolves around the conversion of a white woman into a zombie for the sole pleasure of one of the rich white plantation owners of the island (White Zombie 1932.) while at first this story line seems to be missing the point of setting a film in an exploited land by leaving the Haitians out of the main story, this decision may have been made consciously to avoid offending the sensibilities of a 1930’s audience. Due to the prejudices of the day, the viewing public who may be convinced to help the exploited of other countries would likely have been chased off by a film that revolved completely around the problems of a foreign people.

Black characters are used in very few places throughout the film, and when they are used they are part of a crowd of extras with only three exceptions. The carriage driver, Pierre the witchdoctor that Dr. Bruner asks about the death of Madeline, and the former witchdoctor that Legendre has turned into a zombie are the only black characters that have any extended screen time and both of the witchdoctors were played by white actors in black face. By keeping the screen time of black characters to a minimum the film makes a statement about the second class status of the black people living in Haiti.

The roles played by the black characters also play a part in showing the disparity between the races on the Island of Haiti. In the beginning of the film, the group of people mourning at a funeral consists of black actors (White Zombie 1932.) While the group does fill the role of exposition giving the carriage drive the opportunity to inform Madeline, Neil and the film’s audience about the cultural and religious practices of the Haitian people, the group of mourners also works as an obstacle for the white characters. Therefore, the black carriage driver and the group of black mourners exemplify the way that the white characters think about the Haitians: while alone Haitians can make perfectly fine servants, such as carriage drivers, taken as a group they are a strange and unknowable hindrance and must be avoided as much as possible.

All of the white characters in the film live in opulent mansions far removed from the Haitian people. Neil and Madeline have come to the island to get married in the opulence of Beaumont Manor. Charles Beaumont lives in luxury with large rooms and expensive furniture. He has the means to throw a feast for people that he barely knows, and he is constantly attended by his butler named Silver. Even Doctor Bruner, the preacher lives in a large house with expensive furniture and decorations (White Zombie 1932.)  The only reason that they can afford these things is because of the plantation economy that takes advantage of the low labor cost afforded by the poor Haitian people.

While all of the white characters in the film are making their livings on the backs of the black Haitians, only Murder Legendre is honest about his exploitation of the Haitian people. In only one scene does the film ever explicitly deal with the subject of race in any overt way, and this scene takes place in Legendre’s sugar processing plant. The sugar plant is being run exclusively by zombies. The zombies that are doing the all of the labor are black Haitians, but the white zombies are seen in the background standing around and watching, and the camera zooms in to show the pained faraway look on the faces of the zombies that are stooped over the cranks that they are pushing to turn the sugarcane grinder (White Zombie 1932.)

The white zombies that line the edges of the plant floor resemble foreman inspecting the work being done and keeping their workers in line. However, in the article, “Race, colonialism and the evolution of the Zombie,” Cory Rushton and Christopher Moreman state, “Aside from being scary monsters, what [zombies] share in common is an idea of subjugated agency” (Moreman and Rushton 3.) Since the zombies working in Legendre’s sugar plant have no agency, the reason that the white zombies are standing around watching the black zombies work is to bring the plight of the Haitian people forced to work under deplorable conditions to the viewing public. But this is where the politics of the film get complicated. While the narrative of the film has taken time to ask the viewers to feel for the exploited Haitian people the casting of the film takes advantage of prejudices of the day and hires two white actors to play black characters.

Difficulties in making sense of the film’s complicated politics aside, the film concludes when Legendre loses control of his crew of zombies and they throw him off a cliff into the surging waves of the ocean below (White Zombie 1932.) While the tossing of Legendre into the ocean symbolizes Haiti’s removal of exploitative interests from overseas. But Neil Madeline and Doctor Bruner remain showing that even with the removal of the biggest hindrance to the Haitian people removed there will still be a very long road before Haiti is able to recover from the damage it received at the hands of colonial oppressors. In their article, Rushton and Moreman state, “Zombies, for their part, represent in the African tradition not simply the walking corpse of Western imagination but are synonymous with a wide range of monsters” (Moreman and Rushton 3.) Using Rushton and Moreman’s knowledge of zombies, one can see that the zombie problem that the film White Zombie is trying to eradicate is the outside interference in Haiti’s affairs.

Work Cited

Balaji, Murali,. Thinking Dead: What the Zombie Apocalypse Means. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2013.

Lizardi, Ryan. “The Zombie Media Monster’s Evolution to Empty Undead signifier.” Thinking Dead: What the Zombie Apocalypse Means. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2013. Print.

Moreman, Christopher M. “Race, colonialism and the evolution of the Zombie.” Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011. Print.

White Zombie. Halpern V. United Artists, 1932. Film.

