September 29, 2005
My Lincoln Log
This week's intellectual history topic was a bit . . . well, narrow. At least, it was narrow compared to our other topics. We didn't discuss a period, or a group, or a body of literature . . . We discussed Abraham Lincoln. One guy, one lifetime. So much has been written and said about Lincoln . . . almost too much. In fact, our reading this week included a collection of bizarre titles covering every possible facet of his life (and some I would have considered impossible). My personal favorite of these titles was Abraham Lincoln The Friend of Man His Life Was Another Drop in That Vat Where Human Lives, Like Grapes in God's Vintages, Yield the Wine That Strengthens the Spirit of Truth and Justice in the World. But that still doesn't give me anything to write about.
Who was this guy? I'm not asking this question in the same sense as the title of our reading for the week ("Who Is This Fellow? He Is Smarter Than He Looks"). That question indicates that even people in Lincoln's own day wondered who he was and how he had come to exist. I ask the question because I think we still don't know . . . Surely we know less now than we did then, and are less certain to find out.
I wondered in class what it was that made Lincoln unique, and I just double-checked with a list of presidents to try and confirm what we came up with. Lincoln was the first president to rise from truly humble beginnings directly into a position of power (no, Andrew Jackson doesn't count). Looking down the list of the presidents, Lincoln is one of a very scant handful of "log cabin" presidents, none of whom really distinguished themselves quite like he did. In addition, Lincoln was an intellectual, something we wouldn't normally link to humble origins. He is one of a very scant handful of intellectual presidents (not counting the founding fathers, clearly a special group) . . . and none of the others really had "humble beginnings."
But is it really this quality of being, as we discussed in class, a "self-made intellectual" that makes Lincoln special? Or do we just notice this all the more because of the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his presidency? In other words, is his success due to his notable qualities, or do we only notice that he had notable qualities because he employed them successfully at a unique time in American history? Might we have presidents who were just as great as Lincoln, but who don't get his "press" because they didn't pull us through a crisis . . . because their admirable qualities weren't given a chance to shine? Did Lincoln's excellent qualities make his success and fame inevitable?
If there's one thing I hate, it's having an entire paragraph of only questions and no real answers for them, but those are the things I wonder about. I can't really give a solid response to any of them. As I said the other night, I don't think it detracts at all from Lincoln's greatness to say that his fame and success are not at all surprising. Lincoln described himself in early life as a "strange, penniless, friendless, uneducated boy working on a flatboat for ten dollars a month." But the fact remains that, no matter how humble his beginnings may have been or what he may have had working against him, Lincoln was a white male born in the right country at the right time in possession of all the qualities he would need to achieve what he achieved. His position was no accident. His success was no mistake. Whoever Abraham Lincoln may or may not have been, he was certainly not a historical fluke.
September 25, 2005
Written with the Finger of God
"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Come up to Me on the mountain and be there; and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.'" -Exodus 24:12
I have just finished viewing a masterpiece: Krzysztof Kieslowski's Dekalog, a miniseries which appeared on Polish television in 1989. In English the title is The Decalogue: ten stand-alone one-hour episodes based on the Ten Commandments and the moral code they imply. Each episode by itself is a pleasure to watch, a brilliant work of art. Collectively they are nothing short of sublime.
Wilson insisted early on that it would be silly to seriously try to map each episode directly to a commandment, yet we more or less managed to do just that for the first seven . . . after that it became hazy. However, while most episodes might have been addressing one more-or-less dominant commandment, all of them at least partially involved two or more. For instance, seven of the episodes dealt with sexual sin in some way (even if only tangentially).
Each of the episodes was set in Warsaw and centered around an occupant of the same ugly apartment building. Various characters made appearances in multiple episodes, but were only major players in one. Of particular interest was the enigmatic figure who appeared in eight of the ten episodes, but never had a line of dialogue. His role generally consisted of appearing in the background, observing whatever event was taking place, often with a saddened or disapproving look on his face. We eventually decided that this character, if he represented anything specific, was meant to be the face of Morality itself. However, even the director seemed to not have a definite concept in mind to attach to this symbol.
