Category Archives: Books

To be or not to be – Analysis

‘To be or not to be’ Analysis

In this soliloquy, Hamlet’s view of life is that it is full of hardship. He presents life as being two options; “to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles”. The use of imagery with connotations of war shows Hamlet to see life as a constant battle. The weapons mentioned are long range suggesting the possibility of being unsuspecting of the attack. This also lends itself to the possibility of missing which links to the “outrageous fortune”. The adjective ‘outrageous’ is possibly used to emphasise the connotations of fortune as it can mean the inability to predict, but it also has connotations of being more than is required. Hamlet, therefore, feels as though the odds are weighted against him. This is furthered by the metaphor used of a “sea of troubles” which equates his problems with the vast expanse of the sea and its power. These images are contrasted with Hamlet’s description of being “shuffled off this mortal coil” as the verb ‘shuffle’ is usually linked to embarrassment or awkwardness. This betrays Hamlet’s view that much that we do is pointless; the heroic deeds we believe to have done are just little actions. The specific problems Hamlet experiences are hinted at by the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”. Not only may this mean his mother’s incestuous marriage with Claudius that upsets Hamlet, but also his dead father who returns as a spirit telling him to avenge his death which causes much of Hamlet’s anguish. This phrase may also mean the actual effects of aging or being wounded. Similarly, Hamlet calls life a “calamity” and a “mortal coil”; ‘coil’ may mean a literal coil which goes back on itself, or it may mean confusion which is the more probable meaning. Each of these examples demonstrates Hamlet’s view of the world as confusing and against him. The very reasons for this soliloquy show this as Hamlet is trying to reason with his conflicting thoughts on death.
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I read because I am hungry to know things. I want to understand the world better and I try to do this through books, poems, and plays. Literature is not always easy to explain and that is it is able to be so truthful to who we are. It is demanding and difficult, it requires you to think really hard about things you wouldn’t usually, but really should. I believe we are constantly changing and by reading literature, you give yourself more opportunity to choose the direction you are going. By reading, you become critical; you cannot agree with everything a writer says and this is an important skill in life. By being critical you do not have to become an old cynic, you become more aware of who you are and what you are doing. You become a fuller person rather than an automated outline.  

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Hard Times

I started reading this novel because I was studying the time period in which Dickens was writing in History and therefore felt it would give me a deeper insight. It did, and Mr Bounderby is the epitome of the belief in the self-made man, despite what he really turns out to be. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and the different stories that come together make it interesting till the last page.

A theme running through Dickens’s Hard Times was pity. It is a pity towards the unreal or superficial. When feelings become less superficial and forced, this pity lessens; In Mr Gradgrind’s plea to Bitzer, he seems emotionally raw but this grief does not provoke pity in the reader. In fact, it causes the opposite; admiration and joy that he has changed his ways and is no longer governed purely by facts.

The role of the reader is also interesting in this novel. When Sparsit is spying on Louisa and Jem, the reader takes on the same role as a spy. This causes any romance that could be present in the affair to be diminished as it is cheapened and doesn’t mean anything. Jem’s words are full of cliche and for the reader to be swept away, we would have to be part of this conversation. As it is, the reader has no investment in this affair, and nor does Jem considering his willingness to give up and go home. This therefore reveals the scene to have only one purpose which is to ‘wake’ Louisa, and in turn her father, up. Jem has also been compared to Mephistopheles from Dr Faustus which reinforces this impression of him being only present to cause needed disturbance. Sissy is not able to take this role as she is too different from the family as she comes from a completely different social class and situation.

It is interesting how it is the circus people who are able to love naturally and have happy families, as we discover on Sissy’s return for help, whereas the Gradgrinds and others all suffer a lonely fate. This is perhaps to show the family taking on an “intellectual burden” as the lower classes were deemed too simple. This role may have been enforced by Dicken’s own life as he read to the illiterate.

I found the ending fairly depressing. We are, however, reminded that the characters are only fictional and instead of mourning their fate, we should learn from what their mistakes have shown us;

“It rests with you and me, whether, in our two fields of action, similar things shall be or not. We shall sit with lighter bosoms on the hearth, to see the ashes of our fires turn grey and cold”

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Reading Lolita in Teheran

On the cover of this book, Margaret Atwood is quoted as saying “all readers should read it,” and she is absolutely right. Dr Nafisi weaves together her own memories and her literary criticism because, as her ‘magician’ says in the last few pages, it would be impossible for her to separate these into two different strands. The result of this is that the works she discusses, Nabokov, James, Austen, and Fitzgerald, all take on a new importance in the reader’s mind too. Before reading this book, I had had little knowledge of what Teheran had been like, so not only was it fascinating in a literary conext but also in a global and political way.

What is said on Lolita is very interesting, perhaps because I have such love for this novel. Parallels are constantly drawn between Dr Nafisi’s and her student’s situation and that of Lolita. Humbert’s ‘solipisation’ of Lolita, the way he attempts to possess her completely, is similar to the effects of the regime. People were not allowed individuality as this threatened their power.  These comparisons that are constantly made, such as Ayatollah Khomeini’s dream and that of Gatsby’s, show how literature embody human nature. This is not to say that literature is reality, but that it is culturally important to recognise our own failings and attributes.

