Category: English

How to be Daniel Ahn

To become Daniel Ahn, you should be an omni-loving person. Embrace everyone with your agape love. A faithful Christian from birth, romanticize the love story of God and his action of sacrifice. Grow your personal belief under strictly moral and selfless parents. Learn that refusing an offer is bad. Understand that the most important value of life is service for others. People will make fun of you and use you for their benefit. But, still love them. Indeed, let them make fun of you and use you for their benefit. Follow the footsteps of Jesus. With your sacrifice, the society will prosper.

Despite of your piety and faith, consistently challenge your beliefs. You should have attended church straight from your birth. Your family must be religious and conservative. You should let your environment of your youth shape you as a devout Christian and a conservative student. However, you certainly cannot allow your surroundings to rule your entire life. As you grow up and encounter more people, persistently question your canon. Confront a diverse group of people who will widen your perspective of the world. This does not imply that you should abandon your faith in Christianity and parental guidance; they are still an indispensable part of your life. But realize that the world is changing and that you must change accordingly. Indeed, start accepting and loving heterogeneous cultures of the 21st century like how Jesus did couple of millennia back. Before you know, you should have become a rather liberal advocator of the society, the embracer of the divergent humanity.

Constantly be on stage. Do not fear the mockery of the crowd, but enjoy the laughter and cheer they provide. You will in no time ridicule yourself once more. You do not need to be the best actor in the house for the art of acting does not lie in imitating well but with expressing your personal self in the context of the play. A well written play most delicately manipulates the common human emotion. All you should do is to carefully develop them to paint your beliefs in the minds of the audience using your voice, posture and reaction. With the excuse of drama, expose your liberal persona hidden behind a traditional figure. Proclaim your deep affection for the social minorities. Your audience will know who you really are.

Always prepare few ways to entertain your companions. Maybe play a couple of instruments. Or if time permits, be well versed with a dozen of instruments. Do not give up because the instrument is hard to perfect. You don’t need to play well in any of the instruments; just be able to produce tolerable sounds in all the instruments that you possibly know. The purpose of doing so is to help the whole band fill up empty sounds. Serve, with all your might, your community. Remember that sacrifice and love beyond reason is your primary character. Religion or family does not have to be the justification of your service. Your love for humanity and relationship should be the driving force of your self-immolation.


This Is a Story to Pass On: Analysis of the Sentence “This Is Not a Story to Pass On” on Its Irony and Its Revelation of the Novel’s Theme


“This is not a story to pass on” (Morrison, 324), says Tony Morrison in her last chapter. The novel Beloved primarily is consisted of each character’s anecdotes of their past. Sethe and Paul D constantly brings back memories of their exposure to the world of Slavery; Denver and Beloved wants to listen to more stories from their mother. These dialogues of stories join as a literary work, making yet another story. However, despite Morrison’s efforts in putting the story together, she comments that “this is not a story to pass on” (324). The ambiguity of the phrase, to pass on, along with several types of story that Morrison outlines in the scope of the book creates obscurity in Morrison’s argument. Through the unclear maze of interpretation, Morrison guides the readers with confusing traces of bread crumbs, which at the end of the day, leads them to the same conclusion: history of slavery should not be repeated again.

Story, as its literal meaning, indicates the plot of the novel: the characters’ encounter with Beloved. The novel Beloved begins with a baby ghost, the spiritual incarnation of Beloved. Starting from the moment of introduction, Beloved deeply interacts and engages with Sethe and her family. The ghost of Beloved drove the two sons out of the house and from time to time takes tangible forms that physically come to contact with Sethe’s family through “mirror shattered… tiny hand prints… in the cake” (3). As soon as the ghost is banned from 124 by Paul D, Beloved takes the human form to come back to Sethe’s family in a shape of “a fully dressed woman” (60). As the story progresses, the relationship between Sethe and Beloved grows ill. First, Sethe engages more of herself to exclusively Beloved. She ignores Paul D and his criticisms on the parasitic love between Sethe and Beloved. She also insists that she continues her way of providing her children “safety with handsaw” (193). As soon as Paul D leaves 124, Sethe starts to abandon her responsibility as a mother. She prioritizes Beloved more “than her own life” (284). She spends more money for luxury and extravagance on Beloved’s demand than what she can afford that “they ran low on food” (285). As Sethe grows exhausted, “Beloved [slams] things, [wipes] the table clean of plates, [throws] salt on the floor, [breaks] a windowpane” (285) while “getting bigger” (285). This incident of Beloved has led characters astray of normality; Sethe grew thinner (both physically and emotionally) and devastated, Denver grew detached from her family, and Paul D was driven away from Sethe’s family. This unfair and sickening encounter between Beloved and Sethe’s family that only breaks the goodness of characters may be the story that Morrison does not will to be told.

Yet, under the overarching plot and series of actions, Morrison strongly outlines the real story that she wishes to convey to her audience. Story, to Sethe, Beloved, and Denver, is not simple a novel that can be lightly considered and forgotten with. The story connotes a larger meaning behind its facade. To the three women, story symbolizes life and the past they have lived in. Firstly, Morrison describes story to be a segment in memory that one has lived and can live again. This is explicitly demonstrated when Sethe “[steps] into the told story that lay before her eyes on the path” (36) and describes her past memory of Denver’s birth. Morrison strengthens the connection between story and memory by starting the anecdote with one and ending with other. As discussed above, Sethe’s memory of Denver and the first white conformity begins with her physically walking into the story. When the story comes to an end, Sethe refers to the memory as “rememory” (43) that “[goes]” and “[passes] on” while “just [staying]” at the same time. The description of a specialized memory connects to the terminology of story to indicate that apart from plots and dialogues, story also is one’s past, memory, and even inevitable identity. Also, story symbolizes life. Paul D is a character persistently willing for a stable family. He, a man who has lived a life of rather adventure and fluidity, now wants to settle down. Paul D wishes to achieve this goal by creating a family with Sethe. He describes his sentiment toward her by stating that “he [wanted] to put his story next to hers” (322). This shows that story not only means the past but also the present life that one lives in. As demonstrated above, Morrison broadens the scope of interpretation of the word story and uses them in distinctive contexts. Also, she develops the idea of story’s connection to one’s past, and addresses a bigger subject of slavery through Sethe and Beloved.

