Some Exemplary Prose

When Nature and Society Collide: An Analysis of Daisy Miller's Death
By James Patrick-Blase Etzel
[This is the first paragraph:]

      In Henry James' "Daisy Miller: A Study," the last image of Daisy that the reader sees is that of a "raw protuberance among the April daisies" that is located "in an angle of the wall of imperial Rome, beneath the cypresses and thick spring flowers" (p. 151). This seemingly unhappy ending forces the reader to question why it is that Daisy Miller dies. The short answer to this question is that "the pretty American flirt" dies simply because she is foolish and enters a known nest of Roman-fever-bearing mosquitoes at night (p. 102). Yet, if one reads James' story very closely, this short and simple answer proves to be utterly insufficient because it does nothing to address the one aspect of Daisy's being that the narrator and Winterbourne constantly reiterate during the work: her inherent sense of naturalness. This idea of being natural or, as Winterbourne calls it, "uncultivated," is at the heart of "Daisy Miller" (p. 133). In fact, Daisy's naturalness is constantly juxtaposed with the laws of society and, at one point, is even called her "only fault" (p. 133). Thus, the real reason that Daisy dies is that her human nature is so irrevocably at odds with the laws of society that it does not enable her to survive.




Reconciling Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with its Ending
By Brett Jerasa
[This is the first paragraph:]

      After reading the last ten chapters of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, many readers are left feeling like Henry Fleming, running into a field of retreating Union soliders crying "Why--why?" (Crane, 66). Ernest Hemingway believed readers should skip the end of Mark Twain's classic. The final ten chapters seem so different from the previous thirty-one. Why did Twain seemingly redefine the characters of Huck and Jim? Why did Twain allow Tom Sawyer to control the end of Huck's book? More simply, why? Throughout most of the novel Huck struggles with his appropriate relationship with Jim, who slowly recognizes and asserts his freedom. However, at the end of the novel morality and freedom issues are apparently set aside in order for Tom Sawyer to have another childish adventure and to minimize Jim's equality. While at first it appears Twain is putting aside the major themes of the novel in order to satisfy his segregationist 1880's audience, he actually uses the ending episode to continue the extended conflict Huck has with society. Though the ending does question Huck's moral development, it does not forget the major theme of Huckleberry Finn: the hypocrisy of "sivilized" society.




The Symbolism of the Nursery in Gilman's "Yellow Wallpaper"
By Theresa Bui
[This is the third paragraph:]

      Along with the nursery's function as a room where one is nursed back to health and its implications about the nursing of the protagonist, this definition [a room for small children] casts the narrator into the role of the helpless child. John, the narrator's husband, infantilizes her; she explains that "he is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction" (p. 2). He creates a specific hourly schedule for her, thus taking all care and decision-making out of her hands. The narrator even recounts an incident where he carries her upstairs, tucks her into bed, and "sat by [her] and read to [her] till it tired [her] head" (p. 6), much as a parent would do for a young child. To cement the theory of the narrator's infantilization, John chastises her for getting up in the middle of the night, saying "What is it, little girl? . . . Don't go walking about like that -- you'll get a cold" (p. 7). In this scene, John reduces his adult wife to a mere child in the terms and attitude with which he addresses her.




Edna's Battle with Childhood in Chopin's Awakening
By Amanda Hill
[This is the third paragraphss:]