Many people disregard books as being a waste of time, being too far from reality, but Reading Lolita in Teheran highlights how indispensable literature actually are. It is a fundamental need of people to let their mind wander, to break down the barriers. This takes on a greater strength in this novel as discussing western books such as The Great Gatsby was a considerable offence. In a world where every action is controlled, each act of defiance, be it letting a strand of hair fall out from beneath a veil (an image repeated throughout) or just letting your imagination run wild, is important in it’s own right. Dr Nafisi says aboutLolita “Yet the novel, the finished work, is hopeful, beautiful even, a defence not just of beauty but of life, ordinary everyday life, all the normal pleasures that Lolita, like Yassi, was deprived of,” which emobodies the nature of what Dr Nafisi is trying to tell her readers.

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In a way I have been delaying writing about my favourite novel, Lolita by Nabokov because I am worried I will not be able to do it justice. I have to, however, use this novel as Day 1 of the challenge as it is as much my favourite book as it can be, although labeling it such causes uneasiness. Maybe it is that feeling you had as a child when choosing which toy was your “favourite”…
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pity this busy monster…

Here I thought I would be slightly self-indulgent and talk about one of my favourite poems, if not the favourite; Pity this busy monster, manunkind by e.e. cummings. Here it is –

pity this busy monster,manunkind,

not.  Progress is a comfortable disease: 
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness 
–electrons deify one razorblade 
into a mountainrange;lenses extend

unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish 
returns on its unself. 
                                A world of made 
is not a world of born–pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones,but never this 
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence.  We doctors know

a hopeless case if–listen:there’s a hell 
of a good universe next door;let’s go 

Firstly, the word ‘manunkind‘ alone deserves much attention. Although it is essentially quite simple, this simplicity merely adds to its genius. The fact that the addition to the word from our dictionary, mankind, is so slight makes it very easy to say, although it does not feel natural due to the repetition of the ‘n’ sounds. This perhaps reflects that although mankind today is “unkind“, we have developed a tolerance for it. The word kind also has two meanings; one being that of gentleness and thoughtfulness, combined with the ‘un’ drawing attention to how callous the world can be. The word ‘kind’ is so much more gentle than other words that mean the same thing such as caring or nice… I am searching for a reason why but perhaps it is due to the other meaning of the word. Kind, especially used referring to humankind, also means a collective unit, bound together by some likeness. This is perhaps used to show how disjointed we have become, with each other as well as the world around us. Later on in the poem, cummings describes the victim as “playing with the bigness of his littleness“. I see this as a reference to masturbation, showing how selfish and self-centered we have become. It is also a quite sneering and derogatory way to describe it, emphasising that although it seems big, this is only in comparison to how small it actually is. Considering men’s insecurity concerning this, it seems to be a very direct attack on society. The isoloation that masturbating requires (in general) also contrasts with the final lines; “Listen, there’s a hell of a universe next door” as not only does the sense of listening contrast with  looking (at porn), it begs the reader to leave their room and explore.
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Heart of Darkness

Here is the book I have just finished; Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. This is a near perfect book; short (only about 100 pages), filled with delicious descriptions, suspense and a way of stabbing you deep inside. The storyline is simple. A sailor is sent to America to join those finding ivory. While he is there he hears of an elusive and eccentric man, who he eventually meets. The majority of this novel is leading up to this meeting, but as Marlow, the main character, makes his way, he becomes himself enveloped by the darkness. It really does feel as though you are accompanying himself deeper and deeper into the unknown. In some ways, it reminds me of the ending of The Great Gatsby, the “fresh, green breast of America” as it combines fear of the unknown with a curiosity of what life has to offer. A description of the natives of possessing a “wild vitality“, and that “they wanted no excuse for being there” stuck in my mind throughout the novel. It is the same energy that I found in On the Road. The novel is filled with this energy that scares but also comforts. The narrative form also lends itself to this idea of journeying into the depths of the unknown; it is reported speech by a sailor listening to Marlow’s story, so in parallel with his own journey into America, the reader is taken on another journey with the sailor who are listening. Similarly, the reader does not know where they are headed, reflecting Marlow’s journey.

It is also a fairly moralistic novel, despite being sexist towards women. One quotation that I underlined was that conquering others was “nothing to boast of… since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.” This contrasts with the actions of what was happening in America, the pilgrims who attack the natives (the pilgrims are portrayed as ignorant and stupid, shooting “from this hip with their eyes shut”) to do so with self-appointed supremacy. Rather than this being a novel about America, it is more an account of one journey by one man. The Times described it also seeming to “reach into the heart of Conrad himself,” which I agree with, although I felt it was more of a reach into man in general. This is another reason why writers are so important; they shed light on aspects of human nature that are often hidden away, mainly for our own safety – in Marlow’s own words, it is “impossible, not good for one either, trying to imagine” the darker side of ourselves.
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today is YOUR day

Admittedly, the people in the video are pretty lame, but my love for this poem allows me to go beyond that. Dr Seuss’ books were the first things I ever read, and I’d like to think it set me up pretty well. This poem is the best thing to make you feel like anything is possible, and even if things don’t work out, you will get through them

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