Posts Tagged ‘literary analysis’

It is out of the absence of God that God makes himself present, and it is not just the whirlwind that stands for his absence . . . but God is absent also from all Job’s words about God . . . because they are words without knowledge that obscure the issue of God by trying to define him as present in ways and places where he is not present, to define him as moral order . . . God is not an answer man can give, God says. God himself does not give answers. He gives himself, and into the midst of the whirlwind of his absence gives himself. – Frederick Buechner


From the genesis of sentient humanity, mankind has asked, “Why am I here?” Another question follows before the first echo dies: “Is there a way I am meant to live?” If there is a reason for life, logic concludes that there must be a right “way” to live. Even if there is not an overarching purpose, one can still determine that following a particular way of life can bring success, wealth, and happiness. This philosophical conclusion, however, might not play out as intended in real life. This is evidenced by two sacred stories that outline two different quests for “the way”: the Indian tale of Rama and the Hebrew narrative of Job. Both stories convey that effectively following a way is a quest in itself, the end of which not even the wisest know.

Dharma in Rama the Steadfast

Dharma is a primary belief of the main characters in Rama the Steadfast, a book based on the Ramayana, one of India’s earliest sacred texts. Dharma can be defined as “a right and moral conduct, the exercise of duty toward the human community” (Hacker 480). Central practices include obedience to parents, respect for people of higher rank, and an attitude of “friendliness and helpfulness” toward others (Hacker 481). Rama and his brother, Laksmana, portray an attitude of righteousness and justice in their actions, and Rama’s response to conflict is always cognizant of dharma.

The “ideal” life of dharma is that members of each caste and each stage of life honor the particular duties to which they are prescribed; religion, education, vocations, and rituals are all conducted in a “dharmic” fashion (Hacker 483). Dharma has a loose connection with the idea of salvation, as truly righteous actions are not attached to worldly motives and are thereby worthy of an “otherworldly reward” (Hacker 484). Dharma is the motivating and determining factor, thus salvation is “achieved by action” (Hacker 491). The actions of Rama throughout Rama the Steadfast are true to dharma.

Gods and Nature Supporting “Godlike” Man – How Rama Wins the Day

Rama the Steadfast tells the story of a prince about to take his father’s place on the throne when he is exiled for 14 years at the request of his father’s second wife because the king owed her two boons. She claims the throne for her son, Bharata. Rama, true to dharma, follows his father’s command and leaves the kingdom of Ayodhya that day. His wife, Sita, and his brother, Laksmana, accompany him and take on an ascetic lifestyle in the wilderness. During their final year of exile, Sita is kidnapped by a raksasa – a demon – and the bulk of the story is the quest of Rama to find and rescue Sita.

As soon as Rama’s exile is announced in the first chapter, it is clear everyone in the kingdom, and the earth itself, grieves his departure:

People in the streets had their faces contorted by tears; joy could nowhere be glimpsed … No cooling breeze blew, the moon did not soothe nor the sun heat the earth; all the world was out of joint. Sons neglected their mothers, husbands their wives, brothers their sisters … everyone thought only of Rama (14).

In the main battle of the epic, when Rama and Laksmana fight the raksasas who carried Sita away, nature and the gods join in support of Rama. The two brothers, pierced with many arrows, lie drenched in blood, near death, yet a god heals them so they can continue fighting: “…their wounds closed and their bodies quickly regained their colour and bloom; their power, heroism, might, vigor and greater qualities – were redoubled” (293). When the final fight begins between Rama and evil King Ravana, again nature is filled with evil signs toward Ravana, but “For Rama … sweet, auspicious signs sprang up on all sides, presages of victory” (345). According to the “way” of dharma that Rama follows, it appears that if a man maintains a just and righteous life, gods and nature will empower an individual, enabling him to succeed.

The Moral Quandary of Dharmism

Not everything about dharma, however, is righteous and just. Scholar Robert Goldman points out that in the various dialogues between Rama and other characters, Rama emerges as the perfectly moral character (25). The quandary that arises is how to view the end of the story, when Rama’s moral character is juxtaposed by his harsh attitude toward his wife. Although this ending does not occur in Rama the Steadfast, in the traditional telling, Rama “rejects [Sita] coldly” as soon as he rescues her because she might have been tainted during her captivity. She plunges into a fire to prove her innocence and is protected by the god “of fire and purity” (Brockington 365).

