Ralph Waldo Emerson was an author who rose to fame in the 19th century for his essays. He also published several collections of poetry, the first of which, titled simply Poems, includes the piece “The Apology.” In “The Apology,” the speaker implores the working class to believe that although he does not do manual labor, his job, too, has value. However, although the diction of the piece makes it personal, the speaker does not believe that his work is actually something to be apologized for. The poem begins with words that would not be out of place in a conventional apology, which the title of the work implies. “Think me not unkind and rude,” the speaker says, appearing humble. He gently asks the audience not to reproach him for how little it appears he does, which he states in the next line as walking alone in the forest. But the speaker soon reveals the honorable reason he does it: he goes to find God and “fetch his word to men.” With these words, the speaker goes from a wanderer to a prophet of sorts. A person who believes himself to be a prophet would certainly not apologize for being so. The following two stanzas have similar layouts to the first. In the first and second lines, the speaker asks the reader not to disapprove of him for his actions, which at first seem simple and rather meaningless. But he then justifies their noble purpose in the final two lines. Although he always starts off modestly, he never fails to elevate himself and his work by the end of the stanza. Nonetheless, the speaker that states the final lines of the stanzas that raise him to such a level of importance is the same speaker who asks the audience to not be harsh with him in the first line. The inclusion of both of these lines gives the piece much more of a personal edge that it would have had without the first line asking to not be criticized harshly, and thus define the poem as the personal explanation of the speaker’s actions that it is. After mentioning the inspiration from nature in the fourth stanza- which the speaker claims is no secret- he concludes the work in the fifth stanza by relating more directly to his intended audience. The justification of his work within the piece is directed towards those who would view it as useless- those who work in the fields and partake in manual labor. The purpose of the piece is to convince this group that what he does is beneficial and important, although not quite as visibly so as the work that they do. The conclusion of the poem explains this to the workers by relating to what they are familiar with. Using the informal pronoun thy, which once again makes the poem more personal, and in the context of “one harvest from thy field,” the speaker sets up a figurative comparison of the fruits of their labor and the fruits of his. The speaker refers to his work as “a second crop,” with the phrase highlighted through inverted syntax, placing it at the beginning of the sentence. With this phrase, the speaker is able to not only compare his work to theirs, but also to solidify the idea of his inspiration from nature. Throughout the piece, the speaker explains the importance of his work. But without his informal and almost timid word choice, asking the audience not to look down upon him, the piece would not have the same effect. The speaker is confident in his work, knowing that he does not need to apologize for it. But in taking the form of an apology, the piece is able to convey the message to its audience without losing attention due to pomp.
Explication #2 - Emerson's "The Sonnet of Michelangelo Buonarroti"
Emerson’s “The Sonnet of Michelangelo Buonarroti”
“Non Ha l’Ottimo Artista Alcun Concetto” is a sonnet written in Italian by Florentine sculptor and poet Michelangelo Buonarroti. Since its creation, the poem has been translated into various languages by a multitude of authors, perhaps most famously into English by American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. In the original Italian version, Michelangelo conveys the message of imperfection while remaining within the standard rhyme scheme and stanza length of the Petrarchan sonnet. Emerson, however, extrapolates this message into the form of his version, incorporating irregularities in stanza length, rhyme scheme, and meter to reflect the speaker’s struggle to carve a flawless sculpture from a piece of marble. The untraditional setup of Emerson’s translation is immediately evident to the reader in the first stanza. The first line of the piece rhymes with the second: “Never did sculptor’s dream unfold/ A form which marble doth not hold” (1-2)— a rhyme scheme that strays from the standard form of a sonnet. This unfamiliar pattern continues as the third line, which ends in find (3), rhymes with the fifth line, ending in mind (5), and the fourth line, bold (4), rhymes with the first and second. Such gives this section of the stanza an AABAB scheme, rather than the standard ABBA of the first half of an octave. At this point, however, it is not clear why the author would alter the rhyme scheme, because heretofore he has only spoken of the ideal in marble carving. He describes how, given a skilled sculptor, marble can be shaped into anything that he can dream of. The remaining four lines of the stanza form a pair of couplets, the first of which again gives no reason to the irregular form of the poem. “So hide in thee, thou heavenly dame/ The ill I shun, the good I claim,” (6-7) the speaker states, supporting his search for perfection— represented here as “thou heavenly dame”—in sculpture. The second couplet, the eighth and ninth lines of the first stanza, already seem out of place in the poem. Standard sonnets simply do not have couplets in such