      And after her marriage, Edna finds herself still falling in love, and this causes her great anguish. She falls for Robert (p. 49), sometimes she finds herself caring for her husband, and then for a while associates with Arobin. She realizes before drowning herself that her love for one man isn't permanent: "To-day is is Arobin; tomorrow it will be some one else" (p. 123). But she also yearns for Robert--and no one else--despite the fact that she knows that he will one day no longer be of any importance to her, just as the men she was infatuated with in her youth are no longer central to her existence (p. 123). Each person in her life is intensely important to her at some time or another, but never constantly (with the possible exception of Robert, whom she is obsessed with as a child is obsessed with a toy she cannot have). Her children fade in and out of her mind; she alternately misses them (p. 78), enjoys their company (p. 101), and begrudges their existence because they are hindrances to her childhood dreams of happiness and is relieved to find them absent (p. 20). "She was fond of the children in an uneven, impulsive way. She would sometimes gather them passionately to her heart; she would sometimes forget them" (p. 19). She also sporadically cares for Leonce Pontellier. Before he left for New York she grew "melting and affectionate" (p. 77) and treated him as her "dear good friend" (p. 77) whom she was sure to miss terribly once gone -- though she spent extremely little time missing him. She lavishes attention on her father during his stay, but promptly forgets him after a fight just before he goes home (p. 76). Edna Pontellier behaves toward the people in her life as a little girl treats a collection of baby dolls; she alternates between her favorites, she forgets the ones she doesn't like, she lavishes her attention at irregular intervals, and when she can't play with the one she wants, she ignores all the rest, playing by herself and concentrating on obtaining the beloved one.




Seduction by the Sea: Enabling and Excusing Edna Pontellier
By Kirsten Northern
[This is the sixth paragraph:]

      The intensity of Edna and Robert's relationship builds as they continue to spend more time together, often by the shore. One morning, Edna eagerly goes to find Robert, hoping he would accompany her to mass across the bay. In doing so, she leaves behind her husband and children, which are a responsibility that bears down on her at times. "Sailing across the bay to the Cheniere Caminada, Edna felt as if she were being borne away from some anchorage which had held her fast" (p. 37); this escape she and Robert make together, which lasts long into the evening, is much like Edna's first triumph swimming. Again she is out on the water, free of the "anchorage" or responsibility which she feels upon the land. Moreover, here she is free with Robert and the grand feeling of her independence. This could be the happiest time for Edna. While on the Cheniere, Edna is exhausted, almost as if she is overcome by the freedom. She takes a long nap, awaking rested, as if she had slept off the fatigue left over from her previously carried burden. The burden which she loses in her sleep seems to be the final layer which Edna peels off, thus uncovering and completely understanding how much she wants to be with RObert and how much she enjoys the feeling she gets with him. When the two must finally part on Grand Isle, Robert leaves Edna, going "away in the direction of the beach" (p. 43). He goes in the direction of their freedom and happiness, but she is left back with her family. At this moment the landscape of the beach is clearly where Edna wishes to be.




Hope in the Struggle against Nature
By Charles E. Smith
[These are the fourth and fifth paragraphs:]

      The men in the story are the captain, the correspondent, the cook and the oiler. Of the four, we only come to know the name of one. The oiler is named Billie. Out of the four, Crane chooses to humanize this character a bit more than the rest. We see the human side of the oiler when he gets relieved of the duty of rowing the boat. "Then he [the oiler] touched a man in the bottom of the boat, and called his name. 'Will you spell me for a little while?' he said meekly. 'Sure, Billie,' said the correspondent, awaking and dragging himself into a sitting position" (pp. 291-92). In this passage we see the oiler being named. He is given emotion in a context that allows us to know that he is suffering for his comrades and regrets that he is unable to do any more for them. We get another glimpse of this when the correspondent splashes him. The correspondent "must have grown stupid at his work, for suddenly there was a growling a water" that comes into the boat (p. 292). The cook isn't awakened, but the oiler has his rest disturbed. "'Oh, I'm awfully sorry, Billie,' said the correspondent, contritely" (p. 292). The correspondent, who is still nameless, again names the oiler. Crane is weaving throughout this short story a thread of specific humanity in the person of the oiler.