Later, she is still banished from Rama’s presence because of the questions the people had about Sita’s purity. Finally, years later, Sita is brought before Rama and she calls on her mother, the Earth, to swallow her up in defense of the ill treatment she had received from Rama (Brockington 365). Where other characters in the epic support or contrast Rama’s perfect adherence to dharma, Sita brings into question how deep dharma’s morality goes. How “right” is a way that deals a death blow to women to preserve “their male kinsmen’s honor” (Goldman 32)? Sita’s centrality in the epic complicates issues, making it impossible for one to fully depend on dharma as the right “way” to live and operate.

Words without Knowledge – the Plight of Job

The story of Job, as a basis of both Christian and Jewish values, contains surprising dialogue that draws into question not the goodness and morality of a “godlike” man, but of God himself. Job, the central character, is “blameless and upright;” he has sons and daughters, thousands of cattle, slaves and land, making him “greater than all the dwellers of the East” (Alter 193). Everyone presumes – including Job – that his morality and uprightness earn his position and success. Then everything goes wrong. Job’s livestock, his children, and finally his own health are wrenched away, and he is left scraping his diseased body with a shard of pottery.

Three wise friends visit and sit in silence with Job for seven days. Then they speak the words that are presumably in line with what everyone thinks. They “appear to be constantly arguing on behalf of God, taking His side against Job” (Ehrlich 32). The words Job’s friends speak would have made sense in a world ruled by dharma. They concluded that if Job was truly righteous, God would not have done such things to him, thus either Job or his children must have had secret sin. In spite of their arguments, Job maintains his claim to righteousness. What is more, he demands his day in court … against God. One scholar notes, “Of all the countertexts in the Bible, the Book of Job is the most forthrightly provocative” because of the way it questions the “traditional idea that God always rewards the good and punishes the guilty” (Ostriker 267). Job questions the actions of God.

When God finally speaks, however, Job falls silent. God does not pull back the curtain completely and explain His purposes, but he does lift the veil enough to reveal Himself as the one who knows and commands all things. He questions whether Job can trace the movement of the stars and the birthing of the wild animals in season, or fish for a leviathan with a hook (Alter 215-216). The reader gathers that God’s questions are rhetorical. Bernard Ehrlich observes that Job “does not admit that he understands the reason for his suffering” but that he does acknowledge “his own understanding is very imperfect” (33). What is more, Job does not try to justify the actions of God, as his friends had tried to do, because “any attempt to justify God would really imply passing a judgment on Him” (Ehrlich 34). Job acknowledges that it does not matter if he is righteous before God. He recognizes that God operates outside the confines of human understanding.

Before God speaks to Job, the tortured man proclaims, “If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together, someone to remove God’s rod from me, so that his terror would frighten me no more” (Job 9:33-34). When God does speak, Alicia Ostriker observes that the words of God appear “designed to smash Job and mankind into humility by an overwhelming display of creative might” (271). It is not about goodness or badness, about dharma and karma. It is about the Creator of all things who shines the sun and sends the rain on all manner of mankind, simply because that is what He does. In the end of the narrative, God gives Job twice over what he had lost. This is God’s way, and Job still chooses to follow him. Job’s questions remain unanswered, but beholding God makes the questions irrelevant.

When Quests for the Way Fall Short

The basis of Rama’s morality is his adherence to dharma. Rama’s righteousness earn him respect of men and gods, creatures and nature itself. The story centers on his abilities so much that the character of Rama has come to be “recognized and revered in India as God” (Brockington ix). As such, Rama’s actions toward Sita are even more difficult to explain; dharma is brought into question as an effective and righteous “way.” If the Way is described, as one scholar promotes, as “the extent to which one’s actions express certain virtues” (Cline 108), Rama’s actions cause his “way” to bend away from complete morality.