Sethe is a character obsessed with stories; Sethe’s own past captivates and mesmerizes her. Sethe is a former slave of Sweet Home. Her experience of slavery rips her of sanity and devastates her. The eternal scar that forces her to remember the past she wants to forget is best illustrated and symbolized by the “branches of her chokecherry tree” (20) made of her dead skin on her back. The chokecherry tree made of scar forces Sethe to face her destroyed past. She is reminded of the milk taken away from her. She is evoked with memories of her mother, killed as the result of slavery. This constant rememory to a past that she does not wish to remember drains her rationality. As a caring mother haunted by her past memory of slavery, Sethe desires to “[take] and put [her] baby where they’d be safe” (193) from the white treachery. However, this wish takes a shape of a monster in her insane mentality. Consequently, Sethe, traumatized by the white domination, “[kills] her children” when she sees the Schoolteacher walking toward her family. Yet, the safety that she wanted for her children turns into another trauma: Beloved. Tree appears several times in Beloved. Chokecherry tree is what stays on her back, reminding Sethe of her tainted past; mulberry tree is where Beloved walks from. This connection between the character of Beloved and Sethe’s inescapable past emphasizes the role of Beloved as the reminder of Sethe’s past. The manner in which Beloved achieves her virtue is by constantly keeping Sethe occupied, telling stories. This constant storytelling conjures Sethe up of her horrid past. Thus, she is worn down in the relationship between her and Beloved; the memory wears Sethe down. Through Sethe, Morrison lays out the connection between the word story and Sethe’s personal, abhorrent encounter of slavery.

The individual story of slavery narrated by Sethe is generalized by Beloved. Beloved devotes her chapter in describing the incident that happened to her before she first appeared in the story, in front of the mulberry tree. To picture the incident, she uses imageries of “sea-colored” (249) bread and the sensation of “vomit”. Through the imagery, she creates an atmosphere of ocean. Also, Beloved desire for “pretty white… teeth” (249), the crowded and “crouching” (248) people accompanied by “small rats” alludes to a ship, of rather poor condition. The “circle around her neck” (249) indicating a collar chaining her, along with several dead people and strong desires to die supports the connection between the narrative and slavery. All in all, the scene that Beloved describes in her chapter is a typical moment in the Middle Passage. Middle Passage was the Atlantic slave trade route between Europe, Africa and America. The slaves captured in Africa by Europeans were shipped to American plantation farms to be dehumanized and maltreated. The Middle Passage not only illustrates the brutality of slavery, but also is the symbol of white dominance and black subjugation. Beloved dedicates her chapter to describe her incident at the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, on a slave trade boat. This shows that to Beloved, story not only is her encounter of Sethe, but also inclusive of her life as the first-generation slave, the crosser of Middle Passage, the commodity of a slave trade ship. Through Beloved, Morrison normalizes the concept of story to all slaves, ranging from the very first slaves of American Plantation to the very last slave of the abolitionists. Story, written in context of Beloved, refers to both the literal story that contains plots and dialogues and the connotation to one’s inevitable past. Morrison uses this nature of story to carefully lay out an explicit scene of slavery.

Like how the word story contains several different meanings, some more overarching than others, Morrison’s choice of the word “to pass on” (324) deepens the understanding of the novel. Primarily, the phrase passed on, as often used with stories, indicates that the story is told to a separate entity. This type of passing on is depicted in Sethe’s act of telling her story of the Sweet Home to others. There are frequent incidents of Sethe delivering her accounts of slavery to Beloved and her daughter Denver. However, when the story which is being passed on is interpreted differently as analyzed above, the term to pass on undergoes a slight modification. Story, to Sethe, Beloved, and Denver, symbolizes the individual’s life. Furthermore, the story is what binds the lives of hundreds of people who share the same historical pain of slavery. If so, to pass on indicates allowing its future generation to live the lives of the former generations: passing on of the story of slavery signifies letting the children be vulnerable to slavery. Sethe, as a firm yet traumatized mother, is haunted by this passing on of her story to her children. Sethe is extremely obsessed with not allowing her children to live her story of slavery. Also, the word pass on includes a passive connotation. To pass on from time to time implies no effort on the two entities taking part in the action. the passer and the passed. The act of passing on is a natural progress in which the story flows from the passer to the receiver. Sethe, while describing the story of Denver’s birth, mentions the phrase “pass on” (43). This act of passing on is not an active action of Sethe to forget her past. Sethe admits that “somethings you forget… other things you never”. Her tone of addressing the chance of remembering and forgetting almost sounds as if they are coincidental. Through this passage, Morrison defines passing on as a natural progress which can fortuitously produce either of the possible results. This interpretation of passing on creates an automatic nature to the action of passing on for it is not controlled by artificial force. By doing so, Morrison connotes that not only Sethe’s effort in preventing the stories from passing on to her children inevitable, but also that the repetition of history of slavery is unavoidable.

Through several types of stories that Morrison create, she creates a paradox in which she lays out her main argument: the story should be passed on. As mentioned above, to Morrison, story means several things. The story of the characters’ encounter with Beloved is what Morrison has narrated to the readers. However, within mere plot and dialogues, Morrison carefully lays out the pain and suffering that the black population of America had suffered. Surprisingly, the two stories mentioned above seem to contradict each other; when one is passed on, the other is not, and when one is not passed on, the other is. Consider a case in which the story of Beloved is passed on to future generations. If Morrison’s Beloved is brought more attention, and well read by the public, the explicit criticisms of slavery will be delivered to a large population. A mass population with a critical view of slavery will be able to abolish slavery with ease. However, consider a case in which the story of Beloved is not passed on to the future generation. The mass population, unaware of the horrendous results of slavery will not be able to recognize the falsehoods of slavery. If so, in later generations, when all awareness has passed, the atrocious act of enslavement will begin again. Since both stories cannot be passed on simultaneously, Morrison, by saying “this is not a story to pass on” (324), creates a paradox in which the statement of the sentence is not universal when interpreted with different significance of the story.

