Thursday, November 29, 2012

Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

I think that the novel raises a lot of interesting questions, one in particular about whether it was wrong of the Ex-Colored Man to take advantage of the opportunities he got because of his fair skin. Did he owe it to the rest of his community to identify more strongly as a colored man and work to further their cause? It's understandable that he felt conflicted about his decisions, but in the grand scheme of things he made the best of his situation and built a family and gave his children opportunities they might not have had otherwise. The ideal situation would probably have been if he could have been active in both communities, but that would have been impossible. It speaks to his character that he felt guilty about the situation, but really I don't think he has a lot to be guilty about. It's more about being frustrated with the racism of the time period in general.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

House of Mirth: Film vs. Text

I thought it was really interesting to see some of the film adaptation of House of Mirth today in class.  I think they definitely pumped up the drama to make it more cinematic, but in most cases I didn't mind it.  One thing I wasn't quite sure about the casting of Selden.  The actor they chose to play him seemed more slight and less dynamic than I pictured in the novel.  While it did kind of throw me to see Dan Akroyd in this kind of role, I thought he did a good job in the parts we saw.  I actually liked the casting of Rosedale, because it set up a contrast between his character and Dan Akroyd's where he seemed like the lesser of two evils, but Lily still didn't want anything to do with him until it was too late.  Watching the film, I got more of an impression that Lily refused Rosedale's proposal because of the frankness and bluntness of his offer.  He didn't try to woo her at all, but was unapologetically straightforward.  After some time passes and Lily's other prospects dry up, Rosedale seems much more appealing.  Lily's aunt also had a stronger presence in the film than in the text for me.  The casting of her character and the staging of her scenes made her seem very vicious and almost frightening.  As for Gillian Anderson playing Lily, for the most part I thought it was fine.  Like I said earlier, it might have been a little bit overacted, but that added interest on a certain level for me.  She became a more volatile character, and her downward descent was that much more compelling to observe.  One thing I noticed was how much her breathing was exaggerated - it seemed like every other scene she was in ended with her gasping dramatically for air.  This could have to do with her having to put up a front and virtually hold her breath when she's among other people to maintain a dignified composure.  The tragedy of her character definitely came across, and in that way I think the film was successful.      

Thursday, November 1, 2012

House of Mirth: First Impressions

So far I'm enjoying the novel.  Sometimes it can be confusing when Wharton is describing a scene or character, then goes off on a little bit of a tangent with their story - while this does add a lot of detail and fleshes out the character, I find myself losing track of who's who and what's what.  We touched on this a little bit in class in reference to the multitude of characters, many of them with similar names.
I'm definitely intrigued by the character of Lily Bart.  She comes off as very crafty, which I suppose a woman would feel the need to be in her position.  She's nearing the end of hear marriageable years, and if she doesn't find a husband and settle down she'll have to keep on relying on her wits to make it, and that would be more tiring than finding a man to bring home the bacon.  I think that it's a little bit comical and ironic that these characters are so concerned with keeping up appearances and adhering strictly to societal standards, when under the surface people are scheming about who's marriage material, who's not, who's making money, who's involved in a scandal and so on.  It's all just a facade (or a mask!!)
Another thing that I noticed is that while the women had very strict rules for their behavior, with it being scandalous to be alone with a man, etc., they didn't seem to have any problem showing off the huge wads of cash they won at bridge.  Isn't that a little bit unseemly?  Anyway, I'm interested to see how the rest of the story unfolds.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Regarding the question I came up with in class today, I've been trying to decide how I feel about McTeague as a character so far.  My initial impression of him was of am immense, bumbling oaf that was slow and often frustrating.  As is my tendency, I immediately felt guilty for judging him so harshly and tried to look at him more sympathetically.  "Dentist" is probably one of the last things that I would come up with if I were to guess McTeague's profession, which makes me wonder how he ended up where he is.  "Mine Worker" seems much more fitting for him.  I would imagine that McTeague could easily feel out of place in his line of work, and probably in society in general.  He has his set routine, a very small group of people with whom he associates with - basically a very limited sphere in which he exists.  Did he end up here by choice?  If not, what were the circumstances?  Broadening his social horizons opens up the potential for people to notice his mental and societal shortcomings or ineptitude, and who wouldn't want to avoid that?  Meeting and marrying Trina made him much more vulnerable in that sense.  His attitude toward marriage and his wife often verge on repellent in my eyes, but some of that is just a product of the times.  Wives were expected to shape their lives around their husbands and their families.  Trina is in the unique position of having acquired a large amount of wealth, and McTeague is in the unique position of being married to a person who has acquired a large amount of wealth, and doesn't react in the way he thinks they should.  I find it difficult to regard Trina as blameless in the downfall of their relationship, but her behavior did not warrant her death.  McTeague was simply at the end of his rope, and lacked the faculties to deal with it in a healthy way.  He appears to be baffled by numerous things throughout the novel, and unable to wrap his head around foreign occurrences.  He reacts in a primal, animalistic way that is shocking and makes him a challenging character.   

