Monday, November 16, 2009

Literary posts

Some of my posts, many, actually, will be literary criticisms and even the horrid assignments that I had to write but have interesting tidbits within them. Hopefully, my writings will become more casual in the criticisms so that they are actually interesting to read for normal people. However, I do have a post, right now that I would specifically appreciate feedback on. It doesn't have to be a great paper, just a five page comparative essay on Sense and Sensibility and Hard Times. I wrote it just today, while sitting on the couch and taking frequent breaks to run to the bathroom to be sick. So not a very fun day for me. If any one is interested, I would love feedback and suggestions on what would make it a better, or more coherent essay. I will be having people from that class edit it as well, but I enjoy having as many people as possible give me their opinions. So, I hope you enjoy, and if you have not read either of the books, it may not make much sense... and I would definitely recommend reading Hard Times, I laughed out loud in one chapter and almost cried in the next. Anyway, here is the essay:
The Importance of Sentiment
Jane Austin's Sense and Sensibility and Charles Dickens' Hard Times have specific family sets within the story that add to the social commentary made throughout the story. Both stories hold an example of what a functioning family is and an example of a dysfunctional family as well. In Sense and Sensibility the good, or decent family is that of Mrs. Dashwood, and the examples of a bad family are found in that of the John Dashwoods. In Hard Times the families to compare are the Gradgrinds and the Jupes. Each author makes the families and the members within them complex enough that they do not all fit into these categories for the entirety of the story, however this is the way that they are meant to be viewed. Each author has made the dichotomy of reason and feeling one of the main themes in their respective novel, and they have each shown this theme through the use of the families interactions.
Jane Austin starts her story with a tedious description of the finances involved in the death of Mr. Dashwood. Through this situation, she is able to show the true character of Mr. John Dashwood and his wife. While John is just willing to be manipulated by his wife, she does not see the importance of family beyond her own child and husband. To her, money is much more important than helping the sisters, even if they are step-sisters, of her husband. Austin's point in starting the book this way is to stress the importance of inheritance, especially for a young woman at that time. Marriage, the start of a family, was often the only option for a woman to succeed in life. If she did not marry, she would likely have no where to go after her parents died. This is made clear through many of Austin's works, and in this specific one, it is shown in every mother's obsession with seeing their daughter married off. As neither Dashwood sister was married, they were forced to rely on the kindness of a family member, and when that failed, they turned to their meager inheritance.
Elinor and Marianne are very close with each other as well as their mother. The youngest sister in this family is often left out of the story, likely because she is too young to have any interesting drama in her life, so the focus is put on Elinor and Marianne. Their close relationship is shown mainly through their conversations with or about one another. For example, Marianne shows concern for her sister, “ 'Mama... I have an alarm on the subject of illness, which I cannot conceal from you. I am sure Edward Ferrars is not well'” (25). While Marianne here seems more concerned of Edward's well-being, she is actually worried about her sister. She is worried that if there is not some plausible reason for Edward to have waited so long to see Elinor, then she will be heart-broken. Although Marianne's concern for her sister stems mostly from her own sentimental nature that Elinor does not share, Marianne's feelings are sincere, and she truly does care about her sister's wellbeing.
Mrs. Dashwood, who is just as sentimental as Marianne, shows her daughters affection in much of the same way. She partakes in many conversations with Marianne about Elinor, and will also converse with Marianne about herself, as Elinor tends to stay out of the purely emotional conversations. However, Mrs. Dashwood also shows her love to her daughters through her concern to see them married. When Elinor becomes acquainted with Edward, her mother observes the fondness, “No sooner did she perceive any symptom of love in his behavior to Elinor, than she considered their serious attachment as certain, and looked forward to their marriage as rapidly approaching” (10). This is an important assertion that Mrs. Dashwood makes because just previously she was not sure of his appeal. He is described as being not very attractive, and rather shy and quiet. This is not the type of romantic character that Mrs. Dashwood is prone to like, but she can set aside her own feelings and see that he is, in fact, a good match for Elinor. While one aspect of this quote is as simple as a mother at that time wanting her daughter to marry so that she can be provided for, I also think that Mrs. Dashwood really does care about the happiness of both her daughters.
While Elinor does not indulge in the passionate and frivolous natures that her mother and sister are prone to, she does express her love for her family in her own, reasonable, way. Elinor is the necessary character in the Dashwood family that keeps them out of social mayhem. Her care for her family is shown in the concern of safety, whether physically, mentally, or pertaining to reputation. Nearing the climax of the story, Elinor thinks that her relationship with Edward is doomed, but instad of falling into self pity, she cares only for her family, “Elinor had often wished for an opportunity of attempting to weaken her mother's dependence on the attachment of Edward and herself, that the shock might might be the less when the whole truth were revealed” (105). Having this type of character in this family provides a balance that is part of Austin's main point. The balance between reason and feeling is what allows a family to function and remain content.