One wonders what would happen if Rama were to stumble into the presence of the God revealed in the Book of Job, rather than the presence of the gods who gave him strength to defeat the raksasas. Perhaps he would not have maintained his righteousness even while rejecting his own wife. Perhaps, in the presence of an unquestionable God, he would have been struck speechless like Job, failing to depend on his swaying sense of morality. Perhaps he would have also sought for an arbiter, a mediator, as Job did. Ultimately, neither Job’s uprightness nor Rama’s dharma appear to measure up. No matter how just or moral, they are not enough. Both “ways” expose a further need that involves forgiveness and mercy. Their quests fall short; however, the idea of an arbiter to bridge the gap remains. Where mankind fails in morality and actions, perhaps one’s quest for the Way would be successful if a mediator between God and man could be found, one who ensures grace for life and death.




Works Cited

Brockington, John, and Mary Brockington. “Afterthoughts.” Rama the Steadfast. Penguin: New York (2007): 361-372. Print.

Brockington, John, and Mary Brockington. “Introduction.” Rama the Steadfast. Penguin: New York (2007): ix – xxxvi). Print.

Cline, Erin M. “The Way, The Right, And The Good.” Journal of Religious Ethics 37.1 (2009): 107-129. ATLA Religion Database. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Ehrlich, Bernard. “The Book of Job as a Book of Morality.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 34.1 (2006): 30-38. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Goldman, Robert. “Resisting Rama: Dharmic Debates on Gender and Hierarchy and the Work of the Valmiki Ramayana.” The Rāmāyaṇa Revisited. Ed. Mandakranta Bose. Oxford: Oxford U.P. (2004). Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Hacker, Paul, and Donald R Davis. “Dharma in Hinduism.” Journal of Indian Philosophy 34.5 (2006): 479-496. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Ostriker, Alicia. “Job: The Open Book.” Michigan Quarterly Review 46:2 (2007): 267-287. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.

Puchner, Martin. “The Hebrew Bible.” Trans. Robert Atler. The Norton Anthology of World Literature. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. 193-217. Print.

The Bible: King James Version. Thomas Nelson: Nashville (1972). Print.

Valmiki. Tr. John Brockington and Mary Brockington. Rama the Steadfast. Penguin: New York (2007). Print.


Read Full Post »

literary analysis of sir gawain and the green knight

A Debate on the Power of Grace

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is thought to have been written in the latter part of the fourteenth century. The author is unknown, but the original manuscript that contained Sir Gawain and the Green Knight also included three religious poems with the titles Pearl, Patience, and Purity (Norton, 135). As such, the author clearly had a Christian worldview. In fourteenth-century England, two opposing views had arisen regarding Christianity. The first view held that an individual’s salvation and connection with God was purely by grace through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus (Champion 416). The other view insisted that the grace of God assisted mankind, but that the primary burden of responsibility was for people to earn their own way to Heaven (Champion 416. It was a debate of grace versus works. This debate is woven into the poem, creating a unique layering of religious elements.

Regarding this raging religious debate during the time that Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was written, Larry S. Champion stated, “It is inconceivable that [the author] could relate a tale of perilous adventure in which a Christian knight must make a choice between faith and self-determination without conscious reference to the profound religious controversy of his age” (420). It would have been clear to anyone who read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight in that time period that the author used the story’s plot to represent the two opposing viewpoints on religion, and to convey his personal opinions on the matter.

On the one hand, the character Sir Gawain represented an honorable knight who was impressive and courageous: “Fastened in his armor he seemed fabulous, famous, / every link looking golden to the very last loop (590-91). At the same time, Sir Gawain was also portrayed as one who trusted in God, indicated by lines such as, “Yet for all that metal he still made it to mass, / honored the Almighty before the high altar” (592-93). On one hand, Gawain represented his own physical strength and power. On the other hand, he manifested the grace and power of God. The core issue of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is where the knight will ultimately place his trust.

Although described as “flawless in his five senses” (640), this flawlessness only lasts as long as he puts his trust in God. When Sir Gawain is lost in the depths of the forest during his quest to find the Green Knight, he utters one prayer and suddenly catches sight of “The most commanding castle a knight ever kept, / positioned in a site of sweeping parkland” (767-68). This is a clear victory of grace over nature. However, when Sir Gawain is tempted by Bertilak’s wife to revoke his honor by wearing her green sash, “it entered his mind / it might just be the jewel for the jeopardy he faced / and save him from the strike in his challenge at the chapel” (1855-57). When he chooses to depend on nature’s magic to “rescue” him, that choice is vain. Sir Gawain only overcomes nature when he depends on the grace of God.