      We see this humanity in other aspects of him. Excluding the captain, the oiler seems to be the most likely to survive. He seems to be the most seaworthy and knowledgeable of the three seamen. Crane specifically tells us, "The oiler was a wily surfman. 'Boys,' he said swiftly, 'she won't live three minutes more, and we're too far out to swim. Shall I take her to sea again, Captain?'" (p. 286). We find out that the oiler is the one to take the oars and row them as close to shore as they can get. He again offers productive advice to the Captain about how to back the boat in as they try to get close to shore (p. 298). Finally, "the oiler was ahead in the race" to shore (p. 298). Throughout the entire body of the story Crane has allowed us to get close to the oiler. We are drawn close to his character by the very fact that he is named. We see the oiler as a talented individual who cares for his fellow man. We are quite secure in his knowledge of the sea and his ability to work the dinghy. He seems to be the one character that, should we not get the Captain, we would want to go to sea with. And yet is is the one person out of the four who dies.

BACK TO SYLLABUS

From Spring 2002 class:

Delusions of Grandeur: Theater in Sister Carrie
By Emily Swafford
[These are the first two paragraphs:]

      In Sister Carrie the theater directly parallels the commercialism and materialism that defines life in the city. The people of the metropolis aspire to happiness through material success defined by the possession of factory-made products displayed behind plate-glass windows of department stores. The theater mimics both the production line and the display cases: Carrie is transformed and displayed on stage in the same way that the material goods she has always longed for are produced and marketed; the audience, especially Hurstwood and Drouet, respond to her the same way they would to a desirable piece of capital. At the same time, the theater's display of material wealth is mirrored by the audience's own behavior in their show of conspicuous consumption. The illusion of the theater and the illusion of material success mesh together in the lives of the characters in Sister Carrie, proving the futility of both.

      What appeals to Carrie and what she believes in so completely is the illusion of happiness the theater presents; material comfort grandly on display convinces her that to live as the actresses appear to do must be happiness itself. In one of her first visits to the theater with Drouet, she is impressed by the "spectacle" and "color and grace" of it and has "vain imaginings about place and power, about far-off lands and magnificent people" (74). The play she attends in New York with Mrs. Vance is populated by "charmingly overdressed ladies and gentlemen [who] suffer the pangs of love and jealousy amid gilded surroundings" (287). She becomes "lost in the world [the stage] represented, and wished that she might never return" (288). She believes whole-heartedly in "the greatness of the names upon the bill-boards, the marvel of the long notices in the papers, the beauty of the dresses upon the stage, the atmosphere of carriages, flowers, refinement" just as children believe in fairy tales: indeed, to her it seems that she had "stumble[d] upon a secret passage . . . a chamber of diamonds and delight" (161). The play she watches with Mrs. Vance is suitably called The Gold Mine; in it, Carrie believes, she can find the key to material success and thus to happiness.




The Meaning of Sanity in "The Yellow Wallpaper"
By Elizabeth Wilmer
[These are three paragraphs from essay's first half:]

      At the beginning of the story, when the narrator is placed into confinement in order to cure her from her mental difficulties, Gilman portrays her as quiet and submissive in her relationship with John, her husband. She has great faith in his wisdom and experience as a physician, to the point that she allows him to control her. For example, she says, "He is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction" (p. 668). The narrator interprets John's control over her actions as love; to her it is appropriate and acceptable that he controls her behavior.

      In addition to controlling her behavior, John also succeeds in controlling her mind and thoughts. He constantly interrupts her when she is speaking and tells her that her ideas about life or her condition are wrong. An excellent example of this occurs in her first journal entry when she says,

I sometimes fancy that in my condition if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus--but John says the very worst thing I can do is think about my condition, and I confess it always makes me feel bad. (p. 667)

John's influence cuts the narrator off in mid-thought; she cannot complete what she thinks even to herself. This happens throughout the story. Because of this constant rejection of her thoughts, she has accepted that she is not as intelligent and does not have good ideas. She says, "It is so hard to talk with John about my case, because he is so wise, and because he loves me so" (p. 672). This passage implies that she cannot talk to John (who is wise) about her feelings because she has accepted them as unwise and perhaps irrational.

