Monday, August 27, 2012

Great Expectations –Charles Dickens Themes Ambition and Self-Improvement

Great Expectations –Charles Dickens
Ambition and Self-Improvement
The moral theme of Great Expectations is quite simple: affection, loyalty, and conscience are more important than social advancement, wealth, and class. Dickens establishes the theme and shows Pip learning this lesson, largely by exploring ideas of ambition and self-improvement—ideas that quickly become both the thematic center of the novel and the psychological mechanism that encourages much of Pip’s development. At heart, Pip is an idealist; whenever he can conceive of something that is better than what he already has, he immediately desires to obtain the improvement. When he sees Satis House, he longs to be a wealthy gentleman; when he thinks of his moral shortcomings, he longs to be good; when he realizes that he cannot read, he longs to learn how. Pip’s desire for self-improvement is the main source of the novel’s title: because he believes in the possibility of advancement in life, he has “great expectations” about his future.
Ambition and self-improvement take three forms in Great Expectations—moral, social, and educational; these motivate Pip’s best and his worst behavior throughout the novel. First, Pip desires moral self-improvement. He is extremely hard on himself when he acts immorally and feels powerful guilt that spurs him to act better in the future. When he leaves for London, for instance, he torments himself about having behaved so wretchedly toward Joe and Biddy. Second, Pip desires social self-improvement. In love with Estella, he longs to become a member of her social class, and, encouraged by Mrs. Joe and Pumblechook, he entertains fantasies of becoming a gentleman. The working out of this fantasy forms the basic plot of the novel; it provides Dickens the opportunity to gently satirize the class system of his era and to make a point about its capricious nature. Significantly, Pip’s life as a gentleman is no more satisfying—and certainly no more moral—than his previous life as a blacksmith’s apprentice. Third, Pip desires educational improvement. This desire is deeply connected to his social ambition and longing to marry Estella: a full education is a requirement of being a gentleman. As long as he is an ignorant country boy, he has no hope of social advancement. Pip understands this fact as a child, when he learns to read at Mr. Wopsle’s aunt’s school, and as a young man, when he takes lessons from Matthew Pocket. Ultimately, through the examples of Joe, Biddy, and Magwitch, Pip learns that social and educational improvement are irrelevant to one’s real worth and that conscience and affection are to be valued above erudition and social standing.

Social Class
Throughout Great Expectations, Dickens explores the class system of Victorian England, ranging from the most wretched criminals (Magwitch) to the poor peasants of the marsh country (Joe and Biddy) to the middle class (Pumblechook) to the very rich (Miss Havisham). The theme of social class is central to the novel’s plot and to the ultimate moral theme of the book—Pip’s realization that wealth and class are less important than affection, loyalty, and inner worth. Pip achieves this realization when he is finally able to understand that, despite the esteem in which he holds Estella, one’s social status is in no way connected to one’s real character. Drummle, for instance, is an upper-class lout, while Magwitch, a persecuted convict, has a deep inner worth.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about the novel’s treatment of social class is that the class system it portrays is based on the post-Industrial Revolution model of Victorian England. Dickens generally ignores the nobility and the hereditary aristocracy in favor of characters whose fortunes have been earned through commerce. Even Miss Havisham’s family fortune was made through the brewery that is still connected to her manor. In this way, by connecting the theme of social class to the idea of work and self-advancement, Dickens subtly reinforces the novel’s overarching theme of ambition and self-improvement.
Crime, Guilt, and Innocence
The theme of crime, guilt, and innocence is explored throughout the novel largely through the characters of the convicts and the criminal lawyer Jaggers. From the handcuffs Joe mends at the smithy to the gallows at the prison in London, the imagery of crime and criminal justice pervades the book, becoming an important symbol of Pip’s inner struggle to reconcile his own inner moral conscience with the institutional justice system. In general, just as social class becomes a superficial standard of value that Pip must learn to look beyond in finding a better way to live his life, the external trappings of the criminal justice system (police, courts, jails, etc.) become a superficial standard of morality that Pip must learn to look beyond to trust his inner conscience. Magwitch, for instance, frightens Pip at first simply because he is a convict, and Pip feels guilty for helping him because he is afraid of the police. By the end of the book, however, Pip has discovered Magwitch’s inner nobility, and is able to disregard his external status as a criminal. Prompted by his conscience, he helps Magwitch to evade the law and the police. As Pip has learned to trust his conscience and to value Magwitch’s inner character, he has replaced an external standard of value with an internal one.