Without giving anything important away, here is a brief synopsis of the concept behind each episode:
Decalogue One - A young boy is ideologically torn between the rationalistic atheism of his father and the compassionate faith of his aunt. Father and son share an intense interest in computers, relying on the father's computer to calculate whether a nearby pond has frozen over sufficiently to make it safe for the boy to skate on.
Decalogue Two - A woman whose husband is dying of cancer approaches the doctor in charge of the case. She and her husband have never been able to conceive, and she is now carrying the child of another man. She wants the baby, but if her husband is going to live, she will get an abortion. She wants to know the doctor's opinion on the state of her husband's health, and is determined to base her decision on his prognosis.
Decalogue Three - On Christmas Eve, a woman comes to visit the man she had an affair with years before because her husband has gone missing and she doesn't know who else to turn to. He leaves his own family and sets out across the city with her, following a trail of enigmatic clues . . . but before long it becomes apparent that all is not as it seems.
Decalogue Four - An aspiring actress still living at home with her father stumbles upon an envelope in their apartment labelled "To Be Opened After My Death." With her father away on a business trip, she peeks inside and discovers a secret she had never suspected concerning him and her dead mother.
Decalogue Five - Quite probably the most beautifully-made episode of the ten, this story involves three totally separate plotlines about a lecherous taxi driver, a small-time crook/sociopath, and an idealistic young public defender about to try his first capital murder case. By the end, all three stories have become inextricably intertwined in a powerful way.
Decalogue Six - A 19-year old, introverted employee of the Post Office becomes, first obsessed, then enamored with the promiscuous woman who lives in the apartment across from his building. No longer satisfied with spying on her through his telescope, he decides to reveal his feelings to her.
Decalogue Seven - A 16-year old girl has an affair with a teacher at the school where her mother is headmistress. Her mother becomes official guardian of the child, a girl, when it is born, and six years later she is still in a winning competition with her daughter over who will play the role of the little girl's mother. Driven to distraction, the girl, now a young woman, steals her daughter, planning to run away to Canada, but a brief stop at the house of the little girl's father brings introspection for all involved.
Decalogue Eight - In 1943 a young Jewish girl is turned away from the home of the Catholic couple who had promised to shelter her on the grounds that they cannot bring themselves to break the commandment against "bearing false witness." Decades later, the Catholic woman is an ethics professor at a university in Warsaw, and the Jewish girl, now in her forties, comes to visit her from America to question her about the events surrounding that fateful time.
Decalogue Nine - A happily-married man discovers that he is no longer able to have intercourse with his wife, and he gives her the option to divorce him or seek attention from other men should she so desire. She refuses to do either, declaring that she will stay by him no matter what, but he soon begins to suspect that she is, in fact, having an affair behind his back, becoming successively more paranoid as he investigates.
Decalogue Ten - Two brothers, one the lead singer of a heathen rock band, the other a white-collar office worker, reunite to settle their recently-deceased father's estate only to discover that he has left behind a priceless stamp collection. Overcoming their initial urge to profit from their father's life-long obsession, they quickly become enthusiastic philatelists, going to ever-more extreme measures to hoarde and protect their treasure and acquire even more rare stamps.
Most of the episodes did not involve a great deal of dialogue or action. In fact, a casual observer might go so far as to say that nothing at all really happened over the course of an episode, yet I was totally enthralled during each and every one. During a few I barely moved a muscle. Half the fun of watching them was the presence of a group of friends (Wilson and I, after watching the first few alone, were joined by Martinez, Rachel, and Paige for every episode after number four).
Each episode began with preliminary guesses from the viewers about the dominant commandment to be addressed, and proceeded with a good deal of speculation about what might be going on or what the outcome might be. Finally, once the end credits had stopped rolling by and the spell was broken, we looked around at each other and tried to figure out what lessons had just played themselves out on the screen. Most of the endings were extremely open-ended, providing little or no closure and leaving the fates of the main characters wide-open to speculation.
In fact, most episodes began like a puzzle or a mystery as well, leaving a large burden on the viewer rather than on expositional dialogue to put together the circumstances surrounding the plot and characters. Speaking for myself, this sucked me right into the middle of whatever was going on. It seemed like we were simply watching a portion of someone's actual life, like the voyeur from episode six, rather than being directly entertained or instructed by a story.