28 Days Later: Taming the Human Animal

13 June 2014

28 Days Later begins with a montage of news reports of violence and riots around the world (28 Days Later 2002.) Because of genre conventions, the viewer is encouraged to assume that this is the beginning of the zombie outbreak. The viewer is lead to believe that like in the Romero films the cause of the zombie outbreak will be left unexplained or at least explained in an ambiguous or contradictory manner (Romero 1968, 1979, 1988.) However, the camera pans back to reveal that the news reports feed into a bank of televisions that play simultaneously to a test animal in a scientific looking laboratory (28 Days Later 2002.) Of mice, rabbits, and apes that have been connected with scientific experimentation in popular culture, the ape is the one that most resembles the human. The anthropomorphic quality of the ape being tested on brings up the idea that the film is trying to critique the human/animal comparison. The misleading beginning of this film forces the viewer to take a step back from the immediate narrative of the film and think about the violent animalistic brutality of the human world. In “A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism,” Even though Sarah Lauro and Karen Embry  anticipate much of their possible criticism when they state, “…There is […] the American importation of the [zombie], which in its cinematic incarnation has morphed into a convenient boogeyman representing various social concerns” (Embry and Lauro 87.) A critical reading of the 28 Days Later shows that Embry and Lauro’s implication that the zombie is the next necessary step in the evolution of modern humans is a misunderstanding of the purpose of the zombie narrative (Embry and Lauro 87, 88.) The film, 28 Days Later is ultimately a story about the human’s struggle with and eventual triumph over his or her own animal nature.

This film portrays its zombies with different characteristics than the standard definition of the zombie as defined by Romero’s movies and its clones. The zombies of 28 Days Later are not undead, immortal, or cannibals. The zombies of this film are referred to as infected and the opening scenes of the film reinforce this idea when a band of eco-terrorists break into a scientific research laboratory and liberate the test animals. Embry and Lauro seem to agree that these zombies fall outside of the traditional undead category. They dismiss these zombies from the ranks of the undead by claiming that they result from viral contamination; however, the film is not give an authoritative explanation to their exact origins (Embry and Lauro 87, 88.) When informing Jim of what has happened while he was in a coma, Selena tells him that the outbreak of the infected is a result of viral infection, but while Selena had been a pharmacist before the zombie outbreak, she was not an authority on viral infection. When the lab animals were about to be released, the scientist, who presumably was an authority on the experiments that were going on in the lab said that the monkeys were infected with rage (28 days Later 2002.)  Although it is easy to assume that rage is the name of a virus, he does not refer to it as a virus, and viral infections are not influenced anything that the host watches. The scene with the ape with wires hooked to his brain while he was being forced to watch multiple television monitors showing these scenes of intense violence repeating over and over on a loop serves no purpose if rage is a virus (28 days Later 2002.)  Since the zombies are not undead beasts and they are not caused by a viral infection, cause of the zombie plague must be a psychological one.

Embry and Lauro say, “…The zombie horde is a swarm where no trace of the individual remains” (Embry and Lauro 89.) But they are slightly off the mark. A swarm is a group of insects that work together for the betterment of the collective, and as lower order animals they do not have the mental capacity to develop a theory of self. Without a theory of self the swarm insects are allowed the freedom to act without selfish motivations, but humans do not have this luxury. The name, rage is crucial to understanding the psychological nature of the zombie infection. As a social animal, humans have an instinctual drive to follow the verbal and nonverbal cues of others of the same species. What is thought of as a mob is just the human equivalent of a herd. Rage is just one half of the fight or flight response, and humans are driven to act by the verbalizations or body language of people that they identify with. Therefore, an agitated body posture or an angry yell will get others nearby agitated and angry as well. And violent actions of one individual will encourage the violent actions of another. In herding animals, these instinctual reactions are not a selfless act for the betterment of the hive. The herding animal is driven by a selfish concern for safety in numbers. Therefore, the human animal member of the zombie horde is not acting because he or she has lost all trace of the individual; he or she is acting to preserve all aspects of the individual especially the individual’s life.

Embry and Lauro state, “…In the figure of the zombie, the body and the mind are separated antinomies…. the body is resurrected and retained: only consciousness is permanently lost” (Embry and Lauro 89.) Jim’s narrative through the film serves to prove that at least in this film the zombies have the potential for redemption. Although Jim was never seen to be actually infected in the film, he did begin to take on the aspects of the zombies.

After escaping from the soldiers when they were planning to put him to death, Jim spent several hours without a weapon alone in the woods with the zombies (28 days Later 2002.)  While he was gone he adapted the stealth, speed, and strength of the zombie while maintaining enough mental capacity to work tactically to draw out and kill the soldiers one by one. Jim is portrayed as animalistic. His posture is hunched and his muscles are taut. Every time he moves, he is sprinting.  Even the camera works to portray Jim as a predator stalking his prey. The portrayal of Jim like an animal calls back to the apes at the beginning of the film. The apes seem docile or even friendly while they are in their cages, but when the ape is let out of its cage into an environment that it cannot control it lashes out violently (28 days Later 2002.)  The animal that had seemed so much like a human seconds earlier, reveals its brutal animal nature, and so too does Jim in this situation.

As he went along he became more and more brutal and the soldiers back at the mansion began to grow more and more afraid of him, and as the soldiers fear grows so too does Jim’s zombie like strength. By the end of Jim’s slaughter of the soldiers, he has given over so much to his animal instincts that he kills the last soldier with his bare hands by plunging his thumbs into the soldier’s eyes (28 days Later 2002.)  During Jim’s killing spree, he has given so much of his personality over to his own psychological rage that he is indistinguishable from the infected zombies. Not did Selina believe that Jim was a zombie when he came to save her, but the zombies must have mistaken him for one of their own as well. During the whole time that Jim was fighting to free Selina and Hannah, the zombies did not attack him. The other zombies even seem to be feeding off of Jim’s animalistic brutality. For all intents and purposes, Jim had become a zombie, yet he is able to recover his humanity after having given in to his animalistic rage.