Boarding House By James Joyce

The Boarding House
By James Joyce
After a difficult marriage with a drunken husband that ends in separation, Mrs. Mooney opens a boarding house to make a living. Her son, Jack, and daughter, Polly, live with her in the house, which is filled with clerks from the city, as well as occasional tourists and musicians. Mrs. Mooney runs a strict and tight business and is known by the lodgers as “The Madam.” Polly, who used to work in an office, now stays at home at her mother’s request, to amuse the lodgers and help with the cleaning. Surrounded by so many young men, Polly inevitably develops a relationship with one of them, Mr. Doran. Mrs. Mooney knows about the relationship, but instead of sending Polly back to work in the city, she monitors its developments. Polly becomes increasingly uncomfortable with her mother’s lack of intervention, but Mrs. Mooney waits until “the right moment” to intercede. First she speaks awkwardly with Polly, then arranges to speak with Mr. Doran on a Sunday morning.
Mrs. Mooney looks forward to her confrontation, which she intends to “win” by defending her daughter’s honor and convincing Mr. Doran to offer his hand in marriage. Waiting for the time to pass, Mrs. Mooney figures the odds are in her favor, considering that Mr. Doran, who has worked for a wine merchant for thirteen years and garnered much respect, will choose the option that least harms his career.
Meanwhile, Mr. Doran anguishes over the impending meeting with Mrs. Mooney. As he clumsily grooms himself for the appointment, he reviews the difficult confession to his priest that he made on Saturday evening, in which he was harshly reproved for his romantic affair. He knows he can either marry Polly or run away, the latter an option that would ruin his sound reputation. Convincing himself that he has been duped, Mr. Doran bemoans Polly’s unimpressive family, her ill manners, and her poor grammar, and wonders how he can remain free and unmarried. In this vexed moment Polly enters the room and threatens to end her life out of unhappiness. In her presence, Mr. Doran begins to remember how he was bewitched by Polly’s beauty and kindness, but he still wavers about his decision.
Uneasy, Mr. Doran comforts Polly and departs for the meeting, leaving her to wait in the room. She rests on the bed crying for a while, neatens her appearance, and then nestles back in the bed, dreaming of her possible future with Mr. Doran. Finally, Mrs. Mooney interrupts the reverie by calling to her daughter. Mr. Doran, according to Mrs. Mooney, wants to speak with Polly.
In “The Boarding House,” marriage offers promise and profit on the one hand, and entrapment and loss on the other. What begins as a simple affair becomes a tactical game of obligation and reparation. Mrs. Mooney’s and Mr. Doran’s propositions and hesitations suggest that marriage is more about social standards, public perception, and formal sanctions than about mere feelings. The character of Mrs. Mooney illustrates the challenges that a single mother of a daughter faces, but her scheme to marry Polly into a higher class mitigates any sympathetic response from the reader. Mrs. Mooney may have endured a difficult marriage and separation, but she now carries the dubious title of “The Madam,” a term suggestive of her scrupulous managing of the house, but also of the head of whorehouse. Mrs. Mooney does, in fact, prostitute her daughter to some degree. She insists that Polly leave her office job and stay at home at the boarding house, in part so she might entertain, however innocently, the male lodgers. When a relationship blossoms, Mrs. Mooney tracks it until the most profitable moment—until she is sure Mr. Doran, a successful clerk, must propose to Polly out of social propriety. Mrs. Mooney justly insists that men should carry the same responsibility as women in these casual love affairs, but at the same time prides herself on her ability to rid herself of a dependent daughter so easily.
Mr. Doran agonizes about the limitations and loss of respect that marrying beneath him will bring, but he ultimately relents out of fear of social critique from his priest, his employer, Mrs. Mooney, and Polly’s violent brother. When Polly visits him in distress he feels as helpless as she does, even though he tells her not to worry. He goes through the motions of what society expects of him, not according to what he intuitively feels. When he descends the stairs to meet with Mrs. Mooney, he yearns to escape but knows no one is on his side. The “force” that pushes him down the stairs is a force of anxiety about what others will think of him. While Mr. Doran’s victimization by Mrs. Mooney evokes pity, his self-concern and harsh complaints about Polly’s unpolished background and manner of speaking make him an equal counterpart to Mrs. Mooney. He worries little about Polly’s integrity or feelings, and instead considers his years of hard work and good reputation now verging on destruction.
Sources: › ... › Literature Study GuidesDubliners-17.08.2012
D.N. Aloysius


Summary of Story: H.H. Munro's (Saki) "The Open Window" brilliantly portrays how one's nerves affect his/her personality. As Framton embarks on a trip intended as a "nerve cure," he finds himself in an unfamiliar situation that ultimately has a negative effect on his seemingly nervous personality.

