Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mad Girl's Love Song

Mad Girl's Love Song

By Sylvia Plath

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

            The poem, Mad Girl’s Love Song by Sylvia Plath, is a villanelle which is characterized by 19 lines and 5 tercets followed by a quatrain. There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes with the first and third line of the first tercet alternately repeating until the last stanza. The last stanza includes both repeated lines. In this piece, the two repeating lines are, “(I think I made you up inside my head.” And “I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead”. These two repeating lines play to the title, Mad Girl’s Love Song, by mimicking the words uttered by a “mad girl” in her brief moments of sanity before she dives back into her own insanity. There’s almost a schizophrenic kind of quality about the phrase “I think I made you up inside my head”. By adding the two extra words “I think”, she changes the meaning drastically. Without it, “I made you up inside my head” sounds confident, sure, and sane. By adding, “ I think”, Plath gives us the impression that the speaker is unsure of the divide between reality and her imagination.
            Plath also makes several allusions within the context of this poem. Nearly the whole fourth stanza is a religious allusion. She mentions God, Hell’s fire, Seraphim, and Satan. In the first line of the fourth stanza Plath states, “God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade;” God represents the structure, stability, and presence of religion in her life. So when she tells us that “God topples from the sky”, she implies that her belie in religion has faded along with “hell’s fires”. Seraphim refer to the celestial beings that appear in the Hebrew Bible. Though the word “seraph” can translate into “the burning ones” these beings with six wings and four heads that surround God are what our society knows as angels. Satan’s men, probably refers to the damned. In this stanza, the speaker expresses that her faith in religion is lost, and that she does not believe in heaven or hell.
            In the last stanza she writes, “I should have loved a thunderbird instead;” A thunderbird is a creature that appears in Native American mythology. This bird is capable of creating storms and thunderous noise with the flapping of its wings, and he is known to be intelligent, powerful, and wrathful. It is peculiar that she chooses this particular bird, especially since it is wrathful. Plath conveys the speaker’s need for loyalty and security by alluding to the thunderbird. The speaker would be willing face the wrath of the thunderbird and the storms it creates as long as it returns back to her. The second line of the last stanza, “At least when spring comes they rear back again” further emphasizes the speaker’s desire for consistency with her lover.

            Since this poem appears in Plath’s semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, this too, may be slightly autobiographical. The publication date of this poem is in 1953, and since her marriage to Ted Hughes was in 1956, it is quite possible that this poem is about him. The lines, “I dreamt you bewitched me into bed/ And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane” refers to a lover of some kind. And Plath herself described Hughes as “ "a singer, story-teller, lion and world-wanderer"”, so since she writes that the lover “sung me moon-struck”, the poem very well might be referring to her soon to be husband, Ted Hughes. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Winesburg, Ohio : "Adventure"

In “Adventure”, Sherwood Anderson introduces the character of Alice Hindman. Like many of the other characters, such as Wing Biddlebaum, her dreams are taken away at a young age through a series of unfortunate events. In Alice Hindman’s case, she has an affair with an older (married) man named Ned Curie who worked at the Winesburg Eagle and “falls in love”. He promises to come back for her one day as he moves to Chicago, but he forgets about her. Alice, however, cannot forget about Ned and she wastes her life away, waiting for him to come back. Sherwood Anderson makes a point to call her “the girl who had been loved” even though she was the mistress to Ned Curie and not the wife. It’s curious that she receives that title/name even though in reality, Alice had never been truly loved. Everything about their relationship was built on impulsiveness. As their relationship is described, Anderson chooses to give the impression that their affection for one another was all hype. Ned Curie was driven by the excitement of it all: “Alice was then a very pretty girl and Ned Currie took her into his arms and kissed her. He became excited and said things he did not intend to say…” (page 103-104) Alice on the other hand, was in love with the idea of love: “… and Alice, betrayed by her desire to have something beautiful come into her rather narrow life, also grew excited. She also talked. The outer crust of her life, all of her natural diffidence and reserve, was torn away and se gave herself over to the emotions of love.” (page 104) It is curious that even after Ned leaves for Chicago, she continues to be in love with Ned Currie until the age of 27, when she realizes that he isn’t going to come back for her. She clings to the idea and dream that he will come back and create a perfect life for the two of them. Like the other grotesques in this book, Alice Hindman is lonely and alone. To fill the gaps created by the loneliness and Ned’s betrayal, she chooses to cling to her truth. Her “truth” is the fantasy that Ned still loves her and that he will come back for her. And like most of the characters in this book, Alice does nothing to try and change her life. Instead, she waits for an outside force (Ned Currie) to come and save her. It is this idleness and refusal to take up her own destiny that makes her a grotesque. There is also something significant about the use of motifs such as darkness, nakedness, and the window. At the end, Alice realizes that “Many people must live and die alone, even in Winesburg.” When she comes to this realization she had just come back from running outside naked after looking out the window for some time. Her lack of clothing symbolizes her rebirth, while her decision to run outside after looking out the window shows that she is done with waiting for Ned to come back. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Death As A Narrator: The Book Thief