Unlike the main thrust of Lauro and Embry’s essay, “A Zombie Manifesto,” the film, 28 Days Later allows for the recovery of the humanity of those that are drawn down into the depths of the zombie condition, and unlike the claim in “A Zombie Manifesto” that the zombie is the only way to become post-human, I submit that the zombie is the pre-human or the animalistic side of humanity. All one must do is tune in to the nightly news report to see graphic depictions of the violence going on all around the world to be reminded that humanity is in a constant struggle with its animalistic urge to destroy one another.

Work Cited

28 Days Later. Boyle, D. 20th Century Fox, 2002. Film.

Lauro, S and Embry, K. “A Zombie Manifesto: The Nonhuman Condition in the Era of Advanced Capitalism.” 2008. Print.

Romero, G. Dawn of the Dead. United Film Distribution Company, 1979. Film.

Romero, G. Day of the Dead. United Film Distribution Company, 1985. Film.

Romero, G. Night of the Living Dead. The Walter Reade Organization, 1968. Film.

I am Legend: Rebuke and Reaffirmation of Prejudices

10 June 2014

The changes in cultural thought and the advances in technology that have taken place in the 40 years between the writing of Richard Matheson’s I am Legend and its latest adaptation in 1994 have forced many changes between the text of the book and the movie. But rather than reading these changes as improvements over or deteriorations from the original text, Francesco Casetti argues that these differences form a conversation between the texts (Casetti 82.) The inconsistencies between Matheson’s book and the film adaptation attest to the differences inherent to the medium of delivery, the scientific advances within each medium, the cultural themes relevant at the time of adaptation, and the artistic vision of the adaptor. Each of these four categories allow for the exploration of the text in ways that the original either could not explore or chose not to explore. Neither version of the text is superior or inferior because by dent of adaptation they have become distinct and different texts that only happen to share some of the same characters and ideas. Using Casetti’s ideas about adaptation and mis-adaptation one is able to show that Richard Matheson’s novel I am legend and the 1995 film adaptation of I am Legend are two completely separate stories locked in discourse with one another about the same characters and similar themes but two completely separate intentions.

The novel and film versions of I am Legend are subject to differing pressures that inform the way that they are constructed. Casetti states, “…Film and literature are more revealing of the way in which subjects interact with each other as either addressers or addressees, than of an author’s ability to express him or herself (Casetti 82.) According to Casetti, a comparison between a book and it’s movie adaptation should not explore how they differ or which version is better, but should be a comparison of the differing points of view between the film and the book and what those differences say about their  particular view of the world. Richard Matheson’s story is told from inside the mind of Robert Neville. The reader experiences every thought, feeling, and need that Neville experiences. While this storytelling technique allows an immediate connection to the main character, this style of reporting is only available in a text based medium where the only way to experience the story is through written language. Because the reader may only experience the story through his or her imagination the author can successfully tell the story through any vantage point that can be imagined. However, the film version of I am Legend is significantly handicapped when it comes to the ways in which the story can be told. Voice over techniques and first person camera views have been developed to try to recreate the effect of being inside a character’s head but these techniques are clumsy at best and cannot be relied upon to deliver the entirety of the film. Therefore, the film version of I am Legend uses character interaction to deliver the same kind of connection between the viewer and Neville. The problem in the film is that much of the film takes place with only one human character. But this problem is solved in the film by having Robert Neville hold one-sided conversations with his dog and with manikins at the video store (I am Legend 1995.)

The one-sided conversations are an interesting idea that was brought into the film that was not included in the novel. The one-sided conversations deal with the problem of character interaction in a film that only has one character throughout most of the film. The one-sided conversations are kept to small talk that is common and recognizable by anyone that views the film. While unlocking the door to the video store Robert Neville says to the manikins, “Hey. Good morning Buzz good morning Fred. What are you guys doing here so early? Nice sweatshirt there Fred” (I am Legend 1995.) This type of conversation is so common that any of the viewers could supply the missing side of the conversation without even thinking about it. But the simplicity of this dialogue and the rote nature with which these types of conversations are had in today’s world communicates the isolation and sadness that Neville is going through that no amount of access to the character’s inner thoughts could convey. Additionally the conversations with inanimate objects also give a hint to Neville’s declining mental state without having to show this through the alcohol abuse that is used in the novel. Giving Robert Neville the dog from the beginning of the film serves similar purposes, and also gives a greater emotional hit to the viewer when the dog eventually dies.

The connection that Robert Neville has with female manikin allows the film to allude  to Neville’s growing for sexual companionship without having him fantasize about the naked bodies of the undead that gather outside of Neville’s house showing off their bodies in the novel (Matheson 19, 22, 33.)  The difficulty with portraying this idea in the same way as the novel comes back to the visual nature of the film medium. In text it is possible to describe the disrobing of a woman in a way that is not at all graphic or titillating, but there is no way to show nudity that is obviously recognizable as nudity in a film that is not graphic. Not only is it in good taste for the film not to show nudity, but also the film version of I am Legend is rated PG-13 and nudity would have caused the rating to go up. Therefore, pressure from a ratings agency, the difference between film and text, and addition of the one-sided conversations all contribute to the decision to show Neville’s growing need for sexual companionship in a more family friendly way.

