Showing Friendship for A Man When He is Alive, Not After He is Dead – “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

5/4/18 – 5/19/18

“‘If it wasn’t for the mist we could see your home across the bay,’ said Gatsby. ‘You always have a green light that burns at the end of your dock.’ Daisy put her arm through his abruptly but he seemed absorbed in what he had just said. Possibly it had occurred to him that the colossal significance of that light had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it had seemed very near to him, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Now it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted things had diminished by one.” (Fitzgerald Ch. 5)

Summary

The Great Gatsby is the 1925 novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald which is often praised alongside The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as the great American novels. The novel follows Nick Caraway through his first person narration of his experience neighboring a man named Jay Gatsby. Nick opens the novel explaining his inclination to listen to others and be tolerant. In conjunction to his first person description of himself, Nick writes a description of an almost mythological figure called ‘Gatsby’.

“If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the ‘creative temperament’— it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No—Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short- winded elations of men.” (Ch. 1)

This passage instantly romanticizes Gatsby to a figure larger than life before he is in a single scene of the novel. Nick paints Gatsby as a contrast to moral corruptness of the “foul dust” around him.  Gatsby is told to the reader to be a personification of “hope” and “romantic readiness” whose dreams become squandered due to the corruption around him.

Nick moves to New York from Minnesota in 1922 to learn about the booming bond business. Nick is a graduate of Yale with connections to the old money families who reside in the “East Egg” of New York, but Nick establishes himself in a very modest residence next to an elaborate mansion in “West Egg.” Nick drives out to East Egg to visit his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, and her husband, Tom Buchanan, who he had known in college. Nick’s blunt description of Tom is that “[Tom had reached] such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anticlimax.”

Daisy and Tom introduce Nick to a young professional golfer named Jordan Baker at their mansion. The four’s dinner is interrupted by a telephone call asking for Tom. When both Tom and Daisy leave the room, Jordan informs Nick of Tom’s infidelity towards Daisy and that the call is probably from his mistress. Later that night, Daisy and Nick go on a private walk together, where Daisy loudly exclaims that she hopes her daughter “will be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” (Ch. 1)

Nick returns home that evening to his modest abode in West Egg to notice a man standing outside on a neighboring dock. Nick considers calling out to the man who he presumes to be Gatsby, his notorious neighbor that Jordan had described to him over dinner, but he decides against it. Fitzgerald writes,

“I didn’t call to him for he gave a sudden intimation that he was content to be alone—he stretched out his arms toward the dark water in a curious way, and far as I was from him I could have sworn he was trembling. Involuntarily I glanced seaward—and distinguished nothing except a single green light, minute and far away, that might have been the end of a dock. When I looked once more for Gatsby he had vanished, and I was alone again in the unquiet darkness.” (Ch. 1)

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Not long after, Tom decides to invite Nick on an expedition into New York City. On their trip into New York City, Tom introduces Nick unabashedly to his mistress; a woman named Myrtle Wilson whose husband runs a modest garage in the “valley of ashes” and is completely oblivious to his wife’s infidelity. The three journey into the city to a small but gaudy apartment, Tom humoring Myrtle by buying her a puppy when she asks for it as they pass a questionable vendor on the street. An intense party breaks out in the small apartment after Myrtle invites her friends to join them. The entire group begins drinking heavily, and in her drunkedness Myrtle begins to argue with Tom over Daisy after the subject of their unhappy marriages is broached by one of Myrtle’s guests.

“Some time toward midnight Tom Buchanan and Mrs. Wilson stood face to face discussing in impassioned voices whether Mrs. Wilson had any right to mention Daisy’s name. ‘Daisy! Daisy! Daisy!’ shouted Mrs. Wilson. ‘I’ll say it whenever I want to! Daisy! Dai——’ Making a short deft movement Tom Buchanan broke her nose with his open hand.” (Ch. 2)

Later, Nick receives an invitation from Gatsby to attend one of his lavish parties, his invitation, Nick realizes after some inquiry at the aforementioned party, is the only invitation Gatsby actually sent out, and Nick learns that every other attendee simply showed up with their own large group of people. Nick begins to inquire after Gatsby, asking those around him where the host is so that he can speak directly to him. Nick bumps into Jordan at the party, and through the questioning of guests realizes that no one has actually seen or talked to the host of the parties that they regularly attend.

Nick sits down at a table after drinking enough to begin feeling a bit tipsy, and strikes up a conversation with an unknown man around his age.

“At a lull in the entertainment the man looked at me and smiled. ‘Your face is familiar,’ he said, politely. ‘Weren’t you in the Third Division during the war?’ ‘Why, yes. I was in the Ninth Machine-Gun Battalion.’ ‘I was in the Seventh Infantry until June nineteen-eighteen. I knew I’d seen you somewhere before.’ We talked for a moment about some wet, grey little villages in France. Evidently he lived in this vicinity for he told me that he had just bought a hydroplane and was going to try it out in the morning. ‘Want to go with me, old sport? Just near the shore along the Sound.’ ‘What time?’ ‘Any time that suits you best.’ It was on the tip of my tongue to ask his name when Jordan looked around and smiled… I turned again to my new acquaintance. ‘This is an unusual party for me. I haven’t even seen the host. I live over there——’ I waved my hand at the invisible hedge in the distance, ‘and this man Gatsby sent over his chauffeur with an invitation.’ For a moment he looked at me as if he failed to understand. ‘I’m Gatsby,’ he said suddenly. ‘What!’ I exclaimed. ‘Oh, I beg your pardon.’ ‘I thought you knew, old sport. I’m afraid I’m not a very good host.’

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He smiled understandingly—much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced—or seemed to face—the whole external world for an instant, and then concentrated on YOU with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey. Precisely at that point it vanished—and I was looking at an elegant young rough-neck, a year or two over thirty, whose elaborate formality of speech just missed being absurd. Some time before he introduced himself I’d got a strong impression that he was picking his words with care.” (Ch. 3)

Gatsby asks Jordan to talk to him in private, and Jordan obliges. Afterwards, when Jordan and Gatsby emerge from their closed off library together, Jordan voices her amazement to Nick saying, “‘It was—simply amazing…‘But I swore I wouldn’t tell it and here I am tantalizing you.’” (Ch.3)

Nick and Gatsby begin spending more time together, and Gatsby even takes Nick into town to meet his colleague Meyer Wolfshiem, and his introduction makes it clear to the reader that Gatsby has criminal connections, as Wolfshiem is described to have fixed the World Series as well as having cuff buttons made out of human teeth. Later, when Nick is having tea with Jordan, Jordan explains that Gatsby is in love with Daisy and that the two met years ago when Gatsby was a military officer and couldn’t offer means to financially support Daisy. It is revealed that Gatsby’s extravagant parties have been an attempt to get Daisy’s attention, and that Gatsby now hopes for Nick to arrange a meeting between the two of them.

Nick consents, and Gatsby goes to pains to make sure that Nick’s house is perfectly prepared for Daisy, getting Nick’s grass trimmed and filling Nick’s house with flowers. When Gatsby arrives initially it is pouring rain, and Gatsby is terrified. Gatsby flees the house when Daisy finally does arrive, Nick telling her to ask her driver to leave, and Gatsby makes a secondary awkward entrance after Daisy and Nick have reentered the house.

