Read this Summer, for the Fun of it

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Discus: College Confidential Café: 2004 Archive: Read this Summer, for the Fun of it
By Princesanegrita (Princesanegrita) on Monday, June 14, 2004 - 09:36 am: Edit

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
This book appealed to me primarily due to the parallels I found between modern American society, and the setting of the book. Brave New World warns of the dangers of giving the state control over new and powerful technologies. One illustration of this theme is the rigid control of reproduction through technological and medical intervention, including the surgical removal of ovaries, the Bokanovsky Process, and hypnopaedic conditioning. The state uses science as a means to build technology that can create a seamless, happy, superficial world through things such as the “feelies.” The state censors and limits science, however, since it sees the fundamental basis behind science, the search for truth, as threatening to the State’s control. The State’s focus on happiness and stability means that it uses the results of scientific research, inasmuch as they contribute to technologies of control, but does not support science itself. Modern technological and scientific advances are rapidly making this somewhat outlandish type of setting a reality. As someone who is interested in genetics and both the moral and social results of creating a society where the production of homo sapiens could actually be controlled, I find this book to be appealing in that it is an extrapolation of what such science could transform everyday life into.
Brave New World is also a satire of the society in which Huxley lived, and which still exists today. While the attitudes and behaviors of World State citizens at first appear bizarre, cruel, or scandalous the World State is an extreme of our society’s economic values, in which individual happiness is defined as the ability to satisfy needs, and success as a society is equated with economic growth and prosperity.
Additionally, Brave New World is full of characters who do everything they can to avoid facing the truth about their own situations. The almost universal use of the drug soma is one example of escapism. Soma clouds the realities of the present and replaces them with happy hallucinations, and is thus a tool for promoting social stability. There is also this idea that truth and happiness cannot co-exist. Which matches with the cliche “ignorance is bliss” and can be used to explain why so many political officials, both in this novel, and in the real world may avoid truth altogether.

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov
The most appealing and unique part of The Cherry Orchard is that, while I felt no strong identity with any part of the book, nor do I honestly have any true idea of Russian history , I honestly enjoyed it. I thought the plot was uninteresting, but the characters, and the depth of the symbolism throughout the book was amazing.
Each character in this drama is involved in a struggle to remember, but more importantly in a struggle to forget, certain aspects of their past. Ranevsky wants to seek refuge in the past from the despair of her present life. She wants to remember the past and forget the present. But the estate itself contains awful memories of the death of her son, memories she is reminded of as soon as she arrives and sees Trofimov, her son's tutor. For Lopakhin, memories are oppressive, since they include memories of a brutal, uncultured peasant upbringing. They clash with his identity as the businessman which he tries to cultivate with his fancy clothes. For this reason, his memories are a source of self-doubt and confusion.. Trofimov is concerned more with Russia's historical memory of its past, a past which he views as oppressive. What Trofimov wishes Russia to forget are the beautiful and redeeming aspects of that past. Firs lives solely in memory—most of his speeches in the play relate to what life was like before the serfs were freed, telling of the recipe for making cherry jam, which now even he can't remember. At the end of the play, he is literally forgotten by the other characters, symbolizing the "forgotten" era with which he is so strongly associated.
Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Farewell To Arms was interested me when I found out it was an autobiographical novel. I thought the two terms to be mutually exclusive, and was really interested in how Ernest Hemingway would chose to portray himself and his life in this book.
Even more interesting was the relationship between Henry and Catherine. It was indeed extremely realistic. The use of love as an escape mechanism and the theme of isolationism ring throughout the plot.
Upon meeting, Catherine and Henry rely upon a grand illusion of love and seduction for comfort. Catherine seeks solace for the death of her fiancé, while Henry will do anything to distance himself from the war. At first, Catherine reminds Henry several times that their courtship is a game, sending him away when she has played her fill. After Henry is wounded, however, his desire for Catherine and the comfort and support that she offers becomes more than a distraction from the world’s unpleasantness; his love begins to sustain him and blossoms into something undeniably real. Catherine’s feelings for Henry follow a similar course.
