Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Marxist Criticism (3)

Walter Benjamin, for a while associated with Adorno, took a contrary view to him and was pro-Brech. He surveyed the importance of technology in 19th and 20th century urban and industrialized society, and also the enormous development of the media. As a Marxist he is interested in ‘mass culture’ and in the way in which culture is packaged and consumed by the masses. In his view the media – in close contact with reality – have the power to eliminate the ritual and bourgeois elitism of art and literature and give it a kind of political ‘freedom’. He is more concerned with technique and with artistic forces at work than with the correct position of art and literature socially and economically. So, the emphasis is on the relation of a work of art to the ever changing conditions of production of art itself. In his essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” he suggests that modern technological innovations (e.g. the cinema [especially], radio, photography and the gramophone) have radically transformed the whole idea of a work of art: the very concept, status and value of such an object. Technology enables individual works of art to be reproduced in various ways, by various means, indefinitely, thus making them ‘available’ to the masses rather than to a minority elite.

Yet other theories and attitudes were expressed by the Romanian critic Lucien Goldmann, who developed a theory of ‘homologies’. The term ‘homology’ is more commonly used to denote a concept in the natural sciences. For example, the pectoral fins of a fish, a bird’s wing and a mammal’s forelimbs are ‘homologous’ because they occupy morphologically equivalent positions in the body and are genetically cognate. Thus, it denotes affinity of structure and origin apart from form or use. Goldmann’s ‘homologies’ are structural parallels between literature, ideas, and social groups. In his view literary texts are not the work of individual geniuses but are based on ‘transindividual mental structures’ which belong to groups or classes. The ideas which exist in these structures are discovered and then re-created in literary form by outstanding writers. Goldmann elaborates this theory through “The Hidden God 1964” in a discussion of Racine’s tragedies, Pascal’s philosophy and the social group called “noblesse de la robe”. In his book “Towards a Sociology of the Novel (1964) he pursues the ‘homology’ idea in an analysis of the structure of the modern novel in relation to the structure of market economy.
(To be continued...)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Marxist Criticism (2)

A key figure is the fist major Marxist critic, namely the Hungariar, Georg Lukacs (1885-1971). He developed the critical theory of ‘reflection’, seeing literary works as reflections of a kind of system that was gradually unfolding. In his view, the novel, for instance (and he had much to say about this genre), revealed or ought to reveal underlying patterns in the social order and provide a sense of the wholeness of existence with all its inherent contradictions, tensions and conflicts. Like many Marxist critics he was mainly concerned with content; hence his adverse comments on writers who were preoccupied with form, technique, literary ingenuity and innovation. Lukacs created his own idea of realism and failed (or declined) to see that modernist writers were also capable of realism—albeit of other and different kinds. Hence his disagreement with the modernist techniques of Brecht (and with Theodor Adorno, too), another Marxist and a didactic dramatist who was at pains to show social injustice. Brech made clear his attitude to socialist realism thus: “We shall take care not to ascribe realism to a particular period, Balzac’s or Tolstoy’s, for instance, so as to set up purely formal and literary criteria of realism.” He rejected anything formulaic on the grounds that reality changes, and in order to represent it the means of representation must also change. Thus, it follows that Lukacs and his followers would hardly approve of formalism, futurism, epic theatre (qq.v.) and many other innovative theories and developments.

The Frankfurt school of Marxist aesthetics is associated with the Institute of Social Research founded in 1923 and affiliated to the University of Frankfurt. During the Nazi period it was exiled (in 1933) to New York, from which it returned to Frankfurt in 1949-50. This school (whose chief spirits were Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and Herbert Marcuse) rejected realism more or less completely and developed what is known as ‘Critical Theory”. They were much influenced by: (a) their experience of a totalitarian regime and Fascism; (b) their experience of American mass culture, capitalism and commercialism. Both the Nazi and American societies were regarded as “one-dimensional”.

Adorno advanced the theory that literature does not have direct contact with reality. He favored modernism in literature because it is ‘distanced’ from the reality it seeks to describe, and this ‘distancing’ enhances its critical reality. Thus, knowledge of reality is achieved indirectly or obliquely. As he put it: “Art is the negative knowledge of the actual world”. Horkheimer was in favor of the avant-garde (q.v.) and modernism because they are hostile to passivity, acquiescence and submission to the political and artistic status quo, and thus to any form of inhibitive or repressive ideology. Their views were worked out in terms of Marxist beliefs and principles. Marcuse works through the idea that the autonomous work of art negates a repressive society.
(To be continued ...)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Marxist Criticism (1)

Karl Marx (1818-1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) were primarily concerned with economic, political and philosophical issues and worked out explanations of the capitalist theory and mode of production. They did not develop an ‘aesthetic’ of culture or literature, although they did say quite traditional things about Greek art which suggest that Marx himself believed in the relative autonomy of art (cf. Marx’s Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy, 1857, and Hans Robert Jauss’s article in New Literary History, titled The Idealist Embarrassment). However, Marxist principles and attitudes and modes of thought and inquiry have been adapted to create a Marxist theory of literature: what it has been, and what it might and, perhaps, should be. The Marxist critic (who tends to be primarily interested in content) writes from the definite standpoint of Marx’s philosophical ideas, and from his view of history in which the class struggle is fundamental, or in terms of socio-historical factors.

Much earlier Marxist criticism has been devoted to a reconstruction of the past on the basis of historical evidence in order to find out to what extent a text (say, a novel) is truthful and accurate representation of social reality at any given time. As Trotsky suggested in Literature and Revolution (1924): “Artistic creation is a changing and a transformation of reality in accordance with the peculiar laws of art.”

The concept of “Social Realism” (q.v.) marked and important advance in the development of Marxist and, ipso facto, Communist views on literature—and art in general. Basically, socialist realism required a writer (or any artist) to be committed to the working-class cause of the Party. And it required that literature should be ‘progressive’ and should display a progressive outlook on society. This necessitated forms of optimism and realism. Moreover, doctrine demanded that literature should be accessible to the masses. This was particularly true of the novel.

Modernism (q.v.) in Western literature was deemed to be decadent (especially by critics such as Georg Lukacs) because it was, among other things, subjective, introverted and introspective and displayed a fragmented vision of the world. By contrast, the 19th century realist novel was extolled. However, a certain amount of squaring of circles and an element of double-think was involved, especially in relation to such novelists as Dostoievski and Goncharow, for example, who were profoundly pessimistic and introverted.
(To be continued.......)

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Dickens and Society


Throughout his career, Dickens protested the abuse of children and the corruption of individual feelings. His portrayal of the destructiveness of society's institutions and values becomes more insistent and savage in his later novels. In his early, hopeful novels, the problems of his protagonists, who are often orphaned or abandoned as children, are solved by the benevolence of good men; the charitable nature of the Cheeryble Brothers in Nicholas Nickleby is indicated by their name, and David Copperfield is rescued from the Murdstones' clutches by Aunt Betsey. But Dickens lost faith in the ability of individuals to remedy the unjust treatment of individuals; he perceived that injustice, indifference, and cruelty were pervasive and incorporated into society's institutions.

Because of Dickens's moral outrage and his attacks on society's institutions and values, later critics, who were often Marxists, hailed him variously as subversive, rebellious, and even revolutionary. They did not necessarily claim that Dickens was aware of the subversion or revolutionary thrust of his novels. George Bernard Shaw compared Marx and Dickens thus: "The difference between Marx and Dickens was that Marx knew he was a revolutionist whilst Dickens had not the faintest suspicion of that part of his calling." There was good reason for contrasting the two men; Marx fled to London in 1849, died there in 1883, and was also a writer. Thus, the two men were observing the same society and class structure; both were subject to similar social conditions and pressures. Furthermore, Barnaby Rudge and A Tale of Two Cities both are set in revolutionary times, identify some of the abuses that sparked the outbreaks, and describe the violent, chaotic behavior of the mobs.

George Orwell, in 1946, viewed Dickens's "rebelliousness" from a different perspective: In Oliver Twist, Hard Times, Bleak House, Little Dorrit, Dickens attacked English institutions with a ferocity that has never since been approached. Yet he managed to do it without making himself hated, and, more than this, the very people he attacked have welcomed him so completely that he has become a national institution himself.

It is true that Dickens's readership remained loyal to him, despite his savage attacks on society and his forcing his wife of twenty-some years to leave their marriage and their home (remember that Dickens was perceived as the upholder of the sacred domestic hearth and the family). One reason that he retained his popularity may be that Dickens had no agenda or systematic program, as Marx did, to tear down society and replace it with a new structure. Some critics have wondered whether Dickens was really attacking human nature and not society. Granted, Dickens did repeatedly reject the assumptions that class was more important than common humanity or that rank was superior to virtue: I believe that virtue shows quite as well in rags and palaces as she does in purple and fine linen.... I believe that she goes barefoot as well as shod. I believe that she dwells rather oftener in alleys and by-ways than she does in courts and palaces... Nonetheless, Dickens still accepted the existing class structure and distinctions: "Differences of wealth, of rank, of intellect, we know there must be, and we respect them."

His attacks on society were based on traditional moral beliefs and humanism rather than on social or political theories and programs. He urged a secular ideal of human brotherhood. Fraser's Magazine, in its obituary of Dickens, noted this aspect of Dickens's beliefs: "He spent no thought on religious doctrines or religious reforms, but regarded the Sermon on the Mount as good teaching, had a regard for the village church and churchyard, and quarrelled with nothing but intolerance." Writing of Dickens's belief in domestic life as the source of happiness and the alternative to social evil, Angus Wilson added, "Even more vital to Dickens was the idea of pure love as the means of redemption of flawed, weak, or sinful men. Neither of these beliefs can properly take the weight that he imposed on them..." Moreover, his contemporaries saw him as a member of and the spokesman for a particular class; a reviewer for Blackwood's in 1855 noted: We cannot but express our conviction that it is to the fact that he represents a class that he owes his speedy elevation to the top of the wave of popular favour. He is a man of very liberal sentiments–an assailer of constituted wrongs and authorities–one of the advocates in the plea of Poor versus Rich, to the progress of which he has lent no small aid in his day. But he is, notwithstanding, perhaps more distinctly than any other author of his time, a class writer, the historian and representative of one circle in the many ranks in our social scale. Despite their descents into the lowest class, and their occasional flights into the less familiar ground of fashion, it is the air and breath of middle-class respectability which fills the books of Mr. Dickens.