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Literature Through the Ages

I really enjoy visiting the MASC; I went with Dr. Campbell's 481 class last year, and recently with my Art History class.  Seeing the texts they pull for us is always really interesting, and I think it's really cool that the university has these extensive collections.  It can be hard to wrap your mind around the fact that the book your looking at is hundreds of years old.  When I visited with my Art History class, we got to see a Papal Bull from the 1200's, which was completely unreal.  The kinds of texts that were in circulation over the years, and how they have evolved is fascinating to think about, and it helps to paint a better picture of what life was like for people in those times.  It makes me wonder whether or not future generations will move totally into the digital arena, reading on Kindles, iPads or other devices.  Will the books we read now someday seem ancient and obsolete?  I would say no, on one hand because that idea kind of depresses me, but also because I think that there will always be a sense of romance and attachment to physical books.  Personally, I own a Kindle, but I find myself repeatedly going back to the printed word.  In a class environment, it's just more practical with flipping through pages quickly to get to specific passages.  I think that books will be sticking around for a while - not only would the task of digitizing be a monstrous undertaking, but honestly, who doesn't love that New Book Smell?

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Captain Ahab

My feelings toward Captain Ahab have actually changed after finishing the novel.  I think the main reason is that he finally acknowledges that he has been driven mad by Moby Dick, and that he's aware of how insane his mission is.  He went from being crazy and vindictive to tortured and paranoid.  He was clearly traumatized when Moby Dick took his leg, and his resulting madness is a product of that.  I think that, like with many things, Ahab's main motivation is fear.  Yes, he wants revenge on the creature that has maimed him and consumed his thoughts for years, but I think that he is also extremely frightened by the thought of this monster waiting for him out in the ocean.  As a whaler, he can't be afraid to go out on the water, and so he has to conquer the whale in order to conquer his fear.  Unfortunately, I think it's safe to say that he underestimated Moby Dick's tenacity.  The mission seemed pretty hopeless from the get-go but Ahab stuck with it, forcing his crew along, willing or not, to aid him in his quest.  The final three chapters of the novel were definitely the most cinematic and intense, and I can see how that could be translated into a thrilling film sequence.  There is definitely an element of frustration when Moby Dick ends up living up to his reputation and killing everyone, despite all of Ahab's furious efforts.  His mission ended up being the fate of the entire crew (except for Ishmael), and people who weren't even that invested in the quest lost their lives.  Without Captain Ahab's new-found self-awareness towards the end of the novel, it would be easy to be angry with him for the outcome of the mission, but instead it comes across more as the downfall of an extremely haunted man, and how destructive his fear and obsession proved to be.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Moby Dick

To be completely honest, I'm having a little bit of trouble getting through the novel so far.  In the parts where there's actually a plot or character development it's really interesting, but all of the background information is putting me to sleep.  I'm trying to get into the story, but the novel is really making me work for it.  I'm not quite caught up on the reading so far, but here are some things that have stuck out to me:
-The relationship between Ishmael and Queequeg.  We've touched on this in class, but I've really enjoyed the companionship that these two have developed.  There is the question of how intimate of a relationship it really is, but my first thought is just that it's good for Queequeg to have a companion in a situation where he might otherwise remain very solitary, and I think that Ishmael can also learn from Queequeg.
-The narrative.  In the plot-focused parts of the novel, I've been drawn in and feel invested.  I have a picture in my head of what the town and the inn look like, what it's like to be out on the water on the ship, and the overall grimy yet adventure-fueled mood of the voyage.  The characters we've been introduced to so far are interesting, and I'm eager to learn more about Ahab and see more of the dynamic between him and Starbuck.
-The Legend.  One of the things that I find really exciting and I think drives the action is the legend of Moby Dick.  I like getting the snippets of history about run-ins with this mythical, monstrous whale that has so far eluded capture.  It really does have the sense of an epic seafaring journey, and I think that part of it remains relevant today with movies like Pirates of the Caribbean.  Having the whale constantly in the back of you mind and wondering when it's going to turn up definitely keeps me turning pages (when we're actually reading about the action on the ship).