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.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Daisy Miller

Daisy Miller was a surprisingly dull book for the amount of potential the story held. The characters were developed to the point where most fictional novels would just be beginning to take off into the exciting story that they were dreamt up for when Miss Daisy Miller develops a fever and dies. I was left very unsatisfied at the end wondering if perhaps Mr. Henry James drew bored of his novel just as it was taking shape and decided to draw it to a close before it gathered too many free ends and rendered itself incapable to be tied up sufficiently in a page or two. Even with such an excuse, James failed to give his readers the satisfaction of even understanding the few mysteries he had proposed in the few short pages of this novel. For example, who and where is Daisy Millers father? Why does Mrs. Miller act so strangely and allow her daughter to behave so unconventionally for that time? What is the purpose of the character Randolph? These questions along with many others are insufficiently answered by Daisy and her family and left me to wonder if perhaps their identity was a facade. This concluded speculation, however, also failed to be satisfied because of the sudden end of Daisy Miller and the insufficient conclusion that Henry James provided. I believe that only a chapter or two more may have concluded the book better and allowed room for the mystery of Miss Daisy Miller to be sufficiently unveiled, for Mr. Winterborn to learn the truth and either be freed from his obsession or to continue on in his idolatry of her, and for those involved in the judgment of Daisy to either realize their wrongs and repent of their mistake or for the readers to be sufficiently pleased with the punishment that they would be forced to endure by living out the rest of their days in continual ignorance of the wonderfully innocent character of Daisy Miller.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Only a Little Mask

After today’s lecture I concluded that Behind a Mask is allegory for Louisa May Alcott herself. Jean Muir is a woman who chose to defy the societal rules of her day by placing a mask over her true identity in order to achieve the goals that she sought to accomplish. She was able to successfully live both lives and come out on top in the end because of her keen ability to read the situation around her and play it to her benefit. I believe that Louisa May Alcott did the same in her career. The societal norm was to look down upon women who chose the career path of an author except for a few appropriate exceptions. Writing woman’s domestic or sentimental fiction was one of these exceptions and Alcott took advantage of the opportunity to show her great talents as a writer by publishing books such as Little Women, Good Wives, and Flower Fables. While Louisa was a great success in her chosen career and in keeping her reputation as a lady, she secretly desired a different life. Her famous stories told the world that she was a great supporter of the good morality that all girls and women are taught to possess, but Alcott seemed to actually find that role of women to be a bore. Under a mask with the name of A.M. Barnard, Alcott was able to tell the story of her true feelings and beliefs. She published many books, including Behind a Mask, under this disguise. The women in these tales are portrayed as stronger and wiser than men and often deceptive and villainous in character. The character of Jean Muir, in Behind a Mask, fights against the normal expectations of society and humbles all of those around her in the process, a goal in which I believe Alcott had for herself in writing books that would have possibly ruined her reputation had she published them under her real name. Like Jean Muir, Alcott fooled the world, gained her fortune and her title, while living both lives with the help of only a little mask.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Joaquin Murieta

Joaquin Murieta is a courageous outlaw who hides his true identity behind a mask of violence and revenge. He began his adult life by moving from Sonora Mexico to California in pursuit of an ambition fired by a preconceived judgment upon America and it’s citizens. He set out from his home country with his faithful wife to make his fortune as a miner. A series of unfortunate events involving much prejudice from American men towards Joaquin, lead him to abandon his noble attempt to make an honest fortune and turn towards a life of robbery and murder. His true identity never failed to reveal itself, however, in many small, but obvious ways. While his courageous and ruff actions earned him the respect and faithful obedience of his comrades, the love he shows for his wife remained unwavering and the purpose behind his questionable behavior always continued to be the main focus of his excursions. Joaquin desired revenge for the many wrongs that were done to him and his wife. He also desired to build the fortune that he would have gained from his hard labors, had they been permitted. His plan, once he reaped his revenge, was to settle back in Sonora and live out the rest of his days in peace with his wife. Joaquin’s feeble attempt to avoid unwanted violence portrayed to me, not weakness, but rather that he truly desired only his rightful revenge. Many statements that Joaquin made referenced the fact that he did not enjoy murdering the innocent, but it was often necessary in order to protect himself and his gang and a requirement to fulfill his goals. Joaquin claims on page 50 that he is “driven to [his actions] by oppression and wrongs.” I take this analysis one step further to Three-Fingered Jack who’s foul, villainous character seems to be a foil to Joaquin’s noble personage. I was interested in why Joaquin permitted such behavior in his band of followers. It seemed that such a man would seem appalling to Joaquin, yet he allows Jack’s actions with only a small tug on the reigns every now and again. I realized that this atrocious man is a very convenient tool for the leader of a large group of bandits. Having a man that kills without a conscience spreads fear not only among those outside his gang but within it as well. Everyone that works for Joaquin understands Three-Fingered Jack’s devotion to his leader and therefore realizes the foolishness of even contemplating rebelling against his beloved chief. I am sure that Joaquin also recognizes the benefit of utilizing Jack’s affinity for killing towards his own means of revenge. Joaquin can kill less personally while gaining fear and respect at the same time. Through my analysis of Joaquin Murieta I have found him to be a spectacularly able leader and a man of great and noble character. I believe him to be wise and courageous in all of his endeavors as well as brilliantly lighthearted and witty when it comes to life and his occasional misadventures.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Blithedale Romance

I found Miles Coverdale to be the most intriguing character within The Blithedale Romance. That is not to say that I liked his character, on the contrary, I believe Mr. Coverdale to be perhaps the most unreliable narrator in history. He is given the lead role within this book and one would think that with that role would come a certain responsibility to accurately and consistently portray the happenings of the tale. I found it infuriating that Miles Coverdale was so absorbed in his own world that he failed to give an appropriate narration of the happenings within Blithedale until, that is, he found the lives of those inhabiting the farm to be more captivating than his own varying thoughts and ideas. However, even after his sudden interest in the story in which he was relating, Miles Coverdale remained to be an untrustworthy story teller. I felt as if I couldn't rely on his version of the details and therefore found myself critiquing his every observation and judgment of the others within the book. Mr. Coverdale is an overdramatized poet incapable of living his own life. He chooses instead to prey upon the lively stories of others through acts of unsuccessful voyeurism and loosely spills out his observations into a ballad in which everyone but himself has a significant role to play. Hollingsworth was the leading actor, Zenobia, the beautiful, proud, and evil seductress who's tragic end becomes the climax of his tale, and Priscilla developed into the desirable Snow White or Cinderella. Despite his obvious attempts to portray his selfish invasions into the privacy of those around him as actions of pure concern, the reader can easily see that his intentions are for the sole purpose of gaining an interesting story. Miles Coverdale understood that he was a bore and that he was too cowardly to attempt to live his own life. Instead, he intoxicated himself with the story of those around him who do dared to live and he secretly desired tragedy and catastrophe upon them because only then would he have something to really write and think about.