Expanding My Literary Universe

What exactly have I learned over the course of the semester? Seems like a simple enough question. I learned about why Henry David Thoreau went into the woods, I learned about two different concepts of liberty, and I learned about the cool new task of writing blogposts. I also learned that Professor Schacht has a soft spot for Christmas films. That’s cool and all, but what has this class really been about? Continue reading “Expanding My Literary Universe”

Movies & Morals

The room is dark. The only light there is, is the one being emitted from the TV screen. The killer is chasing his victim through the dark alleyway, adrenaline pumping through his body, waiting for his moment to strike. You have to look away from the screen when he catches up to his prey and hacks her to bits right in front of your eyes. You can’t believe they would actually show that on a movie, there is so much blood.

In the early twentieth century, this just would not fly. Parents were concerned with the content their children were seeing in films. Many people feared that movies were negatively influencing the youth and wanted some form of censorship.

In the 1920s and early 1930s, the Payne Studies were used to determine the effects of movies on the behavior of children and concluded that movies did indeed have a detrimental effect on the health of children. They claimed that movies disturbed children’s sleeping patterns, heightened their emotional feelings, influenced social attitudes, caused day dreaming, taught lovemaking, among other things.

From these studies, it was recommended that movie appreciation courses be implemented in public schools. Edgar Dale wrote a series for this study called How to Appreciate Motion Pictures: A Manual of Motion-Picture Criticism Prepared for High School Studentswhich was published and used for the teaching of movie appreciation in high schools.

These courses were intended to give youth the tools and knowledge to appreciate movies and get educational value from them, rather than watching inappropriate, gory films with seemingly no purpose. In this way, it taught children to choose better films. Not only were the children supposedly choosing better films, but were reading more books used in writing screenplays.

The National Council of Teachers of English established a reviewing committee for films which produced study guides for films like Little Women and Alice in WonderlandAlthough we didn’t use a movie study guide, or even watch the movie, it’s cool to think that kids in school many years ago were potentially having insightful conversations like ours.

Time and Truly Living

Time is such an interesting concept to me. It is defined as “the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future.” We use time as a measurement for our seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, and ultimately our lives. Einstein published his Theory of Relativity which states that time is an integral part of the fabric of our universe. St. Augustine in his Confessions, wrote that God made time and it therefore exists outside of human understanding. Some people argue that time is a social construct and doesn’t truly exist. However you choose to interpret time though, one thing is certain: you can’t go back in time.

One of my absolute favorite poems (one I encourage you all to read in full), “Ode to Broken Things” by Pablo Neruda, discusses the finitude of life and how the passage of time destroys all things. He says

And that clock
whose sound
the voice of our lives,
the secret
thread of our weeks,
which released
one by one, so many hours
for honey and silence
for so many births and jobs,
that clock also
and its delicate blue guts
among the broken glass
its wide heart

This passage really makes you think about how much time really rules one’s life. We wake up to a clock, go about our day on a scheduled time, and eventually die when our time is up. He goes on to say, “Life goes on grinding up glass…” to show that no matter what, life continues on. We cannot go back. The rest of the poem expresses the hope that all of the broken things mentioned in the poem (including our lives) can somehow fit back together.

This reminded me of Henry David Thoreau’s comparison of time to a stream in Walden, “Where I Lived and What I Lived For.” He says,”Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars.”

The more you drink the water, the more you see how shallow the stream is. The more time passes, the more you see how little their really is. I feel as though Thoreau is telling us to make our lives as meaningful as possible because our time is limited.

Both Neruda and Thoreau really hit home with the advice to live while you can because time is short. We cannot live our lives focusing on what is ahead, and should focus on the now. This is what it means to be truly alive–time permitting of course.



Making Up Words

In class, we discussed the poem “The Jabberwocky” which appears in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass and reads as follows:

     ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
     All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

     ‘Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
      The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
     Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
      The frumious Bandersnatch!’

     He took his vorpal sword in hand:
      Long time the manxome foe he sought—
     So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
      And stood awhile in thought.

     And as in uffish thought he stood,
      The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
     Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
      And burbled as it came!

     One, two! One, two! And through and through
      The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
     He left it dead, and with its head
      He went galumphing back.

     ‘And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
      Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
     O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
      He chortled in his joy.

     ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
     All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

Although this nonsense poem includes made up words describing a made up creature, we as readers can still understand the poem because it follows the syntax of English with all of it’s wonderful conventions.

Furthermore, some of the nonsense words like “chortle” and “galumph” were were made up by Carroll, yet have entered the English language. I find that unbelievably interesting. This got me to think about lots of other words coined by famous writers and I was reminded about a conversation I had in my high school English class about Shakespeare.

We read the play Hamlet where many new phrases like “the clothes make the man” and “cruel to be kind” come from. In order to fit a certain style of writing, Shakespeare played with words, often time inventing ones of his own. In this way, we have an extended vocabulary and cool phrases to use. It’s so weird to think about words and our everyday language–and where they come from. I love words!