Unlike Thackeray, Dickens was not seen as quite or fully a gentleman. Thackeray's province was, as W.C. Roscoe described it, "the debatableble land between the aristocracy and the middle classes"; Dickens showed the efforts of the lower strata of the middle class to rise from being tradesmen and upper servants into the respectable middle classes. Thackeray wrote that "an English gentleman knows as much about the people of Lapland or California as he does of the aborigines of the Seven Dials or the natives of Wapping." Dickens, of course, knew, and wrote with sympathy and understanding, about the classes who lived in such neighborhoods as Seven Dials and Wapping. Furthermore, Dickens was accused of being unable to describe a gentleman. G. K. Chesterton explained that this accusation really meant: that Dickens could not describe a gentleman as gentlemen feel a gentleman. They mean that he could not take that atmosphere easily, accept it as the normal atmosphere, or describe that world from the inside... Dickens did not describe gentleman in the way that gentlemen describe gentlemen... He described them... from the outside, as he described any other oddity or special trade.

Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist"

Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist

“Oliver Twist”, one of Dickens’ great social novels, depicts poverty and crime in the slums, as well as the wretched conditions in English workhouse. The workhouse scenes in the early chapters, and the later exploitation of Oliver by a gang of pickpockets, were bound up with current controversies over the Poor Laws and the care of abandoned children. Dickens’ recollections of his months as a child laborer gave authenticity to what might otherwise have been sentimental propaganda. Similarly, in dealing with the London under-world “Oliver Twist” had affinities with the crime stories of Bulwer and Ainsworth; but Dickens’ first-hand observation as court stenographer and reporter resulted in something quite different. There is no glorifying of criminals in the sinister Fagin or the brutal Sikes, though even they acquire a degree of human appeal when Dickens finally enters their minds to reveal how hallucinations and external impressions are mingled under stress of guilty terror.

For his plot, Dickens relied on the overworked theme of the missing heir; but he handled it with effective suspense and foreshadowing that disguised the implausible coincidences. He conferred literary validity upon grisly episodes of violence such as he had absorbed from “The Terrific Register”, a penny paper that he had devoured every week as a schoolboy. The conversations are unnatural because of a pretentious style of speech borrowed from the cheap theater, and Oliver’s inviolable saintliness is hard to credit; nevertheless, in spite of inflated rhetoric, the later scenes, culminating the deaths of Nancy, Sikes, and Fagin, generate compelling power. Dickens had discovered that the effect of terror did not have to depend on remote times and places, as existing in the reader’s own environment. “Oliver Twist” survives its handicaps of sentimentality and melodrama because it objectivizes a profound emotional state—the solitude felt by an individual who has no place within the framework of society. The dark cellars and garrets, the tottering tenements and hungry river currents, the moments of mob violence, all lend weird vividness to the theme of the social outcast.

The plot of the novel can be summarized thus. Oliver is born in an English paupers’ home. Starving and beaten when he asks for more gruel, the poor lad is finally bound out to works. Escaping this slavery, he goes to London where he comes under the eyes of Fagin the Jew, master teacher of pickpockets. He is caught by the police and placed in the home of Mrs. Brownlow. But Oliver is found by the gang and forced to accompany Sykes, the housebreaker. On his first assignment, Oliver enters te house to be burglarized to warn the inhabitants. He is shot as the other burglars are caught. Mrs. Maylie and her adopted daughter, Rose, care for Oliver. Eventually Mr. Brownlow again takes Oliver in. Fagin, Monks, Sykes, the street girl Nancy and others of the gang again try to get Oliver in their power but are foiled. Eventually all the gang come to bad ands and Oliver is freed of this years of hardship.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Victorian Novel as a Social Force in the Later Nineteenth (2)

Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell

The social problems of England found a passionate exponent in Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell, the wife of a Unitarian Clergy in Manchester. Her life brought her into contact with the industrial and social difficulties growing out of the struggle between master and workman. Her novels entitled “Mary Barton” and “North and South” give a realistic view of the hardships caused by the Industrial Revolution as seen from the workers’ point of view. The hardships of the working class are poignantly presented in “Mary Baton”. Praising this novel, Arnold Kettle writes, “As an accurate and humane picture of working class life in a large industrial town in the forties, Mary Barton is without rival among the novels of the time.”

Charles Dickens

Dickens was a great social reformer and his novels belong to the humanitarian movement of the Victorian era. He was from first to last a novelist with a purpose. In nearly all his books he set out to attack some specific abuse in the existing system of things, and throughout he constituted himself the champion of the weak, the outcast, and the oppressed. In nearly all the novels there is an attack upon some legal or social evil. He satirized boarding schools in “Nicholas Nickelby”, the court Chancery in “Bleak House”, the new manufacturing system in “Hard Times”, the workhouse in “Oliver Twist”, the pettifogging lawyers in “Great Expectations”.

W. M. Thackeray

Thackeray was essentially a realist. He knew nothing of Dickens’ humanitarianism and tremendous zeal for reform, but his persistent and telling effects upon snobbery, affectation, and humbug may be regarded as the parallel, though on a different plain, of Charlyle’s terrific denunciations of quackery, shams and insincerity. His success as a novelist is inseparable from his exploration of certain effects of England’s expanding economy in the early and middle nineteenth century. His world is the world of London society, and he sinks bull-dog teeth into every single abuse of rank and privilege; self-defeating miserliness in “Sir Pitt Crawley”; unearned privilege stupidly and criminally abused in “Sir Francis Clavering”; in “Rawdon Crawley” the prodigality of the bloods and dandies; the mediocrity of mind and talents that governed a great nation with a growing empire, exemplified in “Mr. Pitt Crawley”; extreme brutality in “Lord Steyne”, trading on its prerogatives.

George Eliot

George Eliot’s role was to be that of recorder and reflective observer of man in society. F. R. Leavis remarks, “Of George Eliot it can be said that her best work has a Tolstoyan depth and reality”. In many of her novels she depicts the old-fashioned provincial life with which she had been familiar in her girlhood. In “Felix Holt”, a didactic political novel, she has tried to depict the turmoil and dislocation that arise even in the backwater of a small rural settlement in the days following the passing of the first Reform Bill. The society of “Adam Bede” harks back to a preceding age. It is paternalistic and feudalistic, with the squire at the top of the hierarchy, and with tenant farmers, independent artisans and agricultural laborers arranged carefully in descending order. There is nothing harsh and oppressive about this society. Indeed, on a casual social level, a spirit of camaraderie prevails. But what enables the camaraderie between classes to flourish is not, of course, any spirit of egalitarian democracy, but simply in unquestioning acceptance of the need and of the justice of rigid class distinctions.

Charles Kingsley

Charles Kingsley, who was an enthusiastic disciple of Carlyle and an ardent social reformer, was one of the most vigorous of the numanitarian novelists of the mid-Victorian Age. His “Alton Locke, Yeast” and “Two Years Ago” are full of the unrest of their time and of the writer’s passionate earnestness in the cause of the masses. “Alton Locke” is noteworthy for its vivid pictures of the wretched life of the laboring class in the middle of the nineteenth century. In his remarkable novel “Yeast” he shows his interest in the oppressed laboring class and in the “Tractarian Movement”. But it is one of the numerous ironies of literary history that Kingslye, who strove nobly for social righteousness, should survive as the author of a novel of religious history, as the author of a story for school boys, but chiefly as the author of tales for children.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Victorian Novel as a Social Force in the Later Nineteenth (1)

The Golden Age of the English Novel

The reign of Queen Victoria was the golden age of the English novel. It was used as a popular medium for expressing its rapid progress in commerce, democracy and science. The material and scientific progress had its influence upon the Victorian life and it was inevitable that it should be expressed through its prose, poetry and fiction. The novel, being a popular medium of expression, sought to do for society in the age precisely what Sir Charles Lyell and Darwin sought to do for science, that is, to find the truth, and to show how it might be used to uplift humanity. Absorbing in itself a very large part of the creative energy of the time, the novel thus became a vehicle of ideas as well as a means of amusement. Writers of different schools of thought employed it to embody their general criticism of life, while it was found to lend itself equally well to the purposes of those who, having some special thesis to expound, desired to reach the largest possible body of readers. It was inevitable that it should thus come to reflect all the forces which were shaping the complex modern world. The spread of science made it realistic and analytical; the spread of democracy made it social and humanitarian; the spirit of religious and moral unrest, of inquiry and criticism, was often uppermost on it, often it revealed the powerful influences of the romantic revival. In its very variety of matter and treatment, the Victorian novel is the index of the many-sided interests and conflicting elements of the Victorian Age.

Material Advancement

The Victorian Age was an age of intense activities in commerce, industry and finance. There was a revolution in commercial enterprise due to the great increase of available markets, and, as a result of this, an immense advance in the use of mechanical devise. On the other side of this picture of commercial expansion we see the appalling social conditions of the new industrial cities, the squalid and unsanitary slums inhabited by discontented operatives, the exploitation of cheap labour, often of women and children. Until the steam engine made its appearance, the new factories were established on the hillsides where water-power could be obtained. Labour in those outlaying places was not easy to obtain, and masters made arrangements to take pauper children from seven years of age as apprentices. They kept them in hostels, and provided them food and clothing. But the children had to work twelve hours a day, the food often lacked nourishment, the clothing was insufficient, and the houses in which they lived were comfortless and even filthy. In the cotton-textile industry the handloom weavers suffered terribly because the power-loom could be operated by girls and women. The weavers, however, were not the only dissatisfied workmen. In a system in which manufacturing was done on a large scale, there were frequent disputes about wages and conditions of labour. The condition in the countryside was no better than that of the town. The great estates of titled and historic landlords were being bought up by the new commercial magnates, who had yet to learn that property means duty and not merely opportunity. These evils of the Industrial Revolution were vividly painted by such writers as Disraeli, Dickens and Mrs. Gaskell, and they called forth the missionary efforts of men like Kingsley.

