This paper was written for University of Houston’s graduate class, Web 2.0, with Dr. Arthur Santana in the spring of 2015. Click on the link below to read the paper in its entirety. Thanks for reading!
This paper was written for Professor Krienke’s ENGL 4378 class at Sam Houston State University on December 3, 2013.
The Deadly Idealism of the Hero in Cervantes’s Don Quixote
Noted as being the first classical model of the modern romance novel, Don Quixote (also referred to as The Man of La Mancha) is Miguel de Cervantes’s crowning achievement. Published in 1605 (Part One) and then again in 1615 (Part Two), Don Quixote is considered to be the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age. It is also regarded as one of the most important pieces of work from the Spanish literary canon. According a 2002 World Library list, Don Quixote is one of the world’s 100 best books ever written. Sources for the novel include Amadis de Gaula (a knight-errantry story published in 1508 by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo), Joanot Martorell’s Tirant lo Blanch (1490, described in Chapter VI of Don Quixote as “the best book in the world”), the Italian poem Orlando furioso (mentioned by Quixote when he has to take the magical helmet of Mambrino, an episode from Canto I of Orlando), and also Apuleius’s The Golden Ass (uncertain publication date, presumably somewhere in the range of 158-180 AD) which is also known as the The Metamorphoses. Along with his experiences as a galley slave in Algiers, other influences for Cervantes include examples within Italian and Spanish folklore. As a result of this work, Cervantes coined two popular phrases: “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” (por la muestra se conoce el paño), which is more commonly known as “the proof is in the pudding”, and “who walks much and reads much, knows much and sees much” (quien anda mucho y lee mucho, sabe mucho y ve mucho).
The novel can be seen as a comic satire on chivalric romance. Though novels of this type were quite popular during the time of Cervantes (1547-1616), the genre was starting to become an object of ridicule for some literary critics. Through this novel, Cervantes was able to illuminate various aspects of human nature. His novel’s hero being a raving madman, much less a main character, was a topic of much debate at the time. However, this choice had purpose; it was apparently more of “the impression of ill-being or insanity, rather than a finding of dementia or psychosis in clinical terms, that defined the madman for Cervantes and his contemporaries.” (Boruchoff 2) Hence, his madman defied the typical interpretation and allowed Cervantes the flexibility to pursue Don Quixote as a human character, rather than a victim of his psychosis. This pursuit was not only one regarding human nature, but also a burlesque approach to criticism of the romance genre.
Don Quixote is not only a unique hero, but also one that people are able to relate to; he is a representation of everyone who has ever defied the rules of conformity – the status quo – and has been an object of scorn and ridicule due to their actions and beliefs. Don Quixote is unable to “flee the society that refused him, nor participate as an equal in its activities. His precarious circumstance at the margin is inherent in the duality of his image, making his condition as a pariah one with the scorn to which he is therefore subject. In this way, the study of madness illuminates the status of all those who could not or did not conform to the expectations of an ethos grounded in a collective concept of human relations.” (Boruchoff 2) In this way, then, the hero becomes a kind of everyman in that he represents the underrepresented pieces of society – the ones who were simply regarded as insane or subversive.
Through this novel, Cervantes was also able to discuss and point out several aspects of human nature. He was an author that felt he was too severely condemned by his critics. The first part of Don Quixote, since it was published in individual sections, had several mistakes throughout the text. Cervantes himself illuminated these errors in the preface to part two, but did not choose to correct them for the aforementioned reason. Cervantes enjoyed painting an accurate picture of human nature and did so successfully in this work. Don Quixote is a great example of the defiance of human normality; the hero functions as a representative of those who are underrepresented, otherwise known as subversives. He is a testament to the choice of choosing one’s own reality and one’s own system of morality – no matter how insane or idealistic it may be.
Set in central Spain, the hero of Cervantes’s novel is an eccentric middle-aged man from a region known as La Mancha. He squanders his fortune and neglects “even the management of his domestic affairs.” (Cervantes 1991) Over time, he becomes extremely obsessed with romance novels and the chivalric morality presented within their pages. During his times of leisure, he gives “himself up with so much delight and gusto to reading books of chivalry” that it begins to take over his life. He replaces his reality with that of the books he has read and come to love because he cannot resist their allure; “so true did all this phantasmagoria from books appear to him that in his mind he accounted no history in the world more authentic… he was better pleased” with the text in his romance novels than the true nature of reality (Cervantes 1992). This unhealthy obsession bleeds into his reality and begins to infiltrate his daily life. “Having lost his wits completely,” he decides to become a knight-errant and ride off in search of adventure in order to win everlasting glory and honor for himself. His decision to take up his lance and sword to defend the helpless and destroy the wicked worries his family. They understand that his desires are simply fueled by his literary obsession and increasing age. However, he is extremely “excited by these agreeable delusions” and hurries to put his plan into practice (Cervantes 1992). Though they are truly delusions, Quixote is excited about them nonetheless. Through this journey, he becomes the “embodiment of the ideal (man’s eternal quest for the unknown, his longing for infinity), the ethical life the romantic life, the life of the imagination, poetry, heroism, or the rights of the individual.” (Mandel 154) His madness is only a defiance of convention and conformity rather than a true removal from sanity.
He ends up finding a ragamuffin horse and naming it Rozinante, which in his opinion is a “lofty, sonorous, and significant” name (Cervantes 1993). The irony in this is that rozin or rocin literally means an ordinary horse. Here lies the first hints of satire in Cervantes’s novel. What Quixote seems to think is grand and honorable is truly just ordinary; he is not grounded in reality and idealizing everything he encounters. He does this “to his satisfaction” – not for anyone else but himself (Cervantes 1993). It can be concluded, then, that Quixote operates on a strictly personal desire. It is not so much selfish but rather a longing within himself that he, until this moment, has been unable to quell.
In order to emulate the knights-errant from his favorite romance novels, Quixote ends up adding on to his name in order to achieve this end result: “Don Quixote of La Mancha.” (Cervantes 1993) He then decides that the last part of the equation requires a lady to which he must devote his love and his victories. He chooses a peasant girl who works on a farm that he used to have a crush on named Aldonza Lorenzo. Quixote, however, resolves to call her by another name – one that would “approach that of a princess or a lady of quality” – and so he decides to rename her Dulcinea del Toboso (Cervantes 1994). Quixote imagines a scene in which he defeats a brutal giant, resulting in his foe being sent as a prize to Dulcinea. When the giant goes to meet her, “he may kneel before her and humbly say: ‘Madam, I am the giant Caraculiambro, Lord of the Island of Malindrania, whom the never-adequately-praised Don Quixote of La Mancha has overcome in single combat. He has commanded me to present myself before you so that your highness may dispose of me as you wish.’” (Cervantes 1993) Yet again, here Cervantes is portraying the idealism inherent in Don Quixote’s new lifestyle. He makes a farm-girl into a princess and even adds on a hypothetical story about slaying a mythical creature. He attempts to make his dreams reality. This urge for substitution is a universal one; “for the structures of the world to match the structures of the mind”. However, the world often ends up disappointing us “and we form ideals in the pain of the mismatch.” (Phillips 373) This mismatch is a driving force within the novel. Quixote’s life is not good enough for him and so his imagination takes over.
Chapter two shows Quixote going off on his very first adventure as a knight-errant. Apparently the details for this chapter, according to Cervantes, were found in La Mancha’s archives. Prior to setting out on the road, Quixote’s intentions are stated, and they are truly good: “He was spurred on by the conviction that the world needed his immediate presence; so many were the grievances he intended to rectify, the wrongs he resolved to set right, the harms he meant to redress, the abuses he would reform, and the debts he would discharge.” (Cervantes 1994) Quixote, then, desires this adventure in order to enforce his morality upon the world. In short, he wants to right the wrongs in his society. His pure intentions, however, are almost halted by a staggering realization: he has not yet been dubbed a knight, and “in accordance with the laws of chivalry, he neither could nor ought to enter the lists against any knight.” (Cervantes 1994) His madness prevails, though, and he ends up resolving that he will dubbed a knight by the first person he meets on his adventure. This decision, again, proves his commitment to his romantic idealism. Though reality would bar him from true knighthood, his delusions offer him a way out. His life becomes a “standing resistance to the ordinary” (Mandel 154). His first stop is at an inn. He eats dinner there and decides to rest as well. During his stay, he mistakes the innkeeper for the keeper of castle. He also ends up mistaking two prostitutes for princesses. In a comic scene, Quixote ends up reciting poetry to the two ladies, who laugh at his error but play along anyway. The prostitutes consequently remove his armor and feed him dinner at the inn. Quixote refuses to remove his helmet (only because it is stuck on his head) but he still enjoys this experience because he believes that he is in “a famous castle” where two princesses are entertaining him (Cervantes 1998). Yet again, this is an example of the hero’s idealism – he makes something seemingly ordinary into something absolutely extraordinary. Though it can be attributed to his madness, he nonetheless practices idealism in these experiences he mistakes for great adventures.
At this moment, Don Quixote realizes that he has still not been knighted and so begs the innkeeper to do him the honor. Though the innkeeper is bewildered by his request, he eventually consents “so that he might have some sport that night” (Cervantes 1998). Much like the prostitutes mistaken for princesses, the innkeeper humors Quixote – not out of sympathy but simply out of amusement. They see the folly in his delusions, but do not wish to shatter his illusions out of cruelty. The innkeeper also sees this as an excuse to take advantage of Don Quixote and attempts to gain some money from him, but he has none. Disappointed, the innkeeper instructs Don Quixote to carry money with him at all times.
Throughout the rest of Part One, Quixote continues on his path to glory, though not always in such an honorable manner; he often injures the people around him (like those he harms at the inn’s well) adding a squire to his quest whose name is Sancho Panza. His attempts to right wrongs (like that of the young boy being whipped by the farmer) seem to be fruitless; he causes more trouble than he remedies. Though the boy even tells Quixote that his master is not a knight, our hero chooses to ignore his statement, saying, “He will not [hurt you]. I have only to command and he will respect me and do my behest. So I shall let him go free and guarantee payment to you, provided he swears by the order of knighthood that he has received.” (Cervantes 2003) As Quixote rides away feeling satisfied, the boy is whipped even more severely. This moment is another example of people taking advantage of his delusional state.