“[Daisy] turned her head as there was a light, dignified knocking at the front door. I went out and opened it. Gatsby, pale as death, with his hands plunged like weights in his coat pockets, was standing in a puddle of water glaring tragically into my eyes.” (Ch. 5)

In shock, Daisy awkwardly exclaims, “I certainly am awfully glad to see you again.” (Ch. 5) The two continue a fumbling encounter as they struggle to relieve the awkwardness of their reunion. Nick attempts to leave the two alone, which Gatsby initially contests, but after a brief walk around his house Nick notices it has stopped raining and reenters his house to find Daisy and Gatsby lovingly reunited. Gatsby excitedly takes Daisy over to his mansion, delighting in demonstrating his now exceptional amount of wealth and material possessions to Daisy. Gatsby asks a worker in his house, Mr. Klipspringer, to play piano for the two of them, which Mr. Klipspringer initially contests to on the account of being out of practice, but Gatsby insists and Klipspringer relents and Gatsby begins dancing with Daisy almost in a trance. Nick observes,

“As I went over to say goodbye I saw that the expression of bewilderment had come back into Gatsby’s face, as though a faint doubt had occurred to him as to the quality of his present happiness. Almost five years! There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything. He had thrown himself into it with a creative passion, adding to it all the time, decking it out with every bright feather that drifted his way. No amount of fire or freshness can challenge what a man will store up in his ghostly heart.” (Ch. 5)

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Nick describes Gatsby’s true origins in an intervention to the “present day” in which he is detailing the narrative. He explains that Gatsby was born as James Gatz to poor farm people. Gatz had tremendous ambition and imagination which he could not realize until he met Dan Cody, a man who sailed his yacht past Gatz on Lake Superior and who Gatz approached, introducing himself as Gatsby. Cody became Gatsby’s mentor and afterwards Gatsby made a fabricated history for himself and built his fortune by the time of Cody’s death.

Gatsby invites Daisy and Tom to one of his parties, and Tom speculates upon the dishonest ways that Gatsby could have made his fortune. While Tom is distracted with other women, Daisy and Gatsby sneak away and Nick acts as their guard. Besides her time alone with Gatsby and some initial amazement at the celebrities present at the party, Daisy soon finds herself “appalled by West Egg…appalled by its raw vigor that chafed under the old euphemisms and by the too obtrusive fate that herded its inhabitants along a short cut from nothing to nothing. She saw something awful in the very simplicity she failed to understand.” (Ch. 6)

After the guests and Daisy and Tom have left, Gatsby laments to Nick that Daisy didn’t enjoy the party. Gatsby struggles to explain his depression over Daisy’s supposed inability to understand and how it didn’t used to be like that in Louisville where they met and Nick realizes that,

“He wanted nothing less of Daisy than that she should go to Tom and say: ‘I never loved you.’ After she had obliterated three years with that sentence they could decide upon the more practical measures to be taken. One of them was that, after she was free, they were to go back to Louisville and be married from her house—just as if it were five years ago.” (Ch. 6)

When Nick slowly explains to Gatsby that he can’t repeat the past, Gatsby replies by crying incredulously, “‘Can’t repeat the past?…Why of course you can!’”

Gatsby and Daisy continue their affair into the summer until one exceptionally hot day in which Gatsby, Nick, and Jordan head to the Buchanans for lunch. Daisy suggests that their party heads to the city to cool down, but in doing so glances at Gatsby. Fitzgerald writes,

“‘Ah,’ she cried, ‘you look so cool.’ Their eyes met, and they stared together at each other, alone in space. With an effort she glanced down at the table. ‘You always look so cool,’ she repeated. She had told him that she loved him, and Tom Buchanan saw. He was astounded. His mouth opened a little and he looked at Gatsby and then back at Daisy as if he had just recognized her as some one he knew a long time ago.” (Ch. 7)

The five head into the city; Tom, Nick, and Jordan take Gatsby’s car while Daisy and Gatsby take Tom’s coupe. Tom stops at Wilson’s garage for gas and it is revealed to him that Wilson has learned of Myrtle’s infidelity, although he does not know with whom, and that he plans to take Myrtle out of New York to the West.

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Tom, Nick, Jordan, Daisy, and Gatsby get a room in the Plaza hotel where they get ice and continue drinking. In the hotel room Tom begins badgering Gatsby on smaller things like his continual use of the expression”old sport” and his past until it escalates to Tom attacking Gatsby outright about his relationship with Daisy and Daisy’s infidelity. Gatsby fires back at Tom, telling him that Daisy never loved him and urging Daisy to confirm to Tom that she never loved him. Daisy struggles, futilely attempting to stop the confrontation between Tom and Gatsby, but Gatsby continues to insist.

“‘Please don’t.’ Her voice was cold, but the rancour was gone from it. She looked at Gatsby. ‘There, Jay,’ she said— but her hand as she tried to light a cigarette was trembling. Suddenly she threw the cigarette and the burning match on the carpet. ‘Oh, you want too much!’ she cried to Gatsby. ‘I love you now—isn’t that enough? I can’t help what’s past.’ She began to sob helplessly. ‘I did love him once—but I loved you too.’ Gatsby’s eyes opened and closed. ‘You loved me TOO?’ he repeated.” (Ch. 7)

Gatsby claims that Daisy will leave Tom, but Tom dismisses the notion entirely. Daisy and Gatsby head home in Gatsby’s car, but on their way home it is later revealed that Daisy was the one that hit Myrtle Wilson when she ran into the middle of the road towards the car that she thought was Tom’s, and that Daisy didn’t bother to stop. Nick reunites with Gatsby outside the Buchanans house where Gatsby is watching to make sure Daisy is okay, and where Gatsby reveals that Daisy was the one who had been driving his car but that he intends to take the blame.

The next day, Tom tells Wilson that Gatsby was the owner of the car that killed Myrtle, and Wilson presumes that the driver of the car had been the man whom Myrtle had also been having an affair with. Wilson finds Gatsby at the pool of his mansion and shoots him dead. Wilson then commits suicide with the same gun.

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Nick struggles to arrange Gatsby’s funeral as he can’t find friends of Gatsby’s to attend the funeral as Daisy ignores his calls, Wolfshiem refuses to attend, and none of Gatsby’s party guests are interested in honoring the man himself. Henry C. Gatz sends a telegram to indicate that he will be coming from Minnesota to bury his son and is amazed by the amount of wealth that Gatsby was able to accumulate. Gatsby only has Nick, Henry Gatz, a few servants, and Owl-eyes, an omniscient character, at his funeral.

Nick runs into Tom later and becomes completely disillusioned and disgusted by people like Daisy and Tom stating,

“I couldn’t forgive [Tom] or like him but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” (Ch. 9)

Nick decides to head back to the Midwest, closing the narrative of the novel by writing,

“And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the re- public rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning—— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” (Ch. 9)

Characters

Jay Gatsby: A true self made entrepreneur who has harbored a five year fantastical infatuation with Daisy Buchanan after a courtship in Louisville when he was poor. Reinvents himself from humble origins to achieve “greatness” and in order to win Daisy as his own.

Daisy Buchanan: A southern belle from a wealthy background who marries Tom Buchanan and resides in East Egg. Represents old wealth and money. Her voice is “made of money.”

Tom Buchanan: Went to Yale with Nick, comes from old money, multiple adulterous affairs throughout his marriage to Daisy, racist and mysongistic.

Nick Carraway: The narrator who describes himself as “one of the few honest people I have ever known.” Daisy’s cousin and Tom’s classmate at Yale who lives in a modest house neighboring Gatsby’s extravagant mansion.

Jordan Baker: A professional golfer who is unmarried and straddles her time between East and West Egg society, has a relationship with Nick.

Overall Thoughts & Review

There’s a reason that this novel is considered great, and it extends far beyond its title. In my opinion, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and this novel really encompass the essence of the American experience through their explorations of American racism and classism. The Great Gatsby explores the notion of the “American Dream,” personified through Gatsby himself; a self made millionaire with deeply seeded romanticism and imagination.  The conflict between the Buchanans and Gatsby really gets at the heart of the American experience, with Gatsby’s death solidifying Fitzgerald’s message that Gatsby, and furthermore the notion of a realized American dream, cannot exist in a world polluted by “foul dust.” The existence of easy, inherited wealth like that of the Buchanans corrupts the American dream and ultimately destroys it, as it did in Gatsby’s case. The Buchanans are horribly unlikeable because the Buchanans have always existed and will always exist in American society, and their prevalence bars the realization of propagated American economic idealism. Daisy herself is probably so distinctly unlikeable because she shows how the solidification of the American upper class is a more powerful force than sacrificial love and personal fulfillment. The Buchanans personify wealth, demonstrating the exorbitant power of wealth in our society, a power which allows them to break things, even killing without consequence, a reality which many of us would rather ignore in our society and return to the comforts of believing in American equality and the American Dream.

