A Look At Classical Literature English Literature Essay

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Classical literature is always a fascinating pastime for the discerning reader. As a reader goes through the works of different authors, it is another intriguing exercise to analyze the different aspects of the works, such as theme, character setting, conflicts, etc.: first individually, and then do a comparative study of these authors. I have selected three different authors for my critical analysis: the first is 'Metamorphosis' by Frank Kafka. The second one is Cathedral by Raymond Carver. The third work is a poem, 'My Papa's Waltz', written by Theodore Roethke.

'Metamorphosis', as the title suggests, is the story of a salesman, Gregor Samsa, finding himself changed into an insect! The story moves with the trials and tribulations experienced by Gregor, as an insect. The story ends rather tragically with the protagonist of the story, Gregor, slowly but surely finding his end. 'Cathedral', written by Raymond Carver, deals with another aspect of human traits. Written as a narration, the story revolves around the narrator's discomfort in the company of blind; his friend's wife expects a guest who happens to be blind. The narrator tells his forethoughts full of apprehensions and how he eventually receives the blind guest. The third literary work, 'My Papa's Waltz', written by Theodore Roethke, brings out another facet of the human behavior: it explains a kid's experience of watching his father dance! The common element among the three great pieces of literature is the theme, each being unique in its own way, and not following the beaten tradition of story or poem writing. It would be an interesting and engaging exercise to analyze the themes, character settings and the conflicts in each of these works, individually, and then in a collective comparative mode.

Analysis of Theme

The theme of 'The metamorphosis' is a focus on the psychoanalytic nature of the story; the narration of the story has a symbolic nature. Gregor Samsa is projected as a person who does not like his job; but he is under obligation to continue. His transformation into a monstrous insect can be construed as a kind of wish-fulfillment; this can even be extended as a metaphor for alienation from humanity. The projection as Gregor's wish-fulfillment emerges from the repeated mention of Gregor's resentment of having to support his family. On the other hand, Gregor desires to be nurtured by them! Thus, his transformation into an insect indicates that he is a parasite -as the general view of the public about insects.

The complete dependence of Gregor's family on him and his employer can be reflected as a similarity to the reality of Gregor's anatomical transformation into a parasite. Interpreted in another way, it might appear that Gregor is not the protagonist of the story but his family members are! This is because the story begins showing the abject dependency of the family on the earnings of Gregor and then moves on to tell how they reconcile themselves to the transformation and slowly get away from this dependence on him and start learning to be self-sufficient. Gregor's transformation can be considered as a metaphor, carried from a rare imagination to reality: Gregor finds himself trapped in a meaningless job and finds himself isolated from other human beings around him - he considers himself as an insect and others feel the same way. Ultimately, Gregor turns into an insect.

As compared to the psychoanalytical theme of 'The Metamorphosis', 'Cathedral' by Raymond Carver, also has a mental concept. The story, as told by a narrator, builds up with the pre-conceived notions about the blind and ends up showing how the narrator experiences a life-changing moment. This life-changing moment, which can be described as an epiphany, comes across in the narrator's effort to describe a cathedral to Robert, the blind man.

Initially, he is found fumbling for words; however, thanks to sustained encouragement from Robert, he gets going: he draws the cathedral with the help of Robert, guiding his hand with a pencil to draw the cathedral. As the incident occurs, there is a personal connection and passionate moment of communication for the narrator. This creates a great impact; suddenly, he is able to connect with Robert, whereby, he throws his old insecurities and actually interact with someone else. In the narrator's own words, "It was like nothing else in my life up to now" (Carver, 108). Quite fascinatingly, the reader observes that the boundaries the narrator has placed on his interaction and communication with others are eroded by Robert's never ending persistence in attempting to get to know him. Indirectly, this session finds the narrator confronting his personal insecurities and misguided preconceptions, not just about Robert and the blind, but also about his own ability to effectively interact with others.

As compared to Metamorphosis and Cathedral, the poem, My Papa's Waltz brings out another mental process - that of a young child watching his father dancing. However, the dance is not described as the joyous and graceful dance that one might think; the dance is projected through the eyes of the watcher, the dancer's son, who seems to be an obedient and dutiful participant for his father. The boy observes his father dance very clumsily; his father is drunk, and constantly makes the wrong dance movements make the boy 'tizzy'. The father's insistence that the son be a partner meets with a strong disapproval from the mother; she hates the drunken condition of her husband. The satirical element of the speaker, the boy, is somewhat critical of his father. He disapproves of the smell of whiskey, the roughness, and the reckless actions. The mother also joins the son in disapproval; however, the winning tone of the poem is a light and comical one. So, as in the case of Metamorphosis and Cathedral, the mental process of perception dominates as a central theme.

When we conduct a character study of these three works, it is interesting to the portrayal of the protagonists and the other characters in the story. The most common noteworthy feature in the three pieces is that the stories and the poem evolve principally around the main character; the other characters come into the story just to get the action going. Thus, we find Gregor Samsa is the principal character in Metamorphosis. The story unfolds around his perception: starting with his dislike for the job and the obligated compulsion, the mental agony of Gregor is described amazingly well and his longing for someone else to care for him is expressed clearly. Metaphorically, it is this agony and the longing which transform him, liberating him from his human binding on others. From his transformation to insect until his unfortunate end, Gregor watches two major things: firstly, the other members of the family start abandoning their dependence and slowly learn to be self-sufficient, secondly, there is a slow but sure change in the others' attitude, especially his mother and sister, since his transformation - initial sympathy turns into apathy.