In his travels, he ends up in combat – these are not only physical battles, but also battles with reality. When beaten down by those who represent realism, he fights back with his delusions and loses (seen when the merchants break his lance).
On his second expedition, Don Quixote converts into more of a bandit than a rescuer. He steals and harms justifiably angry citizens who are baffled with his ridiculous behavior. He perceives these citizens (also representative of realism) as opposing threats to his knighthood or to the world overall. As a representation of the ideal, Don Quixote becomes “infinite… absurd” as a consequence of his delusional desires (Phillips 374). His illusions, as time progresses, become increasingly unable to appease him and his morality or at least his desires for an improved morality. This is mostly due to the fact that the people involved in his life play tricks on him; they take advantage of his madness. For example, Don Quixote meets a Duke and Duchess who make a servant dress up as Merlin. They then proceed to tell Don Quixote that Dulcinea’s enchantment—which they know to be a ruse—can be undone only if Sancho whips himself 3,300 times on his naked buttocks. These absurd undertakings continuously occur throughout the work. Unknowing of these conspiracies, Don Quixote becomes more and more frustrated, unable to realize the reality of the situation – because he lives only in his illusions. This is also alluded to when a young woman falls in love with the hero in the home of the Duchess. Don Quixote refuses to relinquish his love for Dulcinea, and so the love affair is never consummated. The court is highly amused by the fact that Quixote would rather be fueled by his delusions rather than enter a real relationship with a beautiful woman. Yet again, he is unable to cope with the pressures of reality and this is why he must continue to live in his illusions.
By the end of the novel, Quixote is desperately clinging to what is left of his idealism – even after such an absurd act as venturing to call windmills his soon-to-be-attacked enemies. As time progresses, Don Quixote begins to see the error of his ways and renounces, with his dying breath, his romantic idealist delusions that formerly invigorated him. He is no longer “sweeping himself off his own feet” (Mandel 157). In the end, Quixote is beaten, exhausted, and tattered. He ends up disavowing all the chivalric so-called truths he resolved to follow so fervently in the beginning of the novel and dies from a fever. With his death, knights-errant become extinct; this is also a representation of the death of the idea of chivalry.
Brian Phillips describes this death (the death of the idealism Don Quixote so fervently swore to uphold and protect) quite successfully:
“I had stepped into a bookstore, I was paging through Don Quixote, when I noticed that I could see myself in the window next to me. I could see the Times Square signs superimposed in my image, but the light on the glass was such that I could not see the crowd outside. And it seemed to me that if the crowd faded away, if I were left alone, or if anyone were, beneath these hulking forms, then the absurdity I had found comic a moment ago would suddenly seem almost frightening. For it was clear that one would never be able to escape them. Wherever one went, they were absolute; they compelled devotion; they were better than real life. And yet there was no sense in them. All one’s thoughts would be of a woman brushing her teeth. The stadium of beauty was a stadium of monsters. The ideal became insane, and it was terrible.” (Phillips 374)
Hence, Quixote’s mad idealism was more than just a romantic view of life – it deteriorated life. With the story of Don Quixote being drawn to a close, the possibility of the romance genre being taken seriously has also met its demise. In this, Cervantes is able to accomplish his goal of satirizing the genre and its most infamous characteristics. Don Quixote’s death is representative of the death of romantic idealism as well as his relinquishment of it – it might be beautiful, but it is deadly indeed.
Boruchoff, David A. “On the Place of Madness, Deviance, and Eccentricity in Don Quijote.” Hispanic Review 70.1 (2002): 1-23. JSTOR. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.
Discusses the concept of madness present in the book ‘Don Quijote de la Mancha.’ Examination on the discourse, topography, and institutions with which it found expression in traditional culture; System of value present in the equation of difference with heterodoxy and schism in Christian theology; Description on the words and actions of the character Don Quixote.
Mandel, Oscar. “The Function of the Norm in ‘Don Quixote’” Modern Philology 55.3 (1958): 154-63. JSTOR. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.
Discusses Cervantes’s satire of the romance genre. Tackles the perspective of “the norm” in this piece of literature. Relates the protagonist/hero as a sort of Christ character – true idealism. His life is truly a great example of resistance against the norm in order to pursue romantic idealism. Mandel notes that Quixote transitions from being viewed as a “buffoon” to being eventually viewed as a “martyr.” He is more lovable than his normal counterparts. Part Two shows Don Quixote as much less quixotic as the one in Part One; he formerly attacked the sane people, and in Part Two, they attack him instead. His sanity increases over time.
Phillips, Brian. “The First-Person Don Quixote.” The Hudson Review 58.3 (2005): 372-98. JSTOR. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.
This essay presents the opinion of the author on the book “Don Quixote,” by Miguel de Cervantes. The author says that this book has both comedy and tragedy. According to the author, Don Quixote is a book about the human experience of the aesthetic image. The main character is a shining example of romantic idealism. The first part of Don Quixote appears in Spain in 1605. He says that he supposes that any profound thing becomes more interesting the more it inspires disagreement, but Don Quixote goes beyond all bounds. The author also discusses that why Don Quixote is narrated in the third person rather than in the first.
Wilkie, Brian, James Hurt, and Cervantes. Don Quixote. 2001. Literature of the Western World. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001. 1990-2030. Print.
This paper was written for Professor Victoria Lantz’s Modern Drama class at Sam Houston State University on December 12, 2013.
Get to the Point(less): the Absurdist Short Plays of Samuel Beckett
Playwright Samuel Beckett came to define the Theatre of the Absurd, a term later coined by Martin Esslin in 1961 with his plays Waiting for Godot (1952) and Endgame (1957). Though these plays can be classified as the chief reasons for his fame, what often seems to pale in comparison or be neglected are the contributions he made to the genre with his short plays. These works – the shortest (called Breath) being only 35 seconds long – accomplish Beckett’s desired effect in much less time than the aforementioned works of longer length. In this short period of time, Beckett still manages to reach the same goal of his other, longer works and truly personifies absurdist theatre, most specifically in Act Without Words I and Not I.
Officially referred to as Absurdist Theatre in 1961, Esslin classified the Absurdist movement as any form of theatre that strove to “express its sense of the senselessness of the human condition and the inadequacy of the rational approach by the open abandonment of rational devices and discursive thought.” (Esslin 24) The movement is characterized by several key elements: repetition, the hopelessness of the human situation, limitations of the stage, a lack of realism in terms of plot, and senseless characterization. Beckett is among the five playwrights whom Esslin claims make up the entire movement (the others being Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov, and Harold Pinter). Though an argument can be made that other plays have absurd characteristics, these five playwrights were the main suppliers of content for the movement. Esslin goes on to point out that absurdist plays were a “bewildering experience” for the audience, who often had no clue what the author’s intent was or what the work meant on a deeper level (Esslin 3). Along with the lack of realism inherent in absurdist plays, characters often are left nameless, and thus lack a clearly defined individual identity.
Commonly referred to as “anti-plays,” these works are famous for nonsensical plotlines and themes of hopelessness, often regarding life and the inevitability of death. The happenings that occur on the absurdist stage resist and go beyond rationalizations; they transcend reality in order to make their point. Esslin claims that these plays are a great example of pure theatre, or the concept that the magic of the stage can continue outside of the framework of “conceptual rationality. They prove that exits and entrances, light and shadow, contrasts in costume, voice, gait and behavior, pratfalls and embraces, all the manifold mechanical interactions of human puppets in groupings that suggest tension, conflict, or the relaxation of tensions, can arouse laughter or gloom and conjure up an atmosphere of poetry even if devoid of logical motivation and unrelated to recognize human characters, emotions, and objectives.” (Esslin 4) The definition of the absurd is truly “meaningless;” it is that which has no purpose, goal, or final objective. The end result of this form of theatre is said to “reveal the irrationality of the human condition and the illusion of what we thought was its apparent logical structure.” (Esslin 5). Beckett’s absurdism is “melancholic,” denoting the pointless and hopeless nature of life along with the disillusionment that comes with old age. Beckett’s work, then, can be accurately defined by the aforementioned characteristics (Esslin 4).
Act Without Words I is a short play written by Beckett in 1956, which was quickly followed by Act Without Words II. Originally written in French, Beckett translated it into English himself. Its first performance occurred on April 3, 1957 at the Royal Court Theatre in London. The play is composed of very minimalistic elements. The cast is comprised of one man, and, if one wishes to make a case for it, an additional “malevolent offstage presence” which taunts the man throughout the play (Bennett 16). The setting (a desert that is illuminated by a dazzling light) also stays true to Beckett’s minimalistic theme.
Firstly, “the man is flung backwards on stage from right wing. He galls, gets up immediately, dusts himself off, turns aside, reflects.” (Act Without Words) The man is continually taunted by the off-stage presence, which hurls him backwards, teases him with food and drink, and alerts him to a new taunt with a whistle each time. No matter where he goes, he is “immediately flung back on stage” and ends up falling down (Act Without Words). The play remains quite direct and sticks to the main plotline – the man’s frustration with his inability to obtain the objects that the off-stage presence keeps offering to him. Objects offered to him include “A pair of tailor’s scissors”, “a tiny carafe”, “a big cube,” and a “rope” (Act Without Words). The rope seems to suggest suicide; with the man being able to stand on top of the two cubes and then create a noose, thus hanging himself once he steps off of the boxes. He “hesitates, thinks better of it” and chooses not to kill himself (Act Without Words).
As far as the realism of the play, nothing is questioned, only accepted; the man is just thrown into this place without reason. The silence utilized in the play drives this point home. Speech is utterly useless, another piece of the absurdist puzzle. Literally, the only word used (not even spoken) in the play is “water.” The word is on “a huge label” upon the carafe the man receives (Act Without Words). The tension that this silence creates is parallel to the tension of the man’s inaction at the end of the play. The objects offered to the man seem to be quite real (otherwise why would they be offered to him and then taken away?), though they may be a mirage.