Besides his commentary on the American dream, Fitzgerald also makes really thought provoking commentary on the nature of God in a corrupt and morally bankrupt society, Eyes are perhaps the most interesting symbol in The Great Gatsby, signifying an omniscient God in the character Owl-Eyes and the large bespectacled eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleberg. Fitzgerald tackles one of the most fundamental questions of religion: how can a benevolent God allow for evil to exist and even prosper? Fitzgerald answers this question by presenting God as a pair of disembodied eyes who look over the valley of ashes and many pivotal scenes in the novel, and an omnisciently intelligent character who rejects any sort of responsibility for incidents he observes. Fitzgerald argues that God can see, but cannot act. Through Owl-Eyes’s statement at Gatsby’s funeral that Gatsby was a “poor son-of-a-bitch,” Fitzgerald presents God as one who recognizes the inequity and injustice of our society, a society in which Gatsby pays the price for the sins of Daisy and Tom, but God cannot interfere nor act in any of the scenes he observes.

There are so many themes that I loved diving deep into while reading this novel, but I’m going to refrain myself due to the fear of this turning into an essay. Other themes that I would consider tracking while reading this novel would be femininity, female objectification and female gender roles, cynicism post World War 1, social mobility (who has access to it and to what extent), the fleeting nature of economic prosperity, and the larger notion of futility.

This is the sort of novel where every scene feels carefully planned out in a larger map of motifs and symbols, and while it’s plot carries the novel on its own, I found it exhilarating to really read this novel critically and analytically for the larger messages it presents. This novel is a literary masterpiece, both thematically and technically in the beautiful language it is written in. Everyone, especially every American, should read The Great Gatsby as it will make every reader rethink the American experience, as well as reassessing the tangibility of equality and the nature of justice in society. I love this novel whole-heartedly and would recommend it to anyone who feels that they can appreciate the language and all that is thematically presented by Fitzgerald over the course of the novel.

Rating: 4.8/5

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Holy cow this review took me a long time to write, but I finally finished it (phew!)

Please make sure to follow, comment, and like so that I can keep you all up to date with more content and book reviews.

Happy Canada Day and Fourth of July to all that are celebrating! Hopefully this summer will allow you greater opportunity to read for pleasure.

I’ll have a next post up soon, but in the meantime, happy reading!

xoxo.

 

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The Only Thing More Abused Than My Conscience is My Liver – “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen

4/16/18 – 5/4/18

“I am merely noting that the creation of native prostitutes to service foreign privates is an inevitable outcome of a war of occupation, one of those nasty little side effects of defending freedom that all the wives, sisters, girlfriends, mothers, pastors, and politicians in Smallville, USA, pretend to ignore behind waxed and buffed walls of teeth as they welcome their soldiers home, ready to treat any unmentionable afflictions with the penicillin of American goodness.” (Nguyen Ch. 3)

Summary

The Sympathizer is the 2015 debut novel of Viet Thanh Nguyen and the recipient of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The novel is the confession of a half-Vietnamese half-French communist spy who goes unnamed throughout the narrative. The novel begins with the narrator describing his ability to see things from multiple perspectives to a man named the Commandant.

“I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess. At other times, when I reflect on how I cannot help but observe the world in such a fashion, I wonder if what I have should even be called talent. After all, a talent is something you use, not something that uses you. The talent you cannot not use, the talent that possesses you—that is a hazard, I must confess.” (Ch. 1)

From this opening passage, Nguyen foreshadows the dark side of the narrator’s incredible ability to sympathize with others, ominously noting the involuntary nature of the narrator’s compulsion to see things from multiple perspectives.

At the opening of the novel, the narrator is the aide-de camp to a high ranking General in Saigon who is working to fight the Vietnamese Communists. The narrator is trusted almost implicitly by the General and is trusted to make many executive decisions on behalf of the General regarding their flight from Saigon. The narrator, the General, and the narrator’s life long friend Bon narrowly escape, however Bon’s wife and child are killed during their escape effort much to Bon’s devastation. Man, Bon and the narrator’s other “blood brother,” remains in Saigon during the fall of Saigon because he is a communist like the narrator. Bon, adamantly anti-communist, is oblivious to the fact that the narrator and Man are both communists.

The narrator, Bon, and the General find refuge in Los Angeles, and the narrator becomes an assistant at the Department of Oriental Studies thanks to a connection from his time at an American University. The narrator meets Ms. Mori, a second generation Japanese American, who begins a sexual relationship with the narrator.

“It’s Sofia, [Ms. Mori] said. And let’s get one thing straight, playboy. If we get involved, and that’s a big if, there are no strings attached. You do not fall in love with me and I do not fall in love with you. She exhaled twin plumes of smoke. Just so you know, I do not believe in marriage but I do believe in free love.” (Ch. 5)

While in Los Angeles the narrator secretly communicates with Man using a letter writing system which utilizes Richard Hedd’s “Asian Communism  and the Oriental Mode of Destruction,” invisible ink, and false letter heading to the narrator’s “aunt.” The narrator works to keep Man and the Communists informed of the General’s plans to return to Vietnam with a counterrevolution.

The General befriends an American congressman who is vying for the Vietnamese vote in California, and starts a liquor store to raise funds for his impending revolution. The General confines in the narrator that he believes that there is a communist spy in their midst, and asks the narrator who he thinks would be a sleeper agent. To avoid suspicion, the narrator suggests the crapulent major, a Chinese ex-special branch officer. The General then assigns the narrator with planning the murder, deciding that Bon should be the one to actually shoot the major. The narrator goes on to internally describe his aversion to murder in parallel with his early experiences with masturbation.

“Some will undoubtedly find this episode obscene. Not I! Massacre is obscene. Torture is obscene. Three million dead is obscene. Masturbation, even with an admittedly nonconsensual squid? Not so much. I, for one, am a person who believes that the world would be a better place if the word “murder” made us mumble as much as the word “masturbation.” Still, while I was more lover than fighter, my political choices and police service eventually did force me to cultivate a side of myself I had used only once in my childhood, the violent side.” (Ch. 5)

Bon, depressed and somewhat suicidal, and the narrator carry out the murder of the crapulent major, much to the narrator’s guilt. The narrator finds himself clouded with guilt in the aftermath of the murder and begins relying more heavily on alcohol to numb his sympathy for the dead major.

The narrator is presented with an opportunity to go to the Philippines as an advisor to a movie crew which is creating a movie about the Vietnam War called “The Hamlet.” The narrator attempts to advise the movie crew on how to create accurate depictions of Vietnamese people, but he soon realizes that the Auteur is apathetic in making any sort of accurate depiction of the Vietnamese people. The Auteur is offended by the narrator’s suggestions and the narrator finds himself as the target of an “accidental” explosion on the movie set. The narrator returns to Los Angeles, depressed after failing to make a positive contribution to Vietnamese representation in Hollywood.

“I was no more than the garment worker who made sure the stitching was correct in an outfit designed, produced, and consumed by the wealthy white people of the world. They owned the means of production, and therefore the means of representation, and the best that we could ever hope for was to get a word in edgewise before our anonymous deaths.” (Ch. 11) 

The narrator learns that during his absence the General has organized a group to go to Thailand in the pursuit of infiltrating Vietnam, a military group including Bon. The narrator decides to go on the mission as well in an effort to protect Bon, despite being told explicitly not to go on the mission by Man. Sonny, a newspaper writer who began dating Ms. Mori during the narrator’s absence, has started writing about the General’s mission, and the General orders the narrator to murder Sonny. The narrator sloppily and guiltily carries out the murder, but his execution of the murder proves himself militarily competent to the General.

