reading blog #8

Mary Condela                                                                                                     Reading Blog #8

Misunderstood

            In “Daisy Miller: A Study” Henry James focuses on how one’s perception of one’s self often contradicts others’ perspective of you.  And how easily a person can misrepresent themselves or be misinterpreted.  James heightens this theme by placing people of different cultures together, creating even more of a barrier between understanding one another.  This is displayed to its utmost height in Daisy.  She ends up being quite aware of her true self, but because of this consciousness of her own self-worth and self-pride, she becomes ostracized by “high” society.  This upper-class society labels her as a common girl and so they don’t give her inherent pride any mind.  Actually, as a woman, they believe she should never wear her pride so easily if she wants to attain any recognition; and besides that, they recognize her pride as licentiousness.  Born into upper class society; their worth is displayed through money, taste, class, discretion, and an in-bred superiority.  To them “common” people must continually prove themselves to work their way up the ladder and then gain a reason to be proud (which is quite a different pride than the one Daisy felt).  Pride among lower class people, especially a woman, is frowned upon and seen as rebellious, uncalled for, and, most importantly, vulgar.

This theme of misrepresentation is set up from the start when Frederick goes to visit his aunt.  When asked about Daisy, the aunt criticizes her family’s lack of a sense of superiority, which Mrs. Costello seems to think coincides with a lack of dignity.  She expresses this concern when she says, “She is a young lady… who has an intimacy with her mamma’s courier?” (James 430)  Her nephew quickly starts “An intimacy with the courier?” (James 430)  His shocked and urgent tone shows that he took his aunt’s words to mean a more sexual intimacy, which is not what she had intended.  His aunt was simply saying that Daisy and her family treat everyone with respect, even an employee, which is unacceptable to Mrs. Costello if you hope to gain her own society.  She seems to think you cannot respect everyone if you want to be respected.  This conversation demonstrates the weight of words and how one must be careful to express one’s self fully or what you say could easily be taken the wrong way and reek unnecessary havoc.

In the same manner, Daisy is rebuked by Frederick, who is trying to show her what is wrong with her actions and how it is interpreted within this unfamiliar culture.  When he tries to explain that being alone with men in public while single is frowned upon by the Italians due to their natural imposition of a sinister undertone, he never states it out, clearly, and seriously enough for Daisy to abandon her own idea of propriety to save herself.  While Winterbourne seems to try to separate himself from the prude high-society Italians, he often fails to do so completely. When he responds to Daisy’s expression of her intimacy with Giovanelli as “too good friends for that; we are very intimate friends” (James 450) with a jump up to love (partly in jest), he’s still under the impression that there must be more to her actions than being a friend.  He also makes an assumption about Giovanelli based on his lower class when he says “Though you may be flirting, Mr. Giovanelli is not; he means something else” (James 450).  Frederick assumes he can read people well throughout the whole story, but is proven to be utterly wrong.

A lot of ambiguity surrounds the message about the castle in Switzerland, since we are cut off from any further explanation.  During the actual visit to the castle Frederick is underwhelmed by Daisy’s reaction.  He was expecting a love of romance and excitement at the gothic from a woman.  In this the roles of femininity and masculinity are inverted since Frederick is sentimental and Daisy is not.  This trope is carried throughout the novel and has a lot to do with why Daisy is so misunderstood, assuming that Giovanelli was telling the truth, which he may have not.  At the castle however, Frederick did not take Daisy seriously enough when she asked him to come with her.  Daisy became incredibly jealous, but to save face she calls her lament “teasing” and binds him to a promise.  Frederick must have completely forgotten Daisy’s tirade regarding the other woman when he thinks he is being a good judge of Daisy, despite her perplexity, and thinks “He could hardly have said why, but she seemed to him a girl who would never be jealous” (James 451).  Frederick’s mistake is always taking Daisy too lightly.  This mistake highlights the fact that Frederick completely let fly one of Daisy’s more obvious articulations of what she felt, when she says “I want you to come for me” (James 438).  While everything else was lost in chatter and conviction, Daisy asks for exactly what she wants, and is shrugged off.  Such a simple, earnest, dangerous request is basically ignored.

In the message that Daisy left, open to be interpreted as it is absent of any detail, I believe she is finally understood by Frederick.  At least I agree with what I perceive to be Frederick’s understanding of this unexplained, second-hand statement.  I think Daisy is asserting respect for herself, saying that it does matter if she was not engaged.  Not only is she showing that her virtue does matter, but she also shows that she wished that it was important to him alone, since she wanted him to care about her.  Frederick’s intimates his own interpretation when he says “She would have appreciated one’s esteem” (James 459).  I believe he meant, at that moment, his aunt’s esteem.  Daisy felt she deserved some respect.