Through this play, Beckett has compacted his perspective on “the birth of existential man, of the existential artist, with all the ironies implicit in the coincidence of birth and death.” (Gontarski) In the end, the superior force beats out the inferior man, which leaves the audience looking at a traditional, obvious ending. An obvious difference from his other works, the man does not undergo a degradation of character or an overall disintegration; he simply decides to stop trying because he realizes that it is pointless. No matter his choice, he will not receive the objects. Yet another aspect of absurdism is seen through this realization – that of the pointless and hopeless nature of life. However, as many critics fail to notice, the ending is not truly a “pathetic defeat, but a conscious rebellion.” (Gontarski) The man is an everyman; he represents man’s refusal to obey. It is seen that he is most active when he is motionless (a paradox in itself) and his life only attains meaning as it is ending. As he cuts the rope (symbolic of an umbilical cord), what could have been his death sentence becomes a symbol of the birth of man. His ending becomes his “bigger picture” beginning. In just three minutes, Beckett displays a compelling and concrete example of true absurdist theatre.
Another of Beckett’s short absurdist plays, Not I is a very minimalistic piece. It takes place in a pitch-black area with only one thing illuminated: an actress’s mouth that is about 8 feet above the stage. All other things are blacked out and unable to be seen during the entire performance. The woman – or the mouth, rather – discusses four incidents from her life: lying “face down in the grass”, standing in the middle of a “supermart”, sitting on a “little mound in Croker’s Acres”, and “that time in court” (Not I). Each of these instances are preceded by a repetition of the first scene – which seems to be an epiphany for the girl. Whatever happened to her “back in the field… in April” seems to have affected her so much that she is forced to start “pouring it out… steady stream…” (Not I). In other words, this event that happened to her has become a trigger – something that gave her a “sudden urge…to tell, get it all out, if not a confessional, “nearest lavatory… start pouring it out… steady stream… mad stuff… half the vowels wrong… no one could follow” (Blau 457). Speak as she may, her sentences are fragmented, her words are jumbled, and her overall meaning is pretty difficult to grasp from one run-through. Though many attribute this outpouring to be a result of a prior rape, it is documented that Beckett had vehemently denied this.
She speaks of an elderly woman of about “seventy” that was abandoned by her parents following a premature birth (Not I). The woman has apparently lived a boring, loveless, mechanical life and appears to have suffered some sort of horrible trauma that is never clearly explained. The woman speaking has apparently been virtually mute for her entire life, despite the occasional outbursts – and one of those outbursts is the actual text of this play. The outburst can be considered as one of the defining characteristics of its genre. It can be seen as absurdist through its nature; critic Blau even compares her monologue to an event he experienced – a stroke.
“Some years ago, that time, I was having a late lunch with my son Dick and his partner Jane – fair food, good conversation – when I had a vague sense of their staring at me and looking puzzled at each other, as 1 kept on talking of I know not what, just talking and talking, with no sense of what I was talking about – or for that matter, who I was, at what turned out to be some logorrhoea of incoherence or a regressively aging ‘dehiscence,’ a word used by Beckett for coherence gone to pieces, but otherwise made familiar through the Oedipal fractures in the mirrcir stage of Lacan, with its drama of a specular ego, and the mirage of identity, still haunting the personal pronoun, I, not 1, as we’ll certainly see in Beckett, brought on by some primal discord, and subsequent paranoia, at ‘a real specific prematurity of birth ‘^ When they took me to the emergency room, babbling into a murmur, ‘infant languors in the end sheets,’ as in one of the Texts for Nothing,^ as if falling out of a dream, it was diagnosed as a transient ischemic attack, or momentary stroke; yet since 1 was not unable to talk, speech not blurred or impeded, but rather accelerated, as from the Mouth of Not I, ‘… but the brain still… still… in a way,’ it was more like a kind of psychogenic amnesia, what they call a ‘fugue state’ or dissociative identity disorder. If there was anything polyphonic in what I was saying, or somehow contrapuntal – ‘From the word go. The word begone.’^ – 1 have no idea, but from what 1 later heard from Dick and Jane, relieved when I came to myself, not I, my self, whatever that may be, ‘Thought of everything?… Forgotten nothing?… You’re all right now, eh?’^ I was indeed saying things over and over, to some indeterminate other, by way of anxious others, who could hardly decipher anything in the disjointed repetitions.” (Blau 453)
The description above – this ‘fugue state’ that Blau talks about experiencing during his stroke – is a fantastic comparison to that of Beckett’s Not I. The repetition and nonsensical nature of Blau’s statements alerted his son that something was wrong. He was experiencing a trauma. In the same way, the woman from Not I re-experiences this mysterious trauma and starts madly babbling because of it. Even the title is reliant on this repetition; her insistence on the use of third person is what is alluded to in the title. She continually answers some off-stage voice, unheard by the audience (which could even presumably be only present in her head), saying, “what? . . who? . . no! . . she! . .” (Not I) Her constant denial lends itself to absurdist themes like hopelessness and the cyclical nature that characterizes the genre.
Through minimalistic techniques, repetition, and themes of hopelessness, Beckett is able to portray a true absurdist piece in under an hour. This feat was probably not an easy one, but it seems that Beckett is quite definitely the master of this genre. The aforementioned works clearly show that length does not determine effectiveness by any means – content is the only thing that truly matters. Even then, Beckett defies audience and critical expectations by creating plays like Breath that are only 35 seconds long and are still able to fit in all of the above absurdist techniques. These aforementioned accomplishments truly set Beckett apart from his peers and make him a fantastic example of an absurdist dramatist/author/playwright.
Beckett, Samuel. “Act Without Words I.” Act Without Words I. Ed. Kristina Pugliese. Illinois State University, n.d. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
Beckett, Samuel. “Not I.” Vahidnab.com. N.p., 1973. Web. 12 Dec. 2013.
Bennett, Michael Y. “The Response to The Offstage Presence In Beckett’s “Act Without Words I” And “Act Without Words II”.” Anq 25.1 (2012): 16-18. Academic Search Complete. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.
Blau, Herbert. “Apnea And True Illusion: Breath(Less) In Beckett.” Modern Drama 49.4 (2006): 452-468. Academic Search Complete. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.
Esslin, Martin. “The Theatre of the Absurd.” The Tulane Drama Review 4.4 (1960): 3-15. JSTOR. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.
Gontarski, Stanley E. “Birth astride a Grave: Samuel Beckett’s ‘Act without Words 1’.” Birth astride a Grave: Samuel Beckett’s ‘Act without Words 1’. Florida State University, n.d. Web. 25 Nov. 2013.
This paper was written for Professor Hall’s American Novel class at Sam Houston State University on November 30, 2013.
Scars of Shame: Marked Bodies in Beloved and The Scarlet Letter
In both The Scarlet Letter and Beloved, several of the characters are presented to the reader as “marked,” meaning that their bodies bear some sort of recognized mark, whether it is an actual scar or a representational marking. For Hawthorne, those characters are Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale. For Morrison, that would be one of the main characters, Sethe. These marks are not only physical scars, but mental and emotional ones as well. Hence, Hester, Dimmesdale, and Sethe all have scars that represent the past and the shame that came from it. However, through this process, these scars are also transformed into stories.
Toni Morrison’s Beloved details the story of Sethe and her escape from slavery, as well as her intense emotional connection to her children. This bond even causes her to slit her baby’s throat (also known as Beloved) with a handsaw so as to see that her daughter would not be put into slavery. As a slave, Sethe endured many horrors and does not want the same life for her children. After enduring a brutal violation by schoolteacher’s nephews in the barn, Sethe is left without breast milk for her baby that is soon to be born. She continually cries out in despair about this loss, saying “They took my milk” (Morrison 85). Obviously a huge emotional scar in her life, this saying is repeated frantically by Sethe throughout the novel; she utters “And they took my milk!” often when talking to Paul D (Morrison 20). Sethe ends up reporting the crime to Mrs. Garner, her master. When schoolteacher finds out that Sethe told Mrs. Garner the truth about what happened that night, he becomes enormously enraged and has Sethe whipped quite severely, despite the fact that she is pregnant. Though she ends up running away to safety, she eventually collapses from sheer exhaustion in the woods. Her back is now completely swollen and scarred from her whipping. The scars form a “chokecherry tree” on Sethe’s back. When Paul D asks if there is “something growing on [Sethe’s] back”, she responds with, “I’ve never seen it and never will. But that’s what [the whitegirl] said it looked like. A chokecherry tree. Trunk, branches, and even leaves. Tiny little chokecherry leaves. But that was eighteen years ago. Could have cherries too now for all I know.” (Morrison 19)
The tree on Sethe’s back is not only a representation of her physical pain from that night, but also her emotional pain. The past is a painful place, yet she still often ends up there, and the chokecherry tree is a harsh reminder of the pain she went through during slavery. The repetition of her cry regarding her stolen milk also alludes to this painful past. Though it is severely torturous, she often ends up discussing the past anyway. It comes back to haunt her, much like her daughter, Beloved, actually does come back to haunt her – first as a ghost, and then as a person. How she chooses to deal with the past over time ends up transforming her as a character. As mentioned in The Parturition of Memory: Toni Morrison’s Beloved, the text of the novel “deals with this excruciating process of returning life and feeling into that which had been beaten and repressed into oblivion.” (Lucas 39) It is doubly significant in that the trauma is on both psychological and physical levels. It seems to be a process of “recognizing where the damage has been done, then, as does Amy with Sethe’s torn and rotting feet, of gently coaxing the battered and numbed flesh back into memory and sensation, and finally, of learning to live without denying the scars, the irredeemable dead tissue which will result from the experience.” (Lucas 39) Through this scar, Sethe remembers her time in slavery, and recalls her current freedom. Though Amy Denver may have soothed her foot scars, this chokecherry tree still stands as a reminder of her past; “she will never be free of the physical and psychological scarring which her experiences have inscribed upon her.” (Lucas 39) This tree, then, becomes a symbol of her past and provides the reader with insight into Sethe’s character. “It is as if identity, and its recognition, depended upon the body having been marked with a special sign, which looks suspiciously like a linguistic signifier… marking the body signifies its passage into writing, its becoming a literary body, and generally also a narrative body” (Durkin 543). Hence, the chokecherry tree becomes a storytelling device. Within Sethe’s scars lies her story. The human body literally becomes a “textual body” through this scarring process (Durkin 543).
