Monday, April 14, 2014

Waiting for Godot?

       Waiting for Godot embraces such absurdity and abstraction that it's quite hard to figure out what's actually going on. The two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon seem to be anchored in both time and place, endlessly awaiting a man who never arrives. The setting is bleak and minimal, a reflection of both the emptiness and meaninglessness within the two characters.They appear to be stuck in time, never progressing or growing, instead participating in meaningless banter and bottomless questions, only to be forgotten moments later. While the characters remain cemented in their own pointlessness, this play holds nothing concrete.

      Who is Godot? Where is he? Where are Vladimir and Estragon? What is meaning of Pozzo and Lucky? The questions are endless. However, individual perspective plays a large role in how this play can be interpreted. What truth does this play hold? Perhaps Godot is a god. Or perhaps he is an equal to Vladimir and Estragon, trapped in the same meaningless void. Nothing is certain, and perhaps that's what people find intriguing and beautiful about this play: there is no absolute truth. Each line can be interpreted differently by each individual and applied to one's own life.

While exploring the importance of personal perspective in respect to this play, I was intrigued by the quote: "At least Lucky can see the rope around his neck. Vladimir and Estragon can't." It introduced a new strain of thought and debate.  However, I don't feel as though Lucky's ability to see his own rope is ultimately beneficial. Lucky suffers far worse than either Vladimir or Estragon. He is painfully aware of his reality, controlled by an outside force, perpetually trapped in a slave-like state. His bleak reality, manifested in the form of a noose-like rope wrapped around his neck, constantly reminds Lucky of his desolate destiny. He portrays a capacity for deep thought, yet is unable to conduct himself in a useful or self-fulfilling manner. He is instead degraded to obeying simple commands: "Stop! Turn! Think!," a puppet to Pozzo and a slave to his existence. Vladimir and Estragon, however, live in a blissful naivety. While reality offers the same hopeless and meaningless destiny to these men, they live in a comforting sense of ignorance, only merely confused by the situations they face rather than interpreting their experiences to be utterly futile. Vladimir and Estragon appear to be childlike in nature and thought, living in a world separate of reality. They cannot be responsible for keeping track of time, let alone their own existence.

So what is the truth? I could brood over this play for a lifetime and never figure it out. The ambiguity of this play invites floods of perspectives and interpretations, encouraging new ideas and truths. Like most literature, nothing is certain. The abstract comes to life in Waiting for Godot, ironically in the bleak lives of two men endlessly waiting for an arrival of a man who may be waiting for something himself. In a way, Waiting for Godot illustrates the limitlessness of thought and perspective; it challenges the idea that everything must contain truth. Maybe everything is meaningless, but that's just one perspective.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Perspective of the Artist as a Young Man

       James Joyce explores the emotional, mental, and spiritual conflicts that arise through a thought provoking and complex journey of the protagonist, Stephan Dedalus', life. The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man portrays a young man's confusion with both external and internal factors of his life, as he becomes entangled in the conflict of faith and sin. Stephan's life becomes vastly altered by his present state of mind. His truth, his morals are based solely on his personal beliefs. Perspective possesses an overwhelming hold on the actions of young Dedalus, posing the questions: to what extend can our personal decisions be determined morally ambiguous? How great of a control does personal perspective hold on the outcome of our lives?

      As a child, Stephan Dedalus is overwhelmed by his fierce desire to follow his school's Catholic beliefs. This almost obsessive need to become worthy of his faith fogs all contradicting perspectives from his thought. Yet he becomes baffled when an argument sparks at the family dinner table regarding politics and religion. Before this conflict, Stephan focuses solely on his attempts to become spiritually moral. However, his father's distrust and disapproval of what he deems as a hypocritical church, expands young Stephan's view of the world he lives in. Is faith questionable? Can it be challenged? What is true morality? His perspective is altered, transforming his actions as well.

     As a young man, Stephan evolves into a man who claims separation from society. He becomes resentful of the church, associating it with hypocrisy, fear, and manipulation. This new "enlightenment" leads Dedalus down a contradicting path of the church: that of sin, lust, and greed. He views life as inadequate, lacking in intrigue or purpose. He no longer fears damnation, nor the judgement of his peers, instead succumbing to self-indulgent behavior. His dreary perspective of the world translates into his own life: He becomes dreary himself, a zombie to gluttony, a host of apathy.

But what is the truth? Personally I had a hard time figuring this out. The events of the novel are so skewed by Dedalus' own beliefs that it is difficult to form my own. He sees what he wishes to see, both in the world and in himself. What he believes to be true is the truth. While he numerously questions himself and adjusts his actions, Stephan possesses a strong ego that deems him perpetually correct. By the end of the novel, he creates his own morals, his own expectations. He diverts from societal norms, pursuing a more abstract way of thinking. His life mirrors his perspective. His beliefs influence his actions. And his actions form the world he lives in.

