“Attila was the hero of the day. Even the lady of the house softened towards him. She said, ‘Whatever one might say of Attila, one has to admit that his is a very cunning detective. He is too deep for words.’ It was well that Attila had no powers of speech. Otherwise he would have burst into a lamentation which would have shattered the pedestal under his feet.” (101)
Narayan, R K. Malgudi Days. Edison, NJ: Vista India, 2005. Print
“She prayed, and her prayer was monstrous because in it there was no margin left for damnation or forgiveness, for praise or for blame-for those who cannot conceive a bargain cannot be saved or damned. She could not offer herself up; she only told of herself in a preoccupation that was its own predicament.” (51)
Barnes, Djuna. Nightwood. New Directions, 1937. Print
Throughout some of the novels we have read as a class, the theme of religion is a prominent feature. Questioning, invoking, pleading, or simply referencing God or a “higher power” plays an important role in these novels and the development of their respective characters. The early twentieth century in the United States was marked by social reform, The Great Depression, which not only rocked the world reawakened the Social Gospel as well. These were desperate times and many were either turning toward religion, or away from it. While Joyce and Barnes can be seen as the marker for a pre-and-post Great Depression novel looks like they have the unique characteristic of knowing each other. Despite the two decades separating the publication of The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce and Djuna Barnes Nightwood, Stephen Dedalus (post-renunciation of the Church) and Robin Vote have striking similarities. Stephen writes in his journal, “Amen. So be it. Welcome, O life!” (213). Stephen is not begging God for a successful journey, or even saying a prayer at all, amen is stated at the end of a prayer and literally means “so be it” indicating that his life is no longer in the hands of God but rather to be “forged in the smithy of my soul”. Robin Vote (as stated above) prays but does not “offer herself up” like a lamb to slaughter. She is simply trying to make sense of a “preoccupation that was also its own predicament” (51).
Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God and Jean Toomer’s Cane also grapple and contemplate the role of God and religion from the experience of Black America in the South. In Toomer’s “Cotton Song” the verse goes as follows, “God’s body’s got a soul, Bodies likes to roll the soul, Cant blame God if we don’t roll, Come, brother, roll. roll!” (13) This concept of a “rolling soul” is directly evoked in Hurston’s novel as well, “Like all the other tumbling mud-balls, Janie had tried to show her shine” (86). In Cane, the poems often seen as prayer-like. In “Conversation”, the “African Guardian of the Souls” yields to “a white-faced sardonic god-“, (17). Again this feeling can be seen in Hurston’s novel where she writes, “The time was past for asking the white folks what to look for through that door. Six eyes were questioning God” (151). The questioning of God, not only in who but why, and how binds these four novels together. The ability of God to shape the lives of these characters (or not) brings up questions never asked before. Depending on the character’s acceptance or rejection of a Higher Power (and perhaps the authors’ own experience and beliefs) allowed for a religious critique in the early 20th century that turned the idea of God as absolute truth into God as something to be questioned, and perhaps, that’s not such a bad thing after all.
“The book was the memoirs of the Marquis de Sade, a line was underscored: Et lui rendit pendant sa captivité les milles services qu’un amour dévoué est seul capable de rendre, and suddenly into his mind came the question: “What is wrong?” (51)
Barnes, Djuna. Nightwood. New Directions, 1937. Print
The English translation (according to Google) is as follows: “And rendered him during his captivity the thousand services which devoted love alone can render”, it should be noted that (according to Wikipedia) the Marquis de Sade was known for his “libertine sexuality” which could point out that perhaps Felix didn’t marry the woman he thought he did.
“Here Nanny had taken the biggest thing God ever made, the horizon-for no matter how far a person can go the horizon is still way beyond you- and pinched it in to such a little bit of a thing that she could tie it about her granddaughter’s neck tight enough to choke her.”
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. 1937. New York: Harper Perennial, 2013. p. 85
Nanny had taken life and love in all it’s grandeur and manipulated it to suit her own wishes for what she wanted Janie’s life to be like and in the process, suffocated her.
“He seemed a true child of the outcaste colony, where there are no drains, no light, no water; of the marshland where people live among the latrines of the townsmen, and in the stink of their own dung scattered about here, there, and everywhere; of the world where the day is dark as the night and the night pitch-dark.”
Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable (New York: Penguin Books, 1940), 84
This description of Rakha as the “true child” of the Untouchables paints a desolate and dark picture about life as a lower caste individual.
“He touches the quilt as he saw Dewey Dell do, trying to smooth it up to the chin, but disarranging it instead. He tries to smooth it again, clumsily, his hand awkward as a claw, smoothing at the wrinkles which he made and which continue to emerge beneath his hand with perverse ubiquity, so that at last he desists, his hand falling to his side and stroking itself again, palm and back, on his thigh.”
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (New York: Vintage International, 1985), 52.