While all of them were excellent, I would have to say that my favorites were three, five, and ten. A little research online revealed that Roger Ebert actually once taught a college course over the series, and it occurs to me that this would be positively decadent fare for a group of Honors students under the tutelage of Dr. Watson (who, I discovered, happens to own the miniseries). But I digress. I just wanted to let my small group of readers in on this well-kept secret . . . highly recommended viewing!
September 22, 2005
The Master Geniuses
I posited a hypothesis in class on Wednesday night regarding the development of a distinctly American literature. It came from a consideration of our reading, part of which was on American literary nationalism of the antebellum period. Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper were named, of course, as two early and popular distinctly American authors. And then, of course, there were the Romantics pushing for America to develop her own literature, to do her own thing: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau, etc. But the ones which, as usual, really caught my eye were the following:
If the only surviving documents from the 1840s and 1850s were its major novels, historians would face an impossible task in describing the appearance of antebellum American society. The unusual settings favored by [Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe] partly reflected their view that American life lacked the materials for great fiction. Hawthorne, for example, bemoaned the difficulty of writing about a country "where there is no shadow, no mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong, nor anything but a commonplace prosperity in broad and simple daylight, as is happily the case with my dear native land" . . .
Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe ignored Emerson's call to write about the everyday experiences of their fellow Americans. Nor did they follow Cooper's lead by creating distinctively American heroes. Yet each contributed to an indisputably American literature. Ironically, their conviction that the lives of ordinary Americans provided inadequate materials for fiction led them to create a uniquely American fiction, one marked less by the description of the complex social relationships of ordinary life than by the analysis of moral dilemmas and psychological states.
-The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People
My idea, in keeping with this, was that while Emerson and Whitman and Thoreau were attempting to impose a distinctly American form on their writing or that of others, Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe were actually succeeding because they weren't actually trying, or, in fact, even thinking about it. I also consider the latter three to be writers of infinite better quality than the former three (although they have their place). In my estimation, once those three begin to write, American literature, as such, starts to actually "get good."
Then I read "Hawthorne and His Mosses" by Herman Melville, and it in turn directed me to read "A Select Party" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. The quotes below led me to modify my hypothesis a bit (pardon their length):
It is true, that but few of them as yet have evinced that decided originality which merits great praise. But that graceful writer, who perhaps of all Americans has received the most plaudits from his own country for his productions,--that very popular and amiable writer, however good, and self-reliant in many things, perhaps owes his chief reputation to the self-acknowledged imitation of a foreign model, and to the studied avoidance of all topics but smooth ones . . . Without malice, but to speak the plain fact, they but furnish an appendix to Goldsmith, and other English authors. And we want no American Goldsmiths, nay, we want no American Miltons. It were the vilest thing you could say of a true American author, that he were an American Tompkins. Call him an American, and have done, for you can not say a nobler thing of him.--But it is not meant that all American writers should studiously cleave to nationality in their writings; only this, no American writer should write like an Englishman, or a Frenchman; let him write like a man, for then he will be sure to write like an American. Let us away with this leaven of literary flunkyism towards England. If either we must play the flunky in this thing, let England do it, not us. While we are rapidly preparing for that political supremacy among the nations, which prophetically awaits us at the close of the present century; in a literary point of view, we are deplorably unprepared for it; and we seem studious to remain so . . . we should refrain from unduly lauding foreign writers, and, at the same time, duly recognize the meritorious writers that are our own,--those writers, who breathe that unshackled, democratic spirit of Christianity in all things, which now takes the practical lead in the world, though at the same time led by ourselves--us Americans . . . if any of our authors fail, or seem to fail, then, in the words of my enthusiastic Carolina cousin, let us clap him on the shoulder, and back him against all Europe for his second round. The truth is, that in our point of view, this matter of a national literature has come to such a pass with us, that in some sense we must turn bullies, else the day is lost . . .
