Examining The Philosophy Of Modern Writers English Literature Essay

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Modernist writers were 'making it new' through "science, philosophy and language with particular vividness and relish" (Bradshaw et al, 2003, pp.1-2). Through the mechanisms of dealing with the ugly, the taboo, with what was hidden and out of sight modernist writers were making it new. Heart of Darkness, The Return of a Soldier and 'Indissoluble Matrimony' are great examples of both West and Conrad making it new. West and Conrad were 'making it new' through these constant shifts and the sense of uncertainty of knowing and not knowing, and what we are trying to see but unable to due to this unreliable narrator. This brought about a sense of ambiguity for the reader, nothing is certain but one is constantly searching for this hidden meaning and truth. The writings of both West and Conrad help give us an "understanding of the cross-fertilization of ideas in this period" (Bradshaw et al, 2003, p.3) which was at the heart of modernist writers. The aspects of these novels and the short story I am going to discuss are narrative identity, the effect of social and political society which led to various mental illnesses and the portrayal of women in modernist fiction.

Both West and Conrad are 'making it new' through Marlow and Jenny whom are unreliable narrators. This form of narration leaves the reader uncertain of what is true and what is perceived to be true by the narrator. This issue of uncertainty is at the core of modernist writers 'making it new'. The reader "experiences the gap between Marlow's immediate visual impression of events and his interpretative understanding of them" (Devlin, 1957, p.19). From the beginning of Heart of Darkness we are immediately dislocated, we are unable to see and caught in the "haze that rested on the low shores" (Conrad, 2008, p.103), our vision is blurred from the start and like Marlow the reader too feels left in the "dark" (Conrad, 2008, p.103). As the narrator continues the characters too become unclear. The emphasis of seeing and what's trying to be understood and told by this unreliable narrator can be seen through the motif of the fog. Here the reader like Marlow feels dislocated and fears what is about to happen. There is a delayed decoding which gives us the immediate impression that we don't always understand what we first see. The ship is under attack but Marlow perceives these "arrows" (Conrad, 2008, p.149) as sticks flying around and he doesn't realise what is actually happening. Through the descriptive writing we can almost visually see that the ship is under attack but because of Marlow's uncertainty we too are left unsure. Similarly Jenny's narration leaves the reader uncertain and it is only through her flashbacks that the gradual truth of what is going on is revealed.

The "light window" (West, 1980, p.187) through which Kitty and Jenny are imprisoned is the window in which these women try get a glimpse of what is happening. Jenny describes Chris before he went to war "he was so happy here" (West, 1980, p.19) but it's not until the very end that Jenny certainties' are crushed and shattered and she wonders "why he wanted to forget this life" (West, 1980, p.165) and instead "turn to Margaret with his vast trustful gesture of this loss of memory" (West, 1980, p.182). [1] Jenny lets us know what she is presenting to us is what she "think(s)... is the truth" (West, 1980 p.70) but might not actually be. Through West choosing Jenny as the unreliable narrator this may be her way of showing Jenny as the spinster who is dislocated from the family and who can only spy "from this I spied on him" (West, 1980, p.18), she is marginalised, an outsider looking in. Indissoluble Matrimony is written from the third person narrator and George similar to Jenny and Marlow portrays qualities of the unreliable narrator. We only ever see the other characters descriptions through George "she had black blood in her" (West, 1914, p.1542), she was a "slut" (West, 1914, p.1542). These characterisations of Evadne by George can be perceived as jealousy. He is not successful like Evadne but instead a "hollow man" similar to Krutz. Evadne independence and public speaking frustrates George because he wishes to have control over her "Evadne, you shan't speak! If you do I swear to God above I'll turn you out into the streets" (West, 1914, p.1542), however George knows he lacks the will power and strength to do so "he licked his lips in fear and cowered for a moment" (West, 1914, p.1546). George's narration makes us fear, console and pity Evadne, he is unreliable as we Evadne is constantly seen through George and never gets her opinion heard. Through West and Conrad's writing we can almost feel present with these narrators and at times feel both consolidation and fear for the characters.

One of the major taboo subjects brought about from the war and which West brought to light is the issue of the 'shell shock' soldier. For West "the soldier brings home a revelation about the war and the effects of war on the domestic scene" (Bonikowski, 2005, p.515). West was engaging with issues that hadn't been dealt with and we can see a similar mental illness in 'Indissoluble Matrimony'. Here we get an insight into George's visions, his hallucinating and nightmares of Evadne can be seen as signs of a mental illness. These psychological issues were unspoken and unheard of until modernist writers made such issues prevalent. George begins "to fear marriage as he feared death" (West, 1914, p.1558), one can perceive his thoughts at times as insanity "he perceived with an insane certainty that she was going to meet some unknown lover" (West, 1914, p.1558). Once again George's narration is unreliable as Evadne was never going to meet some unknown lover but he convinces himself of this. The realisation that there is no adultery and therefore no divorce or escape from this marriage leaves George to wanting to kill Evadne. George wanting to kill Evadne can be perceived as a more emotional psychological problem, similar to shell shock, but for George it's the masculine qualities which his wife portrays that brings about this insanity, and not the trauma of war which is witnessed in The Return of a Soldier.