Benjamin Disraeli

The Social novel was most assiduously cultivated by Benjamin Disraeli. His famous novel “Sybil” is a powerful exposure of abuses connected with the relations of capital and labour, and presents a terrible picture of the lives of the contemporary working class as the background for the love affairs of a young aristocrat, Charles Egremont, and Sybil, the daughter of one of the leaders of the Chartist Movement.
(To be continued....)

Victorian Age (3)

Intellectual and Scientific Advancement

There was an unprecedented intellectual and scientific advancement during the Victorian age. It was a period of intellectual ferment, and scientific thinking. Science was democratized, and more and more scientific enthusiasts dedicated themselves to the popularization of scientific works like Darwin’s “Origin of Species”. The man of science was regarded no more an academic recluse, but as a social figure exercising a deep and profound influence on the social and educational life of the age.


In spite of the advance of science and the various scientific discoveries, the general tenor of life was still governed by religious and moral consideration. The Victorians were moralists at heart, and religion was the sheet anchor of their lives. There was a marked conflict between religion and science, between moralists and scientists, each outdoing the other, but the current of religious thought was not chilled. It was an age in which Prime Ministers raised echoes of a submerged religious vocabulary in their speeches and novels. “The Oxford Movement” represents the revival of the Roman Catholic religion and the authority of the church at a time when science was challenging the religious thought of the age.

Domestic Life

In domestic life, the Victorian upheld the authority of parents over children. In “The Barrets of Wimpole Street”, we have a vivid picture of parental authority and the subjugation of children to the will of the head of the family. Emphasis was laid on authority and reverence for the elders. Women were relegated to a lower place. They were expected to cultivate domestic virtues, rear up children and look after home and the hearth. Women were regarded as inferior to men. Education was a closed book for most of the women and the idea of establishing women’s colleges was ridiculed by Tennyson in “The Princess”.

Order, Decorum and Decency

The Victorians laid emphasis on order, decorum and decency. To talks of duty, honour, the obligation of being a gentleman, the responsibilities of matrimony, and the sacredness of religious, belief was to be Victorians. “The Victorians”, were a poor, blind complacent people”, yet they were torn by doubt, spiritually bewildered, lost in a troubled universe. They were cross materialists, wholly absorbed in the present, quite unconcerned with abstract varieties and eternal values but they were also excessively religious, lamentably idealistic, nostalgic for the past, and ready to forego present delights for a vision of a world beyond. Despite their slavish “conformity”, their purblind respect of convention, they were “ragged individualists”, given to “doing as one likes”, needless of culture, careless of a great tradition: they were iconoclast who worshiped the idols of authority. They were besides at once sentimental humanitarians and hard-boiled exponents of free enterprise. Politically, they were governed by narrow insular prejudice, but swayed by dark imperialistic designs. Intellectually and emotionally, they believed in progress, denied original sin, and affirmed the death of the Devil; yet by temperament they were patently Manichaeans to whom living was a desperate struggle between the force of good and the power of darkness. While they professed “manliness”, they yielded to feminine standards; if they emancipated woman from age old bondage, they also robbed her of a vital place in society. Though they were sexually inhibited and even failed to consider the existence of physical love, they begot incredibly large families and flaunted in their verse a morbidly over-developed erotic sensibility. Their art constitutes a shameless record of both hypocrisy and ingeniousness, and their literature remains too purposeful propagandistic, didactive, aesthetic, with too palpable a design upon the reader; yet it is clearly so romantic, aesthetic, ‘escapist’ that it carries to posterity but a tale of little meaning. Some ages are marked as sentimental, others stand conspicuous as rational. The Victorian age was happier than most in the flow of both these currents into common stream of vigorous effective talent. New truths were welcomed in free minds and free minds make brave men

Monday, November 13, 2006

Victorian Age (2)

Social Unrest

Industrial advancement created social unrest and economic distress among the masses. The Industrial Revolution while creating the privileged class of capitalists and mill-owners, rolling in wealth and riches, also brought in its wake the semi-starved and ill-clad class of laborers and factory workers who were thoroughly dissatisfied with their miserable lot. National wealth was increased but it was not equitably distributed. A new class of landed aristocracy and mill-owners sprang up. They looked with eyes of disdain and withering contempt on the lot of the ragged and miserable factory hands, conditions of life held no charm for laborers and workers in the field; for they were required to dwell in slum areas with no amenities of life attending them at any stage of their miserable existence. There were scenes of horrid despair witnessed in the lives of the poor. With ulcers of this apparently opulent society were brought to the surface by the debtor’s prison, the Fleet and Marshalsea, the dismal abysses of oppression of little children, the prevalence of religious hypocrisy—these and may other dark corners in the life of England were illuminated by the search-light of Dickens’ genius.

Miserable Condition of the Lower Section of the Society

The woeful and deplorable conditions of laborers, miners, debtors, and prisoners soon caught the eyes of social reformers and a stage was prepared for ameliorating the lot of the downtrodden and the under-dogs of an affluent society. The Victorian era, therefore, witnessed vigorous social reforms and a line of crusading humanitarian reformers who sought to do away with the festering sores and seething maladies of the Victorian age. The Victorian age is, therefore, an age of humanitarian consideration and social uplift for the masses.

Social Reforms

In the course of the Victorian era, there developed among the increasingly large number of literary men and women and philanthropic social reformers a humanist attitude to life which was not a matter of creed and dogmas, but recognition of the love and loyalty that the better-sensed people had for their unfortunate brethren. In the works of Charles Dickens, Mrs. Gaskell, Carlyle and Ruskin, we notice the crusading zeal of the literary artist to bring about salutary reforms in the social and economic life of the country.

The growing importance of the masses and the large number of factory hands gave a spurt to the Reform Bills, which heralded the birth of democratic consciousness among the Victorian people. The Victorian age witnessed a conflict between aristocracy and plutocracy on the one hand and democracy and socialism on the other side. The advance in the direction of democracy was well-marked out, and in spite of the protests of Tennyson and Carlyle, its sweeping tide could not be stemmed. The long struggle of the Anglo-Saxons for personal liberty is definitely settled, and democracy becomes the established order of the day. The king and peers are both stripped of their power and left as figure-heads of a past civilization. The last vestige of personal government and the divine right of rulers disappear, the House of Commons becomes the ruling power in England and a series of new reform bills rapidly extend the suffrage until the whole body of English people choose for themselves the men who shall represent them.


England witnessed expansion in the filed of education. The passing of the Education Acts was a landmark in the history of education the country. A large reading public was prepared to welcome the outpourings of novelists, poets and social reformers. The press also came into its own and became a potent force in awakening political consciousness among the people of this age.

Growth in Population

There was a phenomenal growth in population during the Victorian age. The population of Great Britain at the time of the first census in 1801 was about ten and a half millions. By 1901 it had grown to thirty seven millions. More and more of territorial expansion was needed for the habitation of this growing population and England during this age launched on the course of empire-building and establishing its hegemony in countries where the light of civilization had not yet advanced.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Victorian Age (1)

A Brief Account of the Social, Political, Economic and Religious Tendencies of the Victorian Age

The Victorian Age is one of the most remarkable periods in the history of England. It was an era of material affluence, political consciousness, democratic reforms, industrial and mechanical progress, scientific advancement, social unrest, educational expansion, empire building and religious uncertainty. There were a number of thinkers who were well-satisfied with the progress made by the Victorians, while from a whole class of adverse critics could be heard a scathing criticism of the values held dear by the Victorians. While Macaulay trumpeted the progress that the Victorians had achieved, Ruskin and Carlyle, Arnold, Lytton Strachey, and Trollope raised frowns of disfavour against the soul-killing materialism of the age. Carlyle, himself a hostile critic of the age, admired L.H. Myer’s reference to ‘the deep-seated spiritual vulgarity that lies at the heart of our civilization’. Symonds detected in the Victorian Period, whatever may be its buoyancy and promise, elements of ‘world fatigue’, which were quite alien to the Elizabethan age, with which the Victorian era is often compared. Whatever may be the defects of the way of life, it cannot be denied that it was in may ways a glorious epoch in the history of English literature, and the advancement made in the field of poetry, prose and fiction was really commendable.

Peace and Prosperity

The Victorian age was essentially a period of peace and prosperity for England. The few colonial wars that broke out during this period exercised little adverse effects on the national life. The Crimean War, of course, caused a stir in England, but its effects were soon forgotten and the people regained the normal tenor of their lives without feeling the aftermaths of war in their round of daily activities. In the earlier years of the age, the effects of the French Revolution was a comparatively peaceful reign when Englishmen, secure in their island base, could complete the transformation of all aspects of their industrial, commercial and social life without any risks of violent interruptions that gave quite a different quality to the history of other continental nations. It was an era when the ‘war drum throbbed no longer’ and the people felt safe and secure in their island homes.

Industrial Progress

Peace brought material advancement and industrial progress in the country. The industrial Revolution of the age transformed the agrarian economy of England into an industrial economy. Mills and factories were established at important centers, and the whole of England hummed with the rattle of looms and the boom of weaving machines.

(To be continued .... )

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Blossom

The Blossom

Merry, merry sparrow!
Under leaves so green;
A happy blossom
Sees you, swift as arrow,
Seek your cradle narrow
Near my bosom.

Pretty, pretty,-robin!
Under leaves so green,
A happy blossom
Hears you sobbing, sobbing,
Pretty, pretty robin,
Near my bosom.
(William Blake in the Songs of Innocence)

Merry, merry sparrow: The speaker in the poem is most probably a little girl. The sparrow is proverbially a merry bird.

Swift as arrow: The simile is very appropriate, even if taken literally. But some critics see the "arrow" and its swiftness as symbolic of sex.

cradle narrow: small or tiny nest.