-Melville, "Hawthorne and His Mosses"
But now appeared a stranger . . . he was a young man in poor attire, with no insignia of rank or acknowledged eminence, nor anything to distinguish him among the crowd except a high, white forehead, beneath which a pair of deep-set eyes were glowing with warm light. It was such a light as never illuminates the earth save when a great heart burns as the household fire of a grand intellect. And who was he?--who but the Master Genius for whom our country is looking anxiously into the mist of Time, as destined to fulfil the great mission of creating an American literature, hewing it, as it were, out of the unwrought granite of our intellectual quarries? From him, whether moulded in the form of an epic poem or assuming a guise altogether new as the spirit itself may determine, we are to receive our first great original work, which shall do all that remains to be achieved for our glory among the nations . . . he dwells as yet unhonored among men, unrecognized by those who have known him from his cradle; the noble countenance which should be distinguished by a halo diffused around it passes daily amid the throng of people toiling and troubling themselves about the trifles of a moment, and none pay reverence to the worker of immortality. Nor does it matter much to him, in his triumph over all the ages, though a generation or two of his own times shall do themselves the wrong to disregard him.
-Hawthorne, "A Select Party"
And here, let me throw out another conceit of mine touching this American Shiloh, or "Master Genius," as Hawthorne calls him. May it not be, that this commanding mind has not been, is not, and never will be, individually developed in any one man? And would it, indeed, appear so unreasonable to suppose, that this great fullness and overflowing may be, or may be destined to be, shared by a plurality of men of genius? Surely, to take the very greatest example on record, Shakespeare cannot be regarded as in himself the concretion of all the genius of his time; nor as so immeasurably beyond Marlowe, Webster, Ford, Beaumont, Johnson, that those great men can be said to share none of his power?
-Melville, "Hawthorne and His Mosses"
From these passages it is fairly clear that the emergence of a distinctly American literature was very much a part of Hawthorne and Melville's thinking. And as for Poe . . . well, who dares to plumb the depths of whatever may have been running through his head? Y'know, when he wasn't drunk or high. The point is, that this quite shattered my hypothesis, but it did lead me to an interesting thought. Hawthorne and Melville, although they probably didn't know it, were talking about themselves.
Melville and Hawthorne, along with Poe and those who would soon follow (Henry James, Mark Twain, and, much later, William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, to name just a few), are among the Master Geniuses who tower above the rest in our study of the uniquely American literary tradition. Not a great revelation, perhaps, but it is fascinating to see the men themselves speculating about the form American literature will finally take when it comes into its own, even as they themselves are playing an essential role in shaping it.
September 15, 2005
Scattershot Education and Divine Impetus
Most conspicuous in the writings of the Revolutionary period was the heritage of classical antiquity. Knowledge of classical authors was universal among colonists . . .
But this elaborate display of classical authors is deceptive. Often the learning behind it was superficial; often the citations appear to have been dragged in as "window dressing with which to ornament a page or a speech and to increase the weight of an argument" . . . Thacher too thought Plato had been a liberty-loving revolutionary, while Jefferson, who actually read the Dialogues, discovered in them only the "sophisms, futilities, and incomprehensibilities" of a "foggy mind" - an idea concurred in with relief by John Adams, who in 1774 had cited Plato as an advocate of equality and self-government but who was so shocked when he finally studied the philosopher that he concluded that the Republic must have been meant as a satire.
. . . What is basically important in the Americans' reading of the ancients is the high selectivity of their real interests and the limitation of the range of their effective knowledge. For though the colonists drew their citations from all portions of the literature of the ancient world, their detailed knowledge and engaged interest covered only one era and one small group of writers.
-The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, Bernard Bailyn
But, my friend, the priests of the temple of Zeus at Dodona say that the first prophecies were the words of an oak. Everyone who lived at that time, not being as wise as you young ones are today, found it rewarding enough in their simplicity to listen to an oak or even a stone, so long as it was telling the truth, while it seems to make a difference to you, Phaedrus, who is speaking and where he comes from. Why, though, don't you just consider whether what he says is right or wrong?