      John even succeeds in stifling the narrator's creative voice and her need to express her emotions and thoughts. While writing "The Yellow Wallpaper," which is a series of journal entries, she says, "There comes John, and I must put this away--he hates to have me write a word" (p. 668). Through this writing process the narrator can explore her feelings in order to understand herself. John prevents this by discouraging her from writing. In fact, he encourages her to do nothing but sit in her room. In a later passage, the narrator writes, "I don't know why I should write this. I don't want to. I don't feel able. And I know John would think it absurd. But I must say what I feel and think in some way--it is such a relief!" (p. 672. Here the narrator is beginning to realize the importance of her journal entries; she is also beginning to stand up to her husband. Although this is very subtle, one can still sense the difference between these two passages. In the first, which occurs earlier in the story, she quickly hides her journal without a second thought. Here, she offers a slight protest to her husband's insistence that she not write. This is a very small difference, but incredibly important to the story as a whole.




Does Emily Dickinson Believe in God?
By Michael O'Connor
[These are the first two paragraphs:]

      "The Brain is just the weight of God" (poem 632)--Emily Dickinson here equates the existence of God with the existence of our minds, suggesting that our ideas of God are limited by the range of our minds and that God himself may be nothing more than a mental image that we have concocted. In her poems, she places more importance on the inner life and the power we all have to shape the world around us with our minds. For example, she says, "The Brain--is wider than the sky . . . The Brain is deeper than the sea" (poem 632). The external natural world is not as various or important as the life that resides in all of us--nature itself is important only because of how it affects our inner life. Nature does really exist "out there" even though Dickinson uses it only to help understand her internal feelings. But what does she think, based on evidence from her poems, about God, faith, spirituality, religion, or Heaven? Does God really exist "out there" in nature, or is He just a projection of our own minds, limited by our interpretations of Him and the meanings we place on Him? Is it really necessary to have faith or is spirituality a mere illusion as well? I want to argue that Dickinson does in fact consider spirituality and the afterlife to be projections of our own imagination and feelings. Despite several instances where she appears to argue in favor of the existence of a Christian God, there exists more evidence to the contrary, implying that Dickinson believes that "'Faith' is a fine invention" (poem 185). She prefers instead to trust empirical and scientific evidence in this case, ironically saying, "But Microscopes are prudent/In an Emergency" (185).

      Her poems (I am only considering those poems that appear in our anthology--I haven't read them all!) are saturated with Christian imagery, regardless of whether they are explicitly about religion or not. She expresses her longing to connect with nature through religious imagery: "Oh Sacrament of summer days,/Oh Last Communion in the Haze" (130). Religious metaphors and descriptions are prevalent elsewhere: "Rowing in Eden" (249), "like the Heft/of Cathedral Tunes" (258), "Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats--/And Saints--" (214), and "meek members of the Resurrection" (216). For all of those symbols one is tempted to assume that Dickinson is herself religious and that she sees the world through a Christian framework of meaning. Of course, the mere act of employing religious metaphors does not imply that she is herself religious. They may be nothing more than that--mere metaphors that are not meant to be taken literally as representing actual objects existing in nature.




How Time Distortion in "J. Alfred Prufrock" Results in Impotence
By Sara Pirtle
[This is the essay's second paragraph:]