Nea my bosom: The bosom is symbolic of motherhood. The litle girl, who speaks, instinctively thinks of her bosom in connection with the sparrow's nest.

Sobbing, sobbing: The robin is depicted as "sobbing". There are two interpretations of this: (1) The robin is proverbially a sad bird, just as the sparrow is merry. (2) The robin is sobbing on account of exessive joy, and there is no room for any sadness in the poem.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rise of the English Novel (2)

End of the Seventeenth Century and Beginning of the Eighteenth Century: Novel is Assuming Shape

The novel dimly took shape by the end of seventeenth century. Aphra Behn’s “Orinooko, The Royal Slave” shows power of description, and some claim to plot, characterization and dialogue. Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s progress” (1668), though intended to be an allegory, shows a smoothly working plot, a variety of characters impressive descriptive passages, and simple, dramatic dialogue.

Daniel Defoe represents the culmination of the seventeenth century tendencies in English fiction. He emerged as a novelist with the publication of “Robinson Crusoe”. Some of his other novels are “The memoirs of a Cavalier”, “Captain Singleton”, “Moll Flandors”, “Colonel Jacob” and “Roxana”.

Novelist of the Eighteenth Century, the two prominent essayists Steele and Addison, reflected some traits of the novel in their essays which were published in “The Spectator” and “The Coverly Papers”. There is little plot in their essays but the character sketches are very entertaining and reveal the spice of delicate humor.

Professor Saintsbury designates Tobias George Smollett (1721-1771), Laurence Sterne (1715 – 1768), Samuel Richardson (1689 – 1761) and Henry Fielding (1707 – 1754), as the “four wheels of the wain” of the English novel in theeighteenth century.

(i) Richardson, as the creator of the Novel of Sentiment, drew his strength and inspiration from national and middle class material. His first novel, “Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded” (1740) came into existence out of a purely commercial undertaking. It was a popular success because its matter, manner and morality were new. His other novels were “Clarissa or The History of a Young Lady” and “History of Sir Charles Grandison”.
(ii) Henry Fielding goes with Samuel Richardson. Though both were reformers of “a depraved age”, their literary methods were different. Fielding was a satirist, whereas Richardson was a preacher. Fielding’s first novel was “The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams” (1742). “Jonathan Wild the Great” (1743) is a mock-heroic biography of a famous thief. “The History of Tom Jones, a Founding” (1749) is the best and most well known of his novels. His last novel “Amelia” was published in 1751. As a novelist, Fielding marked the rise of a new school of fiction. He created the Novel of Realism, and perfected the satiric Novel of Manners.
(iii) Smollett’s novels---“Roderick Random” (1748), “Peregrine Pickle” (1751), “Ferdinand Count Fathom” (1753), “Sir Launcelot Greaves” (1762), “Humphrey Clinker” (1771)---contain his observations and experiences as surgeon, sailor, and hack-writer.
(iv) In Sterne’s novels—“Tristram Shandy” (1760-1767), “Sentimental Journey” (1768)—the sentimental novel reaches the extreme limits of its principle.

It was Fielding who gave the English novel a new conception of unity and breadth and depth which was not to be discerned in any of his predecessors. It is the work of the fiction writers earlier to him against the background of which he shines.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Rise of the English Novel (1)

Novel’s Origin in Medieval Stories
Medieval romances and collections of ballads, especially those concerned with the legends of King Arthur, were the germinal sources of the modern novel. They were fiction of a picaresque and lively kind, though rambling stories. They were peopled by stock characters such as the wicked wizard and the damsel in distress. But they catered to the human longing for fiction and imaginative stimulation.

Development in the Elizabethan Age
The Elizabethan Age was the rise of the prose romance, of which Lyly’s “Euphues” and Sidney’s “Arcadia” are examples. Their prose styles, however, are too fantastic. Characters are rudimentary and there is little attempt at an integrated plot. There is too much of moralizing. But they represent a further step taken towards the beginning of the novel proper.

Picaresque Novel in the Seventeenth Century
A new type of embryo novel of Spanish origin, namely, the picaresque novel, made its appearance at the end of the sixteenth century. It remained popular till the days of Fielding and Smollett. The name derives from the Spanish word, “Picaro, which means a wandering rogue. Its hero is a rascal, who leads a wandering life full of rather scandalous adventures. The hero is the only link between the various incidents. There were many digressions and interpolated stories. Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” is the best-known of picaresque tales in Spanish. Le Sage’s “Gil Blas” is a French example of this mode of writing.

The picaresque novel in England began early with “The Unfortunate Traveller or The Life of Jack Wilton” (1594) by Thomas Nashe. Though crude, it is vigorous and witty. “The English Rogue” (1665) by Richard Head is another of the type—gross and scandal in the course of the hero’s adventures.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Elements Contributing to the Success of Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" (5)

5. Reference to Nature

The last element contributing to the success of the novel Things Fall Apart is the reference to nature. Since the novel talks about the life of the native people in Nigeria, it cannot be neglected that their life is related to planting, gardening, hunting, and many things related to the nature. The illustration of planting, as the reference to nature, can be seen on the back-plot of the novel, when Achebe talks about the life of little Okonkwo with his mother and sisters.

And so at the very early age when he was striving desperately to build a barn through share cropping Okonkwo was also fending for his father’s house. It was like pouring grains of corn into a bag full of holes. His brother and sisters worked hard enough, but they grew women’s crops, like coco-yams, beans, cassava. Yam, the king of crops, was a man’s crop.
(Achebe, 1958: 16)

Another reference to nature also talks about plants. It can be seen when Ikemefuna teaches Nwoye many things.

He could fashion out flute from bamboo seems and even from the elephant grass. He knew the names of all birds and could set clever traps for the little bush rodents. And he knew which trees made the strongest bows.
(Achebe, 1958: 20)

Ikemefuna teaches Nwoye many things about nature from which Nwoye knows many things about nature, and can make some fun for himself.
Another reference to nature is the ability of Umuofia in observing the nature in predicting the climate. This reference can be seen in the following quotation:

After the Week of Peace every man and his family began to clear the bush to make new farms. They cut bush was left to dry and fire was then set to it. As the smoke rose into the sky kites appeared from different directions hovered over the burning field in silent valediction. The rainy season was approaching when they would go away until the dry season returned.
(Achebe, 1958: 23)

From the quotation above, it can bee seen that the Umuofia used to see the nature to find out the next climate by the appearence of kites in the sky. They use the nature to guide their agriculture life.
Another reference to nature can be found when Okonkwo and his family go to the farm planting yams.

Yam, the king of crops, was a very exacting king. For these three or four moons it demanded hard work and constant attention from cock-crow till the chicken went back to roost. The young tendrils were protected from earth-heat with ring of sisal leaves. As the rains became heavier the women planted maize, melons and beans between the yam mounds. The yam were then stacked first with the single sticks and later with tall and big tree branches.
(Achebe, 1958: 24)

From the quotation above, it is found out that Achebe puts the method of planting yams through Okonkwo’s story. Yam is considered as the exacting plant that needs lots of attention from cock-crow till the children go back to roost. The reference to nature shown in the quotation above indicates that yam should be taken care well from everything that can destroy it since yam is regarded by umofians as the king of crops. Besides, it also symbolizes a man’s crop.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Elements Contributing to the Success of Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" (4)

4. Ceremony and Custom

The next element contributing to the success of on the novel is ceremony and custom. There are many ceremonies that show the traditional ritual of the Umuofia. The first ceremony found in the novel can be seen in the following quotation:

The feast of the New Yam was approaching and Umuofia was in a festival mood. It was an occasion for giving thanks to Ani, the earth goddess and the source of all fertility. Ani played a greater part in the live of the people than any other deity. She was the ultimate judge of morality and conduct. And that was more; she was in close communication with the departed fathers of the clan whose bodies had been committed to earth.
(Achebe, 1989: 26)

The quotation above indicates that the Umuofians perform the ceremony to honor Ani, as goddess of earth, who roles a greater part for the fertility of the ground. The feast is held every year before the harvest. Every people in Umuofia look forward to the New Yam festival as it is the sign to begin the season of plenty – the new years. It is called the feast of the New Yam, because yam is the most important plant for Umofians. Yams reflect the prosperity, the power, and the social-strata. The more yams a Umofian has, then the wealthier he is.
Another ceremony found in the novel can be seen on the occasion when Umuofia performs the great wrestling match on the second day of the New Year.

The second day of the new years was the day of the great wrestling match between Okonkwo’s village and their neighbors. It was difficult to say which people enjoyed more – the feasting and fellowship of the first day or the wrestling contest on the second.
(Achebe, 1958: 28)

The wrestling match in Umuofia and the neighbor village is always awaited. In this match, the winner of the wrestlers has a chance to be famous and gets many wives.
Another ceremony found in the novel is that the wedding ceremony. It is illustrated when Obierika sets his daughter, Akueke, for marriage. The young suitor is Ibe, son of Ukegbu. The situation when Ukegbu, Obierika and Obierika’s brother, machi, set the bride-price is illustrated below:

Obierika then presented to him a small bundle of short broomsticks. Ukegbu counted them.
‘They are thirty?’ he asked
Obierika nodded in agreement.
‘We are at last getting somewhere,’ Ukegbu said, and then turning to his brother and his son he said ‘Let us go out and whisper together.’ The three rose and went outside. ………. When they returned Ukegbu handed the bundle of sticks back to Obierika. He counted them; instead of thirty there were now only fifteen. He passed them over to his eldest brother, Machi, who also counted them and said:
‘We had not thought to go below thirty. ………. He then added ten sticks to the fifteen and gave the bundle to Ukegbu.
In this way Akueke’s bride-price was finally settled at twenty bags of cowries.
(Achebe, 1958: 50-51)

The Umuofians set the bride-price by using the small bundle of short broomsticks. The amount of the broomsticks signifies how many cowries will be given. When the agreement is settled then the amount of the bride-price can be found out.
Another situation indicating the ceremony of the Umuofia is the ritual of treating the ogbanje. Ekwefi’s first, second, and third children died because the medicine-man says they are the Ogbanje. The Ogbanje is one of those wicked children who, when they die, entered their mother’s wombs to be born again.
On Ekwefi’s third child, the new-born-child named Onwumbiko. He is not given a proper burial when he died. Then Okonkwo calls another famous medicine-man in the clan named Okagbue Uyanwa for he knows great knowledge about Ogbanje.