. . . Those who think they can leave written instructions for an art, as well as those who accept them, thinking that writing can yield results that are clear or certain, must be quite naive and truly ignorant of Ammon's prophetic judgment: otherwise, how could they possibly think that words that have been written down can do more than remind those who already know what the writing is about?
One thing apparently hasn't changed about education over the course of the last few centuries: we still only study bits and snatches of the great writings of western civilization. Reading from Bailyn for Intellectual History this week, I was struck by the irony that I, too, was merely reading a selection by this historian for class.
Furthermore, I've been sampling liberally from Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Horace, etc. for Literary Criticism. We read portions varying between 5 and 20 pages of their work, discuss them briefly in class, and move on. This is the extent of my knowledge of Greek and Roman literature: whatever some mysterious group of people deemed important enough to shove into an anthology, and then whatever portion of that is actually assigned by the professor.
But as I saw what the literati of the revolutionary period were reading, and how they were using what they read, I was reminded of that excerpt from Plato that I quoted above. The Founding Fathers had an idea, even a fixation, in their heads of liberty and government and purpose, and once that idea was there, they saw it everywhere they looked. They pulled aspects of their grand philosophy together (whether they actually existed in the text or not) out of writings from (among others) the Ancient Greeks, the Enlightenment thinkers, the Puritans . . . could three groups of intellectual thought be more diametrically opposed to each other than these?
And yet from them, men like Jefferson, Adams, and Hamilton began to cobble together the foundation of the American Republic. Plato has it that writing cannot teach anyone new ideas, it can only remind them of things they already knew. I don't know for certain that I agree with that statement and all of its implications, but I think it was true here. Incidentally, I am also not immune to the irony of quoting a fragment of Plato to support this particular point.
There was one more thing that struck me during the discussion of Bailyn's piece. "In one sense [New England Puritanism] was the most limited and parochial tradition that contributed in an important way to the writings of the Revolution . . . But in another sense it contained the broadest ideas of all, since it offered a context for everyday events nothing less than cosmic in its dimensions."
Having just completed Wide as the Waters by Benson Bobrick and discussed the incredible impact on history of the translation of the Bible into English, it is apparent just how important this "most limited" contribution really was. The Puritans represent, out of all of the sources of Revolutionary thought Bailyn named, the staunchly biblical worldview. This was a worldview which most people had no real exposure to a mere 300 years before. Once the Bible, that all-time bestselling book, started to hit British stands in fits and starts beginning in the early sixteenth century, it began to revolutionize the lives and minds of everyone who came into contact with it.
As to the contribution of the Puritans to the American Revolution, and America in general, it seems to me that logical arguments and appeals to reason and precedent can only go so far in forming the impetus of a movement which seeks to overthrow an established government and create an entirely new country out of thin air. If, however, you can convince people that not only is God on their side, but this is His plan for them . . . How much more powerful of a motivator is that? That, not something from Plato or Locke or Montesquieu, is an idea that people will fight and die for.
September 08, 2005
The Puritans have been getting a great deal of attention in my classes lately. In Literary Criticism we read and dissected "Young Goodman Brown," and I returned in my mind to my readings of The Scarlet Letter. In Reading the Bible as Literature our studies of the Scriptures in English have carried us into the reign of James I, who became yet another ruler to dash the hopes of those who had been aching for a Protestant agenda in government ever since the all-too-short reign of Edward VI some 55 years before. And there were hints at the extreme religious group that would soon emerge . . . One that would gain so much power so quickly that they would be able to overthrow the government less than 40 years later and plunge England into civil war.
And, in Intellectual History in America, we discussed at length "The Puritan Imprint" and the intellectual character of the Puritans based on readings from "The New England Mind" by Perry Miller and various primary source works from people like Mather, Edwards, Bradstreet, and Winthrop (see also Wilson's excellent post on Roger Williams). Our text spent a great deal of time belaboring the idea that, yes, the Puritans were very intellectual types, despite their apparent dogmatism and authoritarianism.
He proved his point by citing the extensive writings of the Puritans, their complex and well-developed theological system, their standards of education from young children through university students, and the religious controversies they became embroiled in, especially during the English Civil War.