To resolve the paradox, Morrison prioritizes the stories to specify which story to pass and which not to. Firstly, even before the foreword and the epigram, she dedicates the novel to “Sixty Million and more” (Morrison, XI). This dedication, considering Morrison’s use of slavery and its impact on the black individuals as the main subject of the novel, alludes to the people who died in the Middle Passageway which approximates to about sixty million people. Also, Morrison states that she dedicates the book to more people than the estimated number of people killed in the Middle Passage. The extra people that Morrison included can be seen as the inestimable number of people killed by slavery in total. The dedication of the novel clearly shows that Morrison is prioritizing her audience of victims of slavery above all other readers, thus the story of slavery. If the story of slavery is prioritized before the encounter of Beloved, the quote “this is not a story to pass on” (324) can be reiterated into two separate sentences; the experience of slavery should never occur again; to do so, the story of Beloved has to be widely read.

Also, the word pass on can be emphasized in order to analyze what Morrison tries to convey. As discussed above, Morrison refers to the story as the past lives of slaves sacrificed in white brutality. Also, the specific phrase that Morrison uses, pass on, has a passive connotation. Hence when a story is passed on, it is a natural progression. Morrison, by saying that “this is not a story to pass on” (324), argues that the story of slavery and the lives of the slavery victims should not be repeated naturally and without resistance. Indeed, she advocates for her belief of strong opposition against slavery. Through the last sentence, Morrison firmly reveals her true sentiments toward slavery, that it should not be naturally inherited by her post generations.

To recapitulate, Morrison uses story in two major different occasions: to express the literal story told, and to refer to the lives that one lived and lives. This ambiguity in her style of writing leads to different possible interpretations of her line “this is not a story to pass on” (324). She adds to the vagueness by using the phrase pass on, connoting passivity in the action of moving on. This dubiety of Morrison’s intent shines light on several paths to analyze her last sentence. Eventually, through the unclear mass of literature, Morrison concludes that the story of slavery is what should not be carried out to the future generation. In doing so, she affirms that the story of Beloved is a story to pass on.

Are You Insane? Is Anybody Insane?; Analysis of Darl, an Insane Character from As I Lay Dying and Assessment of William Faulkner’s Attitude Toward Insanity

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Insanity is an arbitrary term created by society to categorize people who do not fit in. Mental illness is often used as the scapegoat of all antisocial behaviors. Darl, in As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, is often categorized by other characters as an insane and mentally ill character. Through the ambiguous characteristic of Darl as both insane and sane, Faulkner proposes a deeper question to society: What defines insanity?

Darl is described to be insane by the community for his abnormal behaviors. Firstly, several characters analyze Darl’s peculiar characteristics from the earlier chapters of the book. Cora describes Darl to be “queer, lazy pottering about the place no better than Anse” (24). To add to her point, Tull describes Darl to have “queer eyes” (125). Faulkner’s constant repetition of the word “queer” (125) to describe Darl indicates abnormality and peculiarity in Darl’s behavior. These descriptions of Darl contribute to foreshadowing Darl’s revelation of his own insanity. Faulkner in the later chapters uses Vardaman as the core painter of Darl’s sanity. Vardaman through the last several chapters mentions that he has “[seen] something that Dewey Dell says [he] musn’t tell nobody” (225). He constantly builds tension and importance to the situation until Cash reveals the reality: “Darl set fire to the [barn]” (232). To other characters, Darl’s action of burning the barn, with no clear reason, is interpreted as the result caused by his previously mentioned mental illness. A single event, the incineration of Mr. Gillespie’s barn, leads the readers to conclude that Darl is insane.

His insanity is closely knitted with a major mental illness of the time Faulkner was writing; Faulkner implicitly states that Darl suffers from PTSD. The novel, As I Lay Dying, was written right after the First World War. This socio-political background that Faulkner wrote in inevitably affected him to write about concurrent issues: the effect of World War One on human psychology which later develop into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This idea is reflected upon several details that Faulkner leaves behind. Firstly, Darl describes his “little spyglass he got in France at the war” (254) and laughs deliriously at the “pistol” (254) as he is transferred to the facility in Jackson. These allusions to the First World War imply that Darl has participated in the Great War and is most likely suffering from PTSD. Several well-known symptoms of PTSD also affirm of the claim. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, a major result of PTSD consists of jittering, laughing and being hyper-alert of the surroundings. Not only his last chapters where he asks himself, “why do you laugh?” (254), but also several other accounts of Darl’s insanity mentions his laughter. Cash comments that “[Darl] began to laugh… he couldn’t hardly say it for laughing… it was bad” (238). Also, in his last chapter, Darl’s “[head turn] like the heads of owls when he [passes]” (253) and later, “he foams” (254) deliriously shouting “yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes” (254). Both his behavioral traits of sudden seizure and frequent impulsive glances side by side are symptoms considered a part of hyper-alertness. Darl’s laughter in combination with his other abnormal behaviors is the foundation to Faulkner’s successful introduction of a social issue into the story.

Although Darl’s behaviors show traits of insanity, his narrative style and other characters’ reactions toward Darl testify against the notion. In the early chapters of the book, Cora describes Darl to be “different from those [other brothers]” (21) yet he makes her feel “the bounteous love of the Lord… and His mercy” (24) when she “[loses] faith in human nature” (24). The human comfort that Darl gives to Cora questions the lenses of mental illness that other characters have for Darl. If a person is subject to insanity, can he or she show love and mercy of the lord? Also, Darl uses the most cultured language of the narrators. He uses meticulous yet unfathomable selection of vocabulary such as “shimmering dilapidation in the sunlight” (4) and “smooth undulations the mark of the adze blade” (4) even describe his situation. He has the most correct and formal use of the English language. He possesses the predominantly educated method of conveying his ideas. Moreover, he poses philosophical questions and answers them using sophisticated logical argumentation that halts the readers for a moment to make them think of what he tries to say. He says that he “haven’t got [a mother]” (101) since “if [he] had one, it is was. And if it is was, it cant be is” (101). This quote demonstrates Darl’s capability of intellectual reasoning and furthermore, his sanity.

