The Postmaster

“‘I was thinking,’ said the postmaster, ‘of teaching you to read,’ and then for the rest of the afternoon he taught her the alphabet.”

Tagor, Rabindranath. “The Postmaster.” Macmillan and Co., 1918, pp. 163.

As the postman looks on the rain clouds, the birds, and the falling leaves, he concludes that the loneliness they express is the same loneliness he feels in his heart. Soon after he has this thought, he calls on Ratan. His decision to teach her the alphabet turns their master-servant relationship into a more intimate teacher-pupil one. Just as Ratan has been giving her services to the postmaster, the postmaster has now reciprocated that by doing something for Ratan, making a deeper place for himself in her life.

Their Eyes Were Watching God

“‘Whut make her keep her head tied up lak some ole ‘oman round the store? Nobody couldn’t git me tuh tie no rag on mah head if Ah had hair lak dat.'”

Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston et al., Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006, pp. 49.

Janie is a woman who is hidden from the world. In terms of her relation to a social context, other than being known as “Joe’s wife” (to which she is exclusively referred), she has none. When the town encourages Janie to make a speech at the welcome gathering, Joe silences her presence and belittles her identity by confining her abilities to house work. Throughout the first few chapters of the novel, Janie’s hair starts to evolve as a symbol of womanhood and a source of beauty, power, and strength. By forcing her to keep it covered, Joe is continuing to take Janie’s identity away from her, preventing her from standing on her own in society.

The Maltese Falcon: Moral Code

“‘…Now on the other side we’ve got what? All we’ve got is the fact that maybe you love me and maybe I love you.'”

Hammett, Dashiell. “The Maltese Falcon” Vintage Books, 1930, pp. 214.

One of the novel’s central conflicts is between morality and loyalty.  Whether loyalty is shown towards someone else (in the case of Thursby “playing the sap” for  Brigid) or towards oneself (as in the case of Spade’s refusal to do so), the novel demonstrates that morality is heavily informed by loyalty–a very fragile, subjective, and impressionable concept). The novel does not lead the reader to believe that one decision (Thursby’s vs. Spade’s) was more “right” than the other, demonstrating that it follows no particular moral code and perhaps simply bends with the actions of its characters.

As I Lay Dying

 

“But they wouldn’t come…So I went home and et and taken a basket back to them and tried again to make them come back to the house.”

Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying. Vintage International, 1985, pp.192.

The concept of “southern hospitality” comes up quite a lot whenever the Bundrens are made a guest at someone’s home; however, the hosts’ actions seem to be more motivated by religious obligation and appearance rather than a genuine desire to help (as none of them really like the Bundrens as people). Perhaps this is one of the ways in which Faulkner is commenting on the hidden insincerity and fraudulence of this strongly religious area.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

“But, temporal or spatial, the esthetic image is first luminously apprehended as self bounded and selfcontained upon the immeasurable background of space or time which is not it.”

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, by James Joyce and Jeri Johnson, Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 178

The first criteria that Stephen lists for beauty to be expressed by an artist is wholeness: being able to isolate the object of interest from the rest of the world. It is to see it in its entirety in its complete and uncorrupted form. It is important to note, however, the irony in Stephen’s claim as he often finds pleasure in sensations in association with other experiences.

The Mark on the Wall

“O dear me, the mystery of life! The inaccuracy of thought! The ignorance of humanity!”

Woolf, Virginia, 1882-1941. Monday Or Tuesday. Richmond: Hogarth press, 1921, 80.

The mark on the wall represents all of these things mentioned above to the narrator: the “mystery of life” is related to the mystery behind the mark and why it (and we as living beings) are here. The “inaccuracy of thought” brings attention to the human habit of crafting up different reasons for events/experiences that, in the end, prove to be mistaken and inconsequential (just as the many hypotheses the narrator makes about the identity of the mark and how insignificant that knowledge comes to be). And the “ignorance of humanity” is found to lie one’s tendency to swell in the mind, searching for meaning and purpose outside oneself instead of within.

The Middle Years

“This was the pang that had been sharpest during the last few years–the sense of ebbing time, of shrinking opportunity; and now he felt not so much that his last chance was going as that it was gone indeed.”

James, Henry, 1843-1916, and Percy Lubbock. The Middle Years. New York: C. Scribner’s sons, 1917, 610.

Dencombe observes that the hardest part of aging is accruing an understanding that the end of your life is no longer something in the far future but an impending reality–that the opportunity you have to create  is uncontrollably escaping you, and your last chance to create one final experience, one final relationship, one final piece of art has already slipped away before you decided to take it.