After only a day and a half in Thailand, the entire military group is killed by Communist forces, with the exception of the narrator and Bon who are taken to a reeducation camp. The narrator is placed in solitary confinement where the reader learns he has been writing several versions of his confession; the first 300 pages of the novel.

The narrator is told that his confession is not satisfactory, and that the Commissar will oversee the final stage of the narrator’s reeducation.

Much to the narrator’s shock, Man is revealed as the Commissar, however Man has been horribly disfigured during the Fall of Saigon. The narrator is then forced to undergo cruel sleep deprivation torture until he is driven to insanity, torture which Man says is necessary for his “protection”. The narrator is repeatedly asked “what is more precious than independence and freedom?” throughout the torture, but he can’t find a satisfactory answer for the Commissar and Commandant. The book begins switching into third person and into the format of a screenplay to demonstrate the deterioration of the narrator’s psyche.

“And yet if he could but sleep, he would understand better! He writhed, he wriggled, he wrestled with himself in his failed bid for sleep, and this may have gone on for hours, or minutes, or seconds, when, all of a sudden, his hood was removed, followed by his gag, allowing him to gasp and suck in air. ” (Ch. 21)

In the midst of his torture the narrator describes a horrific incident with a communist agent who was tortured and raped by American soldiers while the narrator watched passively. The narrator begins to descend above his torture, finding enlightenment above his physical surroundings and above the ghosts of Sonny and the crapulent major who have been watching his extended interrogation. Through this experience the narrator finally finds the answer to the question “what is more precious than independence and freedom?”

“Somewhere a baby was screaming, its suffering shared with me, who needed no more. I saw myself squeeze my eyes shut, as if that could also squeeze my ears shut. It was impossible to think with the screaming in this examination room, and for the first time in a very long time I wanted something more than sleep. I wanted silence… Somebody began screaming once more. Somebody was screaming so loudly that I not only lost track of myself, I lost track of time…It was me, screaming the one word that had dangled before me since the question was first asked—nothing—the answer that I could neither see nor hear until now—nothing!—the answer I screamed again and again and again—nothing!—because I was, at last, enlightened.” (Ch. 22)

The narrator is driven completely insane after this encounter, laughing sardonically and completely disassociating his personalities. The narrator explains what he discovered in his enlightenment writing,

“But what was this meaning? What had I intuited at last? Namely this: while nothing is more precious than independence and freedom, nothing is also more precious than independence and freedom! These two slogans are almost the same, but not quite. The first inspiring slogan was Ho Chi Minh’s empty suit, which he no longer wore. How could he? He was dead. The second slogan was the tricky one, the joke. It was Uncle Ho’s empty suit turned inside out, a sartorial sensation that only a man of two minds, or a man with no face, dared to wear…I understood, at last, how our revolution had gone from being the vanguard of political change to the rearguard hoarding power. In this transformation, we were not unusual. Hadn’t the French and the Americans done exactly the same? Once revolutionaries themselves, they had become imperialists, colonizing and occupying our defiant little land, taking away our freedom in the name of saving us. Our revolution took considerably longer than theirs, and was considerably bloodier, but we made up for lost time.” (Ch. 23)

Man manages to secure the escape of the narrator and Bon from the camp, and the two head back to Vietnam shortly before joining the boat people and heading out to sea. The narrator closes the book identifying as a revolutionary and defining himself above labels such as “communist.” Nguyen writes,

“Despite it all—yes, despite everything, in the face of nothing—we still consider ourselves revolutionary. We remain that most hopeful of creatures, a revolutionary in search of a revolution, although we will not dispute being called a dreamer doped by an illusion. Soon enough we will see the scarlet sunrise on that horizon where the East is always red, but for now our view through our window is of a dark alley, the pavement barren, the curtains closed. Surely we cannot be the only ones awake, even if we are the only ones with a single lamp lit. No, we cannot be alone! Thousands more must be staring into darkness like us, gripped by scandalous thoughts, extravagant hopes, and forbidden plots. We lie in wait for the right moment and the just cause, which, at this moment, is simply wanting to live. And even as we write this final sentence, the sentence that will not be revised, we confess to being certain of one and only one thing—we swear to keep, on penalty of death, this one promise: We will live!” (Ch. 23)

 Characters

Narrator: A half-Vietnamese half-French communist spy whose heightened ability to sympathize leads him to question his identity and eventually leads to his descent into madness.

Man: One of the narrator’s “blood brothers” who introduces the narrator to communism, becomes horribly disfigured after the Fall of Saigon.

Bon: The narrator’s other “blood brother” who doesn’t know that the narrator of Man are communists, becomes severely depressed after the death of his wife and child.

General: A South Vietnamese General who works to fight North Vietnamese Communists even after fleeing to Los Angeles.

Crapulent Major: A likable, fat man who is falsely accused by the narrator of being a communist spy and is then killed by Bon. Haunts the narrator after his murder.

Sonny: A former classmate of the narrator and editor of the local newspaper who is murdered by the narrator. Haunts the narrator after his murder.

Overall Thoughts & Review

This is a very dense book with a lot of layers to it. This is not the sort of book that one can skim, and it is definitely intense. However, I would not let these facts deter you from reading this book as I actually found these attributes as some of the novel’s most appealing characteristics.

This novel makes you think. This novel questions the nature of sympathy, the nature of allegiance, deals with issues of being an immigrant and feeling a lack of belonging, deals with issues of morality and dual identity, questions the meaning of life’s purpose, and characterizes art as propaganda and talks about the gravitas of poor minority representation.

I personally really enjoyed all these components of the book because the novel made me feel really intellectually engages while I was reading it, and I personally related to the narrator’s struggle to bridge Eastern and Western cultures and struggling with identity as an immigrant.

This book can be very very graphic in portrayals of violence as well as in portrayals of rape. One scene in particular almost made me vomit, and I had to take a shower after reading it.

The plot as well as the ideas that Nguyen presents are very heavy, and one definitely feels like they go on a journey with the narrator throughout the narrative. The language is not particularly difficult to understand, but the ideas that Nguyen puts forward are definitely loaded and as a reader require a fair amount of internal contemplation.

Overall, I really did like this novel although it could be a bit wordy at parts. While the novel did not really have a traditional story arc, I didn’t feel that it was slow moving and Nguyen did a good job of engaging me as a reader through the various situations he put the narrator in.

I would recommend this book to those who like asking philosophical questions as well as thinking heavily about political issues and the hypocrisy and corruption in societies. This book can be very critical of America, but I definitely found that to be one of the novel’s strengths as it really beautifully illustrated a non-Western perspective of American society and American international actions. I would not recommend this book to those that are offended easily, or those that are turned off by graphic content.

Rating: 4.3/5

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Long time, no post 😦 Thankfully, in my absence I was able to finish several books and have a line up of reviews ready for the upcoming weeks.

I’ve been hit by a serious case of Anglophilia after the #RoyalWedding2018. Meghan Markle looked absolutely stunning, and I loved watching the ceremony from start to finish. I would like to offer my sincerest congratulations to the happy couple.

As this school year winds down to a close, I’m excited to have some more time to read and write up reviews. If anyone has any suggestions as to which book I should read next, please comment them down below.

Like for like, comment for comment.

I hope you guys liked this review of The Sympathizer. I know it was a bit unconventional as the novel debuted recently, but I really felt that the novel was so dense and celebrated that I was sure that it would be looked back upon in history as a classic and incredibly influential novel.

I hope everyone likes the new summer makeover. I may have gotten a tad bit excited for upcoming school vacation, and I thought the blog should reflect that 🙂

I hope you have an amazing week and tune in next week for my next review. Happy reading!

xoxo.