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Reading Blog #7- “The Yellow Wall-paper”

Mary Condela                                                        Reading Blog #7- “The Yellow Wall-paper”

Rest Cure Excites Insanity

            The woman narrator in “The Yellow Wall-paper” has a penchant for excitability and wonder, and enjoys expressing her traits through writing.  At some point she began to feel as something was wrong which brought on a vague feeling of sickness.  It is shown to be caused by her dissatisfaction with her role as a house-wife.  This role is expected of her by her husband, but she confronts this “ideal” by insisting on writing.

She reveals her desire for being more than just a domestic wife when she protests “Personally, I believe that congenial work, with excitement and change, would do me good” (Gilman 792).  However, her husband who denies the validity of her sickness, and yet still treats her as a complete dependent, has “absolutely forbidden” her to work or write or decide what to do with her own time, or to have any thought of her own.  She is treated as if she is weak and unreasonable as in the response evoked when she gets “unreasonably angry with John sometimes” (Gilman 793).  This action is unfeminine and is reprimanded by her husband who calls for “proper self-control” (Gilman 793).  This description of women as fickle, impressionable, and lacking restraint is continued throughout the story.  The more reasonable man condemns his wife’s emotions as misguided and ridiculous “fancies.”  She internalizes these criticisms while still rejecting her dull role as a proper woman as when she exclaims “Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able—to dress and entertain, and order things” (Gilman 794).  This aggravation at performing these trivial things, and her lack of passion to do so; contrasts with her persistence to write, even while having to sneak and keep it on the low.  However, even though her writing is cathartic (and full of pretty imagery of the environment, and unique and captivating adjectives to portray the disturbing room) she believes that these proper and feminine activities are all that she is able to do, since her husband disallows her from getting input on her writing.  With no one to encourage her she agrees with her husband that she is incorrigible, as shown before when she said she “unreasonably” expresses her frustration and called-for indignance when it is quite appropriate; as her husband ignores everything she says, thinking that he is infallible, as he IS a doctor.

            This patriarchal view of a woman being only a malleable decoration, supposed to be hollow of any reason and completely dependent on man, places her as an object.  When the wife internalizes this governing idea, without any society to validate her worth, she begins to be in conversation with the inanimate.  She describes the wall as having feeling and motive throughout the story and the first time she encounters this paper she illustrates the look of it as “One of those sprawling flamboyant patterns committing every artistic sin.  It is dull enough to confuse… pronounced enough to constantly irritate and provoke study” (Gilman 793).  This theme of applying animate qualities to an inanimate object continues with phrases such as “The paper looks to me as if it knew,” and traits of the wall paper as “impertinence,” “silly,” “bloated,” “hideous,” “unreliable,” and “infuriating” (Gilman 795-798).   Finally, she recognizes a form of a woman trapped in the wallpaper.  The contentious lines are too laden with hypocrisy (in their unnavigitable directions) for the woman to permanently escape from being a shadow in a wall.  The narrator relates to the woman and “got up and ran to help her” (Gilman 802).  This solidarity between the figure and the narrator shows their similar feelings as being trapped as an object of attention, rather than being able to be a person.

The narrator liberates herself when she tears off all the wallpaper to liberate the woman.  She now has become the woman from the wall paper as this is how she felt; trapped behind bars, forced to creep slyly around in order to do anything she desires to do.  She is released from the wall paper and deliberately plans to “astonish him,” meaning her husband (Gilman 802).  This is accomplished and works so well that the sight causes him to faint.  Gilman inverts the codes of the feminine and masculine when she writes that the husband fainted which is normally attributed to women as a sign of their frailty.  The power shifts when the narrator continues to crawl over her sprawled husband.  However, though the narrator perceives her excavation as freedom; she is still stuck in that room, just going in circles.  Yet she does get to clamber above her husband through eternity to experience her superiority.

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Reading Blog #5

Mary Condela                                                                                                     Reading Blog # 5

Brooding about Bartleby

            In Herman Melville’s Bartleby much of what we learn from the narrator in his characterization of Bartleby is ambiguous and perpetually shifting.  The narrator seems to reveal more about himself than any other character that he attempts to accurately and minutely describe.  The beginning, comprised of describing the environment in which the story takes place is exhaustive.  However, throughout the story it changes from “deficient in what landscape painters call ‘life’” (Melville 1484) to “week-days hums with industry and life” (Melville 1495) in contrast to the empty building Bartleby occupies on the weekend.  His descriptions seem to alter conveniently with his mood and every new situation.  He speaks in a positive tone about the view of a dank wall, but then when expressing his sadness he views the office as full of livelihood.  This work-day vivacity is also in contrast to his description of his job as dull.