In The Scarlet Letter, the main character, Hester Prynne, is forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her bosom. This letter is a symbol of her crime – adultery – as well as the shame associated with it. It is enforced upon her by the public, by society, in order to make a point. This marking is not of her choosing, but rather placed upon her by rules from the status quo. Through this sort of branding, Hester becomes a symbol of shame and sinfulness for her society. The townspeople refer to her as a disgusting criminal. She is no more than a symbol of the town’s shame. One citizen remarks, “What do we talk of marks and brands, whether on the bodice of her gown, or the flesh of her forehead? This woman has brought shame upon us all, and ought to die. Is there not law for it? Truly, there is, both in the Scripture and the statute-book.” (Hawthorne 49)
Hester is called “a scarlet woman and a worthy type of her Babylon.” (Bell 10) They dehumanize her, scorn her, ridicule her, and so on. The same happens to her daughter, Pearl. This ridicule begins before she even takes her first step out of the prison doors in chapter one. People begin gossiping about her. One even says, “At the very least, they should have put the brand of a hot iron on Hester Prynne’s forehead. Madam Hester would have winced at that, I warrant me. But she, – the naughty baggage, – little will she care what they put upon the bodice of her gown! Why, look you, she may cover it with a brooch, or such like heathenish adornment, and so walk the streets as brave as ever!” (Hawthorne 49) A young wife responds to this in a wise manner, saying, “Ah, but, let her cover the mark as she will, the pang of it will be always in her heart.” (Hawthorne 49) The young wife, here, is correct – the scarlet letter is not only embroidered on her gown but also carved into her heart. She cannot forget simply by covering up her letter; it will always be there in her mind.
Much like Sethe, Hester’s marking can be seen as something beautiful. Whereas Sethe referred to her back scars as a chokecherry tree, Hester embroidered the A on her chest in such a way that it would look beautiful; it was “so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom” that it “had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.” (Hawthorne 51) Again, like Sethe, Hester’s marking is a symbol of her past and the shame that came with it. It is “the emblem of her guilt.” (Bell 11) It is not only a symbol of her past, though; it also represents her present state: “A material object, a piece of embroidered cloth held in the finder’s hand, it is the one irreducible reality which connects the intangible historic past with the narrator’s present sensation… As an abstract sign on Hester’s bosom, it purports to speak both for the nature of her past and for the present condition of the wearer.” (Bell 16) The catch here is that the word which the letter A stands for (adultery) is never spelled out for us; “the word, like the act it designates, is invisible in the text – the act held inaccessibly out of the reader’s sight while the word only hovers in his mind.” (Bell 16) Hester even begins to identify with the letter – she objects to removing it by saying, “were I worthy to be quit of it, it would fall away of its own nature, or be transformed into something that would speak a different purport.” (Bell 17). She continues to insist on its relation to her identity while also realizing that it tells her story, like Sethe’s chokecherry tree.
Dimmesdale also bears a marking much like Hester’s – but unlike his lover, his scarlet letter “burns in secret” (Hawthorne 176). It is never revealed to the reader what exactly the marking looks like, seeing as only Hester’s husband, Roger Chillingworth (AKA The Leech), discovers it and is, consequently, astonished by it. It seems as though Dimmesdale’s scarlet letter appears due to “the effect of the ever active tooth of remorse gnawing from the inmost heart outwardly” (Bell 17). It, like Hester’s scarlet letter, is a symbol of guilt and shame. The only difference is that while Hester “wears the scarlet letter openly on [her] bosom”, Dimmesdale has been forced to feel this shame in secret. He responds to Hester, saying, “Thou little knowest what a relief it is, after the torment of a seven years’ cheat, to look into an eye that recognizes me for what I am!” (Hawthorne 176) Like Sethe and Paul D, Arthur Dimmesdale feels true freedom when he is finally able to share his actual self with others like Hester Prynne. This is also true when he stands with Hester and Pearl on the scaffold at the end of the novel. Once Dimmesdale reveals his scarlet letter – his marked body – he feels true release, “with a flush of triumph in his face, as one who, in the crisis of acutest pain, had won a victory.” (Hawthorne 232). Even as he sinks down onto the scaffold and dies, Dimmesdale continues to feel release from his exposure to the society and his admittance of his guilt regarding his crime of adultery with Hester.
Both Morrison and Hawthorne truly demonstrate marked bodies as a symbol of shame and transformation. Sethe, Hester, and Dimmesdale all share a common quality; it is not only the sharing of the scars, but the remembrance of their pasts that connects the aforementioned characters together. Their pasts – though filled with pain, sorrow, suffering, sin, guilt, remorse, and injustice – are burned into their flesh, and, like scars, never fully heal. However, these marked bodies become devices utilized to tell each character’s story.
Bell, Millicent. “The Obliquity of Signs: “The Scarlet Letter”” The Massachusetts Review 23.1 (1982): 9-26. JSTOR. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.
Durkin, Anita. “Object Written, Written Object: Slavery, Scarring, and Complications of Authorship in “Beloved”” African American Review 41.3 (2007): 541-56. JSTOR. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlet Letter. New York: Bantam, 1986. Print.
Lucas, Rose. “THE PARTURITION OF MEMORY: TONI MORRISON’S “BELOVED””Australasian Journal of American Studies 10.1 (1991): 39-47. JSTOR. Web. 2 Dec. 2013.
Morrison, Toni. Beloved: A Novel. New York: Signet, 1991. Print.
This annotated bibliography was written for Professor Hill’s Early English Masterworks class at Sam Houston State University on November 23, 2013.
The Evolution of Vengeance and its Morality in Literature
Morality, whether delineated in terms of pagan or Christian culture, can be viewed as an ethical reflection of one’s actions (i.e.: the difference between right and wrong or good and bad). The seven Christian virtues and the seven deadly sins help to further define this principle. The virtues are as follows: chastity, self-control, charity, humility, diligence, patience, and kindness. The deadly sins are wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony. These two lists define (at least in a Biblical sense) the essence of morality: the characteristics of good people and those of bad people. However, as one may notice, vengeance is not among the virtues or the sins – so where does it lie on the spectrum? The evolution of the concept of revenge begins with pagan law (at least in written terms) and evolves into a Greek and Roman interpretation (pieces such as The Odyssey and Medea), eventually being tackled by Christianity in the Bible. Shakespeare’s revenge plays (Hamlet, for example) came to define the idea more clearly in later years, along with other early English writers such as Kyd and Marston. Its evolution (resulting ultimately in its reception as a primitive and brutal sin) into the aforementioned time period leads one to conclude that the morality of revenge is based on a mixture of developing law and religious practices. The articles in this collection use examples in ancient literature and early British literature (ranging from the 8th-18th century) in order to display authorial attitudes towards revenge and its morality, while also discussing the history of the concept.
Kerr, Charles. “The Law of Avenge.” Virginia Law Review 14.4 (1928): 265-79. JSTOR. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
The history of revenge delves deep into pagan culture. The Code of Hammurabi, the code of law from the sixth king of Babylon, demonstrated this principle starting around 1772 BC. Hammurabi implemented a system that employed what would later be referred to as a Biblical concept – an eye for an eye, otherwise known in legal terms as lex talionis. In his 286 edicts, Hammurabi’s code demonstrated the finding that “in all ages amongst all peoples man’s first desire has been to punish his enemies through the infliction of retaliatory measures” (268). The punishments for crimes described within this code lead one to conclude that their purpose was far more than punishment; it was retribution. Clearly seen in this passage of the code is this concept of justice in revenge: “If a son strike his father his hand shall be hewn off; if a man put out the eye of another man, his eye shall be put out; if he break another man’s bone, his bone shall be broken; if a man knocks out the teeth of his equal his teeth shall be knocked out” (269).
Kerr goes on to discuss the attribution of this idea, prior to the discovery of the Code of Hammurabi, to Mosaic Law, stating that the two have many similarities. He suggests perhaps the Bible’s borrowing of legal concepts from the aforementioned pagan times, stressing the fact that revenge is not something confined to simply one time period or the other; it has endured and was even recognized by statute in England during the reign of Edward III (1327-1377 AD). The primitive brutality of vengeance is quite present in the Bible as it was in pagan law, with an “avenger of blood” being seen as the arbiter of justice and reason. The idea has even bled into modern day practices (i.e. the death penalty), making the state the “avenger of blood” instead of the victim of the crime (270). This can be seen in the Bible: “The revenger of blood shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him he shall slay him” (Numbers 35:19). The idea, then, had not evolved much from paganism to Christianity. Kerr also discusses the Teutons and early Saxon law using the concept of revenge as a punishment. He says that the concept of wehrgeld (a valuable consideration for the death of a relative, much like Beowulf’s blood money) originated with this group. However, if the payment was deemed to be too little or was unable to be made, the decision to enact revenge lied upon the shoulders of the affected family members.
The continuance of this practice has evolved some over time, leaving the only true legal vengeance as the death penalty. The ironic part of this reasoning is that it is has basis in religion, specifically in the Bible: “At the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of a man. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God made he man” (Genesis 9:5-6). Another irony is that many Christians do not support the death penalty – the very punishment supported by Mosiac law. The reason for this is the implementation of the New Testament, which denounces many of the primitive ideas discussed in the Old Testament. Jesus Christ himself says “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:38). Paul, an apostle of the Gentiles, also discussed the morality of revenge in the book of Romans, saying “Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Wrath, being defined as one of the seven deadly sins, then, can be attributed to the religious attitude towards revenge. Not only is it a sin, but it is an action that should only be enacted by God. In other words, judgment is God’s domain, not humanity’s. Kerr continues discussing the instance of Jesus and asking him without sin to cast the first stone.
In addition to a religious connotation, revenge as a simple legal term is tackled in this article. Kerr looks at the bloodthirsty nature of history’s English kings (such as Henry VIII) and the times of high amounts of death penalties for criminals. He looks at revenge as a strict legal principle and states that it was not successful in preventing further criminal activity. Hence, as a legal concept, it had failed. Kerr references Catherine II and Benjamin Franklin as support for his argument.
