Blog #6

Character Analysis: Blanche

Word Count: 675

In most stories, the protagonist is a close-to-flawless individual with endearing features and likeable personality traits. This is not the case for the character of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. Blanche makes for an interesting protagonist in a play that has characters with seemingly darker, flawed personalities. She is somewhat vile towards Stanley because she dislikes the fact that he is Polish and working class, she tells many lies to other characters, and she, at times, seems downright crazy and mentally unstable. Despite all this, the audience can sympathize with her because we learn that she has lost her home, her job, and her husband. Her less-than-flattering remarks of Stanley can also be taken lightly in the view that she’s only trying to protect her sister from getting hurt (this situation becomes especially apparent after Stanley and Stella have a physical fight). The most interesting part of Blanche’s character is how some of the play’s main themes are directly based upon some of Blanche’s actions, thoughts, or experiences.

One of the common themes in the play, that of fantasy, stems from Blanche’s apparent inability to accept reality. Within the play, she notes to Mitch that she tells lies because she refuses to accept her real fate. Blanche is seemingly living in her own fantasy world where she is still a young, attractive, and very rich Southern belle living in Belle Reve. Her heavy drinking, something she also refuses to acknowledge, may help her escape to this fantasy world that she lives in. It quickly becomes apparent that Blanche, with her heavy makeup and fancy clothes, is grasping for her and Stella’s former life of affluence, and this ties well into Williams’ theme of fantasy within the play: Blanche uses her fantasies as a means to escape her harsh realities.

In the play, Tennessee Williams seems to imply that sex and desire lead to negative things; he goes so far as to draw an interesting parallel between sex and death. Blanche’s character always seems to be at the root of this comparison. When she first arrived at Stella’s place, Blanche noted that she rode a streetcar named “Desire” (sex), and then changed to a streetcar named “Cemeteries” (death), and ended up at Elysian Fields (a sort of heaven). This dialogue at first seems like nothing but silly banter, but the audience realizes as they proceed further into the play, this seemingly normal streetcar ride is actually a symbolic journey. Sex has also been a part of another tragic loss for Blanche: after she caught her husband having sex with another man, he shoots and kills himself later. Blanche’s life is used as an example for the theme of sex leading to negative outcomes: her life has been on a downward spiral because of different sexual desires and experiences.

Blanche’s character plays a huge role in the theme of gender roles within the play. The women in this play attempt to break the traditional roles of women being second-rate citizens in the country, but come up short in that they’re much too dependent on men, a prominent reoccurring theme in the play. Stella and Eunice seem to want to think that they’re independent beings, but their weakness shows in their inability to stand up to their husbands who are too rough with them. Blanche is able to notice this rash behavior as unacceptable, and even tries to convince Stella to leave Stanley, but Blanche is still guilty of being too dependent on men in that she wants to write to her friend Shep in order to make money. Blanche’s character is significant in this sense in that she represents a woman whose happiness (and wealth, to an extent) depend upon men, which was not uncommon during that time period.

Overall, Blanche’s experiences in the novel show just how significant her character is in terms of the different themes presented within the play. Whether it’s through her words, actions, or past experiences, Blanche’s character has many dimensions that are significant to the meaning behind the play.

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Blog #5

When I reflected on his crimes and malice, my hatred and revenge burst all bounds of moderation. I would have made a pilgrimage to the highest peak of the Andes, could I when there have precipitated him to their base. I wished to see him again, that I might wreak the utmost extent of abhorrence on his head and avenge the deaths of William and Justine. Our house was the house of mourning. My father’s health was deeply shaken by the horror of the recent events. Elizabeth was sad and desponding; she no longer took delight in her ordinary occupations; all pleasure seemed to her sacrilege toward the dead; eternal woe and tears she then thought was the just tribute she should pay to innocence so blasted and destroyed. She was no longer that happy creature who in earlier youth wandered with me on the banks of the lake and talked with ecstasy of our future prospects. The first of those sorrows which are sent to wean us from the earth had visited her, and its dimming influence quenched her dearest smiles.

The above passage, from the sixth paragraph of Chapter 1, Volume 2 is important in a sense that this is the first scene where Victor begins to think about killing his creation. He had been trying to keep away from the monster, but after his brother was killed (by the monster, he believes) and after his friend Justine is wrongly put to death for her alleged murder of his brother, Victor can no longer feel comfortable knowing that the monster is alive. It seems that Victor was at first content with letting the monster roam wherever he may have been, as long as he wasn’t in contact with Victor. However, this event, involving the deaths of two people close to Victor at the hands of the creature, seems to be the event that pushes Victor over the edge in his determination to kill the creature he created.