Even when elucidating his own character the narrator inadvertently varies throughout the story.  He says of himself that he would “much more seldom indulge in dangerous indignation” (Mellville 1484).  However, as the story progresses he is overcome with indignation which, instead of taking out on others (mostly), he obsesses over how to unavailingly remove.  Although the narrator states he has “a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best” (Mellville 1484) he continually makes life harder for himself by striving to act honorably and appease his own conscience and vanity.  The chief cause of this obsession is Bartleby’s queer behavior.  The only constant that the narrator maintains of this character is his honesty, which the reader has no way of proving.  He shifts from “pitiably respectful” (Mellville 1488) to his “cadaverously gentlemanly nonchalance” (Mellville 1494) to his “austere reserve” (Mellville 1496) to his “calm disdain” and “perverseness” (Mellville 1497).  When all the narrator’s honorable actions are done to no effect he regards Bartleby in an even higher light.  He even excuses his fear of confrontation as his “predestinated purpose” of life (Mellville 1502).  He continually puts Bartleby’s comfort over his own.  Maybe because Bartleby is performing in his sense the best life, which is the easiest.  Bartleby ends up being employed for doing nothing.  The narrator returns to pity when Bartleby dies, but seems to reflect, in intervals, that until that point, Bartleby has done exactly what he wants.  Actually, the narrator may be unaware of this revelation, focusing more on his interpretation of Bartleby’s assumed forlorn manner; but the reader is led to realize this truth.

 The narrator’s sense of sympathy often stems from his pride.  Whenever he thinks of a new plan to rid himself of Bartleby in a respectable manner he applauds his own genius, which is found to be faulty.  Despite the narrator’s curiosity, he fails at discovering a sturdy explanation of Bartleby’s character.  This may be because he can not extricate his own “infallible” ideas and feelings from what he knows nothing of.  The objective style of writing masks the completely subjective understanding of Bartleby.  This use of pedantic diction reveals that even the most careful story teller is still unreliable.

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Reading Blog #2- Charlotte Temple “Strength in Shame”

Mary Condela                                                                                        Reading Blog #2-CharlotteTemple

Strength in Shame

            “Charlotte Temple” by Susanna Rowson establishes its premise on a contradictory notion.  Rowson repeatedly emphasizes the weakness of women, especially regarding men.  However, the point of her novel is to entreaty women to be strong against male seducers or risk being ostracized.  This inherent weakness in women is described when Rowson articulates, “Her poor mother, weakened by illness and the struggles of the preceding night, was not able to support this shock: gasping for breath, her looks wild and haggard, she reached the apartment where they had carried her dying son” (Rowson 15).  Although this reaction seems completely called for in these circumstances, it contrasts with her son’s masculine response of revenge.  Also, the portrayed hysterical woman is shown to be selfish when she wants to end her own life and leave behind her daughter which ultimately happens.  Also, the delicateness of Charlotte is shown when she is sick and weak on the ship journeying to America.  Men are shown to have faults too as when Rowson describes Belcour as being a malignant man.  Montraville is also shown to be too hasty in his actions.  However, these faults do not label these men as deviant as women are when they make a mistake.  The book focuses on a naïve protagonist who is easily led astray to depart from her own values.  This slight then wrecks her life and her chance to be happy.

            However, the example of this weak woman is meant to keep other women resolute and strong involving their relationships with men.  This power that they must exert over themselves to resist temptation evidently is supposed to stem from feminine shame.  Rowson writes, “but certain I am, that when once a woman has stifled the sense of shame in her own bosom… will spare no pains to bring down innocence and beauty to the shocking level with herself” (Rowson 25).  Not only are women expected to control their emotions in order to be faultless, they are also deemed doomed once they slip up once.  Also, women must not only have the strength (which is really meekness) to ward off men, but also to renounce other women.  This strict way of life does not apply to men who maintain their status despite many wrongs committed.  This is seen when Charlotte is stuck with a baby that Montraville has no duty to help raise.  The station of women is exemplified perfectly when Rowson states, “when once a woman has forgot the respect due to herself, by yielding to the solicitations of illicit love, they lose all their consequence, even in the eyes of the man whose art has betrayed them” (Rowson 46).

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