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Being Mistress of Oneself – “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen

3/1/18-4/16/18

“[Mrs. Dashwood] feared that under this persuasion she had been unjust, inattentive, nay, almost unkind, to her Elinor;—that Marianne’s affliction, because more acknowledged, more immediately before her, had too much engrossed her tenderness, and led her away to forget that in Elinor she might have a daughter suffering almost as much, certainly with less self-provocation, and greater fortitude.” (Austen Ch. 47)

Summary

Sense and Sensibility is a novel by Jane Austen published in 1811. It was the first novel that Jane Austen published, followed two years later by perhaps her most famous novel: Pride and Prejudice. The novel focuses on the relationships of Miss Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.

At the beginning of the novel, the reader is informed of the approaching death of Mr. Dashwood, the owner of Norland Park and father to a son, John Dashwood, and three daughters from his second marriage, Elinor, Marianne, and Margaret Dashwood. Despite his wishes, Mr. Dashwood is forced to leave his property to his son by law, and consequently entreats John to provide for his daughters and wife as he is unable to legally. John promises his father, but is persuaded by his selfish and manipulative wife, Fanny to withdraw from providing any sort of monetary support to his sisters.

Fanny and John Dashwood move to Norland Park, and Mrs. Dashwood and Fanny begin to increasingly vex one another over their competing roles as mistress of Norland Park. Edward Ferras, Fanny’s eldest brother, moves into Norland Park as well, and quickly makes acquaintances with the Dashwood sisters, specifically with Elinor and with Margaret. Elinor and Edward quickly become attached to each other, an attachment that does not escape the notice of either Mrs. Dashwood or Fanny.

With increasing displays of overt rudeness by Fanny, Mrs. Dashwood decides that she and her daughters will leave Norland Park to reside in a cottage owned by her cousin Sir John of Barton Park. At Barton Park the Dashwoods meet Sir John, his mother Mrs. Jennings, and their close friend Colonel Brandon. While dining with the Jennings, Marianne decides to play the piano forte, and during her performance Colonel Brandon enters the house and is immediately taken by Marianne. Marianne however dismisses Colonel Brandon as to old for her at 35.

Marianne decides to go for a walk with Margaret, persuading Margaret to accompany her despite forecasts of rain. During their walk, it begins to downpour and Marianne slips down a hill and twists her ankle. Luckily, a man on horseback finds Marianne and carries her back to Barton cottage. Before leaving Marianne back at Barton cottage he asks to call on her again tomorrow, introducing himself as Willoughby.

Marianne falls head over heels for Willoughby. The two discover that they have almost every interest in common as well as agreeing with each other on nearly every subject. Elinor scolds Marianne lightly for her expressive conduct with Willoughby, to which Marianne replies,

“is this fair? is this just? are my ideas so scanty? But I see what you mean. I have been too much at my ease, too happy, too frank. I have erred against every common-place notion of decorum; I have been open and sincere where I ought to have been reserved, spiritless, dull, and deceitful—had I talked only of the weather and the roads, and had I spoken only once in ten minutes, this reproach would have been spared.” (Ch. 10)

The two flaunt their affections openly and everyone around them begins speculating of their foreboding engagement. A group forms, led by Colonel Brandon, to picnic around Delaford but their party is abruptly broken when Colonel Brandon announces that he must leave immediately. His sudden departure is teased by Willoughby, and Mrs. Jennings speculates that it has something to do with the illegitimate child under his care.

 Next, Willoughby suddenly announces that he must depart as well, leaving Marianne heartbroken and the Dashwoods bewildered. Mrs. Jennings discovers some lost relations named the Steeles, and Lucy Steele promptly works to form a friendship with Elinor. Lucy reveals to Elinor in confidence that she has been secretly engaged to Edward Ferras for four years, ever since Edward lived with Mr. Pratt. Elinor attempts to conceal her shock and horror and promises to maintain Lucy’s confidence in her.

Elinor and Marianne decide to travel with Mrs. Jennings to London for several weeks, largely due to Marianne’s enthusiasm to possibly see Willoughby and despite Elinor’s reluctance to possibly encounter Edward. Elinor wonders of the possible engagement between Marianne and Willoughby, and informs Colonel Brandon that she has not heard of their engagement when he inquires on the subject.

Marianne finally sees Willoughby at a party of Lady Middleton’s, and she approaches him excitedly. However, Willoughby treats her coldly and distantly. Marianne asks Willoughby if he received any of her letters that she has written since being in London, and he answers vaguely. The next day, Willoughby sends Marianne a callous letter in which he states that he never felt anything for her and implies that Marianne’s presumptions of love were unfounded. He returns Marianne’s lock of hair as well as her letters.

Marianne sinks into a depression, crying and secluding herself. Colonel Brandon tells Elinor that Willoughby acted similarly with Eliza, the girl under Colonel Brandon’s charge. Willoughby impregnated Eliza and then left her alone. Elinor discloses the information to Marianne on Colonel Brandon’s behalf with the intention of assuaging Marianne’s internal anger at being tricked by Willoughby. New is spread that Willoughby has married a wealthy Miss Grey.

Fanny invites Lucy Steele to stay with them in London in a desperate attempt to stop John Dashwood from inviting his sisters to stay with them. During their visit, Lucy’s sister reveals Lucy’s engagement to Edward flippantly to Fanny.

“[Fanny] fell into violent hysterics immediately, with such screams as reached your brother’s ears, as he was sitting in his own dressing-room down stairs, thinking about writing a letter to his steward in the country. So up he flew directly, and a terrible scene took place, for Lucy was come to them by that time, little dreaming what was going on. Poor soul! I pity HER. And I must say, I think she was used very hardly; for your sister scolded like any fury, and soon drove her into a fainting fit. Nancy, she fell upon her knees, and cried bitterly; and your brother, he walked about the room, and said he did not know what to do. Mrs. Dashwood declared they should not stay a minute longer in the house, and your brother was forced to go down upon HIS knees too, to persuade her to let them stay till they had packed up their clothes.” (Ch. 37)

Mrs. Ferras disinherits Edward with this revelation, but Edward stands by his engagement to Lucy as a matter of conscience. The Ferras fortune is secured to Edward’s brother, Robert, instead.

Marianne and Elinor journey to Cleveland with the Palmers as an effort to get closer to Barton. Marianne goes for a walk in the rain and falls violently ill. The Palmers leave Cleveland in fear of infection, but Colonel Brandon, Mrs. Jennings, and Elinor remain. Once Marianne’s condition begins to border on being fatal, Elinor asks a distressed Colonel Brandon to send for their mother.

Marianne’s health finally improves, and a relieved Elinor is meets Willoughby instead of her mother and Colonel Brandon as she expected. Willoughby tries to explain his conduct, explaining that though he acted selfishly, he feels genuinely for Marianne. Elinor decides that she pities him rather than hating him, and later once Marianne feels better, she relays the story to her as well. Marianne decides that she and Willoughby could never have made each other happy.

The Dashwoods return to Barton, where news reaches them that Lucy Steele has married Mr. Ferras. The news saddens Elinor greatly, but does not surprise the Dashwoods. Elinor realizes grimly that she had been harboring vain hopes of the breaking off of the engagement.

Edwards arrives unexpectedly, startling Elinor exceedingly. Edward clarifies that Lucy marries Robert Ferras not himself, and that he is deeply in love with Elinor. Elinor breaks down into tears at this news, releasing her long suppressed feelings.

Elinor and Edward get married, and their marriage is followed soon by that of Colonel Brandon and Marianne. Austen writes,

“Colonel Brandon was now as happy, as all those who best loved him, believed he deserved to be;—in Marianne he was consoled for every past affliction;—her regard and her society restored his mind to animation, and his spirits to cheerfulness; and that Marianne found her own happiness in forming his, was equally the persuasion and delight of each observing friend. Marianne could never love by halves; and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been to Willoughby.” (Ch. 50)

Characters

Elinor Dashwood: The sensible and rational eldest Dashwood daughter who is in love with Edward Ferras.

Marianne Dashwood: The expressive and reactive Dashwood daughter who falls in love with Willoughby and then Colonel Brandon.

Edward Ferras: The brother of Fanny Dashwood who desires to join the clergy and loves Elinor.

