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.