Thursday, April 22, 2010

Anti-Semitism in The House of Mirth

I wrote my paper on anti-Semitism in The House of Mirth. Through my research, I descovered that anti-Semitism was very common among authors in Edith Wharton’s same social class. Henry James, for example, expresses anti-Semitical views in several of his novels as well as through letters to Edith wharton. F. Scott Fitzgerald describes a Jewish character in The Great Gatsby to have physical qualities and characteristics that are common stereotypes for the Jewish race. Edith Wharton wrote “it’s enough to make this reader happy to have met your perfect Jew” when she read Fitzgerald’s book showing that she, herself, shares these anti-Semitical views (Goldman, 25). I wrote about the influences behind Edith wharton’s character, Rosedale, including the writers listed above. She was raised in a time where anit-Semitism was very common among people in her social circle. This is largly because of the number of Jewish immigrants that made New York their home in th elate 19th century. Fear began to arise that the Jewish race was takingover the nation. Henry James called it the “Hebrew conquest of New York” and many saw the large number of Jews who chose to become landlords as a threat (Cheyette, 6). Journalist Burton J. Hendrick claimed that “Jews are rapidly acquiring a monopoly of the land… The chances are, if you wish to lease an apartment in any part of New York today, you will pay your rent to a Jewish landlord. There is not the slightest doubt that in a few years the Jews will own the larger part of Manhattan Islands- the richest parcel of real estate in the world" (Goldsmith, 378). This fear lead to many racial steareotypes and anti-Semitical views. These views began to arise in fiction literature such as Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. Although she uses many stereotypes to describe Rosedale in her novel, Edith Wharton was merely a product of her time and should not be judged for her racism against the Jewish race.

Thursday, April 1, 2010


I was really surprised by the movie Greed. I felt that the actress chosen to play Trina failed to match her character in the book. She looked and seemed to be a much older woman in the movie and I had pictured her much more beautiful from Norris’s description. I also thought that the actor playing McTeague came across much more menacing than how I perceived him within the book. He was almost monster-like in the movie, especially in the scene after his and Trina’s wedding. McTeague was much more human in the book, he seemed to at least attempt to comport Trina after her family left and once she began to fear him. The music and lack of words in this case misleads the audience. The audience is also mislead during the scene in which McTeague returns and asks Trina to let him inside. I felt sorry for her and saw her to be completely in the right for refusing the monster that bit her fingers instead of having the mixed feelings I received from reading the book. I saw both of them as monsters but felt little pity for Trina while acknowledging McTeagues actions as being a result of Trina’s selfishness. I did think that the director did a great job making the final scene realistic. I did not need words in order to truly understand the tension between McTeague and Marcus. I felt like the director did the book justice in the last scenes. I also thought that the addition of color to any gold item was very creative and successfully communicated the theme of gold. The funeral and the Funeral March music intermingled with the wedding scene was also a very creative addition to the script. Without reading the book, I would have easily been able to predict that their marriage was not going to lead to eternal happiness.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Beat Within

Naturalism is one of the most prevalent themes within the book McTeague. Norris utilizes the idea that every human contains a beast within themselves and that the beast is repressed by the desires to do right by social standards and beliefs. The “beast within” that is a part of human nature is fist introduced in chapter one when Norris describes McTeagues father. “Every other Sunday he became an irresponsible animal, a beast, a brute, crazy with alcohol” (5). This beast is a “hereditary evil” that passes the “sins of his father and of his father’s father, to the third and fourth and five hundredth generation” and McTeague was a product of this naturalistic curse (22). Alcohol immediately becomes the means to which the beast is released and the pattern is repeated by McTeague himself later in the book when his brutish, abusive behavior is unleashed after he decides to consume whiskey. The beast within McTeague is not first awakened by alcohol but by a woman, Trina. While working on her teeth “the male virile desire in him tardily awakened, aroused itself, strong and brutal. It was resistless, untrained, a thing not to be held in leash an instant” (19). Norris describes this as an “old battle, old as the world, wide as the world- the sudden panther leap of the animal, lips drawn, fangs aflash, hideous, monstrous not to be resisted” (21). This animal –like arousal is a part of human nature and everyone contains the beast within. The “old battle” he speaks of is the continual attempt to repress and subdue its vicious attempts to overcome your moral judgment. This natural beast is also unveiled in Trina by the obsessive hording of her money. Her thrifty Swiss heritage cannot be repressed when it comes to saving money and her animal –like instincts take over. She becomes possessed by the greed and she pushes everyone she loves away with her incessant miserly desires. She becomes a ruined woman and meets her death because of her inability to master or repress the beast within.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Iola Leroy