The author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight appears to have utilized Gawain’s relationship to the green sash and the pentangle as a representation of the religious controversy of his era. Champion states, “When Gawain places his faith in God … he is a knight of the shield. When he places faith in himself … he is a knight of the sash” (Champion, 421). It is an interesting plot device that the sash – the symbol of “falsehood” – was the very object that served to bring Sir Gawain to recognize his need for grace. In this way, the author might have been attempting to convey the message that even one’s mistakes and sins can ultimately lead to salvation through dependence on the grace of God.

When bringing in the religious juxtaposition between Christianity and more natural forms of religion, this grace is portrayed as more powerful than nature. Author Louis Blenkner observes the importance of the “Nature-Grace dichotomy” by stating that “both covenant tests [that Gawain undergoes] are conducted within the natural order” (358). She mentions, “It is not mere coincidence that Gawin’s “aunter in erde” (27) begins on Christmas … the celebration … of Grace freely submitting to Nature in order to triumph over it and redeem it” (357). Blenkner seems to be stating that the importance of nature in “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is primarily to juxtapose it against the theme of grace, and highlight grace of being the greater element by virtue of its ability to “triumph over and redeem” nature.

Two contrasting symbols used in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight also contain aspects of the religious debate of the author’s era. The pentangle on Gawain’s shield was a representation of truth, and the green sash offered to him by the wife of Bertilak de Hautdesert represented falsehood (Champion, 421). These two symbols present an interesting paradox in the character growth of Sir Gawain. Toward the end of the poem, Sir Gawain insists on wearing the green sash as a visible token of his frailty and pride. He states, “This, its token, / I will drape across my chest till the day I die. / For man’s crimes can be covered but never made clean; / once sin is entwined it is attached for all time” (2509-2512).

Sir Gawain, by the end of the story, fails to completely accept forgiveness. Although he receives absolution from Bertilak de Hautdesert, Gawain considers himself to be forever marked by his own trickery and deceit. Sir Gawain considered it impossible to be completely expunged from his sin, bringing into question the author’s perspective on the issue of grace versus works. If grace could truly cover sin, could it not also completely cleanse a sordid stain? If so, why the need to continually bear the mark of sin? If one truly believed and fully accepted that the saving grace of Christ covers all sin, there is no need to bear the scars or seek a mark to maintain a semblance of penury. The scars are already worn by hands that stretched across a cross. The wound is already deep in the side of a Man whose heart was broken for mankind.

He bore the stripes. He wore the crown of thorns. So that we, by His grace, might be washed as white as the Lamb that was slain.



Works Cited

Blenkner, Louis, O.S.B. “Sin, Psychology, And The Structure Of Sir Gawain And The Green Knight.” Studies In Philology 74.(1977): 354-387. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 3 Dec. 2015.

Champion, L. S. “Grace Versus Merit in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Modern Language Quarterly 28.4 (1967): 413-25. EBSCO. Web. 31 Oct. 2015.

Greenblatt, Stephen, and M. H. Abrams. “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 9th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Norton, 2006. 135-188. Print.

Read Full Post »

the strangerThe Stranger – Analysis of a Character

Why do people read books? Is it for entertainment? Is it to escape the world for an hour or two? Is it to invoke imagination, or to experience life through another’s eyes? Reading is for all these reasons at some time or another, but more than that, we read books for the characters we discover within the pages.

If there was no character, there would be no story. As members of humankind, we crave connection with others – and connection with a character – hoping to discover that we are not alone in the way we think or relate to others or see the world; believing that if a faulty character can develop and transform throughout the chapters, maybe we can too. If there is no change in a character, no growth or progress, there is no satisfaction at the end of a story. Mersault, from The Stranger, is one of these unchanged characters.

During the first couple of pages in chapter two, it’s hard to determine whether The Stranger reads like a novel, or more like someone’s personal diary. All the character speaks of is what happened that day, nothing too interesting; nothing that has much bearing on the rest of the story. While reading, “After lunch I was a little bored and I wandered around the apartment. I washed my hands and then I went out onto the balcony” (21), one wonders if the author is outlining this basic material to get to the good stuff about to take place, or whether these mundane details are the story in itself.