As it has been discussed, categorizing Darl sane or insane, black and white, is an impossible task. Darl’s characteristic of ambiguity creates chaotic rush of questions within readers. The breakdown of conventional distinctiveness of sanity raises fundamental doubts about society. If sanity and insanity is indistinct, what defines them? To counter these queries, Faulkner uses Vardaman and compares him with Darl. Doing so, Faulkner creates two different societies to address the very characteristic of sanity.

Vardaman is also considered insane by other characters. Primarily, Vardaman is the youngest of the narrators. Faulkner successfully distorts the innocent and pure voice embedded in Vardaman’s perspective into insanity in two distinct ways. Firstly Vardaman has a distorted perception of reality. He first comments on how his “mother is a fish” (84). He not only repeats the statement but also dedicates a whole chapter to the specific sentence: “my mother is a fish” (84). This distorted reality starts to conflict with Darl’s as they interact with each other in the context of their mother’s non-existence. Vardaman’s question: “then mine can be a fish, cant it, Darl?” (101), shows how Vardaman’s internalized reality starts to take over his relationship with other characters. This insanity in Vardaman is reinforced by other viewpoints. Tull describes Vardaman as “a judgement on Anse Bundren” (72). This explicitly shows that nurturing Vardaman has been a burden to the Bundrens. This then implies that the reasons behind hardship are founded upon the mental illnesses that Vardaman has.

Vardaman’s ideals, similar to Darl’s, are oppressed by the society; regardless of Vardaman’s sanity, and indeed through his impeccability, the society chooses to subjugate Vardaman. Vardaman, as a child had only his selfish yet innocent motives to continue his journey toward Jefferson. Vardaman comments on the train and expresses his desires toward it, although not explicitly. Vardaman comments that “the train is behind the glass, red on the track. When it runs the track shines on and off… When it runs on the track shines again” (66). He then adds that “[the train] will be behind the glass… waiting” (100). Vardaman’s implementation of his own aspiration on the toy train visualizes Vardaman’s pure sincerity toward his goal. Vardaman’s constant craving for train drives him to take on the journey. The reason may seem absurd compared to the main objective of the trip: the burial of his mother. However, it seems the most innocent compared to hidden goals that other family members had; Anse wanted new fake teeth, Jewel wanted a wild horse, and Dewey Dell wanted to get an abortion from the doctors near Jefferson. Although most of the character’s hidden desires are fulfilled, only Vardaman’s wish is left unsatisfied and instead, rejected by the society. Vardaman successfully communicates his desire for the toy train to Dewey Dell. However, every time Darl asks for the train, Dewey Dell declines the request with excuse of the journey. This vexation of Vardaman aspiration represents the society’s failure at accommodating the innocent and the naïve when those with higher social status yet an impure dream have successfully reached their objective. This shows that although Vardaman is innocent and pure in his inside, the society refuses to accept it and thus oppresses Vardaman.

Due to these similarities, Vardaman and Darl seem to emphasize the parallelarity of each other, especially in the later chapters. Firstly, they identify each other as a bonded brother. Vardaman’s continuous repetition of calling Darl “our brother” (101, 249) helps the reader associate Vardaman’s identity especially with Darl. When Darl and Vardaman discuss about their analysis of their mother’s death, comparing her to several animals, Vardaman recalls the fact that Darl is his brother. Also, when Darl is being sent off to mental institutions, Vardaman desperately and repetitively says “Darl he went to Jackson is my brother Darl is my brother” (249). Faulkner distinguishing these words from the general text by using italicization shows how for Vardaman, Darl’s identity as brother overwhelmed all his current situations. This analysis of Darl as Vardaman’s brother leads to several parallel traits between them. Like how Vardaman projects a distinct love for Darl, Darl also shows great affection for Vardaman in particular. When all other family members ignore Vardaman’s sophistication of his mother’s death, Darl reacted to his thoughts and commented on them himself. Moreover, Darl and Vardaman are the only characters that share their frank ideas. Vardaman and Darl share their internal thoughts of their mother and her death to all characters, and more importantly with each other. Vardaman’s perception of his mother as a dead fish had persisted for several chapters. However, his thoughts are projected outward only to Darl. Similarly, although Darl has constantly depicted his complex conceptions of his mother to other characters such as Jewel, the only moment in the book where he engages with other character regarding the topic is with Vardaman. They talk to each other about how their “mother is a horse” (101) and “a fish” (101). Their conversation builds up level as they move on to conversing about the fundamentality of death: “because if I had [a mother], it is was. And if it is was, it cant be is…” (101). The interruption of this dialogue by another character also shows specialty and intimacy in Vardaman and Darl’s relation. This association highlights the commonality between the two characters: the insanity and the inadequacy to adjust to society.

The common traits along with their parallel life creates a different society of the two among the characters. This society contradicts the general public and thus becomes the minority. The two, as the only characters that can approach philosophical questions with level of sophistication, are discriminated by the group created by other characters. Using Vardaman and Darl, Faulkner creates a society of minorities that is oppressed and called insane by the bigger society. Also, by addressing the insanity of the major society, Faulkner answers the fundamental questions addressed earlier: What is the standard of insanity? What defines society?

An analysis of insanity prevalent among the general society reveals the connection between insanity and society. As discussed earlier, it is not the innate character in Darl and Vardaman, but the society’s characterization of them that classified them as insane. Also, most characters had different motives in committing an action. Anse, trying to look like a loyal husband carries the journey out to Jefferson. However, his acts of buying the fake teeth and introducing the children to the new Ms. Bundren right after the burial of his first wife can be easily interpreted as the deterioration of his morality. Cash’s description of Anse in the very last chapter being “kind of hangdog and proud… with his teeth and all” (261) creates irony between Anse’s projected motives and his real desire. Dewey Dell, as the embodiment of her mother, tries to portray herself as the loyal and subjugated female. However, her main purpose of going to Jefferson lied on her desire to get an abortion, again creating contradiction between her shadow and persona. These paradoxes show that the society that Darl and Vardaman live in is already corrupted by the immorality and evil, perhaps much more insane that themselves. This ambiguity on who really is insane is again addressed by Cash. In his later chapters, Cash states that he “aint so sho that ere a man has the right to say what is crazy and what aint” (238). This quote shows envisions that in reality, no one is definitively sane nor insane. Thus, through this ambiguation of insanity and Cash’s comment on the society and its irony of blaming other people for being insane, Faulkner conveys that classifying a person as insane depends on the society. He declares that no matter what an individual may be, if the individual cannot adjust to the changing trend of society, he or she is excluded from the it, being called insane.