      The setting Prufrock constructs clearly illustrates the importance of time throughout the poem, for his focus revolves singularly around late evening, regardless of whether he speaks of the past, present or future. This singular emphasis indicates his consciousness is trapped in the "dying fall" of the day and time (line 52). In fact, Prufrock is in the "evening" of his life, which can be seen as a crisis in itself, for his past was fruitless and his future is grim. Perhaps this is why he cannot escape evening in his thoughts and the images of the poem. His invitation to "you" to go in the second line of the poem indicates that the "evening is spread out against the sky" (2). Immediately, his description of the evening turns grim, for he describes it as unmoving "like a patient etherized upon a table" (3), symbolic of Prufrock's failure to move into action. As the fog enters the scene, coming into the "corners of the evening" (17), he explains that it is a "soft October night" (21), the perfect month for a metaphor about a man facing his impotence as he ages in the "evening" of his life. He even goes so far as to acknowledge he is living in the "butt-ends of my days" (60). The problem with this metaphor is that Prufrock cannot distinguish between the present "evening" and the past, when he has "gone out at dusk through narrow streets" (70), and "after the sunsets" (101), and even the arms of the women he desires must be illuminated "by lamplight" (64). Prufrock's mind is stuck in one time, and he cannot see his life as a natural progression because he has subjected all time to his distorted "evening" view, in which his past has produced no hope for his future. Being stuck in this one time leaves him impotent because he can gain nothing from his past and has no future.




Huck Dominated by Pap: Parental Influence in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
By Sammy Chowdhurry
[This is the essay's fourth paragraph:]

      Pap's influence on Huck also manifests itself when Huck adopts Pap's philosophies on stealing. As Huck first begins his raft trip down the river with Jim, he notes that they stopped at nights along the shore to buy ten or fifteen cents worth of meal or bacon. Huck also admits to stealing a chicken that "warn't roosting comfortable." He reasons his thefts by quoting his father's advice to him. Huck says,

Pap always said, take a chicken when you get a chance, because if you don't want him yourself you can easy find somebody that does, and a good deed ain't ever forgot. I never see pap when he didn't want the chicken himself, but that is what he used to say, anyway. (55-6)

Huck ignores the fact that Pap never actually gave food away but still takes the suggestion as a useful way to live while travelling down the river. After seeing Pap's disgusting behavior and violent temper, Huck still uses Pap's advice. He manages to maintain some form of respect for Pap by following Pap's philosophy, unable to escape from the ideas by which he was raised.




"The Open Boat": Development of Theme through Characterization
By Bryee Biery
[This is the essay's second paragraph:]

      Crane establishes the fact that circumstances are more important in dictating events than humans are from the very beginning of "The Open Boat." The story begins by describing the world of the characters rather than establishing who the people in that world are. The very first lines are, "None of them knew the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced level, and were fastened upon the waves that swept toward them" (859). We are given their response to the impending waves before being told who the people having the response are, and the narrator continues to provide such details of their circumstances for several pages. We are told things like "these waves were of the hue of slate, save for the tops, which were of foaming white" and how the "brown mats of sea-weed that appeared from time to time were like islands, bits of earth" (861). But the men watching these slate covered waves and seaweed are only referred to by their former occupations. While Crane describes the characteristics of the ocean and their circumstances for pages, we are left with faceless and nameless characters. The circumstances are what is given more description because they are what determine the story-- the characters are merely objects that the circumstances work on.




It's All In Your Mind
By Lisa Jensen
[This is the essay's first paragraph:]

      "The windows are barred for little children" (668), the narrator informs us in the beginning of "The Yellow Wall-Paper." We soon see that the bars are also for her. It is a macabre twist that the nursery, a happy place where children usually play, becomes a prison for a grown woman. Constantly restrained, and even told what to think by her overbearing caretakers, the narrator eventually realizes that the only things that are really hers are the unshared thoughts in her head. As her husband's logic wears her down and renders her impotent, she begins to project her own desires for action onto the wallpaper. Finally, unable to reconcile John's extreme rationality with her own confused feelings, the narrator identifies more and more with her projected self, until she finally retreats into it completely. Since John has left no room for her as an adult in his hyper-logical reality, it is only in madness that she can find freedom from his construction of her identity as a child.