When realizing that this emotionless telling really is the story, the next question is, “Is the author going to portray the character arc of this young man? In the beginning of the story, he is detached and disinterested; will he develop into a character with feeling and passion?” The story continues from beginning to end without this anticipated character development taking place.

As the story progresses, the narrative character, Meursault, portrays no backbone, no sense of moral values, and no perspective on much of anything. It is not that I expect a hero. Readers are not necessarily looking for Prince Charming or Superman, but simply someone relatable and likeable – someone with whom they can connect. Author Nancy Lamb explains one reason that readers want to read about realistic characters when she states, “Almost nothing yanks readers out of a story faster than when they feel a character’s actions are inauthentic. If readers can’t believe in or don’t understand your hero, they have absolutely no reason to invest in your story” (140). This makes it clear why it is difficult to invest in a story like The Stranger, and a character like Meursault.

When he states, “When I had to give up my studies, I learned very quickly that none of it really mattered” (41), a measure of insight can be gained from the moment. It might explain why Meursault is such a disconnected character; he had to give up his dreams. As a result of that moment, perhaps he convinced himself nothing mattered. Perhaps that is why he puts forth the idea that, “People never change their lives. In any case, one life is as good as the other” (41) Perhaps it is why, when his girlfriend asks if she wants him to marry her, he said that “It didn’t make any difference and we could if she wanted to” (41) It is almost as though he has forced himself to close off his mind and heart, his soul even, from anything that might seek to touch it, warm it, or bring it to life.

The act of murder, and the whole blazing afternoon, is a masterful rendering written in a manner true to this narrative character. Meursault conveys, “I knew that I had shattered the harmony of the day, the exceptional silence of a beach where I been happy. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness” (51). Looking at the facts of Meursault’s character thus far, questions arise as to the motive of the shooting. Was it the sun? Was it his inability to grieve for his mother, which was then projected into anger? Was it the fact that he didn’t care about anything at all – or did he simply want to prove that he didn’t care? The reader expects insight into the narrative character’s motives, his reasoning, or if nothing else, his perspective of the event in hindsight; however, Meursault refuses to offer that insight. His unreliable narrative remains silent regarding his motivation, and his character is unchanged.

The unfeeling narration continues, like the metronomic drumming of a leaky tap. “My heart felt nothing” (105), when his eyes met Marie’s in the courtroom. “Remembering Marie meant nothing to me” (115), when he thought of her not long before his death. “What he was talking about didn’t interest me” (116), when the chaplain spoke to him about God. Yet again, one wonders if the character is only trying to convince himself of his unfeeling nature, but the story itself drags because there is no connection between the character and the heart of the reader. The Art and Craft of Storytelling indicates the importance of this connection: “Readers like to identify with the characters they are reading about. If your reader can’t empathize with the character in some way, you risk losing your audience” (Lamb 140).

The reader trundles toward the end of the book, looking for some insight, some hope that Meursault will develop as a character. Finally, three pages from the end, his detached façade cracks, and raging emotions pours out as Meursault narrates, “I started yelling at the top of my lungs, and I insulted him and told him not to waste his prayers on me. I grabbed him by the collar of his cassock. I was pouring out on him everything that was in my heart, cries of anger and cries of joy” (120). But at the end of the emotional outburst, the narrative character remains unchanged, bloody but unbowed. He experiences no character arc, but a simple resignation without repentance.

Meursault’s insight is poetic, yet mislaid, when he states, “As if that blind rage had washed me clean, rid me of hope; for the first time, in that night alive with signs and stars, I opened myself to the gentle indifference of the world. Finding it so much like myself” (122). No reader wants to hear of an indifferent world, knowing deep down that the world groans beneath the sorrow of a fallen nature. It cries to be delivered with every drop of blood spilled upon its broken surface. Instead of opening his eyes, Meursault further blinds himself with a subtler insight that excuses his own detachment from life and love and all things beautiful.

This lack of character growth is not only frustrating, but it also blatantly ignores the deep desire of the reader to connect with a character. This brings the reader to wonder, not as much about the motives of the narrative character as wonder about the motives of the author. What self-seeking author would disregard the reason for which so many readers pore through books, and choose to leave a character unmoved by the end of the book?