The passage relates to a couple different themes that were presented throughout the novel. The first of these themes that this particular passage relates to is that of revenge. The subject of revenge is a prominent theme throughout the novel with both Frankenstein and the creature; Victor wants to get revenge upon the creature for playing a part in the death of two people close to him, and the creature seeks revenge upon Victor for creating him to be such an ugly outcast that is hated in society. In the quote, the subject of revenge is explicitly mentioned: “my hatred and revenge burst all bounds of moderation.” The passage conveys how angry Victor is, and involves him actually vowing to get revenge upon the monster.

Although the other themes discussed in the passage are not as noticeable, two other larger thematic subjects stood out to me in the passage: the theme of women being weaker beings, and the recurring instance of evil and creators being ashamed of their creations are present in the passage. For me, this was one of the first instances when I started to notice the portrayal of women as weaker emotionally than men; Victor takes time to note how emotionally damaged Elizabeth was, similar to the instance when he described how he had to come home to comfort her after his brother died. The theme of a creator being disgusted with his creation is shown in the passage in that Victor definitively decides he wants to kill the creature. In my view, this can be compared to when, in the Bible, God realized that men were evil and wanted to start all over again. Biblical themes are prevalent throughout the novel, and I would think that this instance relates to this recurring theme.

While this passage in the novel does not contain an abundance of figurative devices, like those you may see in the lines of poetry we’ve been dissecting in class, the quote does contain a fair amount of words to set the tone of the story to follow. Shelley’s diction choice throughout this paragraph includes words such as “crimes,” “malice,” and “hatred” to convey the very angry tone in the chapter. Other words used in the passage like “desponding,” “sad,” and “tears” to imply the sadness that the characters feel after the deaths. Shelley uses foreshadowing in the passage by having Victor note that he would make a “pilgrimage to the highest peak of the Andes” to get revenge on the creature; later on in the novel, it is on top of a glacier where Victor comes across the creature. These simple devices help to show the significance of this passage in that they are devices that can magnify the importance of simple words or instances.

Overall, I believe this passage is extremely significant in that it is the first instance where Victor realizes that he wants to kill the monster in order to alleviate his guilt. We’d gotten the sense that he already felt guilty for the creation, but now the situation comes to head, and through his words, Victor realizes that he has to kill the creature. The tone, expressed through the diction, is telling in that it shows the reader just how messed up and angry Frankenstein truly is. It’s interesting how the subtle formal devices used in this quote relate to the larger themes expressed throughout the novel.

My word count: 695

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Blog #4

Blog 4: Stylistic Devices in Frankenstein

Word count: 600

In Frankenstein, Mary Shelley makes use of literary devices, like motifs, to help convey larger themes throughout the novel. Throughout the first few chapters of Frankenstein, it is a recurring theme that women are somewhat second-class citizens to men. Shelley portrays the main women characters in the story as somewhat passive, and even weak, people. Frankenstein’s mother, Caroline, is an example of a weaker character: she died of complications of the scarlet fever that she caught from taking care of Elizabeth. Another example of a passive, weaker woman in the novel is Justine Moritz. She was accused- wrongfully- of murdering Frankenstein’s younger brother, and she did little to defend herself. In the end, she even ended up confessing to committing the crime that she didn’t even commit. Elizabeth can also be considered a somewhat weaker woman character in her show of great emotion after his brother was murdered; Frankenstein had to go back home specifically to comfort Elizabeth, who was shaken up by the death. Another example of a motif used in the novel is the common reoccurrence of the moon, and how it seemingly foreshadows that something is going to happen. The creature seems to appear almost every time the moon is mentioned.

Shelley also makes use of symbolism within the novel, particularly with elements of nature. Fire, and the light made by fire are recurring themes throughout the story. Fire seems to represent both good and bad in the novel: the creature learns this when he tells Frankenstein the story of him finding that fire made him warm and gave him light, but when he went to touch it, the flames burned his hand. In this sense, light (and fire) symbolize something good (discovery of new things), and something bad (pain and fear). The symbolism of fire and light relates to the larger theme of the danger that comes with knowledge. Knowing that the fire made him warmer made the creature want more, so he burnt himself on the flames when he reached toward it; this can be somewhat related to the event that Frankenstein gained some knowledge on chemistry, which made him want more, and led to the eventual mistake of him creating the monster.