All in all, Darl can neither be classified insane nor sane, like how Vardaman cannot be too. Also, using them as targets of subjugation in society, Faulkner reveals a bigger theme of the novel; insanity is not innate in human character but defined by society as inadequacy to adjust to it. Looking back at the period that Faulkner was writing the novel, the perspective toward mental illness is redefined. The patients of PTSD have suffered a lot and were traumatized by the war. Through As I Lay Dying, Faulkner asks the society; What if the soldiers were those who were enlightened by the war, being able to see the reality of death?

Right and Wrong Not Defined: Impressionism in Heart of Darkness to Illustrate Ambiguity of Justice

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Impressionism is a genre of creation which expresses impressions rather than its distinct figure. Impression, defined as “the effect produced by external force or influence on the senses or mind” (Watt 352), relies completely on senses. Since human sense is unreliable, impression is ambiguous. Thus, an impressionist artist would accept the ambiguity surrounding its object and also focus on the equivocal nature of reality. Joseph Conrad, as a literary impressionist, expresses obscurity of situations and characters to claim that justice is equivocal.

Conrad creates ambiguity like how impressionist painters illustrate illusions in their painting: by illustrating what the observer perceives. In art, impressionism is a style that expresses what the spectator sees instead of what the object actually is. Claude Monet, an impressionist painter, exclaimed “Poor blind idiots. They want to see everything clearly, even through the fog!” (Watt 351). Despite the criticisms belittling his artistic style, Monet firmly established his path of expressing the fog that divides his perception from the definitive object. Monet’s representative painting, Impression Sunrise, clearly demonstrates the use of vague human perception to create ambiguity. The painting portrays a lake coloured with dim sunrise where several boats cast their ripple across the fog covered water. Unlike a realist painter who would have described every single detail of the scenery including the steamboats and the horizon, Monet chose to express only the sun and the small boat because it was what stood out to himself through the thick morning fog. Of course, some may argue that the bigger boats may have stood out more due to their gigantic size. However, that Monet chose to perceive the small boat and the sunrise shows that the object of painting and its qualities solely depends on how the painter is looking at it. Perceptions vary for all observers. Since views differ and the scene is painted in the eyes of an individual, the reality of the scenery is distorted, creating ambiguity. Conrad uses a similar technique in literature to create ambivalence. Watt comments that “Conrad’s main objective is to put [the readers] into intense sensory contact with the events… which normally distort human perception” (357). Before Marlow introduces his story about Kurtz and his journey to Congo, the unnamed first-person narrator introduces Marlow’s story as “a glow [brought] out [out of] a haze… misty halos that… are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonlight” (Conrad 5). Like how Monet used morning fog over the lake to create distance between the perceiver and the perceived, Conrad explains that Marlow’s story is faded with “misty halos” (5). This device of ambiguity allows Marlow to freely express his personal opinions involved in the story. When Marlow and the Russian Harlequin have a discussion about Kurtz, Marlow independently articulates his strong if somewhat vulgar opinion about Kurtz: that he “hadn’t heard any of [the] splendid monologues [made by Kurtz] on… love, justice” (58) and that “crawling before… Kurtz” (58) makes the Harlequin “as the veriest savage of them all” (58). This shows that Conrad, through the misty stipulation of the narrator, incorporates strong assertions of personal opinions to distance reality from the perceiver, creating ambiguity.

Conrad also creates vagueness by the means of capturing moments in time, also similar to impressionist artists. Monet in his Camille Monet on Her Deathbed portrays his wife, Camille, dies due to tuberculosis. However, Monet describes the scene with blurred figures and dimmed colours. This gives its audience the observer’s impression rather than a definitive description of the situation. Monet chooses to describe the scene with a hazy impression in order to condense his own temporary emotions at the moment of creating the artwork. Any person, at his or her loved one’s death bed, would feel a rush of emotion. Monet being an emotional person himself would have flooded with feelings at that moment as well, perhaps tear drops blocking his eyesight. Thus, the impression that the scene of his wife would have been much darker and muddy than it actually was. All material object is subject to change. Similarly, the perceivers of the material world are subject to change as well. Their emotion and situation at a particular time affect how they view and portray the world. Thus, it is inevitable that perspective change as the perceiver and the object change. Given this change, impressionist techniques do not consider the reality of the object. As a result of not incorporating actuality of the object, impressionist form of expression creates vagueness. Similarly, Conrad describes Kurtz through perspectives of many other distinct characters who saw him at different moments of his life. To quote Watt’s words, “Conrad’s main objective is to… delay [human perception’s] recognition of what is most relevant and important” (Watt 357). Conrad captures moments of a character’s life in order to diversify the characterizations of the character. A character being described in multiple perspectives creates ambivalence. For example, Kurtz’s cousin claims that Kurtz “had been essentially a great musician… making of an immense success” (Conrad 71) and more so, his Intended states that “It was impossible not to… love [Kurtz]” (74). However, Marlow perceived Kurtz differently. Although Marlow realizes that Kurtz was a “universal genius” (72) and “a remarkable man” (69) after Kurtz’s death, he describes Kurtz to be “weirdly voracious” (59), “[wanting] to swallow all the air, all the earth, all the men” (59), and “[lacking] restraint in the gratification of his various lusts” (57). This shows that although Kurtz had been a talented and admirable man prior to venturing off to Africa, his journey changed him to be a hungry, greedy and lustful man pleading for “lot of ivory” (73) even after death. As discussed above, images of captured moments create ambiguity due to the inevitable property of human perspective and of material world to change. In Heart of Darkness, by suggesting contrary perspectives of a character created by different observers at different times, Conrad deliberately confuses his audience of who “the original Mr. Kurtz” (49) is. The character’s susceptibility to change thus surrounds the character with ambivalence. Given no definite characterization of a particular character, and indeed a multiple possible characterizations of a character leads to creating as many interpretations of what the particular character believes in. Thus, if values stipulated in the character perspective is vaguely defined, those values contribute to creating obscurity.