Iola Leroy is an amazing book that took me back in time and placed me among the slaves of the 19th century. Although I have learned a lot about this time through history books and class lectures, I was never quite able to grasp the true pain and suffering that so many experienced during this time. This novel helped me to begin to picture the struggle of the slaves as they sought their freedom. Along with the well written and gripping story, there are many great lessons to be learned through this book. One of the first that I picked up on was the lesson that Iola herself learned after finding out that she was of African American descent. Before this discovery, Iola was perfectly content with slavery and argued her beliefs in school with some of the northern girls who disagreed with it. Once Iola was forced to experience first hand the horrors of slavery, she began a life long journey to rectify the many wrongs inflicted upon them. She dedicated herself, first to the army as a nurse and comforted and saved many lives. After the war was over, she never lost her goal of moving back south to teach the freed slaves and provide them with the education that would assist them in making better lives for themselves. I was really pleased with the conclusion of the book because I am a sucker for happy endings but I was never-the-less left with a feeling of dissatisfaction. I couldn’t help but think of the number of freed slaves that never found their family. The number of mothers that continued to attend the meetings to tell their stories to no avail, or the number of children who continued to search out their parents and never found them or learned of their death at the hands of a cruel slave owner. I greatly enjoyed the book Iola Leroy but it definitely opened my eyes to a lot of unhappy and disheartening realizations of that sad time.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Pudd'nhead Wilson

Pudd’nhead Wilson was a surprising book and I was unable to sufficiently predict the ending. I could easily see Mark Twain ending it several different ways including with the false Tom getting away with the murder of his surrogate uncle. I imagined an ending comparable to Behind a Mask in which the mask pays off and the wealthy “whites” were forced to pay the price for the injustices of the society. I was very satisfied, however, that Twain chose not to end the story in such a way. I think that, while Jean Muir had a character that lead everyone to almost wish for her success, false Tom’s character was just too pathetic and disappointing for anyone to have wanted such a profitable outcome for him. Along with the extremely happy ending for the twins and for Pudd’nhead himself, I was lead to believe that this novel had more of a romantic quality, but Mark Twain doesn’t make it easy to place his books into any genre and Pudd’nhead Wilson in no exception. The happiness is easy to see with the majority of the characters except for two very important figures. Roxy, it could be assumed, should be very happy with her ultimate fate. She is allowed to live out her live comfortably with a steady pension from the true Tom of $35 a month. Roxy can not live in happiness though because she looses her son in the exact way that she was trying to avoid through the actions she chooses in the beginning. Her story, therefore, could be considered a tragedy. The True Toms fate is similarly a tragedy. He is finally in the position he was born to hold and yet he lacks the education and the mannerisms to hold it. He is uncomfortable in his newly acquired role and will never be able to grow accustomed with his position. Despite the fact that he is no longer a “nigger,” he will live the rest of his live stuck between the identity he now has and the identity he was raised with. In the end I was left with the realization, yet again, that Mark Twain’s literature is a genre of his own.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Life and Adventures of John Rollin Ridge

The paper that I am currently writing analyzes the affinity between John Rollin Ridge and the character in his book The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta. Murieta is presented by Ridge in a way that parallels many of his own beliefs, characteristics, and physical qualities in order to share with the world the injustices that he and his people experienced in a form that would grab the interest and imagination of 19th century readers in North America.

John Rollin Ridge and Joaquin Murieta share many biographical similarities including the experience of tragedies during their lifetime that eventually push them to desire revenge upon those they blame for the injustices responsible for the tragedies. Ridge experienced first hand some of the hardest times for the Cherokee people during his lifetime including the Trail of Tears. His father was murdered for a decision he made to protect his people and as a result, Ridge swore vengeance on those ultimately responsible (the United States Government). Murieta has a similar story and declares vengeance after the unjustified murder of his brother by White Americans. John Rollin Ridge continues throughout the book to paint Joaquin Murieta as a man with strong moral integrity and a heightened sense for natural justice and law, which are character qualities that Ridge himself is believed to have. Ridge also gives a physical description to Joaquin that greatly resembles Ridge’s pictures and written documents that describe his physical attributes.

I believe that John Rollin Ridge wrote The Life and Adventures of Joaquin Murieta to parallel his own political beliefs and to share with the world the injustices served to him and his people during his lifetime. It is possible that Ridge chose to paint himself as a Mexican bandit in California for the romantic qualities that the story held and the greater chances of selling the story to readers in the 19th century. A story of the massacre and mistreatment of a Native American population did not hold such qualities or potential.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Silas' Moral Obligation

The question of moral values greatly intrigued me within this book. I have always assumed a natural separation between the business morals and personal morals of an individual. I questioned that assumption with this book and after the lecture on Tuesday. While reading the book I felt as if Silas did the right thing when he refused to sell his property, even when he knew that the people offering to buy it could handle the loss much better than he and his family could. I did not read it as a business operation at the time, rather I saw it as a good personal moral decision. I came away from lecture with a new view on the topic. Salas Lapham was a business man and the moral decision he was faced with was a business decision, yet he did not see a distinction between the two. I admired his strong standing when being tempted by Rogers to sell. When I asked myself if I would choose to make the same choice as Silas, I really did not know. Initially, I claimed that I would and had no questions about it, but when I began to see it as more of a business operation, my assurance slipped. I am not sure if I would have made the same choice. I may have left it up to the buyer to do his proper research before buying the property, that is after all what makes a successful business man, wise decision making. If they failed to do their homework and made a bad investment, would I be morally wrong to let them? I think that we all can learn a good lesson from Silas Lapham. There is no difference between business morals and personal morals. They are one and the same. The choices we make affect the people around us and whether that choice is business related or not still leaves us with a moral obligation to make the right choice.