The medicine-man then ordered that there should not be mourning for the dead child. He brought out a sharp razor from the goatskin bag slung from his left shoulder and began to mutilate the child. Then he took it away to bury in the Evil Forest, holding it by the ankle and dragging it on the ground behind him. After such treatment it would think twice before coming again, unless it was one of the stubborn ones who returned, carrying the stamp of their mutilation – a missing finger or perhaps a dark line where the medicine-man’s razor had cut them.
(Achebe, 1958: 55-56)

From the quotation above, it is found out that the Umuofians think that the dead child is related to the evilness. They do not think about the sanitation, or the medical reason. The medicine–man treats the dead body in such horrible ceremonies to avoid the evil coming back.
Another ceremony can be found on the situation when the medicine-man asks Ezinma to show where she buries her iyi-uwa. Iyi-uwa is a special stone that forms the link between an ogbanje and the spirit world. Ekwefi feels worried about it; she does not want her fourth child dies following her dead siblings.

‘Where did you bury your iyi-uwa? She asked in return. ……….
‘Come along and show me the spot,’ said the medicine-man.
The crowd set out with Ezinma leading the way and Okagbue following closely behind her. ……….
(Achebe, 1958: 56-57)

After finding the iyi-uwa, the medicine-man does some ritual for the stone.
After a few more hoe-fulls of earth he struck the iyi-uwa he raised it carefully with him the hoe and threw it to the surface. Okagbue emerged by saying a word eve looking at the spectators he went to his goatskin bag, took two leaves and began to chew them. When he had swallowed them, he took up the rag with his left hand and began to untie it. And then the smooth, shiny pebble fell out. He picked it up.
(Achebe, 1958: 59-60)

When Ezinma shows the medicine-man the spot of her iyi-uwa on the ground, he then digs it to find the stone and destroys it. Umuofians believe that the child would eventually die if the iyi-uwa is not discovered and destroyed.
Another ceremony Found in the novel can be seen in the following quotation:

Large crowds began to gather on then village ilo as the edge had worn off the sun’s heat and it was no longer painful on the body. Most communal ceremonies took place at the time of the day, so that even when it was said that a ceremony would begin ‘after the midday meal’ everyone understood that it would begin a long time later, when the sun’s heat had softened.
(Achebe, 1958: 62)

From the quotation above it can be seen that Umuofia has many ceremonies. They even have communal ceremony at the time of the day. This communal ceremony will be attended by a lot of men and women. The Umofains usually come earlier to the place in which the ceremony will be held.
The next ceremony found in the novel can be seen when Obierika is celebrating his daughter’s uri. It is the day on which her suitor would bring palm-wine not only to her parents and immediate relatives but to the wide and extensive group of kinsmen called Umunna. The palm-wine ritual is just a part of pre-wedding ceremonies of Umuofia.

Very soon after, the in-laws began to arrive. Young men and boys in single file, each carrying a pot of wine, came first. Obierika’s relatives counted the pots as they came. Twenty, twenty-five. There was a long break, and the hosts looked at each other as if to say. “I told you.’ Then more pots came. Thirty, thirty-five, forty, forty-five. The hosts nodded in approval and seemed to say, ‘Now they are behaving like men.’ Altogether there were fifty pots of wine.
(Achebe, 1958: 82)

There are a number of customs that can be found in Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart. The first custom is about how to treat a guest. This custom can be seen when Unoka receives a guest, Okoye who will ask for debt for him. The guest carries a roll of goat skin under his arm then unrolled it after they shake hand each other. The host gives a small wooden disc containing a kola nut, some alligator pepper and a white chalk. After that one of them breaks the kola nut, and makes a line on the floor by using the chalk. As indicated in the following quotation:

One day a neighbor called Okoye came in to see him. He was reclining on a mud bed in his nut playing on the flute. He immediately rose and shook hand with Okoye, who then unrolled the goatskin which he carried under his arm, and sat down. Unoka went into an inner room and soon returned with a small wooden disc containing a kola nut, some alligator pepper and a lump or white chalk.
‘I have kola,’ he announced, when he sat down, and passed the disc over to his guest.
‘Thank you. He who brings kola brings life. But I think you ought to break it,’ replied Okoye passing back disc.
ssss‘No, it is for you, I think,’ and they argued like this for a few moments before Unoka accepted the honour of breaking the kola. (Achebe, 1958: 4)

From the above quotation, it can be inferred that a guest is regarded as a special and honorable person. Another custom in this novel can be found out when some people of Mbaino kill Ogbuefi Ezeudu’s wife. The Umofians give an ultimatum for them. They must choose from the two choices givechoosing war war or sacrificing a young man and a virgin as compensation. This custom can be seen in the following quotation:

And in clear unemotional voice he (Ogbufie Ezeugo) told umofia how their daughter had gone to market at Mbaino and had been killed. That woman, said Ezeugo, was the wife of Ogbuefi Udo, and he pointed to a man who sat near him with a bowed head. The crowd then shouted with anger and the thirst for blood.
Many other spoke, and at the end it was decided to follow the normal course of action. An ultimatum was immediately dispatened to Mbaino asking them to choose between war on the one hand, and on the other the offer of a young man and a virgin as compensation.

From the above quotation, it can be seen that Mbaino choose the second choise; that is sacrificing a young boy and a virgin as compensation to cancel war. The boy will be killed in a determined time later, while the virgin will replace the killed wife of Ogbuefi Udo.

Elements Contributing to the Success of Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" (3)

3. Proverbial Wisdom

The glory of Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart is his use of proverbs and adages of oral culture. What sets him apart from other African writers is the fact that he is, by far, more successful than others in flawlessly translating his working of African terms from one medium to another, from an oral tradition to an alien form of European origin without obliterating the freshness and vigor of the former, and despite the vast difference separating the two cultures. His characteristic mode of writing, in other words, fulfills Achebe’s own idea that the ”English of the African will have to be a new English, still in communion with its ancestral home but altered to suit its new African surroundings. “In his own fiction, he succeeds in creating an English that is not only, as critics have pointed out, “detached”, “stately”, and “impassive”, but also singular in its ability to bring a whole range of human experience before our mind’s eye by his consummate use of imagery drawn from both native and alien sources. He makes use of devices like proverbs, folktales, and religious tenets conveyed through prayer, speeches and song sequences. The first proverbial wisdom can be found when Okonkwo visits Nwakibie in order to get some help. When Nwakibie serves his guests he says:

Let the kite perch and let the eagle perch too. If one says no to other, let his wing break.’
(Achebe, 1958: 14)

The possible meaning of this proverb is, people do their pray and their work for the life of their family and for happiness. No matter what other people say if they work hard for their intention, they will get what they want (happiness).
Another situation that indicates the proverbial wisdom can be found when Okonkwo utters his intention to Nwakibie.

The lizard that jumped from the high iroko tree to the ground said he would praise himself if no one else did.
(Achebe, 1958: 16)

The possible meaning of this proverbial wisdom is that no one will care you best except yourself. We should do some effort for our own success.
The next proverbial wisdom can be found on the same situation in the next conversation,

Eneke bird says that since men have learnt to shoot without missing, he has learnt to fly without perching.
(Achebe, 1958: 16)

The possible meaning of this proverb is that when men do something wrong at the first time, men should not make the same mistake for the second time.
Another proverbial wisdom can be found on Ibo’s beliefs about spirituality as seen in the following quotation:

But the Ibo people have a proverb that when a man says yes his chi says yes also.
(Achebe, 1958:19)
From the quotation above it can be seen that Igbo people believe that “Chi” is the guardian who guides individual. Chi has responsibility for the fortunes and misfortunes of the individual. It is one of the mythologies of Ibo people.
The other proverbial wisdom that can be found in this novel is that when Okonkwo has a conversation with Uchendu, his sons, daughters, and his cousins in Uchendu‘s obi

And yet we say Nneke – “Mother is Supreme”. Why is that?’
(Achebe, 1958: 94)

The meaning of the proverbial wisdom, “mother is supreme” in the above quotation is that a child usually will belong to his father when everything is fine, but when a father beats his child, the child will seek sympathy in its mother’s heart. This situation prevails not only to a child but also to a man. A man belongs to his fatherland when things are good and life is sweet. However, when there is sorrow and bitterness, he finds refuge in his motherland. It happens to Okonkwo when Okonkwo is exiled from Umofia, he finds refuge in his motherland in Mbanta.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Elements Contributing to the Success of Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" (2)

2. Legends

There are a number of legends found in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The first legend is about how the darkness of the night hides much evilness beneath it. Everybody fears it, and the children are warned not to do something taboo in the night to avoid the evil spirit. As it is found in the following quotation:

The night was very quiet. It always quiet except the moonlight nights. Darkness held a vague terror for these people, even the bravest among them. Children were warned not to whistle at night for fear of evil spirits. Dangerous animal became even more sinister and uncanny in the dark. A snake never called by its name at night, because it would hear. It was called a string.
(Achebe, 1958: 7)

From the quotation above, it is known that the Umuofia’s people fear the darkness because they believe that there is much evilness beneath the darkness of the night. The interesting fact is that they never call a snake with its name because snake symbolizes the power of evilness.
Another legend found in the novel is shown in the quotation below:

In this way the moons and the seasons passed. And then the locusts came. It had not happened for many a long year. The elders said locusts came once in a generation, reappeared every year for seven years and then disappear for another lifetime. They went back to their caves in a distant land, where they were guarded by a race of stunted men. And then after another lifetime these men opened the caves again and then locusts came to Umuofia.
(Achebe, 1958: 38)

From the quotation above it is known that the locust’s visit has become a legend in Umuofia. Their visit after many years is believed that they are freed from their cave by a race of stunted men. This belief has taken place in the Umuofia’s people’s mind from their ancestors to their generation.
Other illustration about the legend in the novel can be found when Ikemefuna is taken to the jungle to be murdered, but pitifully, he does not know it. In the middle of the journey, he sings a song that reminds him to his homeland.