Conrad uses the aforementioned impressionist style expressions to support his claim that justice is ambiguous in nature and thus cannot be defined subjectively. First, he uses perspectives and visual imagery to claim that justice is innately equivocal. Marlow visits Kurtz’s Intended’s house to give her what Kurtz has left for her. As he enters the house, “[Kurtz’s] vision seemed to enter the house with [him]… [he] had heard [Kurtz] say afar there… I want no more than justice… while [he] waited [Kurtz] seemed to stare at [him] out of the glassy panel” (Conrad 73). As demonstrated earlier, Conrad manipulates with visual imagery and senses to create ambiguity. When Marlow enters the house, he encounters Kurtz’s vision, not his real figure; what Marlow is actually staring at is a glass panel in the Intended’s house. This distance that Conrad creates between the reality, and the narrator thus the glass panel and the Kurtz’s vision as perceived by the observer, can be interpreted as an impressionist form of expression leading to ambiguity. Conrad uses this obscurity to comment on the nature of justice. Given that at this moment of abstruseness, Kurtz’s vision reminds Marlow of what justice is, the reality of justice is perceived with a distorted and blurred image. Through this contortion, Conrad implies that although the truth may be defined, a human can neither understand what justice is nor observe the absolute form of it. The fact that an impression, covered with haze and surreality was used to describe justice, advance to argue that justice in nature is abstract.

Secondly, Conrad uses different moments of time and ambiguity embedded in a character to proclaim that justice is ambivalent. As soon as Kurtz gets in the boat, he gets sick, and eventually dies muttering “The horror! The horror” (Conrad 69). Soon after, Marlow gives Kurtz another thought and comes to a conclusion that Kurtz’s last statement is a “judgement upon the adventures of [Kurtz’s] soul on this earth” (69). As discussed above, Kurtz is loosely defined thus is a highly equivocal character. Depending on when in his life an observer wishes to describe and through whose eyes the observer speculates, narratives on Kurtz illustrate totally different people. Marlow speculates that at his death, Kurtz evaluated his own righteousness. This scene almost sounds ironical for the most undefined character defines his own actions and its integrity. Given that Kurtz justifies himself, Conrad postulates that justice is vaguely defined and that nothing can actually define what justice is. Also, as Marlow’s meeting with the Intended closes to a conclusion, the Intended asked for “[Kurtz’s] last word” (76). Marlow, afraid that “it [might be] too dark” (76), tells her that “the last word [Kurtz] pronounced was – [her] name” (76) although what Kurtz actually said was nothing close: “The horror! The horror” (69). After telling the Intended a lie, Marlow exclaims that “[Kurtz] said he wanted only justice… but… I could not tell her…” (76). Kurtz is an ambiguous character because Kurtz is characterised by different individuals who observed him for a short period of time compared to his dynamic life. Thus, as the Intended and Marlow converse, their impression of Kurtz would have been different. Intended perceived Kurtz as a person who “was impossible to know… and not to admire him” (74) filled with “love, justice, conduct of life” (58) when Marlow thought him to be a “remarkable man” (70) yet, driven by “monstrous passion” (65) and “various lusts” (57). These conflicting views of Kurtz show that his values will depend on which watch glass he is perceived through. Since there exist many watch glasses, such as Marlow, Kurtz’s Intended, Kurtz’s cousin and the Trading company, there also exist many Kurtzs. As Marlow consistently exclaims, Kurtz “wanted no more than justice – no more than justice” (73). The duplication of Kurtz simultaneous to his desire for justice complicates the very nature of justice by questioning the audience on which Kurtz out of many, they should rely on when interpreting his own values. Later Marlow directly expresses that although he tried “[to render] Kurtz [and his] justice… [he] couldn’t” (77). This explicitly shows that because of the creation of many Kurtzs due to the diverse perspective, the justice that Kurtz wanted also diverged according to in which perspective Kurtz was assessed in. For example, in Marlow’s viewpoint, Kurtz’s justice would be calculative in order to bring punishment to the Europeans who have illegally stolen his ivory. On the contrary, in the Intended’s belief, Kurtz’s justice would have been to care for his loved ones and to achieve virtues of life for she “was sure” (77) that Kurtz would obviously say that the priority of his life was his lover. As manifested earlier, if a character is ambiguously defined by his observer, all his values are blurred as well. Similarly, justice is understood differently depending on the perceiver of justice. This shows that justice is vaguely defined and even more so, misleading.

To conclude, Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is an impressionist literature for it uses impressions to describe situations and takes snapshots of a scene regardless of the temporary nature of the material world. These styles of impressionism all contribute to creating ambiguity because of innate obscurities within human sense that cannot detect reality but only its impression and nature’s vulnerability to time. Through the portrayal of vagueness, Conrad comments on the vagueness of justice, that it cannot be defined but is interpreted by its perceivers to suit their personal interests.


Works Cited

Conrad, Joseph, and Paul B. Armstrong. Heart of Darkness: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism. 4th ed. New York: Norton, 2006. Print.

Monet, Claude. Camille Monet Sur Son Lit De Mort. 1879. Oil on Canvas. Musée D’Orsay, Paris.

Monet, Claude. Impression Sunrise. 1872. Oil on Canvas. Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris.

Watt, Ian. “Impressionism and Symbolism in Heart of Darkness.” Joseph Conrad (1976): 37-53. Print.

Water, the Omnipresent: Significance of Water as a Symbol in the Life of Pi

life-of-pi-250-1024x554Through Life of Pi, Yann Martel presents two distinct versions of a story to the readers so that they can choose which one they wish to believe. The stories have distinct characters, plots and from time to time different settings. However, “in both stories the ship sinks, [Pi’s] entire family dies, and [he suffers]” (Martel 317). And above all, water is omnipresent. The water’s presence in both stories serves as a symbol to portray three distinct features that affect Pi until the end of his story: God, Pi’s moral conflict, and his identity. Through the symbolism of water in Life of Pi, Martel conveys that God is the leading force that guides people when they are in the midst of their moral conflicts to later form their identity.

