Thursday, April 22, 2010

Final Post

Well, it has been fun, I suppose. I haven't been the best at keeping up with this blog posting thing, but it was a new experience. And the reading was interesting. Before my paper, I had no idea why we read half the books we did. Now, like I said in my last post, I'm a little more aware of why those themes are important. I also found it interesting how the work of Darwin affected the US more then anywhere else, perhaps because of a stronger intellectual movement in Europe? Anyway, I fear I will begin rambling if I continue on that subject.

My time in class, I have conflicting feelings about. To be honest, I felt it was too heavily based on the academic ideas and not enough time was given to the concepts of social movements. For example, I think we did an excellent job of analyzing the naturalist elements in McTeague, but we did not spend much time talking about the overall reason that such elements were important to the culture at the time. Same with our first book, the Blithedale Romance. While we touched on the idea of feminist movements, we did not really explore them in a greater context. Before my paper, I had no idea that Darwin's work had influenced the culture in the way that it had. In general, I suppose that was the point, to give greater perspective. I just wish we had spent more time exploring such perspective. While the individual is interesting (ie, the individual author's perspectives), it is the culture surrounding them that shapes them.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Workng on my paper

I've enjoyed working on my paper, to a degree. There were things I already new, of course, like the fact that Darwin's ideas weren't new at the time, but I had not realized the extent of this. I also had assumed that naturalism had really evolved after Darwin published his work, but the truth was that Darwin himself was a naturalist. What started as simply a look on Darwin's influence on naturalism in turn has come full circle to naturalism's impact on Darwin, as well as the roots of naturalism.
Ah, but that last part presents a problem, and one I am sad to say I do not have time to adequately deal justice. One of my sources makes a link to naturalistic themes used in ancient times. However, it is difficult to separate out the ideas of a handful of powerful individuals as opposed to a social movement. To do so would require an in-depth analysis of historical links to naturalism, perhaps a look at the roots of evolutionary theory (some of which is debated), and a cross cultural analysis to see if naturalism arose primarily from one background, or if it evolved separately in various cultures, both possibilities having different implications concerning the nature of philosophy.
This brings me to the point I want to end on this week. I had not looked at naturalism really as a social movement. Perhaps it is because my studies have looked more at the early 1900s, when such ideas were getting adapted to various evolutionary theories on culture and social darwinism. Perhaps it was my own optimism that limited my sight, as I see naturalism as an incredibly bleak perspective, suggesting that humans are inherently horrible creatures and that society only holds us back so that when we give into our urges it is that much worse. To be honest, I do find it depressing that naturalism was the idea gripping intellectuals at the time. I suppose it hardly matters, however, as the past is the past. I just need to remember that it isn't people's past love of naturalism that matters, but the fact the majority of society has moved past that. I just hope it is on to better things. In the end, however, only time will really tell.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Presenting on Naturalism

I must admit, I am not the most confident presenter. That is to say, I practiced for hours, and still managed to ramble like a 10 year old describing his favorite video game after having a dozen pixie sticks. That said, I enjoyed the actual process of creating my presentation. I had originally looked at three or four more general topics to present on, but none of them had satisfied me, but then I did a google search for House of Mirth (and something else I can't remember), and found a great article. It changed my entire perspective on the book.

When I originally read House of Mirth, I was only mildly interested. Perhaps it was just the semester wearing thin for me, or lack of sleep for weeks straight, but I found myself often drifting. Pizer's article "The Naturalism of Edith Wharton's House of Mirth" ( changed that. I found myself re-evaluating numerous elements throughout the story, looking for the naturalistic themes. At the same time, I was trying to evaluate Wharton's stance on naturalism. Because of the way these themes are presented, I questioned if they were fatalistic, or a case of self-fulfilling prophecy brought on by faulty ideas. While I suspect the latter, it is difficult to say with any certainty. However, just having the concept of this book as a naturalistic work changes how we read it entirely, and such a change in perspective is always welcome.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Justification of racism?

Reading Norris, I became more and more flustered. I want to try and look at his writing objectively, but I find the same ideas crossing my mind again and again. I just cannot look past both his base racism, and just how two-dimensional his characters really are. Essentially, all his characters are entirely defined by just a handful of trails, most of which reflect racial stereotypes of the day. Some are more obvious, such as Zerkov, who is repeatedly described as the one Jewish character and also as greedy, shallow, and murderous for gold. In fact, the only characters I found had the tiniest bit of depth were those who were never really give racial traits, or these traits were never emphasized, such as Old Grannis. Even Trina's family can be looked at as cardboard cutouts of stereotypes. We have the German man who has to act like he's still in the military, for example. I can't say much about her mother, because I found Norris's writing of her accent incomprehensible quite often.