One article regarding characters in story writing states, “There are two types of characters in every story—pebble people and putty people. If you take a pebble and throw it against a wall, it’ll bounce off the wall unchanged. But if you throw a ball of putty against a wall hard enough, it will change shape. … Your main character needs to be a putty person. When you throw him into the crisis of the story, he is forever changed … He’ll always be a different shape at the end of the story than he was at the beginning. If he’s not, readers won’t be satisfied” (James).

Readers want to read about putty people, because they know that they are also made of putty, with feet of clay. Meursault, however, was a pebble. His rock-like character made The Stranger incomplete at best. At worst, it served as a reflection of our deepest fears – that we will reach the end of life unchanged, unmoved, and refusing to admit that we so often have feet of clay and hearts of stone.


Works Cited

Camus, Albert. The Stranger. Trans. Matthew Ward. New York: Vintage International, 1989. Print.

James, Steven. “The 5 Essential Story Ingredients.” WritersDigest.com. Writer’s Digest, 9 May 2014. Web. 3 Feb. 2015.

Lamb, Nancy. The Art and Craft of Storytelling. Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books, 2008. Print.

Read Full Post »

The Crucible analysis

In “The Crucible,” Arthur Miller portrays two women whose characters, when juxtaposed, seem to vastly contrast each other. Although the exact words are not used, one woman is basically put forth in the story as “good” and the other woman as “evil.” Such black and white rulings of these characters would be almost ironic, considering that Arthur Miller wrote his play to expose the hazards of judging people with different mindsets or belief systems. Miller portrayed that such illogical reasoning is dangerous or at the very least, counterproductive. Exploring the characters and motives of the two main women, Abigail Williams and Elizabeth Proctor, a rough microcosm comes into view, paralleling the message of the story as a whole. The reader begins to recognize that more is at play than a surface rendering of “good” versus “evil.”

Abigail Williams, the “bad” girl, is introduced in the play as the ringleader who led other girls to a taboo gathering; her primary purpose was so to cast a spell upon Elizabeth Proctor, the wife of John Proctor – with whom she had an affair when she lived with them as a servant. Clearly, what to John was a small detour off the path of righteousness was to Abigail the doorway to a new world. Abigail is confused, and her reasoning illogical, but that is no different from the logically impaired perspective of many in the town of Salem, even the most powerful and well educated. Abigail’s reasoning that if Elizabeth died, she would obtain John fit well among the illogical perspectives of many characters in the play. Her motives were, in a morally secure world, wrong; yet they were so well-hidden that few saw through her guise of persecuted innocence.

If Abigail’s reasoning was illogical and her motives impure, her methods definitely tipped the scale against her character. She was willing to let numerous innocent people be accused and die, and in many cases was the one sitting in the seat of the accuser. Having the story written as a novel would have been helpful at this point, because the only glimpse into Abigail’s point of view is the discussion she had with John Proctor, which was for a time cut from the story by Arthur Miller. In that conversation, the young woman seemed completely convinced of the righteousness of her cause as well as enraptured by her fantasy that she would have John once his wife died: “God gave me strength to call them liars … Oh, John, I will make you such a wife when the world is white again” (150). Perhaps Abigail was truly deluded, or perhaps very good at playing the part, even to John Proctor. It is almost that, by that point in time, she had gone so far that, whether she believed in her lie or was deliberately faking it the whole time, she knew it would be suicide to stop there.

At the end of the story, the “evil” woman escaped, faultless in the eyes of many, into the night, having stolen her uncle’s money to take her far from the volatile situation. Here again the reasoning of the men in power can be brought into question. If the main accuser was gone, having stolen money – which in those days must have been a severe crime, more tangible than sending one’s spirit to hurt another in the night – would it not stand to reason that perhaps her testimony should be brought into question? Yet such an idea never arose and the men who held the lives in the sway of their judgment continued on their oblivious path toward false sentencing and ultimately, murder.

Elizabeth Proctor, by contrast, was the “good” woman. She entered the story fully in the first scene of Act II, a scene almost awkward to read. The unnatural discourse between husband and wife seems an egg-skin cover stretched thinly over a wound. When John Proctor blew up toward the end of their dialogue, his words acted as a rift in that strained cover, yet Elizabeth simply turned the power of judgment over to him, stating, “I do not judge you. The magistrate sits in your heart that judges you. I never thought you but a good man” (55). This heated exchange brings to light the issues that brimmed beneath the surface in their marriage, which don’t come out completely until the very end of the play.