Lastly, as we discussed in class, the way in which the events in the novel are told is a key aspect as well. The novel is a frame story, where the events are told as a flashback. We first hear of previous events on Robert Walton’s boat through his letters to his sister as he is telling her of his travels north and of meeting up with Frankenstein. We then begin to hear the “real” story when Frankenstein is speaking of his life and how he came to be stranded on the block of ice from which he was rescued, which is also an example of the novel’s story being told as past events. In relation to the theme of the story, I believe the form in which the story is told relates to the theme of rough communication in the novel. The story being told through letters and narratives can, at least to me, be confusing in terms of remembering who is telling the story when it switches from Walton to Frankenstein to the monster and then back to Frankenstein.

These are just three examples of how different literary devices can be used to relate to the story’s larger themes. As someone who admits they are not especially skilled in the analyzing of literature, it was interesting for me to see these devices relate to such themes within the novel.

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Blog #3: Form and Content

Form and Content: “Slam, Dunk, and Hook” By Yusef Komunyakaa

Word Count: 584

Yusef Komunyakaa’s poem, “Slam, Dunk, & Hook,” is a poem about an uncommon subject for most poets: basketball. He describes the joys and experiences of kids playing basketball throughout the poem. With use of multiple figurative devices, Komunyakaa is able to portray basketball, a simple sport, as a form of art.

One of the most consistent forms of figurative language displayed throughout the poem is Komunyakaa’s use of figurative tropes, imagery, and symbolization. He uses similes, along with alliteration, in lines like “Swish of strings like silk.” Komunyakaa makes use of metaphors throughout his poem as well, with lines like “Muscles were a bright motor; Double-flashing to the metal hoop.” The imagery that is used throughout the poem along with metaphors paint a vivid picture for the reader. Symbolization is used in the poem to relate basketball to Roman myths; the author does this many times, comparing the Nike Swoosh symbol of the players’ shoes with “Mercury’s Insignia.” Komunyakaa seemingly uses these devices to give a higher meaning to the game of basketball, perhaps showing how important the game is to him.

The shift and tone in Komunyakaa’s poem is the key to more easily understanding the poem. The tone in the poem starts out happy, and somewhat mysterious; this is noted through Komunyakaa’s diction, where he chooses colorful metaphors to describe basketball. It seems as if Komunyakaa’s is trying to say that basketball has a bigger meaning than simply being a sport. About midway through the poem, the tone changes in a shift by Komunyakaa. The poem goes from describing basketball as a God-like game with an up-tempo tone to a darker tone when Komunyakaa speaks of a character (Sonny Boy) experiencing the loss of his mother. It is after this moment in the poem that the story shifts to a more somber tone. At this point, basketball is portrayed as an escape for the boy who lost his mother. Komunyakaa notes that the boy “played so hard, our backboard splintered.” The mood in the poem picks up once again near the end with Komunyakaa using vivid imagery and basketball terms to describe the game the characters are playing. The poem ends with a similar mood to the one it began with; the tempo of the poem picks up, and the diction is more positive.

“Slam, Dunk, & Hook” is different in form from many of the other poems we’ve read thus far in class in that there are no stanzas; the poem is broken into two parts, with the final part being only four lines long. This poem is also one of the few that we’ve read that doesn’t contain any rhyme scheme at all. I’ve typically read poems that depend on rhyme scheme to maintain a consistent rhythm, but Komunyakaa uses devices like full caesuras and enjambment to maintain an up-tempo rhythm throughout the poem. As a reader, these devices made it seem like there was a slow but purposeful drum beating (or perhaps a basketball bouncing) in the background of the poem.

Overall, I enjoyed this poem very much, as it was a change from the typical poems that I read about love and other touchy subjects. It’s clear through the different devices that the narrator views basketball as a fun escape from reality, something I can relate to as an athlete. This was also the first poem where I saw the explicit effects of form in relation to the true meaning and rhythm of the poem, which was interesting.

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Blog #2: Form and Content of “The Flea”

Blog #2: Form and Content Analysis for “The Flea” by John Donne

Word Count: 595

John Donne’s poem, “The Flea” is an interesting poem in which a small thing- a flea- is used by the narrator to symbolize an element in a relationship. The poem is very unique and uses different literary techniques to convey its message. The different techniques can be somewhat confusing, so we will first discuss the poem’s content in order to better understand the true meaning of the poem.

In the first stanza, the narrator (a man) makes note of a flea, and how little it is, comparing the flea’s little significance to something that his significant other is denying him, presumably sex. The flea has bitten him and his significant other. According to the narrator, being bitten is no big deal- he notes that it’s not a “sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead,” with maidenhead seemingly meaning loss of virginity. The narrator tells his girlfriend that with both of their blood now in the flea, they are now somewhat intertwined. The narrator hints further at what he wants when he tells his girlfriend that their blood being mingled within the flea is “more than we would do.”