a location. But these lines are even more untraditional than they may initially seem— in addition to their bizarre rhyme scheme, this couplet also has the only instances of uneven meter in the entire poem. Both line eight and line nine have seven syllables, rather than the six, eight, or ten of the rest of the piece: “I alas! not well alive,/ Miss the aim whereto I strive” (8-9). Emerson combines the odd amount of syllables with the previously established rhyme scheme to emphasize the imperfection of this couplet, which is reflected for the first time in the actual message of the poem as well. The speaker expresses that he is not skilled enough to carve flawlessly, just as the form of the poem is not without its flaws, and thus he misses the goal that he strives for. In a traditional sonnet, the final stanza is a sestet; in Emerson’s piece, in order to maintain the characteristic fourteen lines, the final stanza is only five lines. The short section with its unique but uncomplicated rhyme scheme acts as an explanation as to why the speaker cannot reach perfection in his sculpture. Emerson has already established and concreted that the ideal cannot be reached through the meter and rhyme scheme of the previous couplet. Thus he reverts to the more standard meter as the speaker simply supports the idea. The speaker states in a single thought, “Not love, nor beauty’s pride,/ Nor Fortune, nor thy coldness can I chide,/ If, whilst within thy heart abide/ Both death and pity, my unequal skill/ Fails of the life, but draws the death and ill” (10-14). He explains that he cannot blame anyone (as given by the capitalized F in Fortune) or anything for his shortcomings as a sculptor. As long as there are flaws within the heart of his sculpture— or his subject— because he lacks skill, his work shows only those flaws. The sonnet originated as reflection on the ideal love, and the speaker of Emerson’s “Sonnet of Michelangelo Buonarroti” toys with the concept of the ideal early on in the piece. However, as the rhyme scheme, meter, and stanza length are revealed to the reader as quite far from the ideal, standard sonnet, the speaker of the poem too reveals the reality he faces as a sculptor— he cannot create the ideal. Emerson uses the irregularities in the form of the poem, paired with the message of the work, to emphasize this idea of imperfection, in both the sculptor and the sculpture.
Explication #3 - Emerson's "Love and THought"
Emerson’s “Love and Thought”
Ralph Waldo Emerson was a key figure in the Transcendentalist movement of the 19th century. In addition to many essays and speeches, he also wrote poetry that reflected the philosophical values of the movement, including the poem “Love and Thought.” In the piece, Emerson personifies the ideas of love and thought in order to clarify the importance of their interdependent relationship. It is clearer to the reader that the two are symbiotic when they are described as living, rather than as the abstract concepts that they are. It is never explicitly stated in the poem that its two subjects are not human— after all, it introduces them as “two well-assorted travellers” (1), then naming them as two figures of Greek mythology, “Eros and the Muse” (2). However, there is no well-known myth that involves both Eros and a Muse, and the poem goes on to describe them as “twins” (3), which differs greatly from their actual relationship in myth. The inconsistencies between Greek mythology and the poem therefore imply that the two names are not meant to represent their actual bearers, but rather the concepts that their bearers symbolize. The title of the piece, “Love and Thought,” supports this idea; Eros is the god of love, and muses are inspirations of ideas and thought. Recommencing the poem, now with the idea that Eros and the Muse are not simply people, but personified ideas, the diction takes on a second meaning. The work begins, “Two well-assorted travellers use/the highway” (1-2), suggesting to the reader that the two— love and thought, and their respective human forms— are physical companions, as well as complementary concepts. This interdependence that the speaker plainly states in human form, but is left to be interpreted in the figurative form, continues as the piece progresses. The people are described as “twins” (3), “the pair” (4), and “comrades” (5), and the speaker declares “Each for other they were born,/ Each can other best adorn” (7-8). The poem emphasizes the relationship between the two heavily in this section— the purpose is to solidify that love and thought exist in harmony just like a pair of close friends or siblings would. To concrete his point even further, in the final few lines of the piece, Emerson attempts to disprove it in the inverse. The speaker states that the “only mortal grief” (9), is when love and thought “have each other lost” (12). Not only do the two complement each other when they are together, they are incomplete when they are apart. The speaker describes them here as “pilgrims” (12) a nod to their previous title as “travellers” (1), but this time suggesting that their destination is of much more importance, and therefore all the worse when they are without each other. In his poem, Emerson conveys the image of two companions in a mutually beneficial relationship. They are as close as siblings and suffer when they are apart from one another. But through the title and their names as “Eros” and “the Muse,” he suggests that they are more than just people— his two subjects are personifications of love and thought, and the speaker describes their relationship in the work as human to clarify that just as the two people need each other, love and thought do, as well.
Explication #4 - Emerson's "good-Bye"
Character analysis - Hamlet
Lay Laertes Lay
Laertes’ purpose is to serve as a foil to Hamlet himself— their positions in the play are so effortlessly comparable that their differences in hamartia are thus emphasized. These differences are often simplified into easy opposites: Hamlet thinks too much, Laertes thinks too little. But the two, in actuality, are quite similar. Rather than a stark contrast, Laertes acts as more of an echo of Hamlet. Although Hamlet is more mistrusting than is Laertes, Laertes’ skepticism in the play is indeed present, though often overlooked. Additionally, Laertes’ rashness is overstated (and Hamlet’s understated), and his reason for action is nearly identical to Hamlet’s: to avenge his murdered father. It is here where Laertes’ true hamartia— as well as his main difference from Hamlet— lies. His tragic flaw is not his lack of consideration, but his basis of self-worth in relation to his family. He views his honor as so low in his family that he is driven to haste in his quest to avenge his father. Hamlet, however, does not feel the same necessity as Laertes, and thus does not act with the same speed as Laertes, nor does he give in to the same manipulation as does Laertes. Laertes serves an important purpose in the play; he is thought to be an original Shakespearean character, as he has no known equivalent in the work’s predecessors— and he was not added to simply be Hamlet’s opposite. He is as much of a tragic hero as is Hamlet. However, he is frequently reduced to a hot-headed, dim-witted young nobleman, despite his complexity of character. In the first line of her essay Laertes, Hamlet’s Foil and Fratricidal Brother, critic Laury Magnus describes Laertes as “fiery” and “impetuous,” appealing to the usual conception of his character (1). However, a comparison between Laertes’ and Hamlet’s actions throughout the play leads to the conclusion that although Hamlet is indeed more pensive, he is the other extreme as well, as he is also more rash. At his worst, Laertes agrees to partake in the plan to avenge his father: “I will do’t!” (Shakespeare IV.vii.155), which he later has second thoughts about, as he says to himself, “it is almost against my conscience” (V.ii.311). At his worst, Hamlet stabs Polonius, killing him, and then exclaims that he is more upset to have not killed Claudius than to have killed Polonius—“Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool, farewell! I took thee for thy better”(III.iv.38-39). Whether it is attributed to madness or not, there is simply no action of equivalent magnitude on Laertes’ part— yet he is still regarded as Hamlet’s hasty counterpart, by Magnus among others. But for some, what Laertes lacks in patience and caution is matched (or overshadowed) by his lack of reasoning. Many use Laertes’ re-entrance into the play after an absence of two acts as evidence of such. With a mob behind him, Laertes searches frantically for Claudius, who he believes to be responsible for his father’s death (IV.v.117). Editor Charles E. Moberly, for example, states in the footnotes of the 1870 publication of the play that Laertes “has no assurance that the king is guilty of his father’s death: yet, the moment he hears of it, he rushes headlong from France.... ready to strike the king down in a moment” (103). However, with this statement, Moberly discredits any reasoning that Laertes is capable of. Just as critic J. Anthony Burton asserts in An Unrecognized Theme in Hamlet: Lost Inheritance and Claudius’s Marriage to Gertrude, Laertes would have easily been able to recognize the parallels between King Hamlet’s quick, quiet funeral and his father’s, thus soundly leading him to the conclusion that King Claudius was involved, as he had been in the murder of King Hamlet (73). Although this conclusion is incorrect, that does not signify that Laertes had not put any thought into it, as Moberly would have his readers believe. Despite the commonly accepted notion that Laertes is Hamlet’s simple opposite, there exists another side to Laertes that distinguishes him more from the Danish prince than simple heedlessness. The complex relationship with his father and sister that Laertes has greatly influences his actions in the play and majorly differentiates his fatal flaw from Hamlet’s. Magnus states that in the first act, the scene in which Claudius, Polonius, Laertes and Hamlet are introduced to the audience “firmly establishes Laertes as his father’s son” (Magnus). However, Polonius mentions to Claudius that he only agreed to let his son return to France after his “laborsome petition” (I.ii.62). Although this line is spoken with humor in many performances, such does not completely camouflage the glimpse into their complicated relationship that it provides. The question as to whether or not Polonius respects his son is present throughout the play— and perhaps before the play takes place, as well. Several lines before, during Laertes’ introduction, J. Dover Wilson notices in his book What Happens in Hamlet that Claudius “positively coos over him, caressing him with his name four times in nine lines” (31). Claudius is able to recognize the lack of respect that Laertes receives, even before Polonius speaks, suggesting that it had made itself known previously, as well. Claudius takes the opportunity to plant the seeds of manipulation in Laertes’ mind, making him believe that he is the only person to whom Laertes has importance. Though there may be tender feelings between Polonius and Laertes, one scene later, as Laertes embarks on his travel to France, the differences between his advice for Ophelia and Polonius’ advice for him once again imply a familial distrust for the young man. Laertes ties Ophelia’s worth to her beauty and chastity, viewing her as the treasure of their family, and his words to her reflect this. He warns her to not take Hamlet’s love too seriously, saying that Hamlet is “subject to his birth. He may not, as unvalued persons do, carve for himself” (I.iii.21-23). His advice is brotherly and with her best intent in mind. Polonius, however, gives Laertes— his adult son, who has been to France before— advice on how to act while in France: “Give thy thoughts no tongue... Beware of entrance to a quarrel,” for example (I.iii.59-85). While this advice is indeed sound, it raises the question as to why Polonius would say such things to his son, who should already know. The evident answer, as is later concreted as Polonius sends an attendant to spy on Laertes (II.i.1-83), is the lack of trust and respect. Although it may have justification, Polonius does not put it past his son to behave poorly. Laertes’ advice to Ophelia, however, implies that Laertes does not necessarily think that he deserves respect, either. To him, Ophelia is the more important child, which is why he advises her in the way that he does. This view is continued following Polonius’ death, evidenced in Laertes’ reaction to Ophelia’s apparent madness and her lack of a Christian burial. He cries out, “Do you see this, O God?”, which Mangus describes as able to “move audiences to pity— if not to tears” (Magnus). If Laertes pitied Ophelia and saw himself as her superior, would his grief really be of such a magnitude? It would more closely resemble Gertrude’s attitude towards Hamlet, who, despite his supposed madness, she still calls “sweet” (III.iv.109). Gertrude pities Hamlet. Laertes does not pity Ophelia— her madness is much more to him than a maiden’s beauty spoiled by insanity. The death of her sanity is the death of their family— with her and Polonius gone, Laertes is the only person whom the worth of the family can fall upon. He realizes this, and takes it upon himself to do as much as he can to restore the family’s honor: avenge his fallen father. After yelling out to Claudius, and Gertrude tells him to be calm, Laertes’ first words following his father’s death are as follows: “That drop of blood that’s calm proclaims me bastard; Cries cuckold to my father; brands the harlot/Even here between the chaste unsmirched brows/ Of my true mother” (IV.v.124-128). He believes that if he does not avenge his father— as he has not yet done— he must not be his true son. He immediately connects his father’s death with his own position in the family. Claudius takes advantage of Laertes in his frenzied need for revenge by creating the environment in which Laertes can begin to establish his own self worth. He realizes that this is what Laertes truly craves— to have importance on his own. But as the antagonist of the play, Claudius uses it for his own gain as he sweet-talks Laertes into agreeing to kill Hamlet. He praises Laertes like no one else in the play does. He constantly addresses him by name throughout their encounter (IV.v.129, 134, 152, 216), (IV.vii.45, 63, 120, 143, etc...). He speaks of Laertes’ fame as a swordsman across Europe (IV.vii.107-119). He even subtly invites Laertes to take Polonius’ place as he asks, “Can you advise me?” (IV.vii.58). For the first time, Laertes feels good about himself. And Claudius uses this to his advantage— he has Laertes kill Hamlet for him. Hamlet sees Claudius, his father’s killer, as a villain. He views both the murder and the murderer as wicked. Even before he knows that Claudius is guilty of the crime, he has nothing but contempt for him, evidenced early in the play as he describes Claudius as “a little more than kin, a little less than kind” (I.ii.68-69) and when he states that his father to Claudius was as “Hyperion to a satyr” (I.ii.144). Hamlet’s driving reason for action is to end the life of the evil man who killed his father. Laertes, however, does not hate Hamlet. For much of the play, Laertes is indeed not overly fond of him, which he expresses through the previously-mentioned advice to Ophelia— he calls Hamlet’s love “trifling” (I.iii.6)— and as he accuses Hamlet of teasing him at the beginning of their duel— “you mock me, sir” (V.ii.62). However, Laertes’ dislike for Hamlet the prince is separate from his need for revenge, whereas Hamlet combines his hatred of Claudius with his desire for to kill him. Laertes feels the necessity to kill his father’s murderer, not necessarily Hamlet— he does not refer to Hamlet by name during his planning with Claudius (IV.vii), nor during his wrestle with Hamlet in Ophelia’s grave (V.I). This is further revealed in Laertes’ final words, the only time he actually says Hamlet’s name to his face: “Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet. Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee,/ Nor thine on me!” (V.ii.350-352). Laertes and Hamlet, though often credited as complete opposites, are in many ways the same person. But in a way that Hamlet is not, Laertes is defined by his relationships with his family. He sees both his father and his sister as honorable members of the family, and after their deaths, he is the only surviving member— and at this point, he is driven to manipulability. Laertes is not simply Hamlet’s dim and rash counterpart: he too, exists with his own flaws that shape his actions in the play.
Short Fiction - "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "The third and final continent"
Nancy Drew and the Case of the Nameless Narrators
More than one hundred years separate Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Third and Final Continent;” though the two pieces of short fiction do have their similarities— both stories are told in first person, and both narrators remain nameless— the subtle differences between each author’s use of point of view creates two contrasting effects in the two works. The narrators’ awareness of an audience to their story greatly influences their reliability, which serves as the greatest difference between the two stories. In the “The Third and Final Continent,” the narrator tells of his life as a young man immigrating to the United States in the late 1960s. The use of a nameless, first-person point of view in this work serves to establish the narrator as a trustworthy storyteller, whose experiences as an outsider are more than simply his own: they are a part of the human experience. The narrator knows that he is telling his story to an audience, and so he ensures that although his descriptions of people, places and events are not objective, it is clear that they are his opinion, thus still making him a reliable narrator. In “The Yellow Wallpaper,” however, there is no need for the narrator to be objective, for she is her only intended reader. The diary-like entries follow her time as a new mother in an upstairs room of an old house, whose wallpaper she finds distracting, engrossing, and even threatening. Her aim is not to tell a story to an audience, but merely to record her own thoughts— which to an audience, give the impression of a woman descending into madness as a result of the isolation prescribed by her rest cure. Lahiri’s narrator evidences that he is aware of the audience by including something that Gilman’s narrator does not: introductions of other characters. Lahiri’s narrator consistently states other character’s relations to him, and often, their name. The speaker in “The Yellow Wallpaper” simply mentions names, and it is up to the reader to gather who they are. She states immediately, “It is very seldom that mere ordinary people like John and myself secure ancestral halls for the summer” (Gilman, paragraph 1), without including any information as to who John is. The story is, however, structured like a diary, and therefore the narrator would not need to introduce John— she already knows who he is, and she does not intend for anyone else to read what she writes, thus creating no need for her reliability. The speaker in “The Third and Final Continent,” meanwhile, makes sure that the audience is well aware of each character’s identity throughout the work to ensure his reliability as a narrator. He states, “My wife’s name was Mala” (Lahiri, paragraph 37), “She was Mrs. Croft’s daughter, Helen” (Lahiri 62), and “My son always expresses his astonishment” (Lahiri 150), for example. The purpose of Lahiri’s story is for the narrator to share his experiences of moving to the United States as a young man with the audience so that they may relate. Unlike Gilman’s narrator, Lahiri’s narrator needs to clarify who each of the other characters are so that the audience may follow his story. For Gilman’s narrator, this is unnecessary, for she is unaware of any audience, and thus feels no need to introduce other characters. The reader is not meant to relate to Gilman’s narrator, as is the case in Lahiri's story, but to observe her and the effects of isolation on her mental state. Each narrator’s respective reliability is additionally asserted through more than just his or her awareness of an audience throughout the two stories. Their interpretations of the events going on around them, as well as how sound their interpretations appear to be to the audience, greatly impact how trustworthy the reader believes each narrator to be. Lahiri’s narrator offers short descriptions of other character’s actions, often follow by his simple interpretation. Unlike with Gilman’s narrator, his interpretations are consistent throughout the story. For example, when he details Mrs. Croft’s daughter’s entrance: “She walked into the room and looked at each of the walls as if for signs of change” (Lahiri 61), and his first meal with his wife: “With her left hand she held the end of her sari to her chest, so it would not slip off her head” (Lahiri 109). Although he does not know for certain why Helen looks at the walls, or why exactly his wife holds on to her sari, he makes a guess— and his guesses throughout the story seem reasonable to the audience. As such, he remains reliable from the beginning to the end of the work. Although Gilman’s narrator may start off as trustworthy, the descriptions of the wallpaper, which crescendo into an increasingly unsettling image, and her growing suspicion of her husband John, and his sister Jennie, point to the narrator’s eventual unreliability. This unreliability, however, is intentional— it dramatically escalates the longer the narrator is kept in isolation. For example, at first, she characterizes John as “very careful and loving” (Gilman 29), and says of Jennie: “Such a dear girl she is, and so careful of me!” (Gilman 74). As of the wallpaper, with which she later becomes obsessed, she merely states “I never saw a worse paper in my life,” (Gilman 35), going on only several more lines in an attempt to describe its pattern. As the summer passes with the narrator still locked in the old nursery, although much around her remains the same, her interpretations contrast greatly to those before. The narrator describes her husband at this point as merely “pretending to be very loving and kind,” exclaiming “As if I couldn’t see through him!” (Gilman 213), and she calls Jennie a “sly thing” (Gilman 219) for wanting to share a room with her. By this time, the wallpaper has taken over nearly all of her thoughts. She states that “the front pattern does move— and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it!” (Gilman 189). Each of these descriptions seems much less reasonable to the reader than the descriptions that came earlier in the piece, which more resemble the consistent fairness of Lahiri’s narrator’s remarks. The difference in her interpretations from the beginning to the end of the story point to her growing unreliability throughout the course of the work. The shared element of first-person point of view in both of the pieces of short fiction serve to assert the narrator’s awareness of an audience and reliability in a way that only first-person can. However, despite this point of view found in both pieces, each author uses the perspective to convey their differing purposes. While Lahiri’s nameless narrator appeals to the universal human experience through his reliable storytelling, Gilman’s narrator’s diary entries and wavering trustworthiness concrete the idea of the maddening effects of the rest cure.
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