Eze elina, elina!
Eze ilikwa ya
Ikwaba akwa oligholi
Ebe Danda nechi eze
Ebe Uzuzu nete egwu
He sang it in his mind, and walked to its beat. If the song ended on his right foot, his mother was alive. If it ended on his left, she was dead. No, not dead, but ill. It ended on the right. She was alive and well he sang the song again, and it ended on the left. But the second time did not count.
(Achebe, 1958: 42)

From the quotation above, it is indicated that the song is full of tradition. In the tradition of Ikemefuna’s clan, Mbaino, they used to sing this song when they are far away from home and neglected by their family. The song is believed as a media to find out about the news of their mothers in the homeland.
Another legend found in the novel can be seen in the story about mosquito and ear. It exposes the reason why mosquito always goes for one’s ear. Okonkwo used to hear the story when he was a child from his mother, as in the following quotation:

When he was a child his mother had told him a story about it. But it was silly as all women’s stories. Mosquito, she had said, had asked ear marry him, whereupon Ear fell on the floor in uncontrollable laughter. How much longer do you think you will live? She asked. ‘You are already a skeleton.’ Mosquito went away humiliated, and any time he passed her way he told ear that he was still alive.
(Achebe, 1958: 53)

From the quotation above, it is found that the story of the mosquito and the ear has become a legendary. And the reason why mosquito always goes for one’s ear is always acceptable and believable in Umuofia since it has been told from generation to generation, from mothers to children in Umuofia all the time.

Elements Contributing to the Success of Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" (1)

1. The Didactic Animal Tales

Chinua Achebe enrichies Things Fall Apart with animal tales, and shows the readers that the Ibo clan in Nigeria is fruitful with a number of animal tales which Igbo people use as means to teach moral values to their generation. The didactic animal tales are found in the story of birds, lizards, tortoises, locusts, and many more. The first example of the didactic animal tale is found when Ezinma and her mother Ekwefi cook the green vegetables while they are waiting Okagbue searching the Ezinma’s iyi-uwa (a special stone that forms the link between an Ogabanje and spirit world. The child would eventually die if the iyi-uwa were not discovered and destroyed) in the yard. The cooked vegetables will become smaller after being cooked. This situation is used by Ekwefi to tell Enzinma about the story of the snake-lizard when they cook vegetables.

‘There is too much green vegetable,’ she said.
‘Don’t you see the pot is full of yams?’ Ekwefi asked. ‘And you know how leaves become smaller after cooking.’
‘Yes,’ said Ezinma, ‘that was why the snake-lizard killed his mother.’
‘Very true,’ said Ekwefi.
‘He gave his mother seven baskets of vegetables to cook and in the end there were only three. And so he killed her.’ Said Ezinma.
‘That is not the end of the story.’
‘Oho,’ said Ezinma, ‘I remember now. He brought another seven basket and cooked them himself. And there were again only three. So he killed himself too.’
(Achebe, 1958: 59)

The snake-lizard prejudices that his mother eats the vegetables before they are cooked, so he kills his mother. Then, when he puts more vegetables to cook, he finds out that the same thing happens to the vegetables. When it happens, he realizes that he has committed a big mistake. He feels very sorry for having killed his mother, thus, he commits suicide to show his remorse.

The didactic lesson of the story is that we should not easily take decision if we have not made investigation on the case, or have not known the real fact. Besides, we should not always have prejudice on someone before we know the fact well.

The next didactic animal tale found in the novel is that when Ekwefi tells a story to Ezinma about the birds and the Tortoise. All birds are invited to a feast in the sky, and the Tortoise finds it out. He wants to join with the birds but he has no wings to fly so that he begs the birds to bring him with them. The birds who know that he is an untrustworthy animal, do not want him to join the party. However, the tortoise has a sweet tongue, and finally the birds agree to give him feather for his wings. The Tortoise, who is a great orator, soon plays his tricky mind to the birds. He tells the birds that the hosts in the sky will expect them to honor their age old-custom. He tells the birds to pick a new name before they arrive in the sky, and all birds agree. The Tortoise himself picks the name “All of You”. When they arrive in the sky and the main dines are served, this is where everything in the Tortoise’s tricky mind begins clear.

When everything had been set before the guests. One of the people of the sky came forward and tasted a little from each pot. He then invited the birds to eat. But the Tortoise jumped to his feet and asked: ”For whom have you prepared this feast?”
“For all of you,” replied the man.
‘Tortoise turned to the birds and said: “You remember that my name is All of you. The custom here is to serve the spokesman first and the others later. They will serve you when I have eaten.”
‘He began to eat and the birds grumbled angrily. ……….
(Achebe, 1958: 68-70)

From the above quotation, it is clear that the tortoise begins showing his basic characteristic as an untrustworthy animal. The tortoise takes all the dines by cheating the birds.

When they leave the feast, the Tortoise asks the birds to send a message to his wife, but none of the birds are willing to. In the end, a parrot, who has felt angrier than the others changes his mind, and agrees to take the message. The Tortoise’s message to his wife is to bring all the soft things in the house outside so that he can jump from the sky without very great danger. However, the parrot tells the Tortoise’s wife the opposite thing. He asks her to bring the hard things such as hoes, machetes, spears, guns, and even cannon in the house outside. Tortoise looks down from the sky but it is too far to see what they are. Then he jumps from the sky and crashes on the compound. Luckily he does not die. His wife sends him to a medicine-man and the medicine man gathers all the bits of the tortoise’s shell which falls apart, and sticks them together. That is why tortoise’s shell is not smooth. The didactic lesson of the story is that we should not betray the people who have been nice to us, because bad things will respond badly too.

Another didactic animal tale can be seen when Obierika visits Okonkwo in the second year of his exile. He tells Okonkwo about the people of Abame who kill the white man. What they do not know is the fact that the white man is the messenger of his companions. Uchendu illustrates Abame’s action in the story of a kite and her daughter. A kite asks her daughter to look for some food for her. The daughter then goes and brings a duckling but her mother asks her to give it back again because when she takes the duckling, its mother goes away and keeps silent. The mother tells that there must be a trick behind the silence. Then the daughter changes it by a chicken and the mother asks her how the hen reacts when she takes the chicken. Then she answers that the hen cries, raves, and curses her. Then she says that the chicken can be eaten because there is nothing fear about someone who shouts and talks too much.

‘Never kill a man who says nothing. Those men of Abame were fools. What did they know about the man?’ He ground his teeth again and told a story to illustrate his point. ‘Mother Kite once sent her daughter to bring food. She went, and brought back a duckling. “You have done very well,’ said Mother Kite to her daughter, “but tell me, what did the mother of this duckling say when you swooped and carried its child away?” “You must return his duckling,” said the Mother Kite. There is something ominous behind the silence.” And so Daughter Kite returned the duckling and took a chick instead.’ “What did the mother of this chick do?” asked the old kite. “It cried and raved and cursed me,” said the young kite. “Then we can eat the chick,” said her mother. “There is nothing to fear from someone who shouts.” Those men of Abame were fools.
(Achebe, 1958: 98)

From the illustration above, the didactic lesson of the animal tale is, there is something ominous behind the silence. Besides, it that also shows the folly of the people of Abame.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Wimsatt and Beardsley on the Intentional Fallacy

The intentional and affective fallacies

In The Verbal Icon (1954), William Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley describe two other fallacies which are encountered in the study of literature.

The "Intentional Fallacy" is the mistake of attempting to understand the author's intentions when interpreting a literary work. Such an approach is fallacious because the meaning of a work should be contained solely within the work itself, and attempts to understand the author's intention violate the autonomy of the work.

The "Affective Fallacy" is the mistake of equating a work with its emotional effects upon an audience. The new critics believed that a text should not have to be understood relative to the responses of its readers; its merit (and meaning) must be inherent.

Terms for the critical methods they opposed in this essay are romantic criticism, biographical criticism, and genetic criticism (AKA "source-hunting"). They allege that these methods begin "by trying to derive the standard of criticism from the psychological causes of the poem and in biography and relativism" (from the introduction to "The Affective Fallacy").

Judging a poem is like judging a pudding or a machine. One demands that it work. Poetry is a feat of style by which a complex of meaning is handled all at once. Poetry succeeds because all or most of what is said or implied is relevant; what is irrelevant has been excluded, like lumps from pudding and 'bugs' from machinery. In this respect poetry differs from practical messages, which are successful if and only if we correctly infer the intention. They are more abstract than poetry.

The poem is not the critic's own and not the author's (it is detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it). The poem belongs to the public. It is embodied in language [and] is an object of public knowledge.

. . . the way of objective criticism of works of art . . . enables us to distinguish between a skilful murder and a skilful poem. A skilful murder is an example which Coomaraswamy uses, and in his system the difference between murder and the poem is simply a 'moral' one, not an 'artistic' one, since each if carried out according to plan is 'artistically successful. We maintain that [asking "whether the work of art' ought ever to have been undertaken at all and so whether it is worth preserving'"] is an inquiry of more worth than [asking "whether the artist achieved his intentions"], and since [the former] and not [the latter] is capable of distinguishing poetry from murder, the name 'artistic criticism' is properly given to [the former].

Criticism is "the public art of evaluating poems" and requires "terms of objectification"--"The evaluation of the work remains public; the work is measured against something outside the author."

. . . author psychology can be historical too, and then we have literary biography, a legitimate and attractive study in itself . . . Yet there is danger of confusing personal and poetic studies; and there is the fault of writing the personal as if it were the poetic.