While the couple acts in ways that confirm the genuine nature of their passion, they never escape the temptation of dreaming of a better world. In other words, the boundary between reality and illusion proves difficult to identify. After Henry and Catherine have spent months of isolation in Switzerland, Hemingway depicts their relationship as a mixture of reality and illusion. Boredom has begun to set in, and the couple effects small daily changes to reinvigorate their lives and their passion: Catherine gets a new haircut, while Henry grows a beard. Still, or perhaps because of, the comparative dullness of real life, the couple turns to fantasies of a more perfect existence. They dream of life on a Swiss mountain, where they will make their own clothes and need nothing but each other, suggesting that fantasizing is part of coping with the damaging effects of reality.
Skin of Our Teeth by Thorton Wilder
Again, this book appeals to the scientist in me. There’s not any far-out revolutionary scientific visions detailed in this book, but it is truly a strong of human progression and evolution. Each time, the human race makes it though, a little tougher, but only by the skin of our teeth. I also think it’s very interesting that the author incorporated a lot of biblical history into the mesh of human history he weaves. For example Mr and Mrs Antrobus obviously symbolize Adam and Eve, the first human beings alive according to the bible. And their son resembles Cain from the bible in his behavior, as he slays his brother and brings shame onto his family.
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
Along with probably every other adolescent female/young woman, I felt empathetic toward the character of Laura in The Glass Menagerie. That was the initial attraction factor that kept me reading, but not the most influental or memorable part of the book. I found Williams use of the distortion of human memory as a device to be very interesting. I am so conditioned to think of human emotion, and perception as a flaw that only keeps us from seeing the truth, that it was refreshing these two things used as the main vehicle for a story.
According to Tom, The Glass Menagerie is a memory play and both its style and its content are shaped and inspired by memory. As Tom himself states clearly, the play’s lack of realism, its high drama, and even its frequent use of music are all due to its origins in memory. Most fictional works are products of the imagination that must convince their audience that they are something else by being realistic. A play drawn from memory, however, is a product of real experience and hence does not need to drape itself in the conventions of realism in order to seem real. The story that the play tells is told because of the grip it has on the narrator’s memory. Thus, the fact that the play exists at all is a testament to the power that memory can put on people’s lives and consciousness. The narrator, Tom, is not the only character haunted by his memories. Amanda too lives in constant pursuit of her bygone youth, and old records from her childhood are almost as important to Laura as her glass animals. For these characters, memory is a crippling force that prevents them from finding happiness in the present or the offerings of the future.

James Baldwin- Notes of a Native Son et. al
James Baldwin was one of my favorite authors long before I read some of his autobiographical works. Baldwin remains one of the most well respected authors especially in the African-American community. His personal experiences of isolationism within the black community parallel somewhat with my own. However, Baldwin’s alternative lifestyle undoubtedly compounded this ostracism.
Baldwin grew up in Harlem under the supervision of a religious stepfather. David Baldwin was a Baptist lay-preacher. The elder Baldwin's mother had been a slave, and he had left the South in the 1920s. James, experienced a powerful religious conversion at the age of fourteen. He became a minister at Fireside Pentecostal Assembly, where he preached for three years. Baldwin was born in Harlem in 1924. He never knew his biological father. He attended New York City public schools, where he worked on school publications and received encouragement in his reading and writing. After graduation in 1942, Baldwin took several day labor jobs before moving to Greenwich Village to write.
In the late 1950s Baldwin emerged as a prominent and eloquent voice in America's Civil Rights movement. As an activist, journalist, lecturer, and essayist, he achieved the status of unofficial African-American spokesman on racial issues. Like many other great African American authors, Baldwin brings a mirror to the black community that, exposes many of our short-comings and triumps, but in such a realistic and true manner that I feel no hesitation recommending his work to someone who is not black.