[And this is the essay's fifth paragraph:]

      The narrator has so thoroughly internalized John's status as the authority figure that she strains to bring her thoughts into line with what she believes he would say. From the beginning of the story, the narrator's statements are full of "buts" and equivocations. She gives her opinion on a matter, but then she immediately interrupts herself, thereby undermining the validity of what she has just asserted. In one such instance, she blurts: "I sometimes think that if I had less opposition and more society and stimulus--," but then she cuts herself off, as John would, by saying, "but John says the very worst thing I can do is to think about my condition" (667). She then proceeds to reconcile the two conflicting opinions by concluding: "I confess [thinking about my condition] always makes me feel bad" (667). She hopes that she can somehow bend her feelings so that they can coexist with what John has said. In moments when she does not explicitly state, "Johns says--," and has made an assertion contrary to what she knows he would think, there the recurrent "but" begins the next sentence. She says that writing her thoughts and feelings down might relieve her suffering tremendously, and then she promptly reverses her position: "But I find I get pretty tired when I try" (669). She remarks, "I wish I could get well faster" and follows by saying, "but I must not think about that," and proceeds to blame such thoughts on the "vicious influence" of the wallpaper (669). The inner battle for dominance-- her ego versus John's--becomes too much for her. By shifting the blame for her rebellious thoughts onto the wallpaper, she can externalize the conflict.


BACK TO SYLLABUS

From Spring 2000 class:

BRIAN BRICKMAN:
      Context is extremely important in understanding a work of literature. An author's writings are heavily influenced by his culture and environment. The era in which Crane wrote the novel was one of industrialization. Innovations such as Henry Ford's assembly line assigned one menial, repetitive task to laborers which tended to diminish their sense of worth. Life shifted from the romantic agrarian frontier to the less idealistic environment of the city. This move, which strips men of their individuality, is exactly the way in which the novel begins: Henry Fleming, a farm boy by birth, leaves his agrarian roots for the vastness of the Union Army.
      Crane generates a large metaphor that compares the army and the act of battle to a machine. "The battle was like the grinding of an immense and terrible machine to him" (p. 811). He further makes use of this machine to perform a function: "His education had been that success for that mighty blue machine was certain; that it would make victories as a contrivance turned out buttons" (p. 822). In the previous passage, it is clear how Crane uses this selective language to suggest that the soldiers of the "blue machine" are merely workers in a factory.
      Eventually, the oppressiveness of the mechanical atmosphere wears down the soldiers. "The torn bodies expressed the awful machinery in which the men had been entangled" (p. 812). This entanglement slowly blurs the line between men and the machines they operate and soon pervades their very being. Henry's thought process transforms from something humanistic to something operated by gears. Crane characterizes his thinking as containing "machines of reflection" while "his mind took a mechanical but firm impression" (pp. 861, 845). Henry loses his individuality as he begins to conceive himself as nothing more than a part of the whole:

He had done a good part in saving himself, who was a little piece of the army. He had considered the time, he said, to be one in which the duty of every little piece was to rescue itself if possible. Later the officers could fit the little pieces back together again, and make a battle front. (p. 808)
Indeed, Henry Fleming is truly a cog in the machine, stripped of his individuality.


ZE-EV EIGER:
      Dickinson's starting point [in "After great pain"] is the sensation of great pain, a heightened awareness of one's consciousness or existence. Whereas the movement away from pain occurs four stanzas into "I felt a Funeral," Dickinson begins the process with the second half of the first line: "After great pain, a formal feeling comes." The "formal feeling" the speaker refers to is the trance-state, and the individual subject to it is apparently powerless to stop it. The "Nerves," responsible for transmitting sensations to the brain, "sit ceremonious like Tombs," patiently awaiting their death and the "formal" funeral ceremony. The word "Tombs" in the simile symbolizes the deaths that have already occurred and calls to mind a graveyard. Dickinson returns, in the last two lines of the stanza, to the issue of the duration of pain, the equivocal passage of time. Despair will stiffen, or begin to numb, the individual's "Heart" until one begins to question the extent and duration of one's suffering, whether one has endured the pain since "Yesterday, or Centuries before." But the movement towards psychic death already starts before one can prevent it; therefore duration is of no consequence. Psychic pain lies outside time, hence it is limitless.