There is a difference between internal and external evidence for the meaning of a poem. [Public internal evidence of the meaning of the poem] is discovered through the semantics and syntax of a poem, through our habitual knowledge of the language, through grammars, dictionaries, and all the literature which is the source of dictionaries, in general, through all that makes a language and culture; while what is . . . external is private or idiosyncratic; not a part of the work as a linguistic fact: it consists of revelations (in journals, for example, or letters or reported conversations) about how or why the poet wrote the poem.

Vortia: A Devoted Daughter?

From Portia’s conversation with Nerissa in Act I, ii, we can infer that actually at first Portia has fears if the wrong man will choose the right casket. She feels that the will of her dead father is not logic as she can neither choose whom she wants to marry nor refuse the one she dislikes as her will is checked by the will of her dead father.

But this reasoning is not in the fashion to choose me
a husband. O me, the word “choose”! I may neither
choose whom I would nor refuse whom I dislike; so
is the will of a living daughter curbed by the will of
a dead father. (Act I, ii, lines: 19-22)

However, Nerrisa, assures her that her father was always pious so that lottery which he has planned in the three caskets of gold, silver, and lead, in which the one who chooses his meaning correctly will win Portia, will never be chosen correctly except by the person who truly loves Nerrisa.

From the above short description, it is right that Portia, as a devoted daughter, dares not to betray terms imposed by her dead father.

Definitely, for such a beautiful, noble, and intelligent character as Portia, we find her dead father’s will of the caskets as a choice of husband for her, is truly heartless. What would have happened to Portia if the vain, egoistic suitor had chosen correctly? Portia would have been stuck with a vain and arrogant husband, incapable of her love. Therefore, the readers feel a tremendous relief as they failed to choose correctly.

However, Portia’s father was correct on one count, for despite all Portia’s intelligence, she does fall for Bassanio’s good looks, and fails to detect the playboy and the fortune hunter in him.

For one thing, it is Shakespeare’s brilliance to raise the dramatic effect in the lottery of the caskets in which Bassanio’s choice of the casket is of crucial importance in the play. Antonio has already lost his fortune and is bankrupt. If Bassanio were to choose incorrectly, the play would not be a romantic comedy, for Portia’s and Bassanio’s love would have been lost too. Moreover Antonio would have to lose his life.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Shakespeare: A Romantic Playwright

The establishment of romantic drama in England was the work of Shakespeare's immediate predecessors known as the university wits (Kyd, Lyly, Greene, Peele, Marlowe, etc.) Shakespeare's plays follow the example set by these men. In other words, he is a romantic dramatist as distinguished from the classical dramatists of ancient Greece and Rome.

The Principles Behind the Ancient Classocal Drama:
Briefly speaking, the classical drama of antiquity was supposed to observe the following principles:
(1) It rigorously maintained a unity of subject and tone. As a result, it kept the spheres of tragedy and comedy entirely separate. A tragedy had to be a tagedy from first to last; it had to maintatin the proper tragic pitch and no humorous episode was permitted in it. A comedy, on the other hand, had to be a comedy from first to last, and no tragic element was allowed to enter into its composition.
(2) There was little or no dramatic action on the stage. The incidents composing the plot took place off the stage and were reported to the audience in dialogue.
(3) The three unities of time, place, and action controlled the writing of drama. The entire story of a play had to be confined to a single day; the scene of the entire play remained the same throughout; the plot was to be one, and no sub-plots or minor episodes were permitted.

Main Features of the Elizabethan Romantic Drama:
The Elizabethan drama of Shakespeare and his immediate predecessors departed from all the above principles.
(1) Romantic drama makes free use of variety in theme and tone, often mixing tragic and comic scenes in the same play.
(2) Romantic drama, again, is essentially a drama of action, nearly every incident of the play being exhibited on the stage. Romantic drama violates also the three unites. It allows the story to extend over months, and even years. It changes the scene as often as necessary, sometimes from one town or country to another. It employs sub-plots and under-plots, besides the central theme.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Role of Godot in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot"

The Role of Godot
by Svetlana Pershinova

In some works of literature, a character who appears briefly, or does not appear at all, is a significant presence. An example of this can be found in the play Waiting for Godot, by Samuel Beckett.
The play deals with a hope for a change and a chance to be saved of two old frineds. One of the character is Godot, someone who never shows up. The reader finds out about him only through the conversations in the play. Although Godot is never physically present on stage, his presence is everywhere. The whole play, including all the actions and the theme itself, is affected by the mention of Godot.

No one in the play ever really saw him, or ever will. His appearance is not as important as a belief in him. The two friends, Estragon and Vladimir spend their lives waiting for this one person to show up, this one miracle to happen. It never does, but as Vladimir says, "It passes the time." It might appear surprising that the lives of two people can be based on the life of a third one, whom they never actually met. But in reality, they do not need him as a person. All they need is something to believe in, something to wait for.
Most people spend their lives witing for something, but they are not sure of what exactly. Vladimir and Estragon can consider themselves lucky. They know specifically what, or rather whom, they are waiting for : Godot. This faceless character affects their lives. He is a reason they are still alive. Every day, Estragon wants to kill himelf, but not only is there not enough rope, but there is also a hope that maybe, just maybe, Godot will appear the next day and everything will be different. Interestingly enough, Godot is also the one who keeps two friends coming back to the same spot, instead of wandering off and looking for a better place to live. Because of the endless promise that this one person will actually come, they do not leave the place.
Whether or not Godot exists does not make any difference. The belief in him keeps two people from killing themselves, yet living in a ditch. It keeps them away from the places where they want to go and at the same time, it keeps them together. This belief serves the most important function: it gives prupose to their lives.
Estragon and Vladimir are homeless, old and weary, and maybe they are right in thinking that they'd be better off being dead. Certainly Godot can be looked at as death itself, and that's what the two friends are waiting for. Still, death is considered to be a change and that's what Vladimir and Estragon want. And Godot, no matter what/who he is, is the one who can give them this change that they so desparately need.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

“Waiting for Godot”: An Introduction

Beckett’s Waiting for Godot has proved the most commercially successful “experimental” play since Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921). First produced in Paris in 1952, Waiting for Godot has since been translated into more than eighteen languages and performed all over the world.

In the play practically nothing happens. There is nothing done in it; no development is to be found; and there is no beginning and no end. The entire action boils down to this: on a country road, near a tree, two tramps, Estragon and Vladimir, idle away their time waiting for Godot, who never comes. Two strangers, a cruel master and his half-crazy slave, cross their path, and soon depart. At the end of the first Act, a messenger from Godot arrives and says that he will come tomorrow. In the second Act the waiting goes on; the other pair pass by once more, but the master is now blind and the slave is dumb. The master and the slave stumble and fall and are helped on their way by the tramps. The messenger appears again with the same promise, namely that Godot will come on the following day. Every thing remains as it was in the beginning. There is no female character in the play. The spectator or the reader is fascinated by the strangeness of what he witnesses, hoping for a turn in the situation or a solution, which never comes. Beckett denies satisfaction to his audience. He wants the audience to suffer extreme despair.

The immediate appeal of Waiting for Godot is due to the fact that, even though nothing much happens, it is intensely theatrical. The endless cross-talk act of the two tramps is always funny and at the same time sad—funny because good cross-talk acts are very funny and sad because their main reason for talking at all is just to pass the time, to fill in the void. Under the farcical ripple of the dialogue lies a serious concern.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Major “Absurd” Dramatists

This kind of play, according to Esslin, arises from the disillusionment and loss of certitude characteristic of our times and reflected in works like The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) by Albert Camus—where the word “Absurd” appears. The major dramatists of the School of the Absurd, in Esslin’s view, are Beckett, Adamov, Ionesco, and Genet. The senselessness of life and loss of ideals had, of course, been reflected in dramatists like Giraudoux, Anouilh, Sartre, and Camus, but whereas they had presented irrationality in terms of the old conventions, dramatists in the Theatre of the Absurd sought a more appropriate form. They do not argue about absurdity; they “present it in being”. Like the Poetic Theatre, the Absurd Theatre relies heavily on dream and fantasy, but unlike that theatre it rejects consciously “poetic” dialogue in favor of the banal. Although centered on Paris, the Theatre of the Absurd is distinctly international in flavor, as is emphasized by the four leading exponents chosen by Esslin—The Irish Beckett, the Russian Adamov, the Rumanian Ionesco, and the Frenchman Genet. These dramatists are followed, in Esslin’s book, by eighteen contemporary playwrights of whom Pinter and Simpson are the British representatives. All these dramatists partake, in one form or another, of the tradition of the Absurd which is described by Esslin as very far-flung indeed, incorporating devises from the circus, mime, clowning, verbal nonsense, and the literature of dram and fantasy which often has a strong allegorical component. Esslin seems to have overstated his case by including many dramatists whose intentions in the category of the Theatre of the Absurd surprises us. However, the tradition is more obviously pertinent when Esslin approaches such persons as Jarry, Apollinaire, and Dada. In his attempt to show in what way the Absurd Theatre produces something really new, Esslin suggest that is be “the unusual way in which various familiar attitudes of mind and literary idioms are interwoven” and the fact that this approach has met with “a wise response from a broadly based public.”

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Samuel Beckett and the Theatre of the Absurd

“Absurd Drama”, not a regular “movement”.The phrase “Absurd Drama” or “The Theatre of the Absurd” gained currency as a result of Martin Esslin’s book entitled The Theatre of the Absurd published in 1961. Esslin points out that there is no such thing as a regular “movement” of Absurd dramatists; the term is useful as “a device to make certain fundamental traits which seem to be present in the works of a number of dramatists accessible to discussion by tracing features they have in common”. Esselin’s book deals with a group of plays which incorporate certain beliefs and use certain methods and which, briefly and as a kind of intellectual short-hand, we call Absurd Drama.