In the second stanza, the girl attempts to kill the flea, but the narrator pleads with her to spare its life. He reasons that “three lives in one flea spare,” meaning that by killing the flea, the girl would be killing the flee, the narrator, and herself because their blood is within the flea. With both of their blood in the flea, he notes that the two are “more than married” despite their “parents grudge” about their romance. He continues to plead with her to not kill the flea, constantly noting its significant importance to their relationship, and begging her not to kill “three.”

In the third and final stanza, the narrator is reacting to his girlfriend, who has since killed the flea. His girlfriend notes that neither of them would be considered less of a person for killing the flea. The narrator, still trying to convince her to sleep with him (“yield to me”), then turns his argument to note that if his girlfriend wouldn’t be considered less of a person for killing the flea, then she wouldn’t be considered less of a person for sleeping with him.

Donne makes good use of an extended metaphor of sorts in using the flea to represent multiple things: their relationship, love, and sex. The reader should note important shifts throughout the poem, such as the way Donne first describes the flea as an insignificant thing in the first stanza, to a very important thing in the second stanza, back to considering it unimportant in the third stanza. Overall, once you figure out what the flea really represents, the content of the poem is much clearer.

Donne’s poem has no specific form in terms of an English or Italian sonnet. The poem has three stanzas, each with nine lines. Within each of the stanzas, Donner alternates between iambic tetrameter and iambic pentameter. The rhyme scheme of the poem is typical, going AABBCCDDD. The form of this poem is important in that the eye rhymes that Donne uses can represent the way the characters’ relationship is; the rhymes seem like they rhyme but they don’t, and the relationship between the two characters seems good, but they disagree on important issues. Donne also manipulates the scansion within his poem to make certain words emphasized when needed; for example, when considering the flea as insignificant, he doesn’t emphasize the syllables within the line. The form Donne chooses is important in emphasizing important parts in his poem.

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Blog #1: Form and Content

Form and Content in Poetry

Word Count: 542

Figuring out what a poem really means is sometimes the hardest thing when it comes to reading and understanding poetry. The key to understanding a certain poem is to evaluate its true content. Whether it is cryptic and vague language, tough vocabulary words, or even a different dialect in language (Shakespearean-era English, for example), poetry has gained the reputation of being hard to read and even harder to understand. The poem “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night” by Dylan Thomas is no exception to that thought. Thomas begins his poem speaking cryptically about the “night” and how different groups of men should avoid, and fight against, this “night.” The reader later figures out that this “night” Thomas speaks of is actually a metaphor for death. Thomas’ diction is another interesting part of the poem; he uses contrasting words, such as “curse” and “bless” and “night” and light” within the poem, possibly in order to convey multiple tones. In each stanza, Thomas speaks of different types of men: “wise men,” “good men,” “wild men,” and “grave men.” After describing each group of men, Thomas provides reasons why all of these different types of men fight to stay alive, that is, why they should “rage against the dying of the light.” Thomas uses shifts in his work, from speaking impersonally of broad groups of men to emotionally pleading solely to his father in the last stanza. It takes a few readings of the poem to ultimately understand that Thomas is providing all of these examples of why one should want to stay alive in order to convince his father to fight for his own life.

Another key aspect in terms of understanding poetry is to understand something as simple as the structure of a particular poem, also known as a poem’s form. “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night” is a villanelle, meaning it is arranged into five, three-line stanzas with the sixth and final stanza being four lines. A key part in terms of a poem’s form is its rhyme scheme, and Thomas’ villanelle has an ABA rhyme scheme. The rhythm of this poem, along with the rhyme scheme sometimes made me think of a chant, as if the poem should be read with an emphasis on certain words or phrases. Refrains, lines repeated throughout a particular poem, are a key part of a villanelle poem, and Thomas’ refrains act as a kind of theme for his poem. The phrases “Do not go gentle into that good night,” and “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” are repeated throughout the poem. The refrains are somewhat ambiguous at the start of the poem, but in the last stanza they become clearer: they are the narrator’s pleas with his father to fight (“rage”) for his life.

Overall, it’s interesting to see how important form and content are in terms of being able to understand a particular poem. Sifting through Thomas’ poem unveils its true content: a plea directed at his father. The form of the villanelle is key to the rhyme and rhythm of the poem, and the refrains in the poem seem to reiterate Thomas’ main point of convincing his father to fight for life.

 

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