KEITH FIORE:
      In The Awakening Edna Pontellier undergoes a realization. Edna discovers herself as a unique entity and begins to assert autonomy in her life. As Edna seeks to break from the constraints of a restrictive society, a change in her apparel is noticeable; as Edna's behavior and feelings become more revolutionary, the clothing she wears becomes less confining. Mrs. Pontellier begins to care less about how other people see her and she concerns herself more with her own self-perception; in doing so, she deviates from the dress code that other women abide by. Throughout the novel, the removal of Edna's clothing reflects her increasing sense of freedom.
      Early in The Awakening, Edna enters clad in typical Victorian attire: "She wore a cool muslin that morning -- white, . . . also a white linen collar, and the big straw hat . . . that waved a little was heavy, and clung close to her head" (p. 694). Chopin's account of Edna's outfit describes uncomfortable and constricting articles of clothing: the collar represents an instrument of restraint; the big, floppy straw hat which "clung close" creates a feeling of confinement; and the emphasis on the color "white" alludes to the purity society expects of females. Chopin's use of the word "heavy" to describe Edna's hat implies that Edna's wardrobe is uncomfortable and a burden to wear. While her society accepts these styles as norms, Edna begins to contest them.


MARGARET MARION GIBSON:
      In the controversy that has encompassed Adventures of Huckleberry Finn's history, the novel has been criticized, censored, and banned for its literary representations of Black Americans. While it is true that Jim is often depicted in the comic light of the black-faced minstrels that were popular entertainment in the United States during the nineteenth century, Twain also presents the reader with a series of glimpses that break through the superficial "nigger" and show us the man within. Due to the subtlety of Twain's attack against racism many readers misinterpret his work as prejudiced. They fail to recognize that the comic slave portrayed in Jim's character serves to present the common beliefs about African Americans in the 1870s, while at the same time showing the reader, through Jim's actions, that there is a kind, shrewd, thoughtful, and self-sacrificing human being behind the minstrel mask.
      In the nineteenth century, slaves were often portrayed as superstitious. Twain's use of superstition in regard to Jim has evoked abundant criticism due to the fact that readers misinterpret it to be a negative stereotype against African Americans. However, Twain's intent is just the opposite. He gives Jim many of the characteristics that the reader of the time expects to find, but then through Jim's actions Twain tries to undermine this common stereotype. One incident of this behavior comes about as a consequence of one of Tom Sawyer's jokes. When Jim falls asleep under a tree, Tom hangs Jim's hat on a branch. Subsequently Jim creates an intricate tale about having been abducted by witches. This tale becomes increasingly exaggerated until Huck informs the reader that "niggers would come from all around there and give Jim anything they had . . . Jim was most ruined for a slave" (p. 270). While this incident is most certainly amusing, Jim has clearly utilized, through his own intelligence, the custom of Negro superstition. Jim is able to turn a boy's prank to his own advantage. He not only gains material possessions and notoriety, but through his own talents as a storyteller he lessens his usefulness as a slave, thus gaining an aspect of freedom.
      Jim continues to take advantage of others' beliefs and superstitions throughout the novel. For example, when Huck is anxious about the return of Pap, he goes to Jim to have his fortune told. "Jim had a hair-ball as big as your fist, which had been took out of the fourth stomach of an ox, and he used to do magic with it. He said there was a spirit inside it and it knowed everything" (p. 277). Jim's fortune-telling technique could easily be interpreted as an example of Negro feeble-mindedness as personified by the black-faced minstrels, but if one looks closer at what is going on it can be seen that once again Jim turns the situation to his own advantage. But pretending that the hair-ball will not speak to Huck until it is given money, Jim shows his ability to create a profitable endeavor and to understand market bartering. Whether or not he actually believes in the power of the hair-ball, Jim has devised a scheme that preys on the beliefs and gullibility of others. Jim also shows us his practical ability when he explains how to make the counterfeit coin usable in society. By showing the reader Jim's ability to take advantage of the superstitions of others throughout the novel Twain actually presents a slave with the characteristic of shrewdness and the ability of forethought -- attributes which were rarely associated with African Americans in the 1800's.