Dickens mainly focuses on the example of how not to raise a family; he does this through the Gradgrinds. Mr. Gradgrind is obsessed with facts, truth, and logic. In his household there is no room for imagination. They were not even taught simple nursery rhymes, he says, “No little Gradgrind had ever known wonder on the subject” (7). This way of raising children turns out to be perfectly detrimental to Tom and Louisa, who are the children who really feel his wrath. Dicken's point in this particular family is to show that one cannot be raised on facts alone, that in reality it is necessary to balance these facts with emotion.
Mr. Gradgrind's way of raising children, is actually more like raising machines. He wanted his household, as well as his school to be run smoothly, “He intended every child in it to be a model—just as the young Gradginds were all models” (6). There was no room for individuality, and no room for love. The narrator explains the type of training that the young Gradgrinds had as starting from their very beginning. It seems as if the only reason Gradgrind procreated was to make little carbon copies of himself. The narrator even adds a wonderful metaphor that is explained through the children's studies of geology, “and the specimens were all arranged and labeled, and the bits of stone and ore looked as though they might have been broken from the parent substances by those tremendously hard instruments their own names” (8). This particular statement from the narrator seems to describe this family perfectly. They are all stone, hard and cold, and the children are simply broken off from the parent, the actual substance is exactly the same. This is what Gradgrind wanted for his family.
Even within the strict, emotionless walls of Stone Lodge, some attachments were made. Throughout the story Louisa feels a special bond with Tom. This is an extremely important aspect of Louisa because he is the only person that she feels anything even resembling sentiment toward until her break down. As siblings growing up, relatively close in age, they were likely to form a bond. Even at an early age, when their minds were filled with nothing but facts, Tom and Louisa share what minor emotions they do have while sitting together near the fire. Louisa feels the weight of a presumed responsibility over Tom because she is his older sister. She expresses this to him one evening when they are alone, “ 'as I get older, and nearer growing up, I often sit wondering here, and thin how unfortunate it is for me that I can't reconcile you to home better than I am able to do. I don't know what other girls know. I can't play to you, or sing to you. I can't talk to you so as to lighten your mind'” (38). This statement shows that Louisa knows that she is missing something, but she feels as if she does not even stand a chance of obtaining it. While this relationship between Tom and Louisa seems to be the only thing keeping Louisa human for much of the novel, he ends up using her completely because he is void of all sentiment as well.
This bombardment of facts is challenged by the character Sissy Jupe. While Dickens description of her family life is short, it has a large impact on the novel. Sissy's fondness to her father, and the close relationship that they shared is a direct contrast to the relationship that Gradgrind has with his children. While Gradgrind's children learn science on their own, Sissy reads fairy tales with her father. Her relationship with him is supposed to be seen as so close that she can immediately understand why he leaves her. She does not even hold resentment against him because she loves him so much. By the time that Sissy goes to live with the Gradgrinds, it is too late for her to have an influence on Louisa, but she does have a positive emotional influence on the youngest Gradgrind. Another great contrast made between Sissy's family and Louisa's is the marriage of each of their parents. Mr. Gradgrind chose Mrs. Gradgrind because she would be suitable. Sissy's father loved her mother. More of these comparisons are made shortly after Sissy's arrival at Stone Lodge in her secret conversations with Louisa, but all of them show the same thing—that love is needed in regard to the happiness of a family.
The Gradgrinds are reconciled in the last part of Dickens' story completely due to the break of Louisa. Dickens purports that a person simply can not live a life completely devoid of feeling. As Louisa lives out Dickens' idea, she is brought back to her father to confront him of all the trouble that he has caused in her life. Even Tom, who cruelly used many people, as well as his sister, feels grief in hurting her. The family is completely reconciled after emotion is brought into the equation. Even though all seems to be well, Dickens does not let Gradgrind's mistakes be completely forgotten. Sissy, who was raised with love, happily marries and has children whereas Louisa does not. Louisa still needs Sissy to live vicariously, because she is still not completely capable of expressing emotion.
Both authors, Dickens and Austin, use the relationships within a family, as well as contrasting two separate families, to show that there needs to be a balance between sentiment and reason. Both authors also reveal these relationships mainly through dialog.
Oh, and this last paragraph is not finished... I just couldn't think of a good concluding paragraph... Thanks

1 comment:

  1. I have not seen the movie nor read the book but found this interesting. Since I am getting to read this so long after you writing this, it is likely you already turned in this paper. I wish I could have read this last week and given you feedback. I don't know what the hell has been going on with blogger that I haven't gotten your posts? It also makes me wonder if there are others I haven't gotten as well? Must look into this. I am going to have watch this movie or read the book now that you have sparked my interest!