Malgudi Days.

” Where is the headmaster ? “

” Why do you want him ? “

” My father has sent a letter for him.”

” He has taken the afternoon off, and won’t come for a week. You can give the letter to the assistant headmaster. He will be here now.”

” Who is he ? “

” Your teacher, Samuel. He will be here in a second.”

Swaminathan fled from the place. As soon as Swami went home with the letter, father remarked : ” I knew you wouldn’t deliver it, you coward.”

This dialogue displays a unique type of ending that is used in Malgudi Days. That is, the stories play with the readers expectations. Each story is typically resolved with a subversion of the character’s wants or wishes. 

Nightwood

“And childless he had died, save for the promise that hung at the Christian belt of Hedvig. Guido had lived as all Jews do, who, cut off from their people by accident or choice, find that they must inhabit a world whose constituents, being alien, force the mind to succumb to an imaginary populace.” (pg. 5). 

This passage speaks to survival tactics. At the time, to be Jewish, one was forced to “succumb” or accept the conditions of an anti-Jewish world. “Imaginary” adds a sense of fatalism: it does not matter how well a Jew can blend in, that construction of the world is fake. Despite his later attempt to disavow himself of Judaism, Guido remains Jewish. 

Their Eyes Were Watching God.

“If you don’t want him, you sho oughta. Heah you is wid de onliest organ in town, amongst colored folks, in yo’ parlor. Got a house bought and paid for and sixty acres uh land right on de big road and . . . Lawd have mussy! Dat’s de very prong all us black women gits hung on. Dis love!” (23). 

The practice of arranged marriage is a tactic used by the well-off to maintain economic and social roles — marriage can combine wealth and power. In this case, the intent of arranged marriage is quite the opposite: Nanny finds Janie a husband in order to protect her from abuse. “Sixty acres” being the promise of reparations post-slavery is a symbolic attempt to demarcate social class even within an already oppressed group — yet another tactic adopted from the powerful.  

 

Untouchable.

“He didn’t feel sad, however, to think that she was dead. He just couldn’t summon sorrow to the world he lived in, in the world of his English clothes and ‘Red-Lamp’ cigarettes, because it seemed she was not of that world, had no connection with it.” (14)

This passage, in contrast with Bakhya’s interaction with Caharat Singh, presents a deep irony: On the one hand, when interacting with members of his own class, such as his mother, Bakhya acts as if he does not retain any knowledge of a past self. On the other hand, when placed in the path of someone from a higher caste, such as Caharat Singh, Bakhya becomes hyper-aware of castse — to the point of “humbly mumbl[ing]”. 

As I Lay Dying

“And at night it is better still. I used to lie on the pallet in the hall, waiting until I could hear them all asleep, so I could get up and go back to the bucket. It would be black, the shelf black, the still surface of the water a round orifice in nothingness, where before I stirred it awake with the dipper I could see maybe a star or two in the bucket, and maybe in the dipper a star or two before I drank. After that I was bigger, older. Then I would wait until they all went to sleep so I could lie with my shirt-tail up, hearing them asleep, feeling myself without touching myself, feeling the cool silence blowing upon my parts and wondering if Cash was yonder in the darkness doing it too, had been doing it perhaps for the last two years before I could have wanted to or could have” (11) 

The continued use of cedar despite clear inconvenience invokes a sense of reverence. Moreover, the water is define through absence “in nothing” — this is similar to the description later in the passage of “feeling myself without touching myself”. This is all heightened by the constant use of dark imagery, such as “sleep”, “black”, “darkness”. The passage presents a strange paradox: absence of a substance is felt most intensely. 

A Room of One’s own.

“A very queer and composite being thus emerges. Imaginatively she is of the highest importance; practically she is completely insignificant. She pervades poetry from cover to cover; she is all but absent from history.” 

There is a strange tension in the course of female affairs: on the one account, they are embraced in the field of art and literature. Yet, on a competing account, they are left out of positions relating to power. To resolve this tension, the crucial similarity is the presence of power-relations. Even when “glorified” in poetry, women are always the subjects, never the producers. Women are to be controlled, framed, and written about by men. In effect, there is a loss of agency. This is seen, perhaps more obviously, in history. As an attempt to secure power, men ensured that women could not access the “bastions” of civil-society. 

Mind reading — Peter’s response to the question of love.

“–Peter always in love, always in love with the wrong woman? What’s your love? she might say to him. And she knew his answer; how it is the most important thing in the world and no woman possibly understood it.” 

The first question makes a number of assumptions. First, it assumes that Peter is the source of love — he is never the recipient of mutual feelings. Second, it assumes that Peter is in love with the “wrong” woman, which implies bad judgement. Third, it assumes Clarissa is the “wrong” woman — in suggesting this, she is attempting to hide her love for Peter on the basis of a pre-existing relationship with Richard. While not his answer, the assumptions above are reflected in the question posed to Peter. 