Old Deluder Satan

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, when Alice is trying to work out who she is, she attempts to recite a poem she had learned in school. She says, “the words did not come as they used to do” meaning that the words she did manage to recite were not the correct words to the poem. Alice says:

 ‘How doth the little crocodile
      Improve his shining tail,
     And pour the waters of the Nile
      On every golden scale!

     ‘How cheerfully he seems to grin,
      How neatly spread his claws,
     And welcome little fishes in
      With gently smiling jaws!’

The actual poem is “How Doth the Little Busy Bee” by Isaac Watts. The poem talks about how the busy little bee build her home, laboring all the time. In the third stanza, Watts says, “In works of labor or of skill, I would be busy too; For Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.” During this time, it was a common belief that if children did not have something to do, Satan would be lurking in the shadows and would tempt them to do something sinful.

This reminded me of the 1647 Old Deluder Act implemented to keep people away from sin, and furthermore, to establish grammar schools for children to be taught at. I learned about this in my Social Foundations of Education class in the context of setting up schools to educate the youth, so it interested me to see this sort of reference in a book written in 1865.

It really made think about the way children were perceived: as something that is corruptible by the wicked ways of Satan. Poems like these, and other catechisms made a way for children to remember what do do and how to act, in a way that is moral and good.

Are Names Crucial to Our Identity?

Everyone has a name. Whether it is something super unique, something plain, or something that’s been in the family for generations–it’s something we use to identify ourselves, and for others to identify us by.

In “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll, Alice has an encounter with a gnat where the two talk about different names for insects. Alice admits that she has never known an insect to answer to it’s name, mainly because where she came from, insects don’t talk. The gnat asks what the use of having a name is, if one doesn’t answer to it. Here is where Alice poses her own question about identity. She says having a name is useful for those who name things and asks, “If not, why do things have names at all?”

Why do things have names? Is it because people need a way to categorize animals (and other things) to make them easier to identify? Is it to serve some sort of creative purpose, letting us express ourselves by the names we give others?

To me, names help identify individuals and serve as a symbolic contract between society and an individual. I’m sure many people could agree with this, although having a name could mean so much more…or so much less.

Just because you have a name, doesn’t necessarily mean that is the sole way to express your identity. You could be called anything else and still be you.

So do names make you who you are? I think they could be an important part of someone’s identity, but definitely not the only part. Basically, we have names so that others can address us. We have names to identify ourselves. We have names because our parents gave them to us and it’s something we’ve done for so long that we don’t even think about why we do it.

I don’t think I have a solid answer to Alice’s question, “why do we have names at all?” I can see the benefits of having a name BUT I can also see that not having a name wouldn’t really change who you are all that much.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

Today in my Irish studies class, we discussed a very prominent Irish poet, W.B. Yeats. His famous poem, “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” was partially influenced by Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.” The poem, written in 1888 is about a peaceful lake where Yeats imagines building a cabin to live in and enjoy the authenticity of rural Ireland.

Yeats lived in London which was very modernized in this time period. His poem recognizes the contrast of the different places (the lake and the city) when he talks about roadways and pavements that he stand upon, rather than the “bee-loud glade” he wishes he were at.

It’s interesting to see other writers inspired by the work of Thoreau, especially because we spent a long time reading and discussing the passages of “Walden.” I think it’s cool to see how the idea of returning to nature inspired this beautiful poem and continues to inspire me to write as well.

Inner Fulfillment and Wisdom

Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, is packed with lots of advice, criticism, and deeper meaning. It can be hard to unpack exactly what Thoreau is saying, especially when he seems to contradict himself around every corner. Despite that, an important theme that stood out to me was wisdom and the search for inner fulfillment.

In “Conclusion”, Thoreau talks about the boundaries set up by rail fences and stone walls that seem to inhibit people from digging deeper into themselves. In the first paragraph, Thoreau is challenging us as readers to take a look at the boundaries we have set for ourselves and to go beyond them. Our lives don’t have to be one specific way and we always have room for development, growth, and change. This move from reading to theorizing seems necessary because all throughout Walden, Thoreau is trying to show us as readers that we should question and challenge our societal roles and find our own sense of solitude and fulfillment.

Thoreau wants us to go and find our own Walden Pond so that we aren’t stuck in the same cycles of complacency and ignorance that society can create for us. We have to go and live our lives through experience and gaining wisdom. Thoreau wants us to question what we know and how we act in order to make choices to be better and do better.

This wisdom can’t be found in college, according to Thoreau and is unique to each individual. We must gain it through the experience of truly living. In paragraph 2, Thoreau encourages us to “open new channels of thought” so that we can gain new wisdom and can go beyond boundaries society (and ourselves) place on us.