The most striking point of separation between the film and the novel is the general theme of each. The novel’s theme revolves around the question of what it means to be human and how one should treat the other. In the end of the novel Robert Neville comes to the realization that he had been wrong the whole time and the undead that he had been killing had just as much right to life as he did (Matheson 153, 156.) However, the film version ends without Robert Neville ever coming to the realization that the zombies were intelligent and deserving of life. Neville sees the way that the zombies are able to set up traps for him, work together to try to capture or kill him, and he sees that they domesticated zombie hunting dogs, yet he never realizes that they are evolving into a new and legitimate society (I am Legend 1995.) After he sees one of the undead poke his head into the light to try to save his captured mate, Neville misinterprets the creature’s action. Neville says, “Social de-evolution appears complete. Typical human behavior is now entirely absent” (I am Legend 1995.) Neville ends up killing himself along with a handful of undead rather than come to grips with the idea that that the undead are the future of the human race. But just because Robert Neville is not able to see the truth does not mean that it is not in the film to be seen. The final words of the film are, “Dr. Robert Neville dedicated his life to the discovery of a cure and the restoration of humanity. On September 9th, 2012,… he discovered that cure. And at 8:52, he gave his life to defend it….This is his legend” (I am Legend 1995.) Therefore, the ending of the film version of I am Legend is essentially stating that killing people just because they are different or other is completely acceptable. In fact, the final scenes of the film are a celebration of the destruction of an entire new civilization.

The discourse between the novel and the film adaptation of I am Legend shows that the time has not been kind to main implications of the story. Casetti says, “A reappearance is a new discursive event that locates itself in a certain time and space in society, one that, at the same, caries within itself the memory of an earlier discursive event” (Casetti 82.)  And the filmmakers do make one more addition to the discursive event by releasing an alternate ending to the film that addresses the discordance at the end of the theatrical release. The alternate ending allows Neville to realize the error of his ways and release the captive female (I am Legend 1995.) The alternate allows the main intentions of the film adaptation to be something other than the justification of genocide.

Works Cited

Casetti, Francesco. “Adaptations and Mis-adaptations: Film, Literature, and Social Discourses.” A Companion to Literature and Film. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2004. Print.

I am Legend. Lawrence, F. Warner Bros. Pictures: Roadshow Entertainment, 2007. Film.

Matheson, Richard. I am legend. New York: ORB, 1995. Print.

Resurrecting Religious Debate

30 April 2014

Dickenson’s poems are characterized by their layering of meaning through her use of words with complementary and or competing meanings. Therefore, her poems can seldom be defined to mean one specific thing. Dickenson uses the word resurrection in her poems, “A Lady red—Amid the Hill,” “While it is alive,”  “Afraid! Of whom am I afraid?” and “It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone” (poems 74, 491, 608, and 876, respectively.) According to the Oxford English Dictionary, resurrection can have many different meanings. Mainly, resurrection refers to the resurrection of Christ or of the resurrection of Christ’s followers at the judgment. Resurrection can come as the reference to the return of someone or something that has been forgotten or dormant. Emily Dickenson uses the connotations and denotations of the word resurrection to create complex meditations into the understanding of the sometimes contradictory Christian World View.

In poems 74, “A Lady red—amid the Hill” and 608, “Afraid! Of whom am I afraid?” Dickenson uses the word resurrection to refer to Christ’s resurrection, the resurrection of the saints, the second coming of Christ,  and the idea of earthly renewal. In poem 74, the word resurrection performs double duty as a reference to both the new spring and the second coming of Christ. The images of spring are evidenced throughout the poem in the words lily, breeze, tree, orchard, buttercup, and bird (Dickenson 4-6, 11).  The red flower on top if the hill symbolizes the saving power of the blood of Christ, and the white flower symbolize purity (Dickenson 1, 2). The wind sweeps down from the hill bringing the connotations of saving blood and purity to give the hints of the coming of the spring (Dickenson 5-8). The lines “Prithee My pretty Houswives!/Who may expected be?” seem to point to these hints of coming spring as being a metaphor for the second coming of Christ (Dickenson 7-8). The lines “As if the Resurrection/Were nothing very strange!” reinforce the metaphor of spring renewal and make obvious the connection to Christ (Dickenson 15-16).

Poem 608 also has two meanings of the word resurrection, one of renewal and the other the resurrection of the saints. However, this poem relates resurrection to the morning sunrise as indicated in the lines, “Of Resurrection? Is the East/ Afaid to trust the Morn” (Dickenson 9-10). The lines, “In one or two existences—/As Deity decree—” show how God gets to choose whether or not the speaker is worthy of the resurrection (Dickenson 7-8). One existence refers to the mortal existence and the second existence refers to the existence after the resurrection that would only be available to the worthy. Therefore aside of the ideas of earthly renewal these two poems deal with the word resurrection in a religious fashion.

In poems 491, “While it is alive,” and 876, “It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone” rely more heavily on the nonreligious aspects of the word resurrection. Poem 491, “While it is alive” uses a religious tone and the word resurrection as a metaphor to describe love. The first half of the poem uses religious ideas such as being of one blood and of one sacrament as an abstract way to describe what it is like to be in love (Dickenson 4-5). In the second half of the poem, the word love is repeated three times as the first word of the lines (Dickenson 7-9). On the final repetition of the word love come the lines, “Love is the Fellow of the Resurrection/Scooping up the Dust and chanting Live!” the intentional use of the words fellow of the resurrection rather than the word God or Christ adds credence to the idea of this poem as a description of secular love by minimizing the religious connotations using the word fellow. Fellow is often used informally to mean a lover which helps the idea that the poem is primarily about love, but fellow can be used to mean boy or man. Therefore, the fellow of the resurrection bears a striking resemblance to the phrase resurrection man, and According to the Oxford English Dictionary a resurrection man digs up dead bodies and sells them. This connection with the unsavory profession of grave digging only further shows that this dissonance was intended to draw the reader’s attention away from the religious interpretation of the word resurrection in this poem. Although the religious imagery in this poem is very strong, it is only used as a way to describe the powerful feeling of being in love.