Throughout the novel, Joyce immerses the reader in the misconceptions of Stephan, illustrating a questionable reality. Due to the somewhat stream of consciousness style of the novel, we are propelled through the mind of the protagonist, through every doubt, every regret, every question. Reality is distorted through his eyes, as it is through our own eyes as well. Nothing is purely true. Nothing can be trusted. As I read the book, I came to believe that nothing is black nor white. There is no universal truth to guide us throughout life. We create truth through our perspective. We form morals through our personal beliefs. There is no definite truth to living. We are propelled aimlessly through life; it is our personal perspectives that anchor us down.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Ghost, The Vampire, and The Girl: Perceiving "Beloved"

Beloved: a turbulent tale of "disremembered" memories, mournful regrets, and a ghastly stampeding past, bustling into the  lives of Sethe, Denver, and Paul D. However, the question remains: what truly occurred in this mysterious tale? Is the house a separate entity of its own? Are the characters sincerely healed? Is Beloved truly Sethe's deceased child, or something far worse? It's all perspective.

124 Bluestone Road is a beacon to the past. It welcomes conflicted ghosts. It harbors enslaved pain. It traps its residents deep inside, a limbo between past and future. It stilts progression. It neglects interaction. 124 is a jail to those who look upon it from the outside. To Sethe and Denver, who dwell within it's walls, it's an escape from the present. It's a place where the past continues to live, where realities are skewed, and ghosts are said to be mournful, not haunting. Perception becomes distorted within the walls of 124. The two residents perceive the aggressive presence as comforting, a companion from the lonely past for the just as lonesome present. However, Paul D, an outsider, interprets the ghost as something entirely evil: A manifestation of manipulation and wickedness. The house is nothing concrete. It's composition is fabricated from impression, memory, and the ever-present past. Individuals shape it according to their own experience, to their past, present, and future: what they have learned, feared, and welcomed. 124 is a mirror of the mind. It skews the truth, reflecting perspective rather than reality.

Beloved. A manifestation of the past. A revengeful ghost determined to live. A vampire, a parasite to emotion and comfort. A lost girl, escaped from the confinements of slavery. "Greatly loved; dear to the heart" ( Beloved. Beloved is not concrete. She's a manifestation of the past; a manifestation of experience. In Sethe, she triggers a regret that needs to be redeemed. In Denver, she acknowledges vulnerability; a need for companionship. In Paul D, she uncovers weakness hidden under a hard shell. And in the community, she encourages unity in her destruction. She is never one thing. She lives through others, reflecting their past, their weakness.

The characters, though now free from slavery, are enslaved by the past. It holds a suffocating grip on their present, tempting them to deviate from the opportunistic future and instead dwell on what was. Beloved, though mysteriously driven, encouraged acknowledgment and acceptance of the past. With Beloved present, the past could not be easily ignored or "disremembered." It instead demanded to be seen, accepted, and forgiven. The mystifying disappearance of Beloved is perceptual in itself: "Disappeared, some say, exploded right before their eyes...Could be hiding in the trees for another chance" (310).  Hauntings of the past are elusive. The idea of healing even more so. The acceptance of the past will not always merit emotional restoration. Forgiveness of the events and oneself are the first stepping stones. But what may be considered healing to some, may differ in others. Whether the residents of 124 have truly healed is questionable. Truth, like the contents of Beloved, is rarely concrete.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Invisible Man: It's Not All Black and White

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison explores the racism, cruelty, manipulation, and disillusionment of the 1930's, following a self-proclaimed invisible narrator throughout his struggle to overcome suppression, naive obedience, and his own self doubts.

The narrator is a black man, sharing his story of struggle through his personal perspective. He deems himself an invisible man, withholding his name, his identity from the reader. The nameless narrator is bombarded with floods of obstacles as he journeys through life, mostly at the hand of the white man. He is never viewed as a flesh-and-blood human being, but rather a puppet to manipulate. He is perceived as less than a man, a mere blemish on the pure white society. Though traditionally black stands out among a white background, the narrator instead dissipates from society as the book begins. He truly is an invisible man, lacking an identity and respect from his white counterparts. He blindly and obediently follows the power of the white man, specifically participating in the Battle Royale only to later deliver his speech and impress the men who had so cruelly humiliated him just minutes before. However, as the unjust nature of the white man becomes more evident as the narrator progresses through life, his perception vastly changes and he reaches a new truth: the white man cannot be trusted nor respected. The black man must stand up and preach justice to progress the status of the African American race. The narrator no longer obediently surrenders but instead attempts to challenge the traditional system of society, joining The Brotherhood, a seemingly respectable comradeship of white and black individuals fighting for social equality. Alas, the narrator is again betrayed and he sinks back to a state of oppression, residing underground beneath an all-white housing establishment. Though he now understands that he has purpose and opportunities in society, white supremacy continues to loom above the narrator, steadily attempting to discourage him once again. As new life events arose, the narrator's perspective changed, therefore distorting his idea of the truth. The truth is never absolute in a society that fosters illusion.

The story is told through the narrator's eyes, distorted by fear, distrust, rage, and ignorance. The reader is able to experience the dreams and illusions that inhabit the narrators mind, shaping our own view of the society he lives in. I question whether a book written from Mr. Norton or Brother Jack would foster the same sympathy for the African American race and astonishment of the white man that developed while reading this book or if again, a change in perspective would distort the truth.