Successful in spite of the violation of all dramatic conventions.
The most surprising thing about plays of this group is that in spite of their breaking of the rules they are successful. Esslin says:
1. “If a good play must have a cleverly constructed story, these have no story or plot to speak of;
2. If a good play is judged by subtlety of characterization and motivation, these are often without recognizable characters and present the audience with almost mechanical puppets;
3. If a good play has to have a fully explained theme, which is neatly exposed and finally solved, these often have neither a beginning nor an end;
4. If a good play is to hold the mirror up to nature and portray the manners and mannerisms of the age in finely observed sketches, these seem often to be reflections of dreams and nightmares;
5. If a good play relies on witty repartee and pointed dialogue, these often consist of incoherent babblings.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Sexsual Perversion in Eliot's "The Waste Land"


by Darman Sitepu
Fakultas Sastra
Universitas Islam Sumatera Utara


Hubungan sex merupakan kegiatan sakral yang dilakukan dengan penuh kasih sayang oleh pasangan suami istri untuk melanjutkan keturunan. Namun pada The Waste Land karya T.S.Eliot, sex telah berubah fungsi. Sex digunakan sebagai alat pemuas birahi, obat menghilangkan stress dan bahkan diperdagangkan sebagai barang komersial untuk memperoleh keuntungan materi. Penyimpangan sex tersebut menyebabkan kemandulan peradaban modern. Eliot menyerukan pembersihan spiritual sebagai solusi masalah tersebut. Namun masyarakat modern tak terketuk hatinya karena terbius oleh kenikmatan duniawi semata.

Keywords: sexual perversion, moral values, guilty love, sex exploitation

According to Eliot, sex is an important aspect of life. It is an expression of love and a means of procreation. But in modern society, sex has been perverted from its proper function and is utilized for animal pleasure and monetary benefits. Easy sexual relation could be found among all sections of the society.
Eliot cites the instances of guilty love in the first section of the poem with reference to Waqner’s opera Tristan and Isolde. Then he goes to another guilty love of the hyacinth girl.
In the section of Game of Chess we are introduced to sexual violation in high-class society where a lustful duke seduced a young married-woman. Sex also prevails among the lower class of society. Eliot mentions the story of Lil and the experience of three daughters of Thames. Another example is that of mechanical sex relation between the typist girl and her boy friend. A homosexual relation is exemplified by Mr. Eugenides. Eliot sums up the story of European lust through the words of St. Augustine.
To carthage then I came
Burning burning burning burning
(Lines 307-308: The Waste Land)

Eliot means that the whole of Europe is being destroyed by the fire of sexuality.


Guilty Love

Sex occupies a very prominent place in human life. At one time sex was considered as a means of human development. Unfortunately in modern time, sex has become an animal urge without any moral or social commitment.
Eliot gives two examples of guilty love or the pain of satisfied love. The poet refers to the story of Tristan who had a guilty passion for Isolde in Waqner’s opera Tristan and Isolde.

I will show you fear in handful of dust
Frisc weht der wind
Der Himat zu
Mein Irisch Kind
Wo weilest du?
(Lines 30-34: The Waste Land)

This guilty love proved fatal. The song in the poem refers to Tristan, who morally wounded, awaits the arrival of his beloved. Tristan inquires of the watchman if the ship is bringing his beloved. The reply is negative “Empty and desolate is the sea”. It sums up the despair and the grief of the guilty love.
Then the poet gives another example of guilty love, the story of the hyacinth girl.

“You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
They called me the hyacinth girl
Yet when we came back, late from hyacinth garden
Your arms fell, and your hair wet, I could not speak,
And my eyes failed
I was neither
Living nor dead, and I know nothing.
Looking into the heart of light, silence.”
(lines 35-41: The Waste Land)

Like the love of Tristan, the love of this young man is also a guilty love as he makes love to the girl secretly in the garden. This sort of love is not free from fear and anxiety. The feeling of the lover is summed up in the line “I was neither living nor dead and I knew nothing (L 39-40). So love offers neither joy nor relaxation under the condition of modern life.
‘Oed’ und leer das Meer
(line 42: The Waste Land)

This is another quotation taken from Richard Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde. The meaning is Empty and desolate is the sea. The dejected Tristan is lying on the sea stone waiting for his beloved Isolde. But unfortunately, there are no signs of the arrival of the ship. The sea appears empty to the lover. The poet means that their love is guilty as it is outside married. Thus there is tragic end to this kind of love. Such guilty love does not give a sense of satisfaction.

Sex in High and Low Level of Society
The second section of the poem is A Game of Chess. The title is borrowed from Middleton’s play Women Beware Women. A Game of Chess is played to distract the attention of an old woman, while her daughter-in-law is seduced by a lustful duke.
The first implication in that violation of sexual discipline brings frustration and spiritual decay. The second implication of a game of chess is a situation of check-mate where the game enters a blind alley, meaning thereby that married life becomes dull and boring. The third implication of the title is a life of emotional starvation in the process of mechanical routine.
The moral of the section is that the foundation of healthy society is a disciplined sexual relationship. When sex is free from restriction or control, it leads to perversion and creates a sense of frustration and failure in married life.
The following quotation is the scene of sexual triviality in high society.

And we shall play a game of chess,
pressing lidless eyes and
waiting for a knock upon the door.
(lines 136-138: The Waste Land)

These lines again have reference pertaining to Middleton’s play Women Beware Women. A game of chess is played with the mother-in-law in order to distract her attention and to enable a lustful duke to seduce her daughter-in-law. The knock upon the door will be a signal that the love affair should be brought to an end.
The second scene of A Game of Chess deals with life at lower class society. The scene is laid in a tavern. Here is a story of Lil who is conversing with another lady about her husband. The woman is nervous and afraid because she has lost her charm and yet wants to make her husband stay with her.
This is the comment of the lady about Lil’s appearance.

You ought to be ashamed, I said to look so antique
(and her only thirty-one)
(lines 156-157: The Waste Land)

Lil is no longer attractive and she is now ugly. Even the lady who talks to Lil could not bear to look at her.
Lil replies that it was because of abortion pills that she took to get rid of pregnancy. The lady asked Lil why she married if she did not want children. Married and children go together.

What you get married for if you don’t want children?
(line 165: The Waste Land)

The above quotation throws light on the tragedy of Lil who has lost her health and yet is unable to keep her husband around. It reveals perversion of married life where child bearing has to be controlled and at the same time the wife should be looked attractive to prevent her husband from mixing with other women.

Sex in London
The title of the section The Fire Sermon is borrowed the sermon of Lord Budha. But the essence of this section is that lust burns up life. One can conquer lust by suffering and pain by passing through fire. This is opposed to modern idea. That sex should be enjoyed without any regulation.
See the following quotation:

And their friends, loitering heirs of city directors;
Departed have left no address.
(lines 180-181: The Waste Land)

After a wild party, rich businessmen left no address to their sex partners. For businessman sex is the same as any other commodity. It could be bought and enjoyed without any sense of moral.
Then the poet calls London the unreal city because unbelievable things happen in this town. Rape, lust and cheating prevail without any hindrance.

Under the brown fog of a winter noon
Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant
Unshaven, with a pocket full of currants
C.i.f’ London: documents at sight,
Asked me in demotic French.
To Luncheon at the Cannon Street Hotel
Followed by a weekend at the Metropole”.
(lines 208-214: The Waste Land)

The poet recalls a scene in London in the fog of winter noon when he meets Mr. Eugenide, merchant from Smyrna, who is ugly and unshaven. His pocket is full of samples of currants and business documents. He stays at Cannon Street Hotel and spends the weekend at the Metropole Hotel. Both hotels were notorious for sex perversions including homosexual contact.
The above picture shows us that merchant of today besides making money has his eyes on lust.
Now Eliot gives another instance of mechanical sex relation. A typist girl, like a human machine, gets home from her office, prepares her tea, cleans dishes and prepares dinner. The girl waits for her lover. He is a young clerk of a house agent who has a look of confident but he is actually nervous. He approaches the typist and knows that she is bored. He starts the game of love. The girl is indifferent to his love game.
After the sex act, the clerk gives farewell kiss and goes downstairs.

Exploring hands encounter no defense.
His vanity requires no response
And makes a welcome of indifference
Bestows one final patronizing kiss,
And grapes her way, finding the stairs unlit.
(lines 240-248: The Waste Land)

The girl has gone through mechanical sex without any sense of regret. She does not even realize that her lover has departed.
She turns and looks a moment in the glass.
Hardly aware of her departed lover.
(lines 249-250: The Waste Land)

The essence of the above scene refers to the seduced girl in Goldsmith’s The Vicar Wakefield who is full of shame and repentance. In the past, the loss of chastity was considered worse than death for a girl. But in the modern age it is a mechanical routine as done by the typist girl.

Sex Exploitation in Low Society
The last scene of “Fire Sermon” shows some sexual violation experienced by three daughters of Thames. The first daughter was born at Highbury which is full of trams and dusty trees. She visited Richmond and Kew, which are picnic sports on the bank of the river.
At Richmond she was criminally assaulted by a man while she was lying on her back on the floor of a small boat.

Trams and dusty trees
Highbury bore me. Richmond and Kew
Undid me. By Richmond I raised my knees
Supine on the floor of a narrow canoe
(lines 292-295: The Waste Land)

The second daughter was ravished at Moorgate.
My feet are at Moorgate, and my heart
Under my feet after the event
He wept. He promised “a new start”
I made no comment what should I resent?”
(lines 296-299: The Waste Land)

The girl was raped by a young man. After the act, the man felt repentant and wept. He promised to reform himself. For the girl there is nothing to regret because rape is a common experience of the poor girl’s life.

The third daughter was ravished on the Margate sands.
On Margate sands
I can connect
Nothing with nothing
The broken fingernails of dirty hands
My people humble people who expect
(lines 300-305: The Waste Land)

The girl does not remember anything. She compares herself to the broken fingernails of dirty hands which are useless. Poor people could not do anything against such violation. They just accept it as a common experience of life.

The title of the poem “The Waste Land” suggests the bareness of modern civilization. The sterility is caused by various factors but Eliot believes that sexual deviation gives significant contribution to the problem. Sex has been perverted from its proper function and is utilized merely to gratify human lust. Sex is also traded for commercial purpose. Therefore easy sexual relation could be found among all sections of the society.
This condition has become a source of degeneration that leads to the erosion of moral values and become a hurdle in man’s spiritual progress.