The Puritans were by no means perfect. They gave us the expression "witch hunt" from the universally-reviled goings-on in Salem. Lovers of the learning and The Arts hate them for the closing down of London theaters and their general disapproval of secular art, philosophy, etc. But what can we, as Christians and as Americans, learn from the Puritans today?
As we continued to read about them and discuss them, there began to emerge in my mind an image of men and women strong in faith, character, mind, body, and spirit, who weren't going to settle for anything less than a community of believers governed entirely by the principles of the Bible and devoted to spiritual and intellectual growth along biblical lines. This was their vision for the colonies in America and, in one way or another, that has had a profound impact on our history.
It has been fascinating to study, not only the Puritans, but those who laid the foundations for them, and those who looked back on them after they were gone. Men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale led the way towards a translation of the Bible in English (an unbelievable story in itself) as the Catholic Church fell into chaos and disarray and seemed ready to fragment into a million pieces, and Henry VIII (for his own reasons) pulled away from Rome to establish the Church of England. And, of course, there are the giants of the Reformation like John Calvin and Martin Luther, making a successful break from Catholicism and establishing new doctrines.
Then there is Nathaniel Hawthorne, a 19th Century Romantic and one of the great American authors, who also happened to be descended from the Puritans. He, if his writings are any indication, was fascinated by them, both their flaws and their better qualities, and he used their communities as the setting for inquiries into the nature of good and evil, piety and sin, love and revenge . . . He saw the Puritans as flawed and conflicted human beings, many of whom tried (with mixed success) to do the right thing.
Hawthorne's perspective on the Puritans is, I think, both healthy and valuable. Their ideals were sound, even when their practices were not. Their impact, both on the world around them and on generations to come, was profound. And always they strove towards a firm establishment of God's Kingdom on earth. What more could we ask of any Christian in any age in history? Has any single group of believers at any one point in history since the Apostles succeeded as the Puritans did?
September 07, 2005
The Chief Horror of the Scene: Hawthorne's Heart of Darkness
I have discovered that I much prefer Hawthorne's short fiction to his longer works. In this case that basically means that I liked Young Goodman Brown a great deal more than I liked The Scarlet Letter. Hawthorne, it would appear, had something of a Puritan fetish. His love/hate relationship with them (his ancestors) and their actions emerges over and over again in his writing, and this yielded some fascinating results. In the story, Goodman Brown leaves behind his young wife, Faith (despite her protestations that he remain) for a meeting in the midst of a dark and gloomy forest with Satan himself.
Satan and Goodman journey through the forest together, and as they go deeper and deeper Goodman begins to have doubts about this meeting that he is attending. But each time he resolves to turn back, he is confronted by a member of his community who he had formerly believed to be above reproach; the woman who taught him his catechism, the minister, etc. And all of these people are on their way to the meeting, as well.
When he finally arrives, already questioning the very foundation of everything he has ever believed, he joins the group of new initiates and finds Faith among them. Faith, before now, has been his only anchor to everything he thought he knew about humanity and virtue before entering the forest. Now even that has been stripped away. And yet, at the critical moment, Goodman cries out to Faith to resist the devil, and at once everyone around him vanishes (including her). He returns to town the next morning and finds everything exactly as he left it. Was it all a dream? Lies from Satan? Did any of it really happen?
Whether it did or not, Goodman Brown lives out the rest of his long days certain that Satan is watching him from behind the eyes of everyone around him. He becomes a paranoid and embittered old man, and "his dying hour [is] gloom."
I think that the title of this work, the characters, and the development of the plot and themes carry strong ties to medieval morality plays in the vein of Everyman. "Young Goodman Brown" is a very simple and generic title for a character that we should all be identifying with in his struggles with himself and the evils around him. Faith is clearly a somewhat allegorical character of the type often found in morality plays, and Goodman's actions bear this out.
Goodman leaves his Faith behind at the beginning of the story. "Poor little Faith! . . . What a wretch am I, to leave her . . ." He spends the rest of the story attempting to cling to his Faith. "With Heaven above, and Faith below, I will yet stand firm against the devil!" And, finally, he loses his Faith entirely at the end. "My Faith is gone!" ". . . he shrank from the bosom of Faith . . . and turned away." And, of course, Satan is the prominent antagonist in the story, using every trick in his arsenal to take possession of Goodman's soul.