The phenomenon of 'shell shock' utterly changed the understanding of mental illness. Chris the soldier brings "strangeness...into the home" (West, 1980, p.54) on his return. Just like Chris experiences this trauma from the frontline it too is experienced from the home front. On Chris's return he has forgotten who Kitty is, this leaves her emotionally withdrawn "like a broken doll" (West, 1980, p.125). The absence of this soldier at the beginning as both Kitty and Jenny are "wishing for a return of a soldier" (West, 1980, p.13) shows complete irony towards the end where Chris's traumatic returning leaves him feeling more absent then before. Chris is "like a blind man waiting for his darkness to lift" (West, 1980, p.125). The "house is different" (West, 1980, p.54) for Chris it has been massaged into something different to which he feels he doesn't quite fit anymore. The power of the written has brought this mental illness to light. For The Return of a Soldier it makes us feel and see the implications of 'shell shock' as a whole, for those at the frontline and those who desperately wait at home for their return, only to realize they "did not matter" (West, 1980 p.151).

Although Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness pre war there is elements of Krutz physical deterioration that can be seen as him portraying signs of a mental illness. His last words "The horror! The horror!" (Conrad, 2008, p.178) can be seen as Krutz talking about the horrors of his life. The extent of Krutz mental illness can be seen as "he is crawling on all fours" (Conrad, 2008, p.172) through the grass, he is not strong enough to walk and doesn't realise the "danger in its right proportion" (Conrad, 2008, p.173). Krutz is not mentally stable and his mental deterioration in turn makes him suffer physically, he is slowing dying. In writing about such issues West was "breaking unwritten codes that required a man to be self-reliant, aggressive and unemotional" (Humphries, 2010, p.531). In the end these victims are forced "to suffer in isolation and silence" (Humphries, 2010 p.532) like George who cannot escape and Chris who has to return to the front line alone, however, some end up dead like Krutz.

Modernism brought about new possibilities for women by breaking the conventions associated with the traditional woman; however the limits to which this is achieved can be critiqued. West presents Evadne as a strong, independent woman, a public speaker. Evadne is described as a warrior. West touches on making it new through modernist writing by defeminising Evadne:

"there entered into her the primitive woman who is the curse of all women: a creature of the most utter femaleness...that was her virtue...she would have killed him at once, had his moment not come a second before hers"

(West, 1914, p.1547)

Evadne feels she is "meant to fight" (West, 1914, p.1547) otherwise fall prey to George and display the inner weakness of been defeated. Evadne however is not as strong and independent as one perceives, in the end she retreats and backs down from her male superior. This can be interpreted as Evadne been "afraid of man" (West, 1914, p.1547). West is making it new by presenting an independent, strong woman however, in the end Evadne will remain domesticated and do what is expected of her by completing simple female chores, Evadnes' "thrifty habit of turning off the gas" (West, 1914, p.1553). West gives an insight into Evadne who on one hand breaks free from these traditional roles but who in the end will remain domesticated for the sake of her husband. In the end we see that it is George and not Evadne that dominates the marriage as George is not only narrator to whom tells the story but also the creature that will stop Evadne from losing all touch with her feminine roles. Although West is writing in the modernist era The Return of a soldier like 'Indissoluble Matrimony' shows West displaying qualities of the traditional female. [2] Both Jenny and Margaret are imprisoned in this big house; they are defined by their upper class status. [3] It is this upper class that leaves George resenting Kitty, she is the "idealized woman who is an object of worship because of the (male) economic success that she represents" (Mackay, 2003, p.133). Kitty is the product of capitalism she is like "a girl on a magazine cover" (West, p.11) and in the end "beautiful women of her type lose" (West, 1980, p.154) just like Kitty loses Chris. Both Jenny and Margaret are contained and their imprisonment can be witnessed through their constant spying and trying to see what is happening. They wait anxiously for the return of Chris only to find Jenny as

"a disregarded playmate and Kitty not all save as a stranger but who had somehow become a decorative presence in his home and the orderer of his meals, he let us know completely where we were"

(West, 1980, p.133)

West defines women's roles in these three lines. Jenny is a playmate isolated from society which is gradually realised through the revelations of the novel. Kitty is only a decorative presence something to be admired, looked at but not someone to be intimate with. Kitty is above all the orderer of Chris's meals and nothing else to him. [4] Chris is the dominant male he lets them know it's his home. [5] Through these women Chris is cured but only to complete the male role required of him and thus go back to war. Similarly in Herat of Darkness women are excluded from empire like Jenny and Margaret are excluded by Chris. Women "appear to function primarily as ancillary details to Marlow's narration about Krutz and his adventure" (Gabrielle, 2002, p.261). Women here are described as been "out of truth with reality" (Conrad, 2008, p.113) but it's this exclusion from society which disables them from seeing what is reality. There exclusion is due to

"the principal women of the text are always positioned in transitional spaces in either the colony or the metropole, while they are decidedly static and unable to wander between cultural, ideological, and national boundaries, as do Marlow and Krutz"

(Gabrielle, 2002, p.260)

Jenny and Margaret are like the women in Heart of Darkness, they are stuck between the boundaries of the big house. In the end Marlow decides to uphold the truth from the Intended "I could not tell her. It would have been too dark-too dark altogether" (Conrad, 2008, p.186). The Intended is like Kitty and Jenny a broken doll and unable to carry on. Marlow's resistance of the truth can be seen as mans control over woman. By telling the Intended this lie he is undermining women in society and saying they should be kept distant from the truth as they are too weak. If women were to have control Marlow believes the world "would go to pieces before the first sunset" (Conrad, 2008, p.184). None of the women in either of the novels or the short are "capable of leaving the territory that defines them" (Gabrielle, 2002, p.263) and this is due to the male dominant society that surrounds them.

Through both these novels and the short story West and Conrad have presented the alienated individual who is desperately trying to see the truth in this fragmented society. Modernist writers have had a huge impact in literature, they leave the reader with a "resulting image that is very much mixed- positive and negative, comic and tragic, real and sham" (Peters, 2001, p.1055). This is due to the power of the written which enables the reader to hear, to feel and above all, bring us on this journey with them to see.