Colonel Brandon: The honorable and reliable retired officer who falls in love with Marianne and is a friend to Elinor.

John Willoughby: The selfish and deceitful suitor of Marianne who marries Sophia Grey for her wealth.

Overall Thoughts & Review

This marks the completion of my last Austen on the list! (Cue the confetti, fireworks, etc).

I actually really like this novel, even in comparison to the other Austen novels that I already love like Pride and Prejudice and Emma. I adored the dynamic between Marianne and Elinor and how Austen navigated showing them as extremes without making them seem like caricatures. The two sisters were extremely relatable and their dynamic was equally engaging consistently throughout the novel.

Another notable mention of exceptional writing in regards to character was that of Fanny Dashwood. Fanny was crafted as so perfectly despicable that every scene that she appeared in was equally hilarious and aggravating. I think that Austen’s masterful depiction of this character can be summed up with her discussion with John over the Dashwoods’ possible annuity at the beginning of the novel. I openly laughed out loud at that section.

This novel, more than Austen’s other works in my opinion, examined the social system of 1800s England. In Sense and Sensibility propriety and female social mobility was at the forefront of the novel. I particularly loved how Edward and Elinor discussed finances after their “happily ever after,” a conversation that I felt really brought home the message that marriage is a complicated business with many factors including love, but not limited to love. This interpretation of marriage having to being multi dimensionally positive in order to secure the happiness of both parties was further exemplified by the failure of the relationship of Marianne and Willoughby.

I really enjoyed the humanization of Willoughby in comparison to similar Austen characters like Wickham. I appreciated that Willoughby wasn’t malicious for the sake of being malicious and that he was somewhat sympathetic.

My favorite characters of the novel have to be both Elinor and Colonel Brandon. I couldn’t help but fall in love with Colonel Brandon’s sincerity, integrity, and unwavering support for the Dashwoods without any expectation of reciprocation. I also admired Elinor’s sense and command of herself in the face of emotional trials, but I personally melted when Elinor finally broke down during Edward’s proposal.

My only complaint was that there was no real proposal scene in this novel like there were in other Austen novels. I would caution one who isn’t interested in British traditional society or social dynamics of women in the 1800s from reading this novel. However, I think that everyone can find a character in this novel that they love or can laugh at.

Rating: 4.7/5

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Happy to finally get this up and to finally finish this novel.

Hope you enjoyed this post. I’ll have another one up soon, so please make sure to follow.

Make sure to like and comment on this post and any other review that you found informative/helpful.

Happy Reading!

xoxo.

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“You can never get a cup of tea large enough, or a book long enough to suit me.” – Book Haul Easter 2018

Happy Easter Everyone!

It’s been a while since I last posted, and I wanted to do something a little different for this Easter Sunday. Instead of doing a book summary, I thought that I’d spice it up a bit this week by sharing my latest book haul. These are books that I’ve accumulated through recent purchases and gifts, and some are on my 100 list, while some aren’t, but I’m still very excited to share all of them today. So without further ado, I’ll hop into it (pun intended).

Part One: Books Mom Gave Me

1) “The Death of Ivan Lynch” by Leo Tolstoy

2) “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou

3) “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand

4) Selected Stories of Anton Chekhov

5) “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran

6) “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Author’s Note: My mom gave me most of these books as editions she had laying around. My mom wanted to give me some authors that she knew that I had been vying to read like Chekhov as well as novels from familiar authors that I had read some of their other works like Tolstoy and Angelou. Overall, I’m really grateful for the novels she gave me, and I’m very excited to dive into this eclectic group of novels.

Part Two: Books I Bought in Providence

1) “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

2) “Swann in Love” by Marcel Proust

Author’s Note: These were two novels which I found while touring a university in Providence, RI. I was immediately attracted to Atwood’s famous novel, which I have been embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t read yet, as well as a Proust novella, as Proust was an author I was familiar with but had been yet to read.

Part Four: Larger Novels

1) “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert

2) “The Portrait of a Lady” by Henry James

3) “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller

Author’s Note: These three novels have been ones that I’ve been eager to start but haven’t gotten a chance to dive into. After I read “Tess of the D’Ubervilles” I started leaning towards shorter novels, but I have been meaning to read these particular three. I’m very excited to start all of these books and check them off of my “to read” list.

Part Five: Misc. Novels I Bought on Random Occasions 

1) “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens

2) “Swing Time” by Zadie Smith

3) “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle

Author’s Note: Sometimes I feel like I’ll just get sucked into a local bookstore, and compulsively have to buy a novel, an instance that occured in these particular three cases. I’m very excited to start each of these very different novels, especially with the release of the “Wrinkle in Time” movie, but I might be even more excited that there are finally flowers which I can frame them with in my pictures.

Part Six: Some More Classics 

1) “Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen

2) “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad

3) “1984” by George Orwell

4) “Wise Blood” by Flannery O’Connor

5) “Mrs. Dalloway” by Virginia Woolf

Author’s Note: As you can see, my copy of “Sense and Sensibility” has become pretty broken in recently, and I’m hoping to have that review up soon. In this group in particular, I was really ecstatic to find “Wise Blood” as I had been looking for a novel from O’Connor for a while now.

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End of third quarter means I finally have a bit more time to read. I’m working to finish two novels in particular to get posts up in the following weeks.

I hope you guys had a wonderful Easter with your families, and enjoyed this sort of unconventional post. I certainly enjoyed the holiday and the no homework weekend.

If you guys want more posts like this, please comment. I’d love some feedback. Also make sure to like and follow this blog for similar posts in the future.

I hope you have an amazing week and tune in next week for my next review. Happy reading!

xoxo.

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The Crime of The Century, Although There Were 94 Years to Go – “Ragtime” by E.L. Doctrow

2/1/18 – 3/1/18

“Because like all whores you value propriety. You are creature of capitalism, the ethics of which are so totally corrupt and hypocritical that your beauty is no more than the beauty of gold, which is to say false and cold and useless.”  (Doctorow Ch. 8)

Summary

Ragtime by E.L. Doctrow opens with an introduction to a generic, white, upper class family in the early 1900s, consisting of members such as Mother, Father, Grandfather, Little Boy, and Mother’s Younger Brother. Doctorow writes,

“Trains and steamers and trolleys moved them from one place to another. That was the style, that was the way people lived. Women were stouter then. They visit the fleet carrying white parasols. Everyone wore white in summer. Tennis racquets were hefty and the racquet faces elliptical. There was a lot of sexual fainting. There were no Negroes. There were no immigrants.” (Ch. 1)

It is introduced that Mother’s Younger Brother has become infatuated with Evelyn Nesbit, a woman who is the center of a scandal involving her husband and her late lover. Harry Houdini is dissatisfied with his social standing and yearns to be accepted into the upper class. Houdini’s car breaks down and he pays a short visit to the family. The Little Boy tells Houdini to “warn the duke!” Father is leaving to go on an expedition to the North Pole with Peary, and is leaving his firework business in the care of Mother and Mother’s Younger Brother.

The next storyline that the reader is introduced to is that of an immigrant family from Eastern Europe. The family members are identified as Mameh, Tateh, and the Little Girl. The family passes Father’s ship as they enter Ellis Island, and quickly find themselves as residents of a tenement house. The family quickly becomes disenfranchised with the American dream, living in conditions of extreme poverty. Mameh decides to engage in prostitution in a desperate attempt to help her family, but is exiled when Tateh learns what she has done.

The Little Girl becomes sick, and Tateh becomes frustrated that his silhouette business cannot support them. Evelyn Nesbit is driving through the Lower East Side when she notices the Little Girl, and she immediately becomes obsessed with the Little Girl’s beauty. Evelyn begins making regular visits to Tateh, who refuses to talk to Evelyn unless she is paying for her portrait out of pride. Mother’s Younger Brother begins following Evelyn without her knowledge, and Evelyn cares more closely for the Little Girl.