Poem 876, “It was a grave, yet bore no Stone” uses the word resurrection both as a reference to digging up an unmarked grave and as a way of wondering about how the person ended up dead and buried outside of a graveyard. The lines, “It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone/Enclose ‘twas not a Rail” show that the body was not in a grave yard (Dickenson 1-2). Stone refers to a grave marker, and rail refers to a fenced in graveyard. Therefore, the body had no grave marker and it was not within a graveyard. The last stanza begins with a line about resurrection, and the last two lines, “A Rose upon its Ridge to sow/Or take away a Briar,” refers to what is known as a resurrection flower or the Rose of Jericho. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a resurrection flower curls up into a ball and goes into a state of hibernation until it receives the water that it needs to bloom again. Sowing the rose or taking away its briar refers to the question of whether or not any information can be found out about the person in the unmarked grave. Therefore, poems 491 and 876 explore resurrection as a metaphor for love and the act of uncovering hidden or lost information.

Emily Dickenson complicated use of the word resurrection is as confusing as it is enlightening. Emily Dickenson uses religious ideas in her poetry in complex and varied ways. In effect, her religiously themed poems are guided debates on the implications of Christian belief.

Works Cited

Dickinson, Emily. “A Lady Red—amid the Hill.” Poemhunter.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

Dickinson, Emily. “Afraid! Of whom am I afraid?.” Poemhunter.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

Dickinson, Emily. “It was a Grave, yet bore no Stone.” Poemhunter.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

Dickinson, Emily. “While it is alive.” Poemhunter.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 May 2014.

Graham’s Monthly Synthesizing the 19th Century

8 April 2014

Volume 48, January, 1856, Number 1 of Graham’s Magazine, Is a compilation of entertainment, education, fashion crafts, and music for 19th century families. By today’s standards, this would be considered to be a rather boring and poorly made magazine. It is mostly just words on a page. And when there are pictures they are crudely done black and white engravings rather than actual photographs. The pages are not slick and glossy, and the words are blurry and often obscured by the inkblots that abound throughout the issue. However, for its day Graham’s Magazine was a class act putting out a top of the line product.

The bulk of the magazine is high quality literary fiction and poems. Interspersed in the text of the magazine are nonfiction articles that have been chosen for their ability to entertain as well as educate. These nonfiction articles include one literature review, two reviews of cultural sites, and one human interest article. Because of the high cost and difficulty associated with printing pictures, the illustrations were saved for the embellishment of the most prestigious articles and the fashion section in the back of the issue.

This issue of Graham’s Magazine is targeted to an audience of middle and upper class men and women. Each of the illustrations, informative articles, short stories, and poems are all designed with their own target audience in mind. This issue is an almost even mix articles that are targeted to pique the interest of women and ones that are targeted to pique the interest of men. For example, “The Pirate Hoard” by W. Gilmore Simms is the first three chapters of a serial tale of the last two survivors of Blackbeard’s crew. This is a swashbuckling tale of a search for buried treasure that would likely attract male readers and children alike (54.) In contrast, “Judging by Appearances” by W. W. P. is an essay designed to help women to estimate a man’s character by outwardly observable traits such as his handwriting, the hairstyle that he wears, and the way that he wears his cravat. Although it does not explicitly state why a woman might need to judge a man’s character, this article is likely to attract an upper class female reader who wants to be able to choose from suitors without arousing their suspicions (59.) But what is more interesting is how the issue breaks down in terms of social class and politics.

There are also informative articles that depict cultural and historic places both foreign and domestic. The informative articles would be of interest to the upper class and middle class alike only for different reasons. The upper class likely used the used the articles as traveler’s guides to give them hints and tips in their travels while the middle class would use these articles to learn about and experience places that they could never afford to visit. However, in the case of “Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Meccah” by Lieutenant Richard F. Burton of the Bombay Army, the article is a travelogue detailing his journeys within the holy lands of Islam that were off-limits to non-Muslims.

While on the surface this article seems like an innocent effort at educating the masses about the hidden places of the world the writer of this article and the editors of Graham’s Monthly have taken this time to express their political opinions about the followers of Islam. In the article itself, Lieutenant Burton takes every chance that he can get to the savage and animalistic behaviors of the people of this region. In one especially pointed instance Burton says, “[During the holy month of Ramadan] the men curse one another, and beat the women. The women slap and abuse the children, and these in their turn cruelly entreat and use harsh language to the dogs and cats” (48.) But the editors of Graham’s Monthly use a different tact to show their disdain of the Muslim people. The editors follow this article directly with the short poem, “The Red Flamingo” by R.H. Stoddard. “The Red Flamingo” reinforces Burton’s ideas of the Muslim lands as a backward and vulgar land with images of blood flowing over the desert sands (53.) Directly after the article about the animalistic Muslims, the editors printed a poem whose subject is the revenge on a group of Arabs for abduction of a woman. If this kind of intolerance was evidenced in a magazine today, there would be an outcry against the offending magazine and they would be forced to make a public apology.