The clearest view into Elizabeth’s mind and heart arises from a conversation that took place in the last meeting between her and John before he died: “I have read my heart this three month, John. I have sins of my own to count. It needs a cold wife to prompt lechery. … I counted myself so plain, so poorly made, no honest love could come to me! Suspicion kissed you when I did; I never knew how I should say my love. It were a cold house I kept” (137). Here, Elizabeth’s heart was exposed in a way that no other character’s was, and the deeper reason is shown as to why they had a strained marriage. Elizabeth always thought herself inferior, unlovable. One can only imagine the world of her younger years, possibly one child of many, forgotten and overlooked, very likely judged harshly for minor infractions. One pictures little joy in such a community and a one-sided approach to Christianity, which was more a form of Old Testament legalism without the promise of love and forgiveness. Never once in the story were concepts such as abiding joy, life abundant, or forgiving love mentioned. It was all judgment and harsh rulings, the very element that Jesus called into question when he exposed the motives of the religious class of his time, the Pharisees.

Elizabeth’s character represented, in a way, all those who grew up under the thumb of distorted belief systems. Her perspective and existence was a product of that upbringing, though she was likely blind to it herself. In this respect, Elizabeth’s character was not much different from Abigail’s. Raised with little love and little true understanding of the world around them, these women’s only survival was in their obedience to rules that in many cases were neither logical nor biblical. Both women were beset by fear: Elizabeth by fear that she was unloved and could never truly be loved for who she was; Abigail, by fear that if she didn’t take matters into her hands, her life would be spent alone and unhappy.

In the end, Elizabeth discovered that she truly was loved. Perhaps it was too little and too late, but her husband loved her. Her husband was willing to give his life, perhaps not exactly or entirely for her, but in a way his act represented that unselfish love. John Proctor’s love for his wife gave him the strength to confess his deeds with Abigail, and although it cast him in a bad light and brought him death, he chose rather to die for the love of his wife than to live without her. One analysis states that, “Elizabeth’s noblest act comes in the end when she helps the tortured John Proctor forgive himself just before his death” (Shmoop).

History reveals that Elizabeth Proctor, although accused, was not condemned. If Arthur Miller was accurate in his portrayal of her character, one can only hope that her life was transformed by the fact that she learned she was loved. Perhaps she felt not so plain and acted not so suspicious, for true love transforms the heart in ways that cannot be explained but only experienced. Abigail, on the other hand, escaped from the situation, running from her fear in the end. One can only assume that it followed her to the end of her days. Her story was not a “happily ever after” as she never faced those things she feared the most.

The “good” woman and the “evil” woman were both products of their upbringing. Still, they had the power to choose whether this would determine their decisions or whether they would rise above and take the more difficult path of truth, acceptance – even of one’s own deepest fears – and of love. One is not surprised – considering the actions of these two women throughout the story – by the decisions they made in the end. There was no character arc for Abigail, but there was for Elizabeth, who came to understand love and forgiveness in a way she never had. Presumably, hopefully, it set her free to truly live.

[If you enjoyed this literary analysis, please like Bonita Jewel’s Facebook Page for more links to literary analyses, tips on writing, quotes, and more!]

Works Cited

Miller, Arthur. The Crucible: Screenplay. New York: Penguin, 1996. Print.

Shmoop Editorial Team. “Elizabeth Proctor in The Crucible.” Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 11 Nov. 2008. Web. 17 Mar. 2014.

Read Full Post »

Angel StatueIn “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings,” author Gabriel Garcia Marquez weaves the natural with the supernatural in an unexpected yet stimulating way. It leaves us to ask ourselves what our response would if we were confronted with the supernatural right outside our door.

By blending the mundane and repugnant parts of life with the miraculous, Marquez effectively uses a creative tone and unique style to create a story that conveys elements of everyday life, yet supersedes it. His story invites us, as readers, to look a little closer at the events in our lives and determine how we are responding to the mundane we face. He inspires us to take a second glance at the not-quite-normal events that whisper a deeper meaning. His tale implies that the mingling of mundane with miraculous could change our lives, if we look at them with the right perspective.