In particular, there are two interesting aspects of how the story develops. All of the imagery in the story is a direct reflection of the descent of the character into darkness and evil, while the outward appearance of the people around him is a direct contrast to their true natures. Satan, when Goodman meets him in the forest, is dressed "in grave and decent attire." And, of course, everyone he meets along his way, though formerly revered as among most pious in his community, is in fact evil.
The use of color in the story is especially significant . . . there isn't any. Goodman enters the gloomy forest and things just get darker, from grays to blacks, from there. The only two colors mentioned are the distinctive pink of Faith's ribbon, and the red of the satanic fire. This lack of color and light is a reflection of the darkness that Goodman is shocked to discover in the human heart. (As a side-note, Goodman is in possession of Faith's ribbon when he meets her before Satan in the woods, but she has it back again the next morning. This, though Goodman fails to notice it, seems to indicate that she was never actually in the woods at all.)
The key moment in the story for me comes near the end, when Faith and Goodman are together, standing before the devil. He says to them, "Depending on one another's hearts, ye had still hoped that virtue were not all a dream. Now are ye undeceived! Evil is the nature of mankind. Evil must be your only happiness."
Satan has put into words what Goodman was already beginning to suspect as his journey drew to a close. Earlier on Hawthorne describes a bone-chilling scene: the forest, thick and dark, full of terrifying sounds, nothing even remotely indicative of any sort of comfort or light. "But he was himself the chief horror of the scene, and shrank not from its other horrors . . . The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man." In the midst of a scene full of darkness and evil, the heart of darkness is within Goodman Brown ("the horror, the horror").
Standing before Satan, he hears a mixture of lies and half-truths, and believes because of what he has been shown. Satan has revealed to him something that he should already have learned from scripture (that man is basically evil), but has left out half the story. Goodman has no more faith, no more hope. Having been told that evil is his only happiness, he chooses not to be happy at all.
September 05, 2005
Mondays are gonna be weird, I can already tell. As you saw from the schedule in my last post, Monday evenings are very full indeed, and this Monday had an additional (short) AHM meeting crammed in-between the Senior Honors Seminar and the Newspaper meeting. But first things first, I suppose.
Apocalypse through the Ages was extremely short this week because Dr. Hood had to go to Dallas. We met, blazed through the syllabus, and broke for the week with instructions to hammer out a definition of "Apocalypse" amongst ourselves on the discussion board. Meanwhile, we have 150 pages of reading for next Monday, and we need to pick our top two selections from the list of books to review and present to the class. I'll let you know when mine is assigned.
Senior Honors Seminar made me feel like a freshman again. A few of us arrived early and in high spirits, and, as we were once wont to do, we messed with the room, turning everything to face the back. That'll be a fun part of each week, I'm sure. Then, after the brief AHM meeting, we went down to Longview Hall lobby and worked ourselves into something of a silly frenzy while waiting for the newspaper meeting to start.
When it finally did start, I got assigned to cover the story I had suggested: Longview Community Theater's forthcoming production of "The Nerd." I have/had a few other ideas which I will work on producing as well. In the meantime, it's going to be a very busy week, as predicted. I was very pleased, though, by the fact that the other two seminars will not add more than 10 pages more to my writing workload, although they have increased the reading load by four books.
I don't know, in the weeks ahead, how many updates on personal life I'll be able to put together, but expect to see me posting assignments before too long.