Tateh invites Evelyn to attend a socialist meeting where Emma Goldman is scheduled to speak. Goldman is an anarchist, and identifies Evelyn in her audience and insults Evelyn’s use of sexuality in order to gain status in regard to her infamous marriage. Tateh separates himself and the Little Girl from Evelyn upon hearing this, and Evelyn is soothed by Emma Goldman later in Tateh’s vacant apartment.

Evelyn begins a sexual relationship with Mother’s Younger Brother, and back in New Rochelle, Mother saves a black baby whose mother attempted to bury him alive. Mother decides to take the baby as well as his mother, Sarah, under her care. Tateh and the Little Girl decide to leave New York, taking the trains as far as they possibly can. Houdini learns how to fly planes, demonstrating his new skill to the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Countess Sophie. Father returns from his expedition, and begins to feel separated from his family members that seem to have changed considerably since his departure. Mother’s Younger Brother loses Evelyn to another man, and finds new meaning through the building of explosives.

Tateh and the Little Girl take part in a worker’s strike in Massachusetts, but when the strike breaks out in chaos and law enforcement, the two board another train and head to Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, a store owner offers to buy a book of Tateh’s silhouettes.

A black man named Coalhouse Walker drives into New Rochelle in a Model T Ford. He approaches the family in New Rochelle and asks to see Sarah, the black woman that Mother has taken in. Sarah tells Mother that she doesn’t want to see Coalhouse.

“Mother went back downstairs and found the fellow not at the back door but in the kitchen where, in the warmth of the corner near the cookstove, Sarah’s baby lay sleeping in his carriage. It was a wicker carriage on four wooden tapered spoke wheels and it had a faded upholstery of blue satin with a plush roll. Her own son had slept in it and her brother before him. The black man was kneeling beside the carriage and staring at the child. Mother, not thinking clearly, was suddenly outraged that he had presumed to come in the door. Sarah is unable to see you, she said, and she held the door open. The colored man took another glance at the child, rose, thanked her and departed.” (Ch. 21)

Coalhouse returns to New Rochelle the following Sunday with the same request, and Sarah rejects him again. Soon, the family begins to expect Coalhouse’s regular visits to see Sarah. Father feels a degree of indignation at Coalhouse’s visits, but Mother finds the whole affair romantic. Finally Sarah agrees to see Coalhouse, and Coalhouse promptly proposes marriage, to which Sarah accepts.

Later, one day as Coalhouse is driving to New Rochelle, Coalhouse is stopped by volunteers from the firehouse.

“The volunteers…advised him that he was traveling on a private toll road and that he could not drive on without paying of twenty-five dollars or by presenting a pass indicating that he was a resident of the city. This is a public thoroughfare, Walker said, I’ve traveled it dozen of times and no one has ever said anything about a toll.” (Ch, 23)

Coalhouse decides to leave his car and find aid for himself by foot. He tells a couple of black children playing nearby to watch his car while he is gone. When Coalhouse returns he finds his car utterly demolished.

“The fire engine and horses were withdrawn. The road was empty of volunteers and his car stood off the road in the field. He made his way to the car. It was spattered with mud. There was a six-inch tear in the custom pantasote top. And deposited in the back seat was a mound of fresh human excrement.” (Ch. 23)

Coalhouse begins a quest to find justice. Coalhouse quickly becomes frustrated as lawyers refuse to represent him and the police remain complacent. Coalhouse tells Sarah that he won’t marry her until the matter is resolved justly. Sarah, in an act of desperation, choses to approach Taft’s vice president at a public event in an effort to plea on Coalhouse’s behalf. But, when Sarah approaches Taft’s vice president, she is hit down by the secret service and soon dies.

Coalhouse vows revenge, and turns to murder and arsonry. Coalhouse and a group of his followers blow up the firehouse, killing four people. Mother’s Younger Brother leaves the family to join Coalhouse, dressing in black face to blend in with the rest of Coalhouse’s gang. Father finds himself respected in the police investigation of Coalhouse, but the family ultimately decide to leave New Rochelle to avoid public scrutiny from the press.

The family moves to Atlantic City, and Mother finds herself more sexually liberated and less traditional the more time that she spends on the beach. Mother and Father drift farther apart, and Mother becomes enamored with a Baron who is revealed to actually be Tateh.

Coalhouse breaks into JP Morgan’s library, with the original intention of holding Morgan as hostage, only to find that Morgan is overseas at the time of the attack. The police send in Booker T. Washington in an attempt to convince Coalhouse to give up his criminal activities. Coalhouse, who respects Washington, agrees to change his demands to simply the restoration of his car, rather than additionally demanding the life of the police chief. Washington doesn’t recognize this modification to Coalhouse’s demands, but Father, who has returned to New Rochelle, does. Coalhouse and the police agree the safe escape of Coalhouse’s followers, and Coalhouse gives himself up to the police and is then shot.

Father dies aboard the Lusitania, and Mother and Tateh marry a year later.

Characters

Mother: The matriarch of the family in New Rochelle, initially very traditional.

Father: The patriarch of the family in New Rochelle. Traditional throughout the novel. Interest in exploration.

Little Boy:  Son of Mother and Father. Very intelligent.

Mother’s Younger Brother: Obsession with Evelyn Nesbit. Later affiliation with explosives and Coalhouse Walker.

Tateh: Jewish immigrant who struggles to find success in America.

Little Girl: Tateh’s daughter. Very beautiful.

Coalhouse Walker: Ragtime pianist who is in love with Sarah.

Sarah: An african american woman who is taken in by Mother.

Overall Thoughts & Review

The opening of the Ragtime Musical is immediately what I think of when I think about this novel. Ragtime is one of the few novels that I’ve read with a distinct rhythm and almost musical quality to the language. Doctorow masterfully intertwines the pacing of the time period into his writing style, and one feels the beat of ragtime music in the story without having to look up Scott Joplin at all.

I saw the Ragtime Musical when I was in eighth grade, and distinctly remember the opening number leaving me nearly breathless. I actually was only able to see the first half of the play at the time, but always remembered the profound effect of the larger than life music and characters. Resultantly, I was very excited to pick up the book by E.L. Doctorow that the musical was based on.

Ragtime follows a large cast of characters, interwoven with historical figures. The novel paints a vivid picture of America during the turn of the century, and captures a wide breadth of perspectives that existed in the time period. The novel is very plot heavy, with many things happening in each chapter and many different storylines for different characters, so if you are a reader that really likes fast paced novels with intricate plots and succinct prose, this novel may be for you.

I enjoyed reading Ragtime, but the novel personally felt a bit overwhelming at times in the number of things that were happening at once on top of the historical context. As someone who is currently studying American History, I thought that Ragtime really enriched my understanding of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, and for it’s elaboration of history, I really enjoyed it.

I also appreciated Doctorow’s musings on the nature of American success and whether it is really possible, a theme he demonstrates through the characters of Tateh, Coalhouse, and Houdini. All three struggle with acceptance and ambition as they work for an equal seat with the upper class, Tateh being the only one who really manages it successfully, and only after nearly giving up on it all completely. Coalhouse’s crusade for justice was specifically interesting as it raised many important questions on the nature of African American protest, and whether or not racial justice is even possible.

Ragtime is a full of explicit sexual content, so if that is something that might deter you as a reader, I might not recommend this novel. Also, if you are a reader who enjoys longer prose and flowery descriptions, you might not like Ragtime.

Rating: 3.5/5

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This one’s late too, but the SAT is finally over so I hope to get back to posting on schedule.

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I hope you have an amazing week and tune in next week for my next review. Happy reading!

xoxo.

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Senses Curing the Soul – “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

1/28/18 – 2/11/18

Beauty is a form of Genius–is higher, indeed, than Genius, as it needs no explanation. It is one of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or springtime, or the reflection in the dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon. It cannot be questioned. It has divine right of sovereignty. It makes princes of those who have it.” (Wilde Ch. 2)

Summary

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a novel by Oscar Wilde that was published in 1890. At the beginning of the novel, the reader is brought into a scene of beauty and decadence as Basil Hallward, an artist, discusses with his friend Lord Henry Wotton the completion of his portrait of Dorian Gray. Basil remarks that though he has painted Dorian many times before, this painting shall be the first in which Dorian is imagined as himself rather than as a God or hero. Basil states his reservations in displaying the portrait as he feels that much of his inner self was poured into the painting. Lord Henry disagrees and proclaims the picture a masterpiece.