Leda and The Swan by Yeats
I first did not remember what pieces of literature I read by Yeats. However, after jogging my memory by skimming his biography, I remember his Crazy Jane poems, and his fascination and focus on Greek mythology leaving an impression upon me. I too find Greek mythological characters to be fascinating, and one of Yeats most memorable poems in this realm would be Leda and the Swan. This is, as Yeats understands it, the "history" of Leda who is raped by the god Zeus in the form of a swan. She laid eggs, which hatched into Clytemnestra and Helen and the war-gods Castor and Polydeuces--and thereby brought about the Trojan War. The details of the story of the Trojan War are quite elaborate: briefly, the Greek Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, was kid-napped by the Trojans, so the Greeks sieged the city of Troy. After the war, Clytemnestra, the wife of the Greek leader Agamemnon, had her husband murdered. Here, however, it is important to know only the war's lasting impact: it brought about the end of the ancient mythological era and the birth of modern history. This is why the piece is so key to Yeats because in many ways it represents the death of something, and the birth of someone entirely different.
Ode to a Nightengale by Keats
Keats obviously wrote beautiful, poetry. Ode to a Nightengale is probably my favorite of his works because Keats uses a nightingale to explore some of the most profound human thoughts one has. It is full of opposing forces, like mortality and immortality for example. That also made it very easy for me to understand, and explain.
In "Ode to a Nightingale," Keats's speaker begins his fullest and deepest exploration of the themes of creative expression and the mortality of human life. In this ode, the transience of life and the tragedy of old age is set against the eternal renewal of the nightingale's fluid music. Hearing the song of the nightingale, the speaker longs to flee the human world and join the bird. The rapture of poetic inspiration matches the endless creative rapture of the nightingale's music and lets the speaker imagine himself with the bird in the darkened forest. The music even encourages the speaker to embrace the idea of dying, of painlessly succumbing to death while enraptured by the nightingale's music and never experiencing any further pain or disappointment. But when his meditation causes him to utter the word "forlorn," he comes back to himself, recognizing his fancy for what it is--an imagined escape from the inescapable

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
The most fascinating part of this novella is that it begins with a ridiculous but consistent claim that a man is now a large insect. It’s definately something I would not expect to find in a classic book, because it’s kind of silly, not to mention there is no direction given as to how we should take this tranformation that Gregor has undergone.
The narrative itself is clear and straightforward. The descriptions of the insect are somewhat hazy with regard to true anatomy, but the descriptions of Gregor's physical tribulations as an insect are detailed and realistic. We never know what caused this sudden change. The transformation of Gregor’s physical appearance was not as tragic or meaningful as the mental toll it took on him. He lost the ability to communicate, and he became useless in many ways. This process of dehumanization is the most significant part of the metamorphosis.
The Tempest by Shakespeare
The Tempest by Shakespeare, like most of his other works is timeless. Not purely because of the language or the devices he utilizes, but also because the themes present in this book are universal and timeless. Finding similarities between my own experiences and our values as a culture and the experiences and values of the characters probably has given me deeper insight into the work.
Throughout The Tempest, there seems to be a fine line between what one would consider a human, and what would be considered a monster. In their first conversation with Caliban, Miranda and Prospero say very little that shows they consider him to be human. Miranda reminds Caliban that before she taught him language, he could not speak well and Prospero says that he gave Caliban “human care”, implying that this was something Caliban ultimately did not deserve. Caliban’s exact nature continues to be slightly ambiguous . Later, reminded of Caliban’s plot, Prospero refers to him as a devil. Miranda and Prospero both have contradictory views of Caliban’s humanity. On the one hand, they think that their education of him has lifted him from his formerly brutish status. On the other hand, they seem to see him as inherently brutish. His devilish nature can never be overcome by nurture, according to Prospero. The inhuman part of Caliban drives out the human part, the “good nature,” that is imposed on him.
Caliban claims that he was kind to Prospero, and that Prospero repaid that kindness by imprisoning him . In contrast, Prospero claims that he stopped being kind to Caliban once Caliban had tried to rape Miranda . Caliban balances all of his eloquent speeches, with the most degrading kind of drunken, servile behavior. Even more intresting is that Caliban represents the flesh part of Prospero, who is perhaps inherently brutish.
A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines
A Lesson Before Dying has plenty of universal themes which make it an awesome book in my opinion. However, this book also hold a very special place for me because I can identify with the frustrations of Grant through-out the book, with himself, with the black race, and with his oppressors.