September 01, 2005
A Novel Workload
Classes started on Tuesday, and I've just finished my third day of them. I'm taking seven classes this semester, but three of them meet only on Monday and all of those are one-hour courses. Nevertheless, I've now been in just over half of my classes and I'm already severely intimidated by the workload. I was reduced almost to whimpering this evening when class number four piled the assignments on . . . but perhaps I'd better go over my schedule, then proceed from there. As it stands now, this is my week:
1:30-2:25 - Literary Criticism (Dr. Watson)
4:00-5:00 - Apocalypse through the Ages (Dr. R. V. Hood)
6:00-7:00 - Senior Honors Seminar (Dr. Kubricht)
8:00-9:00 - Newspaper (English Internship credit)
3:00-4:20 - C. S. Lewis (Dr. Solganick)
5:15-9:15 - Library
1:30-2:25 - Lit Crit
5:15-7:15 - Senior History Research: Intellectual History in America (Dr. Johnson)
3:00-4:20 - Lewis
6:00-9:00 - Reading the Bible as Literature (Dr. Watson)
9:00-12:00 - Library
10:00-1:00 - Library
1:30-2:25 - Lit Crit
1:00-5:00 - Library
Now, that's just my regularly scheduled events. Already this week I'll be helping out at the Student Organization Mall Party (STOMP) booth for the English Honor Society from 4 to 7. On Saturday evening we have Honors Movie Night. Sunday evening is the dinner for History/Political Science majors. Things are just cropping up all over, it seems.
Now, I know what you're thinking . . . I have a really nice schedule. And it's true, I do. That fact will serve me well this semester. I don't have to be up in the morning if I don't want to, except for late on Fridays. That plays to my strengths since my mind works better later in the day. It means I can stay up late working on homework and not have to lose sleep. It's great that this is so, because I'm going to need it later, and here's why:
C. S. Lewis
For class we are required to read Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, A Grief Observed, and The Abolition of Man. We'll spend the first month on Mere Christianity, then it'll be a book a week for the rest. The culmination of all this will be an 8-12 page paper and presentation over a work by C. S. Lewis that we did not read for the course. People were selecting books like crazy after the first class, so I figured I'd better get my bid in. I will be doing my favorite Lewis book: Till We Have Faces.
This course wants me to die. Little does it know that I plan to have fun in it. The reading includes Heart of Darkness and Oedipus the King and critical essays on them, Texts and Contexts (a manual of various critical theories), and piles and piles of things from our Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism, from Plato to Nietzche and everything in between. For Monday I need to have read and marked up the text of Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Each reading we do is a journal opportunity, and I need to complete 20 journals by the end of the semester. There will also be a group presentation, and I have already formed a group with Paige, Randy, and Ashley to present on Deconstructionism. Should be fun. Finally, we have to write a 5-7 page critical paper for presentation at the Student Literary Conference we'll be organizing for the end of the semester. Estimated writing: 50-60 pages
Intellectual History in America
For this course, which is an independent study with weekly meetings for discussion of our readings, I need to complete The Education of Henry Adams and whatever other weekly readings crop up (looks to be about 30 pages a week). Most of our weekly readings will also require a 1-2 page paper of our thoughts on the reading. I need to write a 4-5 page paper on The Education of Henry Adams as well. This portion of the class will be over by late October and we will focus entirely on the major paper for the class (topic forthcoming . . . I have some ideas, but nothing set in stone). This paper will also be presented to our classmates, and has a length requirement of something like 20-25 pages. Estimated writing: 40-45 pages
Reading the Bible as Literature
This class, too, will be a blast. As I see it, it's basically a Bible class that covers everything but what the Bible teaches. This includes the history of how the Bible has arrived in our hands in its present form, the impact it has had on the development of literature and culture, the impact that evolving language has had on it, and a study of the various literary genres of the Bible. Our texts for the course are Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution it Inspired, How to Read the Bible as Literature, and The Great Code: the Bible and Literature by Northrop Frye. As with Lit Crit, each reading presents us with a journal opportunity, but we *only* have to write 10 for this class. We have a group presentation for this class, as well, and I will be presenting with Randy and Gallagher on . . . something. We haven't picked a topic yet. Estimated writing: 25-30 pages
As you can see, without even counting the writing I'll be doing for the newspaper and for my two honors seminars, I'm already at somewhere between 125 and 150 pages of writing for the semester, to say nothing of the reading and my extracurricular activities, which are at an all-time high this year. I know I can do it, but the thought of actually doing it is still intimidating. So, we'll see how the semester develops, and I'll keep you posted as best I can. Even if I don't post actual progress reports very often, I'll at least be posting a great deal of what I write, so you can keep track of things that way. Wish me luck.