The tone of the story is set in the beginning, with the most natural and unwelcome of occurrences: a sick child in the midst of drab and inclement weather. In the first few sentences, Marquez’ writing style immediately grabs the imagination as he writes, “The world had been sad since Tuesday.” In the first paragraph, he then brings in a magical element by introducing the surreal character of an old man with enormous wings. Marquez immediately shatters any mindsets we have of powerful and holy angels by placing him face down in the mud and unable to extricate himself, “impeded by his enormous wings.”

With a hint of irony, we read that the very objects that should have empowered this man to fly above the elements – his wings – instead hindered him and brought him no end of unwanted attention. This tone of irony is weaved throughout the story. We see it in the “wise old woman” who determined that the old man with wings was an angel … and then suggested clubbing him to death. We see it in the wording Marquez chose when he stated that the husband and wife “felt magnanimous” when they opted to set the angel afloat on a raft with enough food to last him a few days … “and leave him to his fate on the high seas.”

In parts of the story, the author’s tone conveys a sense of regret that humanity, as a whole, fails to appreciate the “magic” that is part of our lives. Instead of appreciating an experience and living fully in the moment, we tend to look at “what’s in it for me”. When the husband and wife, Pelayo and Elisenda, decide to exploit the angel by having the onlookers pay to see him, this sense of selfishness and greed is apparent. Here, again, we are given the opportunity to imagine what we might do if faced with a similar situation. No angel is going to fall from the sky into my yard on a stormy day, but in the daily run of things, how am I using the opportunities presented to me? Gabriel Garcia Marquez invites us to ask ourselves questions such as these not in a sermon but through a story.

In his unique use of magical realism, Marquez also weaves those natural tendencies of humanity with supernatural elements, creating scenes that make me want to read the story again, to see if I missed something important. As if perhaps the magic can spread beyond the pages of the book and into the world around me. For instance, the angel is so much “man” that Father Gonzaga notices he’s “much too human.” He smells. Everything about him is opposite of everything we picture as angelic and holy. But when looking closer, angelic character can be glimpsed in the pages, such as his unending patience. He endures the mistreatment – being locked up with the chickens, pushed around, poked and prodded. He doesn’t fight back. He waits … almost as if he knows it’s only for a time. This, if nothing else, is a sign of the angel’s supernatural origin – his bearing in the midst of trauma. Perhaps we also, in spite of very human and sometimes unsavory circumstances, can manifest attributes of patience and endurance. The story invites me to determine that it is possible.

Finally, towards the end of the story, the angel’s patience is rewarded. His wings sprout new feathers with the dawning of spring. The tone and setting of the story match the action. The long and dreary winter is over. New life is beginning all around, and within. Like the rest of the angel, those new feathers are straggly and unimpressive, “the feathers of a scarecrow, which look more like another misfortune of decrepitude.”

But they are enough.

He looks to the sky, feels the breeze, and begins to fly, slowly at first but rising higher and eventually disappearing over the ocean, beyond the blue.

Elisenda watches from the kitchen. We read that “she kept on watching until it was no longer possible for her to see him, because then he was no longer an annoyance in her life but an imaginary dot on the horizon of the sea.” What a strange juxtaposition of her emotions against clearly supernatural circumstances. Elisenda is watching an angel take flight – the same angel that provided her and her husband with enough money to build a two-story mansion – and she feels nothing but relief that this annoyance is gone. At the end, just as in the beginning, a normal person is confronted with surreal events, and fails to see it for the amazing happening that it is. Elisenda likely never truly appreciates the miracle that entered her life unexpectedly and left just as abruptly.

With the tone that the author sets in the ending, we are left to ask yet another question:

How many times do we glance up for a moment, see a glimpse of something beyond the ordinary, and just look away?

How often are we confronted with something amazing and fail to see it for what it is because we refuse to get past the question, “What’s in it for me?”

With his use of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez opens the door to some interesting questions and invites the reader to not only enter a place of imagination and mystery, but also to look into one’s own thoughts and actions and see how they measure up against the elements of everyday life.


[If you enjoyed this literary analysis, please follow this blog. You can also “like” Bonita Jewel’s Facebook Page for more essays, literary analyses, tips on writing, and more!]

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: