Change of Heart

Alright so I know earlier I said that Lily had her end coming to her. I think I may retract that statement now. For some inexplicable reason during the last few pages of The House of Mirth I found pity for Lily. In fact by the end of the novel I was upset with Selden for not loving her and saving her from her unfortunate end. I don’t really know how to respond to the debate of whether Lily committed suicide or if it was only an accident. However, I think I am beginning to side with the latter. I don’t really know what changed my mind. I had originally thought that Lily would commit suicide, but after some thinking and finishing the book I don’t know anymore. Perhaps I am just a romantic at heart and just really wanted it to be an accident because then it would have made Lily seem more like a fighter; and also because it would be less selfish. For some reason suicide just seems extremely selfish to me. Now here I’m stumped because I always though of Lily as a selfish character- trying to find a husband so she could live in luxury. And yet  she can’t bring herself to betraying Selden or borrowing money from Rosedale- even if it means her success. So in some ways I don’t find Lily selfish anymore. With that said though I don’t if Lily is so unselfish so as not to commit suicide. But the romantic in me wants it to be an accident to make it more of a Shakespearean tragedy- a tragedy that is truly unfair for the lovers. But in all honesty I don’t know if Lily and Selden even deserved the love they might have shared. But that’s just me.

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The Un-likable Cast of Characters Continues

Well we’re on to a new novel. A new set of characters. And another laundry list of questions. How is it possible that so many of the classic American novels are so depressing? Shouldn’t the great novels of American history be about the American dream of success? But alas, I suppose so many of those were produced that the public needed something else. And out of the success story arose the story of failure and pathetic ends for our characters. This fact is made less disappointing by the point of characters that the reader hardly likes anyway. The House of Mirth for instance, I was sure was going to be a happier story than those of late. I was mistaken. From the cover of my novel I expected something more akin to Austen than the depressing story that awaited me instead. At first I had pity for Lily Bart and her cause. But as the novel progressed my tolerance of her plotting and whining grew thin. I felt the unfairness of her predicament, but at the same time was annoyed at her way of scheming to get men to marry her, as well as her disgust of those richer than her- even more so considering they provided for her! Lily’s behavior towards Rosedale was especially hypocritical. All Lily wants is money, and all Rosedale wants is to become part of the high society by which he is not included. And yet, for all his money, Lily can’t stand him, even though he is her only way of getting what she wants. I was also rather angry with Lily for her treatment of men and all the games she played. Even though we haven’t finished the book (spoiler!) I believe that Lily gets what she deserves. With all her whining and wanting of money, knowing she is poor and resenting it, she seems so proud and acts so superior that I can hardly blame Wharton for ending her. Although since we haven’t finished the novel I can’t fully commit myself to this decision, right now I feel like Lily got what was coming to her.

The Beast Within Both Man and Beast?

McTeague had an interesting ending. I suppose it didn’t surprise me much. Mostly because I figured McTeague had it coming, and mostly because I figured McTeague was too stupid to get himself out of any fix he got into. I still don’t think McTeague figured out how to escape Death Valley, so I imagine him dying next to the dead Marcus and mule and canary- depressing I know. But despite the depressing ending the thing that interested me more is the haunting sixth sense that McTeague develops after the murder of his wife. It makes sense that this sixth sense was McTeague falling more into the animal category and receiving an instinct of survival. But here’s the rub. Usually this survival instinct does what? You got it- helps the beast survive. Now where does this differ from McTeague’s experience. Sure this instinct gets him out of trouble (he flees before he is caught) a few times. So why then does this animal instinct eventually lead McTeague to his death? Here I bring in the naturalistic aspect- that McTeague has become so much like an animal, he left humanity behind, he gained a new awareness- this survival instinct. Now this isn’t such an unusual trait within the animal kingdom. But Norris then goes against this Naturalistic view by using this survival instinct- a more scientific animal trait- to in the end do McTeague in. It doesn’t make scientific sense that a survival instinct will lead the beast to his death. Which leads me to wonder what if this new sixth sense is not just a survival instinct, or what if McTeague realized his decline into the animal kingdom and was trying to flee from this? Because the bottom line is- animal survival instinct doesn’t intentionally lead the beast to die. So then what is the sixth sense that McTeague develops after his kills Trina?

Trina McTeague

I don’t really know what I expected from McTeague, but after reading up to chapter 20 it’s definitely not what I expected. I found the Naturalism aspect of this novel, that is to say the entire novel, rather interesting. I had known of some genres, but had never heard of the Naturalism category. After learning about Romanticism, the Sublime, and Realism I was slightly more prepared to accept Naturalism. However, with that said- why is everything from the early American literature era seemingly so depressing?! What’s wrong with a nice medieval like novel- with happy endings and heroic knights? I suppose it has to do with the fact that readers of that time preferred truth rather than fiction- a fact I have a hard time wrapping my head around. For awhile I held out hope that McTeague would triumph and him and Trina would reconcile and live happily ever after. I was wrong. McTeague ends up becoming an animal, obsessed with his own interests- mainly food and warmth. Although at first I couldn’t blame him. I found myself also hating Trina and her frugal ways. I couldn’t believe she would be so stingy as to deny her own family money when she had a fortune. I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I almost found myself lacking sympathy at Trina’s death! Imagine that! I wasn’t shocked, I knew it was coming, and I still couldn’t find pity for Trina. The only time I was sad for her was in the fact that she represented women who are abused and not willing to leave, but still found nothing in my heart for Trina herself. So now I wonder if Norris made this lack of pity intentional? Am I the only one who barely felt a twinge of sorrow at the brutal death of Trina McTeague?

Theron as a ‘monster’

The Damnation of Theron Ware, or Illumination turned me on my head- figuratively speaking. As I was reading it seemed as though Theron Ware was a decent and respectable character. And then I read further and began to dislike him- in fact by the end of the novel I thoroughly despised him. At first I didn’t realize how my disposition to Theron was changing, up until the point where Celia tells Theron what a “bore” he has become. I don’t think I would have chosen “bore” as the word to describe Theron, I might have gone more towards- cheater, liar, hypocrite, overall an ass. Yes, I think I would describe Theron by the end of the novel as an ass. Now how can such a pure and innocent character become such a jerk by the end of 250 pages?! I think that the issue of gaining knowledge is almost a double edged sword. While Theron becomes more ‘knowledgeable’ in his own eyes he becomes more despicable in the eyes of all of Octavius. Therefore I believe a point is being made upon the concept of acquisition of knowledge, especially the melding of knowledge and religion. Moving on from the strange mixture that knowledge and religion produce upon an individual I would like to say that Celia and Father Forbes and Dr. Ledsmar were extremely unfair. I don’t know if unfair is exactly the correct word, but all the same I felt like they led him on, introduced him into this new world and then left him to drown! How rude! I almost felt that Theron was akin to Frankenstein’s monster in this way, he is almost forced into a world which is completely new to him, and then left to navigate it alone. Theron became a lowly creature in my eyes, but I believe that Celia, Dr. Ledsmar, and Father Forbes are the cause of it and should take responsibility for the monster they created.

An Unsatisfactory Ending

Pudd’nhead Wilson was unlike the other books we’ve read this semester. I found it enjoyable, although at times aggravating. Some of the characters I couldn’t stand- such as ‘Tom’ Chambers. The way in which he conducted himself and the consequences that he never suffered created a hated character in my mind. I couldn’t believe the things ‘Tom’ did and got away with. He was a the most vain and vile character we’ve come across yet in this course. Not that we haven’t had our share of despicable characters- Coverdale and Ishmael were far from endearing. However, in both cases I felt as though the characters had some semblance of normal human attributes, attributes that ‘Tom’ was lacking. It seems as though with each novel, from Blithedale Romance to Moby-Dick and now Pudd’nhead Wilson that each main character becomes more degrading. If anything I can relate ‘Tom’ to Ishmael. They are entirely different- until the end- when neither one cares for those they professed to care for. Ishmael seems indifferent to the passing of Quequeeg and his shipmates; while ‘Tom’ sells his Mammy down stream without a care in the world. What kind of people would do such things?!

Furthermore another point of Pudd’nhead Wilson that confused me was the lack of ‘Chambers’ fate towards the end. In fact, all we hear of ‘Chambers’ is that he became ashamed because of his language and manners- which all bespoke of his inferior upbringing. Why do we not hear more about ‘Chambers’ and have more of a happy conclusion where the heir returns to his rightful place? I was shocked when nothing was really said of ‘Chambers.’ I was expecting more than a paragraph on ‘Chambers,’ perhaps a few pages that told of his victorious triumph of learning how to rise above your circumstances. Alas there was no such conclusion. Instead Wilson became a hero, ‘Tom’ was sold into slavery, Roxy reaped a monthly payment from ‘Chambers’ and poor ‘Chambers’ ended up a laughing stock. Not the ending I was hoping for.

How Dare You Melville?!

Herman Melville makes me extremely upset. I can’t believe he just ended the huge, monstrous, epic novel in 50 pages and a few chapters. I felt like Melville made everything so verbose and extravagant that the ending left me wanting more. I also couldn’t believe how stoic and emotionless Ishmael was at the end of the story. After all he just calmly tells the story, saying about the drama being over, and how he was the only surviver. It was like all his love for Quequeeg didn’t matter because he doesn’t even mention his name or being sad about his loss. All we hear is that the harpooners go down as the ship sinks. So I guess male bosom buddies, wedded in joyous bliss was just a bunch of baloney. Now that I think about it I don’t know how Melville could have ended Moby-Dick any differently. I would have hoped for a more elaborate ending, chase and kill coming from Melville. It seemed so out of character for Melville all of a sudden to be all action and no explanation. It almost felt like it wasn’t even Melville. But mostly I was just upset at how Ishmael got away and didn’t seem to care anything about the people whom he spent almost 3 years with. I would have just been happy with a little sympathy about the lives lost during the wreck. I also felt like the great white whale could have had a more epic exit. I did like that the whale escaped, like an on-going legend of the sea, a true leviathan. But I can’t help disliking the novel because of how abruptly it ended, and the lack of any emotional ties to anyone. And yet this is how Ishmael is. He is unattached and unemotional. And he remains so throughout the novel, except he is rewarded for watching and not participated- it is only he who lives to become wealthy and tell the tale.

Where, and Who, Art Thou Ishmael?!

Dear Ishmael, or should I say Melville, you confuse me. I can’t decide whether to be horrified at Ishmael’s lack of emotion and personality, or Melville for creating Ishmael like that. This section of reading provided adventure and more information of whaling than I ever needed to know. I feel that after reading Moby-Dick I would be quite capable of becoming a sailor on a whaling ship of the time, not that I would want to. Ishmael seems to create a terrifying picture of the murder of whales, and yet doesn’t seem to feel any emotion towards Ahab or Pip’s madness. Ishmael is just a ‘wallflower’- a person who watches but does not interact. For about 400 pages now we have rarely heard Ishmael’s name or his interactions with any of the ship mates. It seems that he knows everything that goes on, without every really speaking with many people. Even Queequeg and Ishmael’s friendship seems to be no longer worth discussion as the whales are killed and other ships are met. I still don’t understand how Ishmael can be so distant, especially from his fellow shipmates, and yet display the murder of whales in a way that eludes to a sense of pity on the part of the gentle giants.

So why does Melville do this? Why have pity for the killed whales, and not for the speared sharks, or mad Pip? What is Melville proving by only having select pity within this monstrous novel? Why do I need to know exactly how to man a whaling ship if whaling seems a horrific act that should perhaps no longer be preformed? In this sense Melville confuses me. What is the point of this novel? What is Melville really trying to get at with a main character who has few human interactions, little emotion, and just seems to relay all the actions upon the ship?

Violence and Description… those poor whales

After reading this weeks section I found myself snoozing in some areas and disgusted in others. I am a strange mix of animal lover and eater. I enjoy not being a vegetarian, but I still can’t stand animal violence. This led me to believe that maybe Melville was a strange mix as well. For example, he pays excruciating detail to things that seem mundane to me. And yet when the actually killing of a whale occurs, Melville is equally descriptive in the violence and epic battle that ensues. I’m beginning to think that being descriptive on every account is just Melville’s writing style. But I still find the whale and whalers battle scenes a bit uncharacteristic. I guess that might be the shock of something so graphically violent after so many descriptions of whales, ships, whale meat, and anything else Melville deems important enough to share. Although I can think of many sections where my eyes began to drop, I still find myself wondering- “What was the purpose of Melville putting this in?” So far I don’t have an answer, except that maybe it gives the reader yet more proof that this tale is more fact than fiction.

I’m still struggling with Ishmeal as a narrator. The fact of his missing background seems to have made me care less about his fate. In fact even 300-400 pages in I’m still at odds about my feelings of the crew mates. I have more sympathy for the whales they kill than what actually happens to the sailors themselves. I wonder if this was Melville’s intent? I also don’t understand the whalers steadfast opinion that the Sperm whale is the greatest. Even though the Right whale can produce oil, although not as much, it is considered a lesser whale. It seems that the root of this opinion lies in how much oil a whale can produce. However, it also seems odd that the whale that produces the most oil is also one of the most dangerous. I never thought of whales having teeth, other than the Killer whale. For me the large whales were always gentle giants with baleen.  It seems I was incorrect, but I understand now why I sympathize with the whales. They are after all just trying to escape. I wonder how Moby-Dick compares to my understanding of whales, along with what I’ve learned from Ishmeal.

Ishmeal’s Past

Ishmeal strikes me, as discussed in class, as the every man. In this way Melville allows readers to identify with Ishmeal. Although Ishmeal becomes identifiable, I found myself being confused by him. About 10 chapters in I was constantly asking myself who Ishmeal was, why he came to sea, did he have nothing to leave behind? After all what type of man leaves to sea, not caring if he returns. Even though Ishmeal’s history is not really part of the story, I still wish Melville would have given Ishmeal a past. It seems not believable as a character to not have a past. I realize that because the story is about whaling that Ishmeal’s history does not play a role to the actual plot. However, I just can’t get past the fact that it’s unlike any novel I’ve ever read. Every book I’ve ever read gives a background of the narrator. I suppose not giving Ishmeal a history truly causes the reader to bond with him because any reader can believe they might have similar experiences. But for me Ishmeal seems unrealistic. I can’t seem to relate to him because I feel like he is unknown to me. For me to relate to a character I like to know something about them. Even though I didn’t like Coverdale from “Blithedale Romance,” I did believe him to be very realistic. Humans are flawed, and Coverdale certainly was. Ishmeal although doesn’t seem flawed. He doesn’t have any vices, any flaws, anything to make him exceptionally human to me. Even though I am enjoying the story and the adventure, I find other characters more realistic than Ishmeal to me. A man without a family, without friends, and without fear of death, along with no specific personality traits remains strange and unbelievable to me.