McTeague is a rather interesting case in particular, because his racial background is never made entirely clear. We can speculate he is Irish possible because of his name, but it is hard to be entirely sure. Whoever, there is a family trait that defines him. He is a miner. It is all we are told of his father, and later in the book Norris makes it clear that he views mining and dentistry in very similar lights in how the professions work. Furthermore, there is an emphasis on how his work involves either dealing with precious metals, drilling, or (after his marriage to Trina) hunting after gold that is hidden to him in some way. What is most troubling to me about this is it suggests that family profession is a manner of hereditary trait. If your father worked metals, than you are a metal worker by blood. To be honest, I would not be surprised if Norris would have supported a strict caste system. I know we are reading this book because it is supposed to be a notable example of 19th century literature, but that saddens me a bit because of what it means about acceptable viewpoints at the time.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Only shades of black and white

First, let me say that I enjoyed Pudd'nhead Wilson. What I enjoyed most in how deliberate Twain is in his use of little details. Take the illustrations in the book, for example. At first, I thought them completely unshaded, leaving only a world of black and white. While an appropriate commentary for Twain, looking over the images again I realized many of them ARE shaded. That is to say, everything except the characters in the pictures are shaded. Only the characters remain only black and while throughout.

There are only two images where a character has notable shading on any part of them. In both cases, it is "Tom" depicted. The first is the image of Tom in women's clothing robbing his neighbors. Here is depicted in black gloves. This is the only black clothing any character in the entire book a character is illustrated wearing that I noticed. The second is shown immediately after "Tom" decides to rob the judge. The rain in the image covers him, darkening his image significantly. All other depictions of people beyond a handful of slaves are stark white. To me, this seems to signify how both those acts, he gave in to how he expected someone of his heritage would be forced to act. It interests me the subtle commentary hidden in a handful of simple images.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I ain't got no class

Looking back at our last few books, I have come to see a common theme of people who are at odds with the upper class in some way. In Blithedale, the main character wouldn't commit himself to the community fully. In Joaquin we see the formation of a hierarchy, even amongst murderers. Joaquin is a particularly interesting example, because how the main character is romanticized. And, of course, there is the more obvious example of Daisy Miller. This week, I want to address my thoughts on the issue.

What I find most interesting is how little some things change. People still discriminate based on a lack of knowledge on unspoken social cues, even when they know the person would have had no chance to pick up such queues. Unfortunately, it is hard to say if there is a solution to such an issue. From what I've seen, people are petty and exclusive. When I say exclusive, I mean that most people, when they find a group that they enjoy, are hesitant to allow any new members that might change that group in some way. An example from Daisy Miller would be how be how people did not want to accept the Millers because it would have been a shift in the definition of aristocracy.

Another blog post I read today talked about how times have changed, and how today it's more about economic survival as opposed to morality. That, essentially, the end justifies the means. I disagree on a fundamental level. I bring this up because it is part of the mindset that justifies such ideas of exclusion. Quite simply, people view change as a direct threat. Because they attach value to the groups they belong to in their current form, they see anything that might change these groups as an attack on their very means of living. I grow sick of looking at how to survive. Even if we burn out quicker, isn't it worth it to feel the worth of really living, atleast once in a while?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Daisy Miller

I have to admit, I enjoyed this one more than our last few readings. Maybe it was because it was short and simple, couldn't say for sure. Either way, there were definitely some interesting topics of note within it.

What I found most interesting, particularly after we discussed it a bit in class on Tuesday, was the idea of the Miller family representing the image of America. This is interesting to me because they all seem to come off to me as spoiled, naive, and generally disconnected with the rest of the world. Honestly, I don't see this too far from the truth, especially from a historical perspective.

What I find most fascinating, especially in the light of my own crisis of faith in our education system, is the emphasis on getting a teacher for the boy Randolph. I find this interesting because education, from an old European standpoint, is a mark of upper class. This seems to illustrate something in the book. I don't think the term flirt is just referring to Daisy talking so casually with men. It also reflects the attitude of the Millers and how they flirt at being upper class. They just say the words that they want to improve themselves, but it seems little effort is actually made towards getting accepted by the aristocracy of the area.

Finally, this brings me to Daisy's death. In essence, I feel the author's point they wanted to make in this book, well one of them anyway, is that there are consequences for allowing yourself to totally disconnect yourself from where you are, which seems to be what Daisy does. In the end, it isn't any of the men she dates or breaking some law she didn't take seriously that defeats her, it's a simple fever that anyone who made any attempt to understand the area would have easily avoided. Again, this seems to be the consequence of merely "flirting" with European culture, as opposed to really respecting it.