Kerr supports his argument with a compelling passage: “Truth is the mind’s only liberator; justice is a law’s only defense. If the taking of human life as a penal infliction be not a divine command, applicable alike to all races of people, and its continued infliction, upon the sole ground that it is a protection to society, has no support other than a legislative fiat, do not reason and logic demand that the basis of its infliction be indisputably established” (278). Over time, law has changed to discover a higher need for prevention of crime rather than punishment of criminals. Just as doctors search for preventative measures regarding diseases, so do lawmakers for crime. The concept of revenge, then, is much too primitive to be utilized in modern day society and has evolved through literature in this manner to reach the modern day perspective. Kerr does a fantastic job of proving his point and showing the evolution of revenge through law and literature (specifically the Bible). Revenge is found to be barbaric and primitive and law and literature has evolved with that in mind, making it Biblically (at least in terms of contemporary Christianity) and morally wrong.
BYRON, JOHN. “Abel’s Blood And The Ongoing Cry For Vengeance.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 73.4 (2011): 743-756. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
Though seen as a small character in the book of Genesis, according to Byron, Abel still plays a significant role in terms of the big picture. The story of Cain and Abel is well-known in many circles, whether they are religious or not. It is a classic story of revenge. Byron discusses Cain’s murder of his brother after being shamed by God’s rejection of his offering. When Cain murders Abel, he is not only guilty of killing his brother, but also of mass murder (744). He has killed the potential bloodline of Abel, whose children would also have the possibility to be righteous like their father. The blood becomes a plural rather than a singular representation of Cain’s sin. Not only has he committed fratricide, but he has prevented future good. Hence, his revenge is motivated by greed, envy, and wrath. These motivations classify the act as, in tandem, a sin.
Abel’s continuous crying of blood suggests it to be a cry seeking vengeance from God, which alludes to the later discussion of judgment being God’s job rather than humanity’s. Since Abel’s blood cry represents the suffering of the innocent (and also because God would be the supposed avenger) it is morally just for God to enact such a punishment. Abel, due to this event, “becomes a paradigmatic figure for all who suffer at the hands of the wicked” (747). These cries for vengeance remain an enduring theme in Jewish and Christian literature, often paired with a prayer to God for the destruction of the guilty. This cry can only be answered by God, making it again, morally wrong for humanity to take up the quest of retribution for every lost soul. Abel’s cry, however, is true retribution – just as Cain destroyed Abel’s bloodline, Abel asks God to wipe out Cain’s bloodline as well. The punishment, here, fits the crime. Thus Abel becomes a figurehead for all martyrs – a reason for revenge. His murder became a way for people to understand and reckon with the murder of innocents. It became a representation and inquiry regarding the definition of justice. One may find it tricky that Abel is not specifically referred to as righteous when crying out. The only time he is referred to as such in the New Testament is in Matthew 23:34-35, when Jesus likens him to Zechariah. This could also allude to Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (the righteous must die so that the guilty will live). Abel’s cry is one for final justice for the world as a whole. However, the difference between Abel’s death and Christ’s death is that while Abel demands justice, Christ’s sacrifice is one of reconciliation. “There was an expectation that the righteous would judge their persecutors” according to Byron (753), making Abel a judge, in some sense. Through his murder and cry for vengeance, the innocent victim is turned into “the dispenser of justice” (756).
Abel is the personification of vengeance within the Bible. However, it is still to God that he makes his cry. God remains the ultimate judge, continuing the belief that humanity should not be involved in the process. The motivations behind God’s vengeance stem from his righteousness, while Abel’s cry stems from wrath. This is what separates God’s moral revenge from humanity’s immoral one.
Jones, F. W. “The Formulation of the Revenge Motif in the Odyssey.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 72 (1941): 195-202.JSTOR. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
One of the themes of The Odyssey, though to be written around 800 BC, is revenge. The entire consummation of the work rests upon this theme. The crime of the suitors during the tale is brought to an end by Odysseus’s return. Telemachus even warns the suitors of their impending doom and they choose to ignore it and continue in their ways. Jones discusses the triad of vengeance: its agent (the absent Odysseus), its object (the suitors and their hubris), and its instrument (Telemachus and Athene). The first of the three expresses hope for vengeance. The second foreshadows its implementation. The third drives the point home. Zeus’s approval of the matter stresses the pagan belief that one must recover his own honor. This is what Odysseus eventually does. This act of brutal retribution by Odysseus, then, is considered to be moral and just, not only due to Zeus’s approval of the deed, but also because of the accepted legal terms regarding the concept of revenge. Hence, the pagan view of revenge (at least in terms of the Greeks) was one of high morality. Defending one’s honor and combating hubris were seen to be good deeds. Enacting vengeance to achieve these ends was considered to be just and morally sound. This idea of retribution is also tackled in Medea and the Greek tragedy of Oedipus.
Wilson, Eric. “The Blood Wrought Peace: A Girardian Reading Of Beowulf.” English Language Notes 34.1 (1996): 7. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
The retribution of violence in the world of Beowulf is discussed in this essay by Eric Wilson. Wilson begins by stating the fact that no act of violence in the work is self-contained; they are all responses to previous acts of violence and their reasoning lies within the concept of vengeance. There is a heavy correlation between violence and ritual in Beowulf, and it is seen time and time again in the events that occur within the pages of the poem. Wilson references another critic named Girard who states that violence is born out of revenge. This revenge creates a chain reaction that, in theory, becomes unending. This mimetic violence can also be witnessed in Oedipus Rex and other Greek tragedies. Reciprocal violence, he says, does not discriminate; it leaves all involved with a consequential lust for blood. Girard stresses that a culture’s existence depends on firmly drawn lines of distinction. Hence, revenge levels these lines and threatens the existence of such a civilization. Human culture is born from the collective murder of a scapegoat in an attempt to prevent future murders.
The presence of the “monstrous” is also something integral to reciprocal violence. Take Grendel and his mother, for example. They represent the worst parts of the culture of the world of Beowulf. These traits are personified in the monsters (as well as the dragon, in addition) in order to show the hero’s triumph over evil (aka humanity’s triumph over primitive blood lust). In Beowulf, peace is always a temporary thing, never a permanent state of being. The principle of blood lust is present within the poem, as well. The hero, however, is not above this retribution, which suggests that triumph lies not in putting a stop to the cycle, but rather ending the lives of those who oppose him. Thus the hero takes on a monstrous quality as well. Though the cycle of violence threatened society, it was also a staple. Girard’s aforementioned necessary distinctions are quite real in the world of the poem. In Wulfstan’s 1014 sermon to the English, the failure of kinsman to protect one another “with their swords” is a sign of society’s disintegration and eventual apocalypse (12).
The author continues to discuss symbolism with Beowulf while drawing in his thesis repeatedly to support his claims. The distinctions between human and non-human within both the king and the monsters are tackled. These distinctions are extremely important in determining the morality of the characters’ actions. The revenge concept is linked to the tradition of Cain’s violence from the Bible. What seems to be the morality of revenge (specifically in terms of violence) within Beowulf can be discovered in the motivation for it: while Grendel and his mother operate on strict blood lust, Beowulf and his followers are attempting to promote peace.
Camargo, Martin. “The Finn Episode and The Tragedy Of Revenge In Beowulf.” Studies In Philology 78.5 (1981): 120. Academic Search Complete. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
In this article, Camargo discusses the unknown author’s longest diversion from the true storyline – the Finn episode. According to Camargo, the song plays a crucial role in reinforcing the main theme of Beowulf. Camargo links the Finn episode to the events that happen at Heorot, suggesting that it foreshadows the future of the tale. It is meant to stress Beowulf’s “adherence to the revenge ethic” which is apparently a heroic virtue “not strongly to be brought out in the known events of Beowulf’s life” (122). Camargo makes a parallel between Hengest and Beowulf, saying that it foreshadows Beowulf’s fight with Grendel’s mother. It also sets up a contrast in that Hengest was torn between his duty to avenge Hnaef and his oath of loyalty to Finn. Beowulf himself even says the following regarding revenge:
“Wise sir, do not grieve. It is always better
to avenge dear ones than to indulge in mourning.
For every one of us, living in this world
means waiting for our end. Let whoever can
win glory before death. When a warrior is gone,
that will be his best and only bulwark.”
This statement on the morality of revenge characterizes Beowulf. Another parallel between the two lies in Unferth’s giving of the sword to Beowulf, just as Hunlafing does to Hengest prior to his vengeance upon Finn. Beowulf is called upon by duty to avenge Grendel’s murders. It is more of a ritual than it is a good deed, or the “right” thing to do. Furthermore, the use of such a tragic, vengeful, bloody story “coming at the very peak of the festivities” in the poem suggests that the cycle of violent revenge goes on. The chain of retributory violence remains unbroken and so the cycle continues; more violence is imminent. Camargo states that the poet makes remarks regarding the injustice of revenge and suffering, saying that women in the poem are seen as “peace bringers” (127). When women act like men, they become monstrous, he says, noting that pride (one of the seven deadly sins) is reason for their downfall. The morality of these blood feuds seems to be tackled with the use of pathos and an emphasis on loyalty and a familial bond. Beowulf is seen as the Germanic hero who protects his people through enacting vengeance on Grendel, his mother, and the dragon. Camargo points out a defect in the poet’s argument. Though he states that all strife began with Cain’s murder of Abel, the Christian influence in the poem should negate the need for revenge, considering God is the one with whom all judgmental duties should rest. “From the poet’s Christian perspective, all strife involves kinsmen because all men are brothers. Any code which has for its central tenet the duty of revenge is therefore, from that same perspective, fundamentally defective” (130). Consequently, the Beowulf poet, according to Camargo, shows the reader that revenge is an endless cycle that blurs the lines of morality. Everyone loses when they play this game, thus making the duty of revenge a pretty pointless endeavor, no matter the morality of it.