The most interesting thing about Markus Zusak’s novel, The Book Thief, is probably the way the extraordinary story is being told. Unlike most books who has an omnipresent voice that we know as the narrator who is never identified or the protagonist of the novel tell the story, Markus Zusak personified a state of being known as Death and created a character that is sympathetic, slightly cynical, yet humorous, and relatable. The character of death is not cold and malicious, instead the author surprises the reader by creating a character that is warm and sympathetic to the characters he follows. Like the dead, he is a victim to circumstance and he frequently questions his purpose and the intentions of his creator, much like the humans do. He is as much an observer as the reader, but because he is Death and life and death are the two common denominators for humans, he becomes the glue to the entire novel. He is able to spy on the lives of characters that have never interacted with Liesle, and he is able to express their last dying thoughts. Since The Book Thief does take place in Nazi Germany and death was rampant during that time with the concentration camps, battle fields, disease, and starvation, having a narrator that is Death makes the cold cruelty an underscore to the setting which the reader cannot forget. Even in parts of the novel where the worries of the war and conflict are forgotten and Liesle lives the life of a seemingly ordinary child, Death is present. He becomes both an insightful narrator and a constant foreshadowing device.  
            Because it is written in media res, meaning that Death already knows the ending to Liesle’s story and he constantly gives us sneak peaks to the ending, the narrator often gives away blunt truths or details to the end of the story. Though he is kind to the dying and even more sympathetic to those that have been left behind, he cuts right to the cold, hard truth. It is this no nonsense attitude that shapes his character, and gives the novel a new dimension. From the very first page, he has been extremely honest and even blunt to the reader. He delivers uncomfortable and sometimes upsetting news in a straightforward way that sometimes forces the reader to contemplate universal ideas such as death. In the second paragraph of the novel, he states, “Here is a small fact. You are going to die.” And it is his honesty and bluntness in handling this tale that makes every moment touching and genuine because with such a narrator, nothing that occurs within the novel feels forced or faked. While the narrator has never interacted with Liesle face-to-face, through a series of many unfortunate events, he has gotten a glimpse of her time and time again. Liesle manages to escape death many times, much like her father, and somehow these “almost” interactions make the ending where Liesle is able to embrace Death without any grudges or hard feelings believable. Circumstance brings the two characters together, just as it brought Max and Liesle together. And while Death is a personified figure, he is as lost as any of the other characters are. He interacts directly with a reader, just as a human might, and leaves us with a lasting thought with his final comment: “A last note from your narrator. I am haunted by humans.” 

Sunday, September 15, 2013

“Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13, 1798” Within the Pages of Frankenstein

Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, was a writer of the Romanticism Period, and her work reflects the many characteristics of her era. The Romanticism Period that dated from 1800 to 1850, was in part brought to its peak by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Their dual publication of Lyrical Ballads, a collection of their poetry, marked the beginning of the period. As the period emerged, the pattern of intense love of nature, focus on the supernatural, feelings dictating logic, and interest in the mysterious became common place. Mary Shelley’s work, Frankenstein, which was published during the Romanticism Period’s peak, was no exception. Though the work can be characterized under the sub-genre of Gothic Literature as well, her story fits right in with her era. Her protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, frequently compares his ambitious work of science to the supernatural, specifically alluding to the Bible, Paradise Lost, and God.
On page 155 of Frankenstein, Mary Shelley directly quotes lines 77 to 81 of Tintern Abbey,
“The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion: the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colours and their forms, were then to me
An appetite: a feeling and a love,”
This particular excerpt of poetry from William Wordsworth’s “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting the Banks of the Wye During a Tour, July 13th 1798” is quoted in Frankenstein after Clerval (Victor’s closest friend) is killed by Victor’s own monster, and Victor reflects on his life, on the beautiful scenery around him, and on Clerval’s memory. Mary Shelley uses this particular work of poetry to enhance the essence of Clerval, who was tranquil, light hearted, kind, and poetic. Victor Frankenstein describes Henry Clerval this way:
“He was a being formed in the ‘very poetry of nature.’ His wild and enthusiastic imagination was chastened by the sensibility of his heart. His soul overflowed with ardent affections, and his friendship was of that devoted and wondrous nature that the worldy-minded teach us to look for only in the imagination. But even human sympathies were not sufficient to satisfy his eager mind. The scenery of external nature, which others regard only with admiration, he loved with ardour”
Henry Clerval was a true romantic and Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” is able to represent this character well. The speaker of the poem is much like Clerval; he becomes one with nature over the course of the poem and talks about his memory living on within himself even as he leaves the beautiful scenery of Tintern Abbey. At the same time, this poem also captures Victor’s feelings towards Henry Clerval. What he felt towards his friend was “a feeling and a love”. Victor, being isolated throughout much of the novel, does not interact with too many people. He cares about very little besides his scientific work, Elizabeth, and Henry Clerval. This makes losing his best friend very hard. Mary Shelley often shows nature and Victor’s ambition in a flattering, idealistic, romantic light, and often compares the two. It makes sense that she compares Clerval, who can be considered “a part of Victor Frankenstein” to the nature around him which is brought up so often throughout the novel.