Graham’s Monthly is a composite 19th century American culture as well as the culture of American literature up until this point. The article, “Pilgrimage to El Medinah and Meccah” draws influence from early slave and captivity narratives for its narrative structure.  “Judging from Appearances” relies heavily on the culture of sentimentality pioneered by writers such as Olaudah Equiano. And the magazine format draws influence from newspapermen like Benjamin Franklin and his printing press. Therefore, Graham’s Monthly for better and for worse is a reflection of the culture of America.

Puritan Culture: Burning Down the House

15 February 2014

Anne Bradstreet’s poem, “Here Follows Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House, July 10th, 1666,” uses an event from everyday life to exemplify the puritan understanding of the world. Her poem uses examples from everyday life to construct a deeply religious message in a story about the loss of property. Her ability to create strong religious messages within the context of an everyday situation seems to be deeply influenced by her puritan faith. Bradstreet’s poem brings light to the puritan worldview in three different ways; the poem imitates the consistency of puritan life through rhyme and meter, it directly addresses the puritan theme of submission to God’s will, and it gives an example of puritan typology; however, the most humanizing aspect of the poem is the speakers difficulty reconciling her sorrow with the will of God.

The first clue to the puritan influence in Bradstreet’s poem is hidden within the works structure. The puritans believed in predestination and the consistency of a world controlled by a supreme God; while these ideas are not directly addressed in the text, they are hinted at by the formal considerations of Bradstreet’s poem. The poem consists of rhymed couplets all with 8 syllables each. The consistency of the meter mirrors the puritan belief in a well ordered consistent world. The puritans believed that natural order of things that they saw proof of in their everyday lives was proof of the existence of a God. The rhymed couplets draw a parallel with the puritan belief in predestination. As the puritans believed that people’s fates were planed out before the creation of the world, the rhyme at the end of each line shows that each of the lines had been planned out before the poem had been written. While the symbolism of the rhyme and meter in Bradstreet’s poem could be easily ignored, it gains significance as one looks further into the theme of the overall work.

A major hallmark of puritan life was the letting go of one’s own desires, and the major theme of Bradstreet’s poem is the submission to God’s will. The theme of submission to God’s will shows up several times in the poem. Bradstreet writes, “And when I could no longer look,/I blest His name that gave and took” (Bradstreet 13-14.) In this line, the speaker is trying to accept the loss of all of her earthly possessions by giving up control of her life to God. Later, the speaker anguishes over the loss of her house only to reaffirm that earthly possessions are only vanity in the eyes of God (Bradstreet 21-36.) Finally, the speaker comes to the conclusion that her treasure lies in the afterlife (Bradstreet 52-54.) Again, these sections reaffirm the major theme of the poem.

The puritans believed that the scriptures were not only a guide to spiritual wellbeing, but also a book of personal revelation. They believed that every life event could be evidenced in the scriptures, and all one had to do was study the scriptures to know how to act in any situation. In Bradstreet’s poem, the speaker relates the burning of her possessions to the trials of Job (Bradstreet 14.) The process of interpreting one’s life through scripture is known as typology, and Bradstreet uses scripture in the poem to give spiritual meaning to the earthly occurrence of a burning house. While the whole poem is about submitting one’s life to the will of God, the characteristically puritan act of  reading one’s life in the light of scripture happens on line 14 when the speaker uses the words of Job to give herself solace in her time of sorrow.

Bradstreet’s use of form, theme, and procedures of puritan life in her poem allows anyone who reads her poetry to come to a greater understanding of the historical puritan ideals. But much of what makes this poem a unique and important document to understand what it must have been like to live as a puritan is the inclusion of the speaker’s doubt. Bradstreet’s poem focuses much of the narrative on the speaker’s difficulty in letting go of the dreams that she had associated with living within the house. As one might expect any puritan to do, the speaker blesses God for burning down her house (Anne Bradstreet 8-14.) However, the speaker does not seem fully convinced at first. Bradstreet writes, “And to my God my heart did cry/To strength me in my distress/And not to leave me succorless” (Bradstreet 8-10.) The speaker begs God not to leave her without comfort, yet a puritan is supposed to draw all of his or her comfort from the lord not one’s material possessions. The questioning of God’s plan in Bradstreet’s poem brings the puritan experience to life in a way that history books cannot.

Works Cited

Bradstreet, A. “Here Follows Some Verses upon the Burning of Our House, July 10th, 1666.” Ed. Baym, N. 2013. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York. Norton. 122-23.

King Lear: Shakespeare’s Daddy Issues

10 November 2013

Summary

William Shakespeare’s King Lear is a tragedy written in blank verse. However, rhymed couplets appear sparsely throughout the text. According to Stephen Greenblatt, the play has a double plot (Greenblatt 1251). One plot follows King Lear and his daughters. The other plot follows Gloucester and his two sons. Both plots deal with the transfer of power from one generation to the other, but Greenblatt says that the double plot is to show that the problem of transferring power does not come down to the lack of having a son as an heir (Greenblatt 1251).

The king sees that his rule is coming to a close, and he decides to give up his power to his daughters in order for him to enjoy the rest of his days in luxury. The king asks his daughters to prove who loves him most through flattering speech. The king says that the winner will receive the largest plot of land. Goneril and Regan try their best to persuade the king to believe that they love him most, but Cordelia tells the king that she loves him just as much as families are supposed to love one another. The king rejects Cordelia’s claim of filial love. He banishes her to France and disqualifies her from the competition for his lands (Shakespeare 1255-1257).