Greenfield, Thelma N. “”The Spanish Tragedy”: Revenge’s and Andrea’s Kindred.” Pacific Coast Philology 16.2 (1981): 33-43. JSTOR. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
The concept of revenge is personified in Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, published in 1592. As a character, Revenge holds a lot of power throughout the piece. He eventually deems himself a judge, saying “let me be judge, and doom them” (35). He is indifferent to the suffering of others and remains a mysterious character throughout the play. Greenfield continues to discuss the nature of Revenge. Though it is said that it needs to be doled out by God, and is officially sanctioned by Persephone, the fact still remains that no matter what, revenge is still a necessity. The link between revenge and justice is questioned throughout the play and eventually ends up showing the limits and freedoms of the genre of revenge tragedy. Greenfield makes the assertion that revenge must be enacted, but I disagree. Revenge, to me, in terms of this characterization, is not human but a ghost. Reminiscent of humanity, he has lost his true sense of morality. Revenge’s decisions are rooted in pride and wrath, thus making any act of vengeance a true sin. No references to duty or pathos are really stressed strongly like they are in Beowulf. It is more of a piece that dramatizes the struggle of mankind overall than suggesting the true morality of an act of vengeance.
Bell, Millicent. “Hamlet, Revenge!” The Hudson Review 51.2 (1998): 310-28. JSTOR. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet is one of the most well-known revenge tragedy plays. Bell discusses its adherence to the characteristics of the genre as well as its depiction of the concept of revenge. Bell also refers to Hamlet as a type of metatheatre – theatre about theatre. Certainly, the melodrama present within the play suggests a characteristic of metatheatre, but I do not entirely agree that it would completely fall under that definition. However, Bell stresses that actors are often audiences themselves and theatrical language is used so often within the play that it further reinforces metatheatricality. Hamlet’s desire to evade tradition and audience expectations seem relevant during his course of action – especially in terms of his “madness.” Perhaps this is why he takes so long to enact his revenge – it is not a simple ritual like it is in Beowulf. The idea of potentiality is discussed as well, with Bell stating that Hamlet is full of potential – there is no limit to the offenses of which he might be capable. Bell finds that Shakespeare’s Hamlet is left unclassifiable; he is unable to become anything but the revenger that the play eventually makes him into. Bell also discusses the paradox in Hamlet’s views on the contradictions of human nature. This also evokes a theme of appearance versus reality, Hamlet battling with his innermost desires and thoughts. Ophelia’s utterance of “Lord, we know what we are, but we know not what we may be” suggests, again, Hamlet’s potentiality. Hamlet’s transformation into an avenger, according to Bell, requires him to relinquish his title as lover (322). Hamlet considers acting effectively and if one ever truly can do so in a rational manner (which relates to the Great Conversation in terms of a man of action versus a man of thought), but generally prefers to act violently and impulsively. Hamlet questions if anything can be truly known in terms of certainty. Thus, revenge is not a true and swift punishment. It is not an effective act of rationality. In fact, Laertes’s revenge is turned against him and causes his own death by the poisoned rapier. Revenge, then, is not a just action and moreso, in Hamlet’s opinion, is not effective unless it is thought through prior to taking action. This is why Laertes and Fortinbras fail in their revenge acts. Hamlet, in thinking it through, defines the morality of his actions in order to proceed. Hence, I disagree with Bell’s assertion that Hamlet’s decision took too long. He needed that time in order to decide the morality of his revenge and whether it should or should not be enacted. A man of action is nothing without reasons and careful thought behind those actions.
Ayres, Philip J. “Marston’s Antonio’s Revenge: The Morality of the Revenging Hero.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 12.2 (1972): 359-74. JSTOR. Web. 24 Nov. 2013.
Ayres discusses the morality of Antonio’s revenge and compares it to that of Hamlet, The Spanish Tragedy, and Titus Andronicus. It is said that it is meant more as a parody of the genre of revenge tragedy rather than an accurate depiction of it. The story begins with pathos, a sympathy for the main character, and a statement regarding the savage nature of the world of the play. As the plot continues to thicken, the audience becomes enraptured in Antonio’s world and seem to be in agreement regarding revenging his father’s death. It seems to be a “justifiable answer to the evil forces at large in the world of the play” according to the audience (361). Ayres discusses the direction Marston takes in terms of the myth of the heroic revenger, stating that the understanding of the “real nature of the revenger” is necessary (362). It should be noted that Antonio views himself as innocent and religious. Antonio’s initial urge to enact revenge is followed by a period of deep thought, much like Hamlet’s hesitation. Also like Hamlet, Antonio must give up his religious innocence in order to adopt the traditional persona of the revenger. Another important factor of this transformation is the lack of consent from God; Antonio does not ask God for vengeance, but instead assumes His consent. This transformation allows Marston to tell the audience that he has become “in every respect except in deed a murderer” and also “more than a devil” (364). Marston proposes that his main character has gone through moral degradation and, though formerly reacted towards in a sympathetic nature, he is now past such reception. The lack of mercy in the following scenes denotes, also, a lack of morality in Antonio’s actions. He has no concern regarding the morality of his actions as the play progresses. This thoughtlessness defines his revenge as simple bloodlust – something that would not qualify it as moral by any means. In the end, Antonio is viewed as a true villain, a project of his blood lust and desire for vengeance.
This paper was written for Professor Hill’s Early English Masterworks class at Sam Houston State University on September 11, 2013.
The Role of the Fairy Tale
Imagination builds creativity – something viewed as quite essential not only to early development in children, but also for adults in the working world. It begins with stories told to little ones in books – stories such as Peter Pan, The Little Mermaid, and Sleeping Beauty. Such stories grow into bigger fantasy realms that have the ability to entice the somewhat older generation (ie: Harry Potter and Twilight). However, there comes a time at which fairy tales and illusions must be let go of in order to successfully move forward, such as in the journeys of the main character in Voltaire’s Candide. The question this situation seems to beg is this: Are fairy tales and such illusions as those found in books harmful or helpful overall? This question is addressed in both an interview given with Richard Dawkins as well as a piece written by J.R.R. Tolkien, titled The Monsters and the Critics. Both Dawkins and Tolkien have firm beliefs on both sides on the spectrum in terms of whether fictional fairy stories are truly necessary or not and whether monsters should just be removed from the equation.
Richard Dawkins seems to believe that fairy tales are childish, romanticized stories meant for the naïve to stay naïve. Dawkins has a strong background in science, logic, and atheism, which is why he stresses his belief that reality is the thing that should be focused on instead of magic and monsters. When accused of taking the magic out of childhood by his interviewer, Dawkins simply responds by saying, “There’s so much magic in science.” His adherence to reality and science reveal to the listener that Dawkins has a hypothesis regarding myths. To him, they inspire a negative connotation. As he explains in the interview, he has no real evidence that there are any “pernicious effects” on children brought up with such mythical thinking such as believing in spells and magic and other things of that nature (Dawkins). However, he plans to study that subject a bit more. In any case, it is quite obvious that Richard Dawkins is opposed to the existence of fairy tales and myths filled with monsters such as the dragon or Grendel in Beowulf. Valuing reality over fiction, Dawkins has made it clear that he intends to pursue truth over mysticism and spectacle, and that he does not approve of monster stories.
J.R.R. Tolkien, on the other hand, seems firmly rooted in his belief that myths such as Beowulf are extremely significant in a positive manner; this is a severe contradiction to Dawkins and his commentary on the genre. Tolkien takes some time in Monsters and the Critics to discuss his views on the role and impact of the fairy tale. Tolkien argues that monster stories have an ability that normal stories with only human characters do not. The monsters make the story universal regarding a hero facing the forces of evil in a way that simply writing about a hero versus a “bad” historical human would not. Tolkien comments on this, saying, “for the universal significance which is given to the fortunes of its hero is an enhancement and not a detraction that his final foe should not be some Swedish prince, or treacherous friend, but a dragon: a thing made by imagination for just such a purpose” (Tolkien). It not only makes Beowulf what it is, but the presence of monsters enhances the overall story. It provides a larger, bigger picture view of Beowulf’s conflict and the conflict of all men in the struggle of life. “It is just because the main foes in Beowulf are inhuman that the story is larger and more significant,” Tolkien says. “It glimpses the cosmic and moves with the thought of all men concerning the fate of human life and efforts; it stands amid but above the petty wars of princes.” In other words, Beowulf’s triumphs are not just triumphs. It is not a historical story meant to inform. The story functions almost as an allegory in this way. Beowulf’s dragon was necessary; it was needed. No other end would have been better for him than that of such intensity. As Tolkien explains in Monsters and the Critics, replacing the dragon with a man would have just been absolutely absurd and destroyed the story.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s words juxtaposed with Richard Dawkins’s interview bring to light an obvious disagreement between the two. While Dawkins strictly values reality over fiction, Tolkien argues the importance of such beings (monsters and the like) by stressing their significance in literature and the symbolism they tend to have in works such as Beowulf. Either way, monsters and magic have been present in literature for many, many years and don’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
- “Interview with Richard Dawkins on Fairy Tales and Retirement – Channel 4 –
RichardDawkins.net.” Interview with Richard Dawkins on Fairy Tales and Retirement –
Channel 4 – RichardDawkins.net. The Richard Dawkins Foundation, n.d. Web. 15 Sept.
- Tolkien, J.R.R. “Monsters and the Critics.” English.uga.edu. University of Georgia, n.d. Web. 25
This paper was written for Professor Victoria Lantz’s Modern Drama class at Sam Houston State University on September 23, 2013.
Battle of the Sexes: A Look at Gender Relations in Hedda Gabler and Pygmalion
In both Hedda Gabbler and Pygmalion, gender roles as well as the relations between the two sexes are discussed. The evident tensions between males and females at the time of each play are brought to light – tensions that range from sexual and emotional to financial and social. In order to fully understand the text, these tensions must be identified and discussed. The “battle” between the sexes is a long-standing theme of many works of literature, art, and theatre. It is only fitting that this theme is utilized in Hedda Gabler and Pygmalion.