In response to the question “What’s your love?” Clarissa supposes that Peter would answer: “it is the most important thing in the world and no woman possibly understood it.” This, like the question, assumes a number of things: First, it assumes that Peter, for his love, is irrational. In Clarissa’s projected answer, there is an absurd tone; how could love be the most important thing in the world. Second, it assumes, in what is an empirical falsehood, that Peter is the sole human who is obsessed with the condition of being in love. In the novel, many characters are driven by love: Rezia and Clarissa, most notably. Third, Clarissa implants herself into the answer. In her attempt to reject Peter’s love, she uses the language of “no woman” to resolve the tension she is experiencing; she is searching for someone who says ‘you may not love Peter.’ 

War in Mrs. Dalloway.

“For it was the middle of June. The War was over, except for someone like Mrs Foxcroft at the Embassy last night eating her heart out because that nice boy was killed and now the old Manor House must go to a cousin, or Lady Bexborough who opened a bazaar, they said, with the telegram in her hand, John, her favourite, killed – but it was over; thank Heaven – over.” (Page 4). 

Woolf comments on the phrase, “The War was over.” While people are told that the War has ended, that is a false-suggestion, based upon a legal cessation and not a material one. That is, officials feel safe, but citizens are still dying. The constant use of the word “over” satirizes what is a false end to the War. Despite the passage exclaiming “over” three times, Woolf is clear that the impacts of violence continue to linger. 

Cane: Portrait in Georgia.

“Hair—braided chestnut,
        coiled like a lyncher’s rope,
Eyes—fagots,
Lips—old scars, or the first red blisters,
Breath—the last sweet scent of cane,
And her slim body, white as the ash
        of black flesh after flame.”

This poem is a description of black life. Toomer presents features of a body that are neutral — call these shared properties (each person, regardless of race, bares the above properties). After listing a shared property, the poem comments on black ontology. The nature of being black is being unable to escape violence. To be black, this poem suggests, is to confront violence.   

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Rejecting Piety.

“Some instinct, waking at these memories, stronger than education or piety, quickened within him at every near approach to that life, an instinct subtle and hostile, and armed him against acquiescence. The chill and order of the life repelled him. He saw himself rising in the cold of the morning and filing down with the others to early mass and trying vainly to struggle with his prayers against the fainting sickness of his stomach. He saw himself sitting at dinner with the community of a college. What, then, had become of that deep-rooted shyness of his which had made him loth to eat or drink under a strange roof? What had come of the pride of his spirit which had always made him conceive himself as a being apart in every order?” (135)

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. Print.

Despite Stephen’s knowledge about hell, both terrifying and detailed, he is repulsed by the idea of joining the holy order. Something must give: he either must forfeit his pursuit of guaranteed salvation, or he must accept the risk of eternal punishment. In this case, given he (at this point) steadfastly believes in God, the rational option is a pursuit of priesthood. However, an “instinct” overrides the prudential option.

Stephen “sees” himself in the future. Will Stephen choose to limit the size of his choice-set as it relates to other paths? Is any decision final given he seems to oscillate between full devotion and convenience? 

The Heart of Darkness

“The sun set; the dusk fell on the stream, and lights began to appear along the shore. The Chapman lighthouse, a three-legged thing erect on a mud-flat, shone strongly. Lights of ships moved in the fairway — a great stir of lights going up and going down. And farther west on the upper reaches the place of the monstrous town was still marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars.” (37)

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness and Selected Short Fiction. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2003. Print. 

Conrad is dedicated to the practice of vivid description. In any given sentence, the subject is being decorated with immense detail. Contrary to theorists in the aestheticism camp, this style is a strong invocation of “real” life. 

The Beast in the Jungle

It was impossible he shouldn’t take to himself that she was really interested, though it all kept coming as a perfect surprise.  He had thought of himself so long as abominably alone, and lo he wasn’t alone a bit.  He hadn’t been, it appeared, for an hour—since those moments on the Sorrento boat.  It was she who had been, he seemed to see as he looked at her—she who had been made so by the graceless fact of his lapse of fidelity.  To tell her what he had told her—what had it been but to ask something of her? something that she had given, in her charity, without his having, by a remembrance, by a return of the spirit, failing another encounter, so much as thanked her.  What he had asked of her had been simply at first not to laugh at him.  She had beautifully not done so for ten years, and she was not doing so now.  So he had endless gratitude to make up.  Only for that he must see just how he had figured to her.  “What, exactly, was the account I gave—?”

James, Henry. The Beast in the Jungle. London: Martin Secker, 1915. Print.

She has an enduring presence. Despite his inability to detect her, she has influenced his status as someone who wrongly believes they are “alone.” In fact,  he feels almost retroactively grateful for her secret keeping.