The king splits his kingdom between his two remaining daughters and proceeds to celebrate his retirement with a royal hunt (Shakespeare 1257, 1272). On this hunt, King Lear keeps a following of one hundred servants many of whom are knights. Goneril gives King Lear an ultimatum: either he dispenses of half of his men or he is no longer welcome in her house (Shakespeare 1272-1274). He is enraged by her demand that he makes a trek in the middle of the night to go live at his daughter Reagan’s house. Goneril fears that he may decide to take back his power, and she plots to have his entourage reduced. Goneril sends a messenger to deliver a letter to Regan before the king gets there. The letter warns Regan of the king’s coming and advises her that Goneril will arrive shortly after him (Shakespeare 1275).

When the king arrives, Regan will only allow him to come inside if he disbands 75 of his following. Offended, the king wants to return to live with Goneril because she had given him a better offer. But upon hearing the king’s change of mind, Goneril tells the king that she will no longer accept any of his servants (Shakespeare 1292). When the weather turns bad, the two sisters decide that the house is much too small and they do not allow the king entrance unless he comes alone, but the king will not disband his servants (Shakespeare 1293).

The king is guided to Cordelia’s camp by Kent. At Cordelia’s camp, the king is treated with herbs to combat his madness (Shakespeare 1316). The French forces led by Cordelia and English forces lead by Goneril and Regan meet and the French forces win but not without serious consequences. In the battles to regain Lear’s kingdom, all of his daughters were killed. When King Lear regains enough sanity to understand what has happened he dies of sorrow (Shakespeare 1339).

Commentary

Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the preceding entry in the Norton Anthology of English Literature, complements King Lear by setting up common themes that are explored differently in each play. As Twelfth Night demonstrates the positive results of a short period of overindulgence, King Lear demonstrates the destructive power that long term or unrestrained overindulgence can reap. The revelers of Twelfth Night only try to party away the restrictions of the holy days, but the king of King Lear wants to party away the restrictions of a long life as the ruler of a kingdom. Four of the same themes that are used in Twelfth Night play a role in King Lear as well. In King Lear, Shakespeare uses the themes of time, excess, folly, and energy to create a tragedy of great power.

The theme of time appears in the guise of advancing age. King Lear uses his advancing age as his reason behind abdicating the throne to his daughters. Goneril and Regan see the king’s dismissal of his favorite daughter, Cordelia as a result of his advancing age. Goneril says, “You see how full of change his age is. . . he has always loved our sister most; and what poor judgment he hath now cast her off appears too grossly” (Shakespeare 1262). Additionally, Goneril and Regan fear that the king’s old age could cause him to act against them in anger (Shakespeare 1262). However, Goneril and Regan misdiagnose the king’s true problem.

All of King Lear’s problems grow from his constant need for excess. His need for excessive flattery started the major complications of the play. When Cordelia said that she loved him according to her bond, the king’s need for excess was not sated. She further degraded the king’s quest for excessive flattery by claiming that a daughter only has so much love to give and when she takes a husband her love for the king will be reduced again by half (Shakespeare 1257). Cordelia claims that a daughter cannot truly love her father with every bit of love that she has. Cordelia’s claim not only told the king of the conditions of her love, but also reduced the claims of her sisters to obvious lies. Therefore, the king reacted in the only way he could with an excessive punishment. He awarded Cordelia with no lands and banished her to France (Shakespeare 1261). As evidenced by Cordelia’s banishment, King Lear’s obsession with excess causes him to descend into folly.

The theme of folly is probably the most fully developed theme in the entire play. The king’s every move is motivated by folly. The folly of banishing Cordelia leads Goneril and Regan to take steps to avoid being the next victims of the king’s folly. They give the king an ultimatum that he either reduce his following or be sent away (Shakespeare 1273-1274, 1292). But rather than except a less than kingly retinue, King Lear banishes himself to wander in the rain (Shakespeare 1293). As motivating as King Lear’s follies are, they are motivated by something deeper.

The theme of energy takes a weird and unhealthy turn in the story of King Lear. The themes of time, excess, and folly are all held together by the king’s energy. King Lear is constantly creating change. The contest of love between his daughters, the need to give away his power, the banishment of his favorite daughter, the constant entertaining, and his self-imposed banishment into the rainy night are all brought on by the king’s inability to keep things as they are. When the king goes to wander alone in the rain, he no longer has an outlet for his inescapable and self-destructive energy. Alone in the rain, the only outlet the king has for this energy is his own mind, and he drives himself insane (Shakespeare 1295). By the time that Kent and the fool arrive to help him out, the king is too far into his own mind to return to reality.

Time, excess, folly, and energy are four themes that not only define King Lear as a character, but also define King Lear the play. Every character may not have the richly interwoven tapestry of thematic motivations that King Lear does, but they all contribute the development of one theme or the other. On thematic development alone, King Lear is a fantastic piece of literature; the editors of the Norton Anthology of English Literature did a great job picking two of Shakespeare’s plays that work well together, and demonstrate Shakespeare’s ability to fully explore a theme.

Work Cited

Shakespeare, William. King Lear. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th. ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2012.1251-1339. Print.

Shakespeare, William. Twelfth Night. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. 9th. ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2012.1187-1250. Print.