From the beginning of the play, the main characters in Hedda Gabler are captured in a constant power struggle. This fight is not always easily readable on the surface, however. For instance, Hedda’s insistence that her husband, George, should advance in his career pleases him and causes him to believe that she loves him. Beneath the surface lies the truth of the matter: she only desires his success because it means that she will acquire his wealth. As a former general’s daughter, Hedda is accustomed to life in the upper-middle-class, and George’s lower-middle-class life does not suit her. As a woman, Hedda knows that she cannot provide for herself and so she must attain a husband in order to retain any wealth. She only marries Tesman because she felt that her time was running out and he was “a thoroughly acceptable choice.” (Ibsen 220) He struggles to provide adequately for her, saying that he “simply couldn’t have her live like a grocer’s wife.” (Ibsen 215) This statement goes far beyond the fact that his husbandly duties require him to take care of her. Hedda is not only a wife, but also an upper-middle-class woman who is used to her former lifestyle. Nothing but the best will do for her. This is displayed when Hedda talks to George about the piano, saying “I’m just looking at my old piano. It doesn’t really fit in with all these other things.” George suggests that they trade it in for a new one in order to appease her, but Hedda refuses his offer. Instead, she tells him that they will “put it there, in the inner room, and get another here in its place. When there’s a chance, I mean.” (Ibsen 208) George is cast down, but accepts her demands. This reaction is seen throughout the play, signaling his obvious lack of power in their marriage. Hedda is clearly the head of the household, though George is the breadwinner. Again, he displays his submission to her when she complains of being unable to have a butler, a horse, and various other things that she desired. She dreams of the beautiful ideal – a romanticized and unattainable view of life – much like Emma does in Madame Bovary. And, as Ibsen believed, “The single-minded desire to achieve an ideal life wreaks destruction.” (Gainor 198) Her disillusionment leads to her inevitable downfall.
This battle is also evident in the couple’s different views of their current situation. “While Tesman thinks he has provided an ideal house, his wife from the bottom of her heart despises it and the life it offers. Gradually we learn that Hedda married Tesman and encouraged his purchase of the house only out of boredom and because she felt that her time and options were running out. But now she finds herself trapped in her marriage, and in the house.” (Gainor 197) Tesman is happy with what he has and Hedda is the complete opposite – she has different expectations. As showcased in her ridiculous outburst regarding sunlight coming into the room and the smell of too many flowers, Hedda is never satisfied, and will never be such as she requires something that is completely unrealistic and unattainable. Hedda lives in a dream world, while George accepts his reality and remains content within it. In order to “deal” with her situation, Hedda manipulates the people around her “as if they she were the director of a play.” (Gainor 198) Boredom, she says, is her reason for such actions. Shooting at Judge Brack is an action that comes out of Hedda’s boredom. When he criticizes her for her rashness, she says, “Well, what in heaven’s name do you want me to do with myself?” (Ibsen 218) George, on the other hand, loses himself in his work in order to deal with reality. He even says, “One should never go off and lose oneself in dreams, uh?” To this, Hedda replies, “Do you do that?” This shows her complete denial of her disillusionment with reality. George responds, “No use denying it. It was living in dreams to go and get married and set up house on nothing but expectations.” (Ibsen 217) Again, this is where the couple’s problem lies – in expectations. While Hedda is lost in a fantasy world of what marriage should be, George is firmly grounded in reality. He understands that Hedda’s dream is unattainable and does what he can to please her, even though he will forever come up short. He does all things “for Hedda’s sake,” while she does everything for herself, even if those motivations are hidden under lies and manipulation.
Pygmalion brings to light several gender strains – ones having to do with independence, money, marriage, and behavior. First of all, as Henry Higgins often explains to anyone who will listen, a lady must speak English correctly in order to go anywhere in life. Ironically, he is not held to that same standard. While Eliza has to repeatedly prove herself (which explains her constant reminder of “I’m a good girl, I am!”), Higgins is never asked to. He may be reprimanded for his lack of manners, but he certainly is never demoted in class or treatment because of them. Eliza notices this double standard right off the bat. When Mrs. Pearce tells her, “You mustn’t speak to the gentleman like that”, Eliza says, “Well, why won’t he speak sensible to me?” (Shaw 419) Higgins is often seen cursing and being rude to those around him. Mrs. Pearce even warns him to watch his tongue and his behavior in front of Eliza. He remains in denial about himself, but still agrees to her demands. It is important to note that this double standard (for men and women such as Higgins and Eliza) is evident throughout the entire play.
Men also hold true to the value of marriage – a woman is nothing, and can do nothing significant, without a man. A female’s accomplishments are all tied to the male relationships in her life. Even some women, such as Clara and her mother at the beginning of the play, seem trapped beneath this societal idea. After Freddy returns without a taxi during a rainstorm, Clara complains, “And what about us? Are we to stay here all night in this draught, with next to nothing on. You selfish pig.” (Shaw 409) These women rely on Freddy, the man, to do things for them. Why couldn’t Clara and her mother be out in the rain, looking for a taxi as well? It all has to do with gender. A true lady doesn’t get soaked in a rainstorm. A gentleman goes to get her a taxi. Men must take care of women.
Henry Higgins also holds this idea – that women are nothing without men – in high esteem. He speaks of Eliza in Act 2, saying that “the girl doesn’t belong to anybody – is no use to anybody but me.” (Shaw 422) This labels Eliza as an object – his experiment – more than an actual human being. In fact, Higgins actually buys Eliza from her father. These events signal a societal standard about gender. A woman must belong to some man somewhere, or else she is pretty much worthless. This is why Higgins takes on the challenge of making her into a lady; she cannot do it on her own and will remain worthless without a man’s help. This also applies to the end of the play when Eliza speaks with Higgins. He continues to take credit for her accomplishments, saying, “You won my bet! You! Presumptuous insect! I won it! What did you throw those slippers at me for?” (Shaw 445) As Eliza and Higgins continue to fight, he resorts to calling her a “creature” again, as he did in the beginning of the play. When she does things Higgins does not like, he reacts in this manner. Eliza knows his views of her, and even says, “I’m nothing to you – not so much as them slippers.” (Shaw 446) It should be noted that Eliza Doolittle is alone in the beginning of the play as a flower girl, and, with the help of two men, becomes successful. Thus, her decision to retain her independence shocks Henry Higgins. He is unable to accept the fact that Eliza does not have to apply the same societal standards to herself as other women have before her. Higgins loses his mind when Eliza leaves independently – making the choice on her own. When she returns to speak with him, he angrily says, “Let her speak for herself. You will jolly soon see whether she has an idea that I haven’t put into her head or a word that I haven’t put into her mouth. I tell you I have created this thing out of the squashed cabbage leaves of Covent Garden; and now she pretends to play the fine lady with me.” (Shaw 454) Eliza’s lesson can be summed up in one simple quote: “The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.” (Shaw 455). This turns Higgins’s argument on its head, suggesting that Higgins is not a gentleman, but a common man, while Eliza has been a lady all her life. She also tells him that instead of a man making something out of her, “Perhaps [she] could make something out of him.” (Shaw 460) This reversal of traditional gender roles and loss of power frustrates Higgins to no end.
Hence, both plays discuss gender as a social construct built in different ways by each sex. While men tend to assume they hold the power over women at all times, Hedda Gabler depicts women as having the true power. Pygmalion does the same, but in a different way. Hedda never breaks through into independence; she simply masks her true self. Eliza does not use manipulation – she is honest with Higgins and herself. Once she is able to do things on her own, she relinquishes her title of “experiment” and becomes an independent woman, despite Higgins’s protests. In conclusion, the difference between the two women is that Eliza grows out of her dependency and Hedda does not.
- Ibsen, Henrik. “Hedda Gabler.” 2009. The Norton Anthology of Drama. By J. Ellen. Gainor,
Stanton B. Garner, and Martin Puchner. Vol. 2. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2009. 195-
- Shaw, George Bernard. “Pygmalion.” 2009. The Norton Anthology of Drama. By J. Ellen.
Gainor, Stanton B. Garner, and Martin Puchner. Vol. 2. New York: W. W. Norton &,
- 408-70. Print.
I wrote this paper for a summer class (COMM 1307) with Professor Wilkerson. The following was written as a final paper.
The Watergate Scandal: Skepticism in Journalism
What role do journalists play in modern society? Do they exist solely to entertain and inform the public? Perhaps their purpose goes beyond that of a storyteller and in fact, is one of an enforcer. What better way to enforce the law than through exposing the truth? It used to be that questioning authority was dangerous, but now it’s the other way around; not questioning it could be even more damaging. Along with a multitude of other events like the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal changed the face of American journalism forever as well as the attitudes of everyday Americans toward government and other figures of authority. Respect was no longer automatic; it had to be earned.
On June 18, 1972, veteran police reporter Alfred E. Lewis broke this story on the front page of The Washington Post. “Five men, one of whom said he is a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, were arrested at 2:30 a.m. yesterday in what authorities described as an elaborate plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee here,” it read. (Perry 1) Apparently, several of Nixon’s associates in the Republican Party broke in and burglarized Democratic Party headquarters in Washington, D.C. They also searched for sensitive documents that might help them to tarnish the reputations of Democratic Party candidates. The event came at a time when Vietnam was still a large issue and was easily overshadowed by the upcoming election news. Once Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward were assigned to the story, however, it was a whole different ball game. They even followed The New York Times as they broke different pieces of information about the scandal, attempting to catch up. Finally, with the help of a confidential informant referred to as “Deep Throat”, Bernstein and Woodward were able to expose the “foul play and cover-up that followed.” (Straubhaar 98) “Deep Throat” was later revealed to be William Mark Felt, Sr., the former assistant director of the FBI during the Nixon administration. This fact was not revealed to the public until 2005, about 30 years after the incident had occurred. The story even caused Richard Nixon to resign from the presidency. On July 24 of the same year, the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon had to hand over the tapes of incriminating conversations he had recorded in his office, which investigators called the “smoking gun.” (Perry) Nixon refused. Several days later, “the House Judiciary Committee passed the first of three impeachment articles, obstruction of justice.” (Perry) On August 8, Nixon finally resigned. His vice president, Gerald Ford, succeeded him.
Above all else, the Watergate scandal made journalists think twice before trusting anyone, especially those in positions of authority. Though previously, journalists and government officials protected each other’s reputations, the Watergate scandal could not silence the truth; skepticism became the new norm. Journalists became “watchdogs,” people who would keep an eye on the government and authority figures to point out deception. While it brought about changes in the realm of political ethics, Watergate also “marked the birth of a different kind of reporting – more aggressive and much less respectful of the establishment.” (Shepard) Investigative journalism was suddenly “sexy” and an entire generation became interested in journalism due to the enormous contributions of Woodward and Bernstein (Shepard). This increase in interest, in turn, generated an increase in investigative reporting itself, with the question of “who will watch the government if we don’t?” prodding them along. One year after Nixon’s resignation (1975), the Investigative Reporters and Editors organization – which is still operating today – was founded. Investigative reporting makes “a difference in government and in people’s daily lives.” (Shepard)
Where would we be without the work of Bernstein and Woodward? It’s a sobering thought, to be honest. Perhaps the government would get away with more than they do now. Perhaps we’d be more naïve and fall for things more easily – events like the War of the Worlds broadcast, or misleading advertisements. If Watergate taught us anything, it’s that you can’t believe everything you hear and how it is so important to do research before making any judgments. Investigative journalism boomed because of this scandal and probably owes its success to these two men.
Perry, James M. “Watergate Case Study.” Columbia.edu. Columbia University, n.d. Web. 17
Shepard, Alicia. “The Journalism Watergate Inspired Is Endangered Now.”Nytimes.com. The
New York Times, 13 June 2012. Web. 17 Aug. 2014.
Straubhaar, Joseph D., and Robert LaRose. Media Now: Understanding Media Culture and
Technology. 7th ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Wadsworth, 2004. Print.
“The Watergate Story – Timeline.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 17 Aug.
Von Drehle, David. “FBI’s No. 2 Was ‘Deep Throat’: Mark Felt Ends 30-Year Mystery of The
Post’s Watergate Source.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 1 June 2005. Web. 17
In honor of Mesothelioma Awareness Day (September 26), I am choosing to be a voice for the victims – to educate others about mesothelioma, a disease that takes thousands of lives every year. With education comes awareness. With awareness comes action. With action comes change.
What is Asbestos?
Asbestos is a set of six naturally-occurring (in rock and soil) silicate minerals. Once lauded for its versatility, it is now classified as a known human carcinogen, because of its association with mesothelioma. Due to its fiber strength and heat resistance, asbestos has been utilized in many construction projects, not only as a fire retardant but also as insulation for buildings. It can be found in a multitude of building materials such as floor tiles and shingles, but can also be discovered in automobile clutch, brake, and transmission parts, heat-resistant fabrics, packaging, steam pipes, and gaskets.
Due to the fact that it is linked with mesothelioma, one would assume its use would be banned, but that is not the case. Though it has been banned in over 50 countries, the U.S. is not one of them. On average, 30 million pounds of asbestos are being put to use within the country. This puts many citizens at risk as asbestos remains the leading cause of occupational cancer in the United States.
On July 12, 1989, the EPA issued a final rule banning most asbestos-containing products. In 1991, this regulation was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. As a result of this decision, only a few asbestos-containing products remain banned.
Let’s break it down further to see the actual impact of this decision. The EPA estimates that there are asbestos containing materials in most of the nations approximately 107,000 primary and secondary schools and 733,000 public and commercial buildings. This year alone, 10,000 Americans will die of asbestos-related diseases such as lung cancer or mesothelioma, and 200,000 people will be living with asbestos.
What is Mesothelioma?
Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer affecting the membrane lining of the lungs, heart, and abdomen. The only known cause of the disease is exposure to asbestos. Making a correct mesothelioma diagnosis is quite difficult for doctors due to the fact that the disease often presents itself along with other symptoms that mimic other common ailments.
There is currently no known cure for mesothelioma, but treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy have been known to improve the typical mesothelioma prognosis.
For those affected, asking the question, “How long do I have to live?” can be terrifying. It is a hard question to answer, not only because everyone is different, but also because of the characteristics of the cancer itself; it is quite unpredictable.
Unfortunately, in recent years, the prognosis for this disease has been quite dismal. Mesothelioma commonly sits dormant in the body for 20-50 years after initial exposure to asbestos, making its detection quite difficult. Consequently, many affected are unable to detect the disease until its advanced stages.
The one-year survival rate for this disease rests at 40 percent. The five-year survival rate for people with this disease (a number that shows how many patients are still alive five years after diagnosis) is currently about 10 percent. Though low, this number is in fact much higher than it was several decades ago. There is hope for an increase with progress in the medical field.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
As the graphic above mentions, early detection is key to a more favorable prognosis. So how do you go about preventing this disease?
While there are really no typical screening processes in place as there are for things like breast cancer, some doctors recommend imaging tests (x-rays or CT scans) to search for changes in the lungs that could indicate mesothelioma or lung cancer. In has been noted that people living with mesothelioma often have high levels of osteopontin and soluble mesothelin-related peptides, also known as SMRPs. Blood tests for the aforementioned substances may eventually be quite useful in diagnosing this disease early on.
Above all else, one should know the symptoms and signs of mesothelioma. If detected, one should bring this up with their doctor immediately. Most people experience these symptoms for several months.
Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma (mesothelioma of the chest) can include:
- Pain in the lower back or at the side of the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Fluid in the area around the lung
- Excessive sweating
- Weight loss (without trying)
- Trouble swallowing (feeling like food gets stuck)
- Swelling of the face and arms
Symptoms of peritoneal mesothelioma can include:
- Abdominal (belly) pain
- Swelling or fluid in the abdomen
- Weight loss (without trying)
- Nausea and vomiting
The Strength of a Survivor
In 2006, Cameron Von St. James and Heather Von St. James were just beginning to celebrate the birth of their baby girl, Lily, when they were caught off-guard; Heather was diagnosed with mesothelioma. She was told that she only had 15 months (456 days) left to live.
After considering her options, Heather opted in to a life-saving surgery that included the removal of her left lung. She is now “thriving more than ever,” according to her husband Cameron.
Being one of a few survivors, Heather’s family has now made it their mission to spread awareness of the disease that almost took Heather from them. It is a preventable disease that takes numerous innocent lives every year.
For more information on Heather’s journey, visit her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter, or check out her awareness page. To find out more about mesothelioma or the treatment options, check out mesothelioma.com.
This article was originally published in The Cougar. To view the original story, click here.
A new semester is about to begin at UH and everyone is gearing up for fall classes. For those graduating this semester, more than classes will be on their minds.
The world beyond graduation is something that many students worry about. Thankfully, UH students have plenty of options to help them navigate the waters:
- University Career Services
- Rockwell Career Center
- Cullen College of Engineering Career Center
- Hotel Restaurant Management Career Services
- College of Technology Career Services
- Law Center Career Development Office
All of these offer services to help students zero in on their strengths, work on their resumes or curriculum vitae and help them secure a job after graduation.
For those feeling lost, never fear: these establishments are here to help, as is this breakdown of several of the centers and how they can help.
University Career Services
UCS offers a multitude of services to assist students on their road to success. Not only does the center offer resume improvement services, but also major exploration, one-on-one counseling and skills workshops ranging from mock interviews to job searching.
“Students often do not know that we assist with graduate school planning, whether it be law school, medical school, pharmacy school or other graduate programs,” said UCS CLASS Career Counselor Andrew Tessmer. “We can assist with determining if your plan fits within the time frame you are considering, if your plan meets your values and interests, what you can do with your graduate degree or even how to apply. We also do personal statement critiques and can assist you on how to approach professors for letters of recommendation.”
UCS also helps recent graduates and alumni via Alumni Career Services.
“Recent graduates have access to our services for free for one semester immediately following graduation,” said Alumni Career Counselor and CLASS Career Counselor Sydney Webster. “During the semester after graduation, they are able to meet with career counselors, come to walk-in hours, participate in Alumni Career Fairs, on-campus recruiting, and attend workshops on career development topics such as resume building, interviewing tips, or how to work a career fair. For example, a summer graduate would have access to these services until the end of the fall semester.”
Overall, University Career Services works with and coaches all majors, so all students and alumni should feel comfortable walking into UCS (located in the Student Services building) and asking for help.
Advice from UCS on how to get hired after graduation:
- Make strong connections with faculty, staff and other students while you are still at UH. It is much easier for you to grow your network of future colleagues while you are still active on campus and in the same classes. Networking is the most important job search strategy.
- Visit UCS early and often. The transition from backpack to briefcase will be exponentially easier for you if you are well prepared and know what to expect. Be an active participant in your own career planning.
- Research, research, research! Research what you can do with your major. Research what types of positions align best with your values and goals. Research which companies will provide the type of environment that you want to work in. Research what the average pay is so you are prepared for salary negotiations. Research the position requirements and the organization so you are prepared for the interview. All the research papers you will have to do at UH are not just assignments for your classes; they are preparing you for your future.
Rockwell Career Center
Nestled within the Bauer School of Business, Rockwell Career Center is exclusively for business majors. Since its establishment in 1997, Rockwell has tripled the number of career counseling appointments their office delivers to Bauer students. The center now has more than 3,000 one-on-one meetings with students each year to assist them with career development.
Another increase has been noted in the job department. The number of jobs posted for Bauer students has increased seven-fold in the past ten years (from 300 to more than 2,100 each year).
“By having a dedicated career center, we’re able to work closely with faculty, students and employers at Bauer to better connect Bauer students with those employers who are specifically seeking business majors,” said Assistant Dean of the Rockwell Career Center Jamie Belinne. “When companies are seeking majors other than business, we refer them to University Career Services of the appropriate college career center to find those students.”
Rockwell offers job postings, on-campus interviews, workshops, webinars, online tools, salary data, career counseling, mock interview weeks and networking events to business students. These services are also offered to alumni.
While Bauer students are encouraged to take advantage of the services offered by UCS, resources specific to their major would come from Rockwell. Just as the career centers in the schools of technology, law, social work, and hotel restaurant management can specifically help students with those majors, Rockwell is the best resource for business students.
Advice from Rockwell on how to get hired after graduation:
- Work with your career center.
- Network with professionals through relevant student or community organizations.
- Do an internship relevant to your field.