Frampton Nuttel suffers from a nervous condition and has come to spend some time alone. His sister sets up introductions for him with a few members of the community. His first visit is to the Sappleton house where he meets fifteen-year-old Vera, the niece of Mrs. Sappleton. Vera keeps Nuttel company while he waits. Upon hearing that Nuttel has not met the Sappletons, Vera tells Nuttel some information about the family. Vera says that three years ago to the date, Mrs. Sappleton's husband and two younger brothers went on a hunting trip and never returned. Vera goes into detail about the clothes they were wearing, the dog that accompanied them, and the song that Mrs. Sappleton's brother sang upon their return. Vera says that her grief-stricken aunt watches out the window expecting their return. When Mrs. Sappleton enters, she tells Nuttel that she expects her husband and brothers to return at any moment. Nuttel listens, thinking that Mrs. Sappleton has in fact gone crazy. Suddenly, Mrs. Sappleton brightens as she tells Nuttel that they have returned. Nuttel turns only to see the "dead" hunters. He becomes frightened and leaves in a rush. Mrs. Sappleton doesn't understand Nuttel's strange behavior, but Vera replies that he is deathly afraid of dogs. Not until the end of the story does the reader realize that Vera has tricked Mr. Nuttel. This is revealed with the last line of the story: "Romance at short notice was her [Vera's] specialty."

Armed with a letter of introduction, Framton Nuttel is visiting Mrs. Sappleton’s country estate for a “nerve cure.” Mr. Nuttel is greeted by the niece, Vera, a polite “self-possessed young lady of fifteen,” who begins telling him about her aunt’s great tragedy. Pointing to the open French window, Vera (Latin, meaning “truth”) spins a yarn about her aunt’s husband and two brothers who went out through the window on a hunting trip through the moors fifteen years earlier and never returned. The aunt keeps the window open in expectation of their imminent return. Suddenly the aunt enters. Over the civilities of tea and polite conversation, she alludes to the hunting trip, and Mr. Nuttel becomes gradually unnerved. When, indeed, the hunting party returns, Nuttel, as if he had seen ghosts, flees. The niece, we learn, had told the truth about the hunters, but had made up the part about their disappearance. They had simply gone out that morning, but, says Saki, Vera was incorrigible. “Romance at short notice was her specialty.” At first glance the story appears to be a mere joke; but “THE OPEN WINDOW” can be reread with pleasure because of its masterful tone--a finely honed, polite restraint with only a hint of a smirk on the authorial face.Finally, the narrative works as a parody of the traditional ghost story. Vera’s yarn has all the trimmings of the standard mystery--the journey on the moors, the mysterious disappearance, even Mr. Nuttel’s role as scared listener. In the end, the tradition is subverted. Romance is but a prank.
Sources: › ... › The Open Window - Salem on Literature-17.08.2012
"The Open Window'' is Saki's most popular short story. It was first collected in Beasts and Super-Beasts in 1914. Saki's wit is at the height of its power in this story of a spontaneous practical joke played upon a visiting stranger. The practical joke recurs in many of Saki's stories, but "The Open Window'' is perhaps his most successful and best known example of the type. Saki dramatizes here the conflict between reality and imagination, demonstrating how difficult it can be to distinguish between them. Not only does the unfortunate Mr. Nuttel fall victim to the story's joke, but so does the reader. The reader is at first inclined to laugh at Nuttel for being so gullible. However, the reader, too, has been taken in by Saki's story and must come to the realization that he or she is also inclined to believe a well-told and interesting tale.

The Open Window Summary

Framton Nuttel has presented himself at the Sappleton house to pay a visit. He is in the country undergoing a rest cure for his nerves and is calling on Mrs. Sappleton at the request of his sister. Though she does not know Mrs. Sappleton well, she worries that her brother will suffer if he keeps himself in total seclusion, as he is likely to do.
Fifteen-year-old Vera keeps Nuttel company while they wait for her aunt. After a short silence, Vera asks if Nuttel knows many people in the area. Nuttel replies in the negative, admitting that of Mrs. Sappleton he only knows her name and address. Vera then informs him that her aunt's "great tragedy" happened after his sister was acquainted with her. Vera indicates the large window that opened on to the lawn.
Exactly three years ago, Vera recounts, Mrs. Sappleton's husband and two younger brothers walked through the window to go on a day's hunt.
D.N. Aloysius