Get Some Tale

22 October 2013

In The General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales, the father and son relationship of the squire and the knight can be interpreted as poking fun at the nobility. If one takes the description of the knight as the ideal example of nobility and the squire as the example of corruption, the description of a loving father and son outing takes the shape of social critique aimed at the nobility. Whether or not Chaucer intended this critique, the description of the squire in lines 79-100 of The General Prologue from The Canterbury Tales gives an example of how idealizing someone based solely on accident of noble birth can create a lazy and entitled individual.

The General Prologue from The Canterbury Tales is an estates satire. This genre is particular to medieval literature. Estates satires uncover and make fun of the vice and stupidity that was to be found in the three estates, the clergy, the nobility, and the peasants (Greenblatt 243). The prologue is written in the form of a poem in rhyming couplets. The General Prologue and the prologues for each individual story bring together unrelated tales in a single framing narrative. Without this frame story, the Canterbury Tales would be a curious mix of unrelated short stories. However, the use of this framing device allows The Canterbury Tales to speak to each other.

If one reduces the characters to examples of type, Chaucer’s juxtaposition of the knight and the squire creates an uneasy portrait of the typical noble of the fourteenth century. The Knight’s description is almost an idealized account of what a noble should be like. Chaucer describes the military deeds of the noble knight who fights for the honor of his king (Chaucer 47-66). During the fourteenth century there was not much more honorable for nobles than to garner the king’s favor and protect the peasants who serve them. He is further described as having a serviceable but not sporty horse and clothes stained from his coat of mail (Chaucer 74-76). Again Chaucer shows the noble as a servant to the people and not interested personal gain. The knight description exudes the confidence of a self-made man deserving of the place that he holds in society. However, the squire does hold the same set of values.

The squire’s military career is not a storied as the knight’s. The knight’s military history is given with examples how he excelled in each, but Chaucer does not do the same for the squire. Chaucer mentions a few expeditions that the squire participated in, but the skirmishes were not given more than just the merest mention. At fifteen years old, the knight was proving himself in tournaments to the death, but squire is already 20 years old and has done little more than a few cavalry expeditions that Chaucer does little more than mention (Chaucer 61-63, 85-87). This shows that while the nobles may participate in battles, they are not all the hardened warriors that the knight’s description leads us to believe. Both the knight and the squire have experience in the lists; however, the knight participated in battles to the death while the squire was only in competition for the favor of the lady fair (Chaucer 61-63, 87-89). Rather than fighting for honor, protection of the peasants, or the favor of the king, the typical noble uses his military training as a way to impress women (Chaucer 87). The squire’s focus on his appearance seems to corroborate this less than honorable military motivation. He kept his hair nice and neat, his clothes were clean and decorated, and his days were spent in vain pursuits like singing, whistling, and drawing (Chaucer 81, 88-95). Chaucer writes, “Wel coulde he sitte a hors, and faire ride. . .” (Chaucer 94). Chaucer’s lists the description of the squire’s beautiful horsemanship among the skills that do not apply to war. Therefore, one gets the impression that the squire’s picture perfect riding ability does not translate to the battlefield. Next, Chaucer writes, “So hote he loved by nightertale/ He slept namore than doth a nightingale” (Chaucer 98-99). Although this line may have meant something different in Chaucer’s day, the modern interpretation of the phrase, he loved hotly all night long, suggests that the squire spent his nights in intimate relations. Therefore, all of the squire’s pursuits–from dressing nicely and riding well to whistling and singing–are done in the pursuit of personal pleasure and not in the interest of god, king, and country. Reading the squire as a commentary on the nobles of the fourteenth century reveals them as petty and narcissistic; they are only interested in military service as a feather in their cap and not as a means to serve and protect society. The same change in tone that is evidenced between the description of the knight and the squire exists between The Knight’s Tale and The Miller’s Tale.

Like the relationship between the description of the Knight and the Squire, the Knight’s Tale and the Miller’s Tale also share the dynamic of being a veiled accusation of vice and corruption on the part of the nobles. The stories are placed next to each other in the order that best contrasts genre, style, tone, and values (Greenblatt 242). He goes on to say, “. . . The Knight’s courtly romance about the rivalry of two noble lovers for a lady is followed by the Miller’s fabliau of the seduction of an old carpenter’s young wife by a student” (Greenblatt 242). The squire and the student are both in a position of learning, they both live in the company of their instructors, and they both take advantage of the circumstances in which they live. The squire uses his status as nobility to help him attract the women with whom he hotly loves, and Nicholas used his status as student to make time with instructor’s wife. Even though the tale is presented as a story about peasants, the position of the tale following the knight’s courtly romance parallels the description of the squire following the description of the knight. This tale of love, lust and, ignored responsibilities further reinforces the idea of a corrupt noble class that was set up in the description of the squire. The positioning of the Miller’s Tale was initiated by the inebriated miller’s insistence on telling his tale directly after the knight spoke. The miller’s insistence on cutting in even though he was overstepping the bounds of class helps to create this idea that his tale had more importance than just a silly tale of love and lust. He told a ribald story about sex and corruption that mirrors the personality traits that were revealed about the squire in his earlier description. Through the passage of time, the juxtaposition of contradictory information, and the suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, the description of the squire in The General Prologue can be interpreted as a critique of the noble class of the fourteenth century.

Work Cited

Chaucer, Geoffrey. The General Prologue from The Canterbury Tales. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: Norton, 2012. Pages 243-263. Print.