Showing posts from 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 gramophon…

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…

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-histor…

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, …

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…

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 sy…

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 p…

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…

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…

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 d…

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 i…

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 e…

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 centu…

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 …

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 …

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 d…

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…

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 le…

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 …

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 …

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…

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 …

“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 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 …

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 judg…

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 …