This passage illuminates how selfish Pa is, and the “wrinkles” he creates foreshadow the events further on in the novel that are simply means to the end Pa wanted, not in fulfillment of Addie’s wishes as he claims. It also emphasizes his lack of genuine love for his wife, with his hand as “awkward as a claw”, as he attempts to smooth the quilt under her chin. He ends up comforting himself, not for his loss but at the long awaited prospect of finally obtaining his teeth, with his hand “stroking itself” in a way that he could not stroke his wife.
“For here again we come within range of that very interesting and obscure masculine influence upon the woman’s movement; that deep-seated desire, not so much that she shall be inferior as that he shall be superior, which plants him wherever one looks, not only in front of the arts, but barring the way to politics too, even when the risk to himself seems infinitesimal and the suppliant humble and devoted.”
This concept of a woman’s inferiority solely so a man can be seen as superior is nothing new. The “influence on a woman’s movement” can also be interpreted as two different scenarios: one being her movement in station or class by her own means impeded by a man; or two, being the physical act of moving itself, in order to intimidate her. The real-world and highly relevant example that comes to mind when looking at this passage is the current presidential race between Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton; while she has broken many a “glass ceiling”, her opponent has still mocked and criticized her capability to lead on the sole fact that she is a woman. During the second debate he continued to move about the stage in a predatory manner, like a shark. The only saving grace, regardless of one’s views on Hilary Clinton, no one could label her a “suppliant”.
“…could Miss Kilman really mind it? Yes, Miss Kilman did mind it.”
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1925. Print. 127
The context of this sentence is the cake that Elizabeth wonders if Miss Kilman had wanted when it is taken from her. Elizabeth is astonished by Miss Kilman’s eating habits and wonders whether she is even hungry at all but simply taking and taking as so many have done to her in the past, leaving her with nothing. Elizabeth acts as the link between the worlds of Miss Kilman and that of her mother and company. Interestingly, Miss Kilman’s feelings toward the two women are the complete opposite. She detests Clarissa and is infatuated with her daughter; feelings that can never be expressed in either regard for fear of unemployment, rejection, or both. So Miss Kilman eats, not out of pleasure, or need, but to finally possess something that no one can take away, and fill herself with something other than feelings of inadequacy and intense emotions.
“She would not say of any one in the world now that they were this or were that. She felt very young; at the same time unspeakably aged. She sliced like a knife through everything; at the same time was outside, looking on. She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.”
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, 1925. Print. Page 8.
The early 20th century is seemingly marked by this need for an escape from reality, with almost all of the titles we have read so far indicate this separation from time and space at some point. Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway is no exception, and the most interesting thing is that this feeling, this “perpetual sense” know does not confine itself to race, gender, or class; as it has been exemplified in a myriad of different characters created by very distinct authors.
“The chill air is a shock to Paul. A strange thing happens. He sees the Gardens purple, as if he were way off. And a spot is in the purple. The spot comes furiously towards him. Face of the black man. It leers. It smiles sweetly like a child’s.”
The “Garden” could be a metaphor for the Garden of Eden, continuing the evocation of God-language/imagery throughout the text. Paul is seeing the Garden “as if he were way off” turning this scene into an epiphany-like experience, or as if he were viewing it from above, like God would.
Toomer, Jean. “Bona and Paul.” Cane. New York: Liveright, 2011. 106. Print.
“Then he was to go away for they were birds ever going and coming, building ever an unlasting home under the eaves of men’s houses and ever leaving the homes they had built to wander.”
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pg. 190
“You have asked me what I would do and what I would not do. I will tell you that I will do and what I will not do. I will not serve that in which I no longer believe whether it call itself my home, my fatherland or my church: and I will try to express myself in some mode of life or art as freely as I can and as wholly as I can, using my defense the only arms I allow myself to use-silence, exile, and cunning.”
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pg. 208
Through this passage, Stephen is essentially answering his own question on page 139 when he wonders why he had refused to enter the clergy as intended. The answer is finally revealed in this passage.
“But, O, the road there between the trees was dark! You would be lost in the dark. It made him afraid to think of how it was.”
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), pg. 14
One of the earliest examples of the delay of referent due to the fact that ‘it’ is never clarified.
“Perhaps on some quiet night the tremor of far-off drums, sinking, swelling, a tremor vast, faint; a sound weird, appealing, suggestive, and wild- and perhaps with as profound a meaning as the sound of bells in a Christian country.”
Joseph Conrad, “Heart of Darkness”, in Heart of Darkness and Other Tales (New York: Oxford University Press Inc., 2002), 121.
I love how Conrad depicts the sound of drums in the night, as ubiquitous as the chirp of crickets back home. The comparison to the sound of bells in a Christian country provides a human connection. While bells may be the cultural norm in Europe to announce the time, celebrate a wedding, or mourn a death, drums could be used for similar occasions by the Africans. It turns an habitual sound into a kinship which is a beautiful and wonderful thing.