As compared to Gregor of Metamorphosis, the protagonist of the story, Cathedral, the narrator comes across as a different individual: he is shown as possessing certain strong pre-conceived notions. He is a bit anxious about his own inability to make friends and enjoy their company. He feels extremely uneasy when he is almost forced to interact with the blind. Like Gregor, the narrator also undergoes a metamorphosis; however, the change in this case is positive: unlike Gregor, who gets tortured and meets a cruel end, the narrator emerges as a better person at the end of the encounter with the blind man, Robert. It is wonderful to read the feelings of the narrator during this counter. Encouraged by Robert, he comes out his shell of preconceived notions; he develops into an interactive person - he guides Robert to draw a cathedral with a pencil. In his own words, he experiences something "like nothing else Top of Form

in my life up to now".

If Gregor in Metamorphosis and the narrator in Cathedral brought out two facets of human traits, the boy in 'My papa's Waltz' brings out a different attribute of human character. The boy reveals a true sense of obligation: he wants to repay his father's affection by being dutiful. The various things he notes, namely, the smell of whisky, the wrong steps, exhalations, etc, definitely disturb him. Inwardly, he fully disapproves of whatever is going on. However, he stands and watches the dance irrespective of these elements. Combined with other negative aspects mentioned, his father spins him around for several turns; this sends the boy into a tizzy. But true to the love that he has for his father, he endures all the discomforts. Thus, he shows a man within the boy having forbearance and fortitude.

Another element in the literature analysis is the conflicts within the characters or with the other characters in the literary pieces. Considering this aspect in Metamorphosis, Cathedral, and My Papa's Waltz, the reader can detect the mental struggle within the characters of the three protagonists. When we consider Gregor, he is a typical case for psychoanalysis. He suffers a constant mental struggle: he dislikes his job but he has to continue with it. The others members of the family look up to him and depend on him; however, he longs to be cared for by the others.

In fact, this type of alienation can be inferred to be the metaphorical explanation for his transformation into a huge insect. The allegory behind his conflict is the most commonly felt instinct of trying to get away from it all. When we consider the narrator of the Cathedral, he is also in a constantly agitated mood. He could not find the reason why he does not enjoy the company of friends just like the others around him. He finds himself ill at ease in others' company, especially, the blind. However, circumstances force him to face the adversities he was so very conscious of. It is a good climax as we read the last part where he comes out triumphant, overcoming all his perceived weaknesses. In the case of the boy who dances with his father in 'My papa's Waltz', there is a conflict faced by him. Firstly, his father is drunk. Secondly, the father dances clumsily while in this condition stepping and mis-stepping all over the place in the house, including the kitchen. Thirdly, the father manages to hold the boy and spins him around. Certainly, all these conditions make the boy nervous. But the boy feels that he has to reciprocate all the attention given by his father by enduring all this. The boy shows high degree of fortitude to go along with his father in his dance.

Every literary work has its unique setting, wherein a particular literary theme and characters are meticulously defined, explained and developed. Every piece of literature is a byproduct of an encounter between the author's mind and the setting in which the author lives. A critical historical appraisal of Metamorphosis of Franz Kafka reveals that the author's very life experience prompted him to develop such a story. Human degradation and cruelty underlines the bottom line of the story.

The horrible vision of the world with its discrimination, wherein the alienated and isolated individuals seek to transcend themselves and their living conditions so as to escape the present reality of life, forms the setting of Metamorphosis. The author develops the feeling of alienation and isolation from the differences between the German and Czech Communities of his own society. His father wanted him to be accepted into the German elite community, but he was not a German. For the sake of assumed social acceptance, he was forced to join a German school. For the sake of social acceptance and for social status, people wish to project themselves, and assume a character that does not fit their own human nature.

In the given story, the protagonist of the story assumes a character that leads him in life. He alienates himself from the given family so as to escape from the social responsibility. However, human projection, human desire to escape from the social responsibility, and the projected world of early 20th century, with its ill effects becomes the setting for Metamorphosis.

"Departure" is the setting of the story "Cathedral". The author's seperation from his long time editor Gordon Lish is what inspired him write the story. This departure is being interpreted as a departure in search of love, peace, and joy, and this to him is redemption. The author tries to explain one human fact that to experience change, there should be a departure and this departure would imply a breaking down and re-healing process or a turning around experience.

The death of the author's father when he was still a boy becomes the setting for the poem " My Papa's Waltz". A father-son relationship has been strongly deployed by the author. For the author the relationship between a father and son is quite complex as it involves feelings of intimacy. Feeling of intimacy implies complicated values and virtues. A father may have to give certain of his convictions and conveniences for the sake of the son, and son in reciprocity has to correspond to his father's sacrifice with an attachment to him, and to respond to his father positively.

The author did not want to be separated from his father by death, all thought, it was beyond his control to either preserve his father's life or protect his father from endangers. The author's experience of the psychological feeling of depression by the death of his father form the bottom line of the poemTop of Form

Every literature manifests a significant time in history. The interpretation of the time varies with the experience of varied authors. The commonality in all these three authors discussed above is that all three of them touched upon innate human feelings. All the three works were representations of their own human experience. The themes and characters, although projected images, communicate a strong sense of human reality with its implications. Every character in the stories is designed so as to enhance the theme of the stories. They were not only designed but also given blood and flesh to personify the human anguish. They drive home what most of the written works could not. Thus, literature always remains on the top of the pedestal in presenting human feelings and anguish.