Water symbolizes God’s trial as well as praise, glory, and honor – God’s working. The Bible says that “…for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith… may result in praise, glory and honor…” (New International Version, 1 Peters. 1. 6-7). Surely, Pi has suffered a great deed through his adventure. Yet he is also blessed to be in the ocean. Pi describes his journey as a “trial” (Martel 189). There are moments in his trial that are treacherous. “[His] clothes disintegrated,” (192) and “salt-water boils developed” (192). “[He] felt even [his] soul had been corroded by salt” (268). During the times of rain, he felt as if he is “at the centre of a great nest of angry snakes” (156). Pi is often driven to agony that made him confess “faith in God is… a free act of love – but sometimes it was so hard to love” (208). However, through the treacheries that the ocean poses upon him, Pi is often times blessed by the presents that ocean provides him. The ocean gives Pi just enough resources to survive. When thirst and hunger attacks Pi, the ocean grants adequate rain and fish so that “at least [he] drank” (157) and “ate like an animal” (225). As he writes “I die” (240), Pi is introduced to a companion, the Blind French cook, who Pi relies greatly on to the point where Pi calls the cook his “dear brother” (250). When Pi is both emotionally and physically drained, he is given an island filled with unlimited supply of water and food where he even questions “what reason could I have to leave the island?” (279). Through both suffering and blessing, Pi manages to stay faithful to God. Pi admits that “despair was a heavy blackness that let no light in or out. It was a hell beyond expression. I thank God it always passed” (209). He also cries out “Thanks be to you Jesus-Matsya” (221) when he is gifted with a dorado. These direct connections between water and God show that water, present all around Pi, portrays God and his workings. Finally, Pi’s suffering has resulted in glory. As Pi comes near the shore of Mexico, Pi tries his best pulling the boat. However, the natural waves carry the boat to and fro to finally reach the shore. This is directly compared to the working of Allah as mentioned by the imam, “If you take two steps towards God… God runs to you!” (61). This shows how Pi, until the last moment of survival, was under the control of water, God. Thus, his survival can be viewed as a gift, more so than the result of Pi’s own effort. Bible states that “the gift of God is eternal life in[a] Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans. 6. 23). When he reached the shore, he is no more vulnerable to sufferings that sea contains but is provided with more than enough of fresh water as well as other necessities. Pi rejoices his freedom to enjoy as much cookies as he likes and to rest as much as he needs. Even more so, when he arrives on the shore, “some women gave [him] a bath… and gave [him] food” (286 and “doctors and nurses cared for [him]” (286). Thus, all the care and resources that Pi receives on shore is his eternal life, salvation. Water has given both suffering and blessing to Pi on his journey. As written in the Bible and confessed by Pi, God intentionally puts one into suffering so that it will result in glory when all has passed.

Water also illustrates Pi’s innocence and cruelty. During his journey, Pi encounters an island. He also finds ponds that are abundant on the island. The ponds in the carnivorous island are innocent at first, fresh to cleanse all pains and sufferings from Pi’s body. Pi states that “The effect of bathing in pure, clean, salt-free water was more than [he could] put into words” (Martel, 268). He enjoys the pleasure that the pond offered him. “[He] soaked, allowing fresh water to dissolve every salt crystal that had tainted [him]” (268). However, as he investigates the island, he figures out that “at night, by some chemical process unknown… the predatory algae turned highly acidic and the ponds became vats of acid that digested the fish” (282). He describes the scene to be “sinister” (277). This cruel truth behind the innocent mask of water shows similar traits to Pi. At first, Pi cannot endure the sight of dead animals and is unable to kill a fish with ease. He calls out that “a lifetime of peaceful vegetarianism [stands] between [him] and the willful beheading of a fish” (183) as he struggles between survival and his integrity. Also, after killing the dorado, he not only “[weeps] heartily over [the] poor little deceased soul” (183) but also reproaches himself for being “a killer” (183). However, once his instinct of survival has won over his morality, Pi feels numb about death, and furthermore, about eating the dead. After his first killing, he rejoices his catching. For the first time in his life, he manages to gulp down a chunk of freshly dead fish. Then, he says to himself that “a person can get used to anything, even to killing” (185). Through this statement, he proclaims that he has relinquished his rectitude for the sake of his survival. Worse still, Pi confesses that he “ate some of [the blind French man’s] flesh” (256). Pi has committed cannibalism, the worst crime that he and his mother consider of the French cook. Like the ponds in the island, Pi has a disgraceful self under the innocent and religious skin. Like the pond, he has gotten used to the cruelty that he says to himself that “[he] set world record for sawing open the belly shells of turtles,” (225) a statement unimaginable for pure and pious Pi. The pond is the unseen violence in Pi. When Pi finds his innate cruelty, he falls into a moral dilemma. Pi is sure that his cruelty should be abandoned. It is clear that Pi regrets his diabolic deeds that he has committed in the course of his voyage. Pi confesses that “[he] must live with that [guilt]” (311). Yet, because Pi knows that his violence is what keeps him alive, Pi cannot discard it entirely without risking his life. If he does not kill his catching and get his hands dirty, Pi will eventually die of hunger. Hence, Pi decides to give up on his violence except for just enough malice to justify some brutal actions that are inevitable for the means of survival. This is again paralleled to Pi’s action toward water when he carries just enough pond water to survive the rest of the journey. However, at the end of the day, Pi “[turns] to God” (284). He Eventually, Pi decides to leave the island. He ventures off to the vastness of the ocean to be tested until his suffering concludes in glory. Pi is once again torn down by the sufferings that God has prepared for him that he shouts “[he] was… in the throes of unremitting suffering” (284). However, he still puts his expectations on God as he concludes that “the lower you are the higher your mind will want to soar… to God” (283). This shows how Pi, after realizing his terrible actions in water, decides to devote his remaining journey to accepting his suffering until he rejoices in his praise the honor and glory like how he chooses to endure the pain caused by sea in order to continue to find land in which he can be granted salvation. Pi’s act of reconciling to his moral values over his treacherous nature has led him to turn his attention to God, which later results in glory.