Grant often criticizes his society. He bitterly resents the racism of whites, and he cannot stand to think of Jefferson’s unjust conviction and imprisonment. For most of the novel, however, he does nothing to better his lot. He sarcastically claims that he teaches children to be strong men and women despite their surroundings, but he is a difficult, angry schoolmaster. Grant longs to run away and escape the society he feels will never change. Like Professor Antoine, he believes no one can change society without being destroyed in the process.
Jefferson’s trial reinforces Grant’s pessimistic attitude. Grant sees the wickedness of a system designed to uphold the superiority of one race over another. He sees a man struck down to the level of a hog by a few words from an attorney. He sees a judge blind to justice and a jury deaf to truth. These injustices are upsetting because no one stands up to defy them. The entire town accepts Jefferson’s conviction with a solemn silence. Even Grant stays silent, resisting his aunt and Miss Emma, who implore him to teach Jefferson how to regain his humanity.
During the course of the novel, however, Grant comes to realize that cynicism like his is akin to lying down and dying, and that even small victories can accumulate and produce change. Rather than looking at Jefferson as a hopeless stranger, or ridiculing him as someone who tries to make Grant feel guilty, Grant accepts Jefferson’s plight as his own and begins to fight for Jefferson’s salvation. He accepts his duty to the society he inhabits, thereby taking the first step toward improving that society. For this reason there is “life in death”, and Jefferson’s physical death is not in vain.
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
Death in Venice was interesting, indeed different from anything I’ve read. Thomas Mann uses some very strong symbolism, including omens, to make this piece suspenseful. However, I did find Aschenbach’s obsession with Tadzio, while perhaps not romantic, very disturbing.
Death in Venice is a story about the artist and the nature of art. At the opening of the novella, Gustav von Aschenbach is as a man who has always held his passions in check, never allowing them expression either in his life or in his art. Aschenbach is at a state of such imbalance that could not long remain stable, nor could it produce truly inspired art. However, having kept his passions under such tight control for so long, once Aschenbach begins to let down his guard against them, they rise up and take over his life. Once Aschenbach admits sensual beauty into his life, represented by the boy Tadzio, all of his moral standards break down, and he becomes a slave to beauty, a slave to desire and he becomes debased. Thus, Aschenbach undergoes a total displacement from one extreme of art to the other, from the cerebral to the physical, from pure form to pure emotion. Thomas Mann's novella warns of the deathly dangers posed by either extreme.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Siddhartha was and amazing book because, it centers around a middle eastern legend but is of course written by a man of western descent. This makes for an interesting mix, yet Hesse does manage to balance the book and brings the character Siddhartha into a realistic arena. With the minute amount of history I know of Buddhism, it is clear that some parts are embellished, but it makes for an interesting story, and in the end Hesse manages to unify themes. The book in about finding balance, and achieving inner-peace, and Siddhartha swings between many extremes before finding the right path, so it is fitting that Hesse utilizes this theme of equilibrium in his writing.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? By Edward Albee
For me to really appreciate this work, I definately had to understand the mentality of the people during the time in which it was written. While it wasn’t centuries ago, there are some subtle differences in family life that many of us may overlook. For instance, the theme of leading a dual life, of actually being a completely different person, for different people was not something one would expect to find in a book depicting a typical American couple during the time of this novel. While of course, this type of family dynamic existed, there was less sharing. In a nutshell, private lives were kept private.
But Albee brings up the idea of private and public images in marriage. Inherent in this idea of public and private faces is the theme of phoniness. Many couples, Albee seems to say, project false images of themselves in public situations. In fact, that phoniness is generally preferred to exposing all of one's problems and indiscretions to the world.
Yet, Albee also shows that people not only make up images of themselves for their friends and neighbors, they create illusions for their husbands and wives as well. Both of the couples in this play make up fantasies about their lives together in a somewhat unconscious attempt to ease the pains that they have had to face along the way. Over the course of the play, both kinds of masks are torn off, exposing Martha, George, Nick, and Honey to themselves and to each other. Perhaps, though, this exposure frees them as well.

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