english literature

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A noiseless patient spider

Group A

     In the time period between 1860 and 1880, war was commonplace and it hit home for most Americans; Walt Whitman was no exception. His brother being wounded contributed to his extended stay in Washington as a nurse. This socio-cultural turmoil is reflected frequently in Whitman's poetry. For example, in “A Noiseless Patient Spider”, Whitman expresses feelings of isolation and loneliness writing, “…on a little promontory it stood isolated, / Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding…” This excerpt clearly conveys a sense of aloneness and longing for companionship, much like Whitman probably experienced in the time period in which he lived. While the cultural upheavals of pandemonium, pride, and war swallowed most of the Americas, Whitman was caught in his own war, on the inside. Whitman longed for connectivity and wholeness in the world. Whitman's writing also expressed his inner desire to reach out to the world and find a connection, evident in line four of “A Noiseless Patient Spider” which reads, “It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself…”. This line is significant to the socio-cultural state of the late-nineteenth century society because the spider, and vicariously Whitman, is attempting to reach out to the world for companionship but receiving no response, which represents the apathy of nineteenth-century people. It was more convenient to just blindly participate in a death-plagued war than to progress socially and spiritually. This is where the conflict between culture and nature begins. Nature is the interaction between Whitman and the universe, which is apparently void at this point. Culture is the cities and the masses of people as in “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” which reads in the third line, “Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!” Whitman is looking down at these people, this mass of people, and realizes he has the answers to fix the war society is struggling with; It is peace and harmony in the world through the interconnectivity of the universe. Whitman is stuck, reaching out at the world, and instead he receives the cold shoulder from the stubborn world. This is why it is so generally accepted that he was a “genius” (10) that was ahead of his time.

     Emily Dickinson seemed to be quite an introvert, and quite a loner, yet found such great talent and ease in expressing the feelings and emotions that were prominent in her life. In “Success is counted sweetest”, Dickinson expresses feelings of jealousy and sadness that accompany being some sort of a loser. The vivid imagery she conveys through the dying soldier “whose forbidden ear” hears the “distant strains of triumph” is an awesome expression of the anguish and sorrow that is necessary to know the sweetness of victory and success that Emily apparently desires in life. In “The Soul selects her own Society”, Dickinson's use of concise speech seems to highlight the abrupt shutting of “the Door” by the soul. Dickinson personifies the soul as sitting on a throne above Emperors and “Chariots”. She believes the soul is the true king of the land and it should be worshiped as the divine medium. This poem connects back to “Success is counted sweetest” because after the soul makes its selection, all others are closed out, and denied the taste of victory and success. In “After great pain, a formal feeling comes” Dickinson portrays a death as something that slows down time and numbs a person spiritually. “First-Chill-then Stupor-then the letting go-“; the poem ends with several dashes depicting this time-altering state of shock that pain and death cause in the heart of those who experience it. Finally, in “I heard a Fly buzz-when I died”, Dickinson writes, “…Signed away / what portion of me be / Assignable-and then it was / There-interposed a Fly…” This excerpt expresses Dickinson's frustration over the pettiness of people coming to claim their stake in someone's life and keepsakes when they die, and if death is not unfortunate enough, a fly buzzes in front of the narrator's eyes so that he/she cannot even experience the moment of death peacefully. This ironic ending to the life of this individual symbolizes Dickinson's frustration with life in general.

Group B

     Twains preoccupation with hypocrisy and morality come to a pinnacle in “The Man That Corrupted Hadlyburg”. After Burgess saves Richards by concealing Richards' letter during the town meeting, Richards knows it is because he once helped Burgess in the past and now he has been returned the favor. However, this also means that Richards is now a liar and a corrupt man just like the other eighteen couples. Although Richards is generally moral, he finds it more convenient to just sit and bask in the glory of the town when they ordain Richards and his wife as the last moral couple in Hadlyburg. Inside, though, Richards knows he is just as corrupt as the others and eventually comes out with it on his deathbed. Burgess sees that Richards wants to speak and asks for “privacy”, yet Richards yells, “No!” “…I want witnesses. I want you all to hear my confession, so that I may die a man, and not a dog.” Burgess hesitantly allows this and when Richards tells of the favors exchanged between he and Burgess, Burgess tries to rebuke, but to no avail and the townspeople know that the last hope of morality Hadleyburg had is now gone. Hadleyburg's last moral ounce had diminished to sin and corruption all because of temptation and greed.

     Greed and hypocrisy appear frequently in “The Man That Corrupted Hadlyburg”. One example is on page 352, where “so on, and so on, name after name [was read], and everybody had an increasingly and gloriously good time except the wretched Nineteen”. This excerpts conveys the sense of corruption present in Hadlyburg and verifies the extent of the greed and hypocrisy the nineteen couples possessed. Each one of them tries to basically steal the bag of “gold” by writing the fake quotation of what the supposed man had supposedly said to them one night. By highlighting this lie, the person who created the false prank brought out the true nature of the hypocrisy present in Hadlyburg. In “Adventure of Huckleberry Finn” Twain writes about several hypocritical and greedy instances. One example is on page 242 when the mob of people chase Sherburn to his roof and Sherburn calls them “cowards” and “half-men” for not being able to think for themselves and acting as a mob. This represents the hypocrisy people possess and how they will not be confident or convicted enough to pursue a belief on their own, but under the comfort and security of a crowd they will try to shoot down a lone man. Another example of hypocrisy and greed is on page 283 which reads “Do you reckon that nigger would blow on us…That old fool sold him…” Huck finds, here, that Jim has been sold by one of the two delinquents he is currently travelling with. The fact that the Duke and the Dauphin would sell off Huck's friend on a whim conveys the immense greed present in the novel. Although Jim was a good person, even though he was a runaway slave, it was just ludicrous to sell him for forty dollars and highlighted the hypocrisy of these two losers Huck was hanging with. Finally, on page 281 Huck writes a letter to Miss Watson telling her of Jim's location so that she is not helpless because of his sin of helping him run away. Just as he feels “good and all washed clean of sin for the first time”, Huck decides to rip the letter up and try to free Jim. This is a perfect example of hypocrisy in “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. Huck is struggling between his cultured lack of respect for slaves (blacks) and his natural compassion to other human beings that he feels with Jim. In this way, Huck is a hypocrite.

Group C

     Sarah Orne Jewett is definitely a local colorist in the sense that “A White Heron” and the narrator represent the natural, untainted world and the purity and beauty of nature. However, the realism present in the story is also significant because she uses a game-hunter to represent the outside world coming in to harm or, in this case, corrupt the natural forest. On page 533, Jewett writes, “The young man stood his gun beside the door, and dropped a lumpy game-bag beside it…” This excerpt seems to foreshadow the impending death of the white heron and, symbolically, nature in general. By mentioning the lumpy game-bag, the inference can be made that the trophy hunter has already killed a creature, as the corpse is making the bag appear to be lumpy. The fact that the hunter is killing for prestige and face-value represents the materialistic values and lack of morality of the outside world. The gun represents death and the realism of death and outside world influence on the pure, unadulterated natural world. Jewett's use of the themes of death, nature, and materialism in this short story are key to the understanding of Jewett's literature.


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