Water, as discussed above, represents Pi’s moral conflict. His internal fight later resolves in shaping his identity. Thus, water too represents Pi’s unique identity. In the beginning of the story, People around Pi, including his parents, are different from Pi especially in terms of their attitude toward water as well as religion. Pi clearly states that “my parents never took to water… Ravi was just as unenthusiastic” (Martel, 8-9). This is definitely unlike Pi who is named after a swimming pool, la Piscine Molitor, “a pool the gods would have delighted to swim in” (11). Also, Pi relates his name and memories of mamaji to the “pleasure of doing a stroke” (10) through his mother’s skeptical comment that “he nearly drowned [Pi]” (9). These pleasant connections that Pi has with water show the uniqueness that Pi has that isolates him from his family members. Pi’s extraordinary attitude toward water surprisingly parallels his religious identity that no other member of society accepts. Pi is a young man who “just [wants] to love God” (69). After meeting Gods through the eyes of three distinct religions, he decides to follow all three religions, which include Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. However, society does not allow him to do so easily. First, his brother Ravi makes fun of his belief by mixing Hindu and Christian concepts and calling him a “Swami Jesus” (70). Also, the religious advisors who were highly respected by Pi are brought down to earth when they insult each other’s religion with words that are hard to believe to be of a pandit’s, a priest’s, and an imam’s. They state that “[Pi] must choose” (69) among the religions, denying Pi’s belief. Finally, Pi’s parents too do not agree with his belief. They both are not religious to some degree. Pi describes his father to be “Rich, modern and as secular as ice cream” (65) and his mother to be “mum, bored and neutral on the subject [of religion]” (65). They too reject Pi’s love for the religions by declaring that “[he] must be either [Christian] or [Muslim]” (72) and mocking Pi by saying that Pi “thinks he’s the reincarnation of Sri Ramakrishna” (74), a respected guru who devoted his life to religion. This social discrimination that Pi suffers is reflected through his unusual preference of water. Furthermore, mamaji introduces the joy of swimming to Pi by saying that “[it] is [his] gift to [Pi]” (9). This moment compares to Pi’s statement on how people meet God. Pi says that “[people] are all born… without religion, until some figure introduces [them] to God” (47). The fact that Pi was introduced to swimming by mamaji further proves how the formation of Pi’s hydrophilic identity equated to Pi’s belief and his identity filled with religion. These parallels show how water represents Pi’s identity. At the very end of the story, it is revealed that “[Pi’s] the tiger, [Richard Parker]” (311) and his desperate self. Richard Parker’s real name is Thirsty. Out of all the desperations that Pi has in his travel, Richard Parker emphasizes Pi’s necessity of water. This shows that Pi’s innate quality yearns for water, God. Uniqueness of Pi and the representation of Richard Parker shows that Pi’s identity consists majorly of God. Yet, Pi’s identity is still simple in a way that he cannot explain his belief in variety of religion. This is shown when Pi presents awkward behaviors as he explains his thoughts. His actions of “[looking] down, red in the face” (69) shows how uncertain Pi was even as he was saying that he loves all God. As Pi goes through his journey, his identity complicates and is now confidently derived by his own thoughts and experiences. As discussed before, Pi starts to understand the working of God symbolized by Pi’s experience of both the treachery and the benevolence of the Pacific Ocean. Pi also encounters several moments of moral conflict during his journey in which Pi independently decides which path to take. These show how during his journey, Pi starts to complicate his definition of water as well as God. Unlike before the journey, Pi now understands that water is not only confined in swimming pool and is static but is also dynamic and sometimes life threatening. Similarly, Pi realizes that God is also capable of making his subjects suffer, while also understanding that the suffering exists to result in salvation. This new complex understanding of God can be categorized as Pi’s development of his identity.

It has been proven that water symbolizes God, Pi’s moral conflict, and his identity. Through water, Martel conveys that God is the driving force that shapes identity as well as the return point in which everyone can reside on after a moral conflict. Pi during the midst of moral conflict has to decide between his probity, which also relates to Pi’s belief and loyalty to God, and easier means of survival. There were moments in the travel where he gives his faith up to use amoral values to justify his violent actions. Also, the sufferings that God poses on Pi also make him difficult to choose God in times of conflict. However, eventually, he chooses to live by his faith, “so it goes with God” (317). Thus, because Pi was able to choose God over his cruel self, he is saved from the suffering that seemed eternal. This process of moral and spiritual fight is represented by water. He is for the most part in the realm of ocean. Yet, Pi looks for alternative source of water such as rain. At the point where Pi finds the algae island, Pi even considers leaving the sea. However, he soon finds evil in fresh water and ventures on the ocean. Eventually, Pi leaves the ocean. This leaving unlike the previous leaving should be interpreted as salvific since Pi is then provided with unlimited supply of fresh water which does not show traits of violence instead illustrates the benevolence of the poor people who took care of Pi. Also, Pi builds his identity through the spiritual as well moral conflict. Before the journey, Pi’s identity is simplistic. It is during the journey that Pi questions God as well as understands the property of God better. Pi, by going through the suffering that God has set up for him, is better able to improve his simplistic identity, given by his environment, into a complicated ego that he is able to control. This as well is symbolized by water. At first, Pi learns about water only by mamaji when Pi is swimming. However, going through the journey, Pi understands the quality of water better while also encountering new aspects of himself. It is through the hardships that ocean imposed on Pi that has forced Pi to realize these new perspective. Thus, with the book, Life of Pi, Martel says that God drives people to both conclude their moral disputes and formulate and develop their identity

Water is omnipresent in the Life of Pi. It represents God, his identity, and his moral conflict. Pi throughout his journey searches for ways to get away from water, like how he tried to find an answer to his religious problem of suffering, his conflict with society for his identity, and his fight between his survival and morale. In some sense, he has successfully escaped the treachery of the ocean and has found a guide through the answers to the problems that he had. However, like how he still needs water to drink, he will never be able to entirely escape the problems. Likewise, God and faith, as Martel argues, is inescapable. Instead, God, from birth of mankind, has driven people through their conflicts and has complicated people’s ego.