MOLLIE MAHAN:
      Mademoiselle Reisz plays a small but crucial role in The Awakening. We first become acquainted with her about a quarter of the way through the story and the summer, and she appears sporadically in scenes thereafter. Yet despite her late entrance and relatively few lines, Mlle Reisz is essential to the story. She is more explicitly an extension of Edna than a character unto herself, and she represents Edna's thoughts, feelings, and desired way of life. Mlle Reisz is portrayed as distant, remote, disagreeable, strongly self-assertive, lacking fashion sense, and not afraid to trample on the rights of others. These accurately describe the inclinations lurking inside Edna, which expand and escalate in Edna as time goes on, fueled by the company of the older woman. Mlle Reisz is in fact a separate character in this story, but it would be more accurate to view her as a part of Edna.


TIANA ROSEN:
      The first "clash of realities" the protagonist [of "The Yellow Wallpaper"] encounters is the house itself. John takes his wife to the country so that she may benefit from the open air. "He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get" (p. 672). Although his wife's description of the place seems cheerful, her word choice portrays the "open countryside" in an ironic light:

The most beautiful place! It is quite alone, standing well back from the road, quite three miles from the village. It makes me think of English places that you read about, for there are hedges and walls and gates that lock, and lots of separate little houses for gardeners and people. (p. 671; italics added)
Ironically, these italicized words not only describe this "quaint" house, but also depict a prison. From the outset of the tale the protagonist plays with the contrasting ideas of openness and isolation. She places great emphasis upon containment. The house stands in isolation from the rest of the village and the entire grounds are divided into separate areas that can be locked and set off from each other.
      Even the garden is full of "container imagery." "There is a delicious garden! I never saw such a garden -- large and shady, full of box-bordered paths, and lined with grape-covered arbors with seats under them" (p. 671). In this place of repose nature itself is boxed, bordered, covered, and lined; her inspiration is also subject to man's rule. Gilman's protagonist needs to get in touch with her true self to save herself from mental ruin. John admits this himself, although he completely misinterprets the materials his wife needs to regain her composure. "He says no one but myself can help me out of it, that I must use my will and self-control and not let my silly fancies run away with me" (p. 676). John believes a tight rein over the self will bring back her health. As a result, he brings her to a place that symbolizes her "rest-cure" treatment. His "prescription" is for her to sit under the shelter of an arbor and walk along the lined paths of an enclosed garden. Ironically, he does not expose her to the open country, but places her in a box within a box.


JAMES A. STEWART:

You don't know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
      Having just finished the novel, I return to these opening remarks made by Huckleberry Finn. What I find striking about this statement is that in Huckleberry Finn, the character I find most compelling is not Huck, or Jim, but Tom Sawyer. While Tom only appears in thirteen of the novel's forty-three chapters, he remains a presence that haunts the entire span of the story. But why? Why does Tom return with such brazen force during the famous "evasion" episode of the final ten chapters? The answer, I believe, lies in Tom's relationship to adventure. Tom Sawyer is able to usurp Huck's novel because Tom as an active relationship with adventure. Adventure in Huckleberry Finn is everywhere and always associated with Tom Sawyer, not Huck Finn. Here in the opening sentence, Tom's adventurous spirit is invoked. Huck seems almost to be asking that his novel be blessed by the same playful spirit that is found in Tom's novel. Tom's presence follows Huck and Jim on their journey down the Mississippi.

BACK TO SYLLABUS