Dorian arrives at Basil’s studio, and Lord Henry works to engage him as an acquaintance, much to Basil’s dismay. Basil worries that Lord Henry will be a negative influence on Dorian who he perceives as perfect. Lord Henry makes a speech detailing the futility of resisting temptation, which affects Dorian profoundly. Dorian leaves the studio for fresh air but Lord Henry follows him and pushes Dorian further, saying,

“Because you have now the most marvellous youth, and youth is the one thing worth having…Some day, when you are old and wrinkled and ugly, when thought has seared your forehead with its lines, and passion branded your lips with its hideous fires, you will feel it, you will feel it terribly. Now, wherever you go, you charm the world. Will it always be so?” (Ch. 2)

Dorian becomes enraged at the prospect of his own beauty fading over time, and curses the immortalization of his beauty in Basil’s portrait. Frenzied he offers his soul, begging that the portrait bears the burden of his age and sin while he himself remains pure forever. Basil gives the portrait to Dorian, despite Lord Henry’s wishes to take the portrait himself.

Lord Henry and Dorian become closer, and Dorian becomes enraptured with Lord Henry’s philosophy of decadence and experience. One day, Dorian announces that he is in love with a great actress named Sibyl Vane who he has seen performing Shakespeare. Dorian invites Basil and Henry to accompany him to the theatre, but find that Sibyl seems to have lost all her theatrical genius seemingly overnight. When Dorian angrily confronts Sibyl backstage, she expresses that she can no longer act because she is so deeply in love with him.  Dorian cruelly rejects her, telling her that she has disappointed him to the point that he no longer loves her.

“She crouched on the floor like a wounded thing, and Dorian Gray, with his beautiful eyes, looked down at her, and his chiselled lips curled in exquisite disdain. There is always something ridiculous about the passions of people whom one has ceased to love. Sibyl Vane seemed to him to be absurdly melodramatic. Her tears and sobs annoyed him.” (Ch. 5)

Dorian returns home and notices that his portrait seems to have altered slightly so that it seems to be sneering. Frightened, Dorian resolves to remedy his relationship with Sibyl, but the next morning he receives the news of her suicide. Under Henry’s guidance, Dorian rejects feelings of remorse and commits himself to “New Hedonism” in which he begins to exist solely for the purpose of seeking pleasures. Dorian hides his portrait in his old playroom upstairs under a lock and key.

Henry gives Dorian a book about the exploits of a frenchman, and Dorian takes it as a sort of creed, sinking deeper into a live of sin and scandal. Dorian becomes immersed deep into scandal in London society after 18 years of exploits, but people continue to defend him on the basis of his physical purity.

Basil returns and seeks an audience with Dorian, and Dorian reluctantly offers it. Basil interrogates Dorian on the validity of the rumors that surround him, and eventually Dorian demands that Basil follows him if he truly wishes to see the truth of Dorian’s existence. Dorian reveals his portrait, which has become corrupted and disgusting. Horrified, Basil tells Dorian to ask for remorse, which makes Dorian furious as he blames Basil for the portrait in the first place. At the height of his anger, Dorian takes a knife and stabs Basil in the neck, murdering him.

Dorian blackmails an old friend to help him remove the evidence of his crime, and after the death of James Vanes, Sibyl’s brother, in a hunting accident, he decides that he feels safe again. However, when he looks at his portrait, his pictured hand now covered with blood, Dorian becomes furious and stabs the portrait with the knife he used to kill Basil.

The servants hear a noise and come upstairs to find the beautiful image of Dorian preserved in the portrait, while an old and disgusting corpse rots on the ground with a knife in his heart.

 Characters

Dorian Gray: An incredibly handsome young man who becomes corrupted as he seeks pleasure without any regard for morality, his portrait displaying his moral corruption as his physical appearance remains intact.

Lord Henry: A witty sort of philosopher who makes many remarks about the nature of society.

Basil Hallward: A talented painter infatuated with Dorian.

Sibyl Vane: A poor, beautiful actress with whom Dorian falls in love.

James Vane: Sibyl’s vengeful brother.

Overall Thoughts & Review

This is the sort of novel that really makes one think. Reading The Picture of Dorian Gray was almost like reading the writings of Plato or Confucius at times. Especially in Lord Henry’s dialogues, much of the novel was a direct commentary on the nature of sin, pleasure, and society amongst other things.

I personally found the writing very engaging and enjoyable. The detailed descriptions of decadence didn’t seem overblown or boring in the context of the novel, and the pacing of the novel never felt slow.

I did not read the uncut version of the story, but find the additions interesting in the context of reading the novel that was published in 1890. Despite the exclusions, I found that many of the themes remained intact in the subtext of the novel, and I thought it was fascinating to see how Wilde navigated  that literary restriction.

The Picture Dorian Gray is one of the few books that I actually read the preface and thoroughly enjoyed it. The preface perfectly encapsulated the spirit of the novel in my opinion, by raising deliberate thought-provoking moral questions and then answering them in confident statements. I especially like Wilde’s deliberation on the nature of art as an artist myself and in the context of the story.

I highly encourage those interested in this story to read the text, as Wilde’s vivid language cannot be justly translated into any other artistic media.  To define The Picture of Dorian Gray is to limit it, and I cannot adequately explain Wilde’s ability to shake the reader’s beliefs and make them question their own philosophies and moralities. While reading the novel I could not help but think of Wilde as a version of Lord Henry to the reader.

The novel is a masterpiece and truly horrifying at times, so please make sure to read the second half during the daytime, unlike myself who finished the novel at 2 am on a school night. The novel has heavy philosophical tones, as well as being written in a style that is firmly set in old England. If you don’t like England or British society, I would also caution you from reading this book.

Rating: 4.65/5

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Ah! Another late post! Sorry 😦

I’m working on finishing two novels, so I’m hoping to be on time for next week.

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I hope you have an amazing week and tune in next week for my next review. Happy reading!

xoxo.

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Drifting Down the Mississippi River – “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain

12/1/17 – 12/24/17

Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better.” (Twain Ch. 36)

Summary

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain that was published in 1884. The novel opens on a young man named Huckleberry Finn who informs us of his recent adventures with Tom Sawyer that resulted in his acquisition of a fortune as well as his placement in the care of the Widow Douglas and Ms. Watson. Huck describes their attempts to civilize him, stating,

[Ms. Watson] told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn’t mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn’t particular. She said it was wicked to say what I said; said she wouldn’t say it for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place. Well, I couldn’t see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn’t try for it. But I never said so, because it would only make trouble, and wouldn’t do no good.” (Ch. 1)

However, Huck’s path towards civilization is rudely interrupted by the introduction of his alcoholic and abusive father, Pap. Pap demands that Huck hands over his money. The confrontations between Pap and Huck pinnacle in Pap kidnapping Huck and locking him in a cabin.

Huck eventually manages to escape by faking his own death, and he runs away to the nearby Jackson’s Island in the middle of the Mississippi River. There, on the island, Huck encounters Jim, a runaway slave of Ms. Watson’s. Jim divulges that he decided to run away after hearing Ms. Watson’s plan to sell him to a plantation farther down the Mississippi River. The two form an unlikely alliance, despite Huck’s moral reservations about helping a runaway slave.

Eventually the two are forced to leave Jackson’s Island when Huck learns that people in a nearby town have suspected that smoke has come off the island. The two plan to head to the Ohio River and set sail towards free land. However, it is eventually made clear that the two missed the mouth of the Ohio River and are now heading deeper into the south.

Along their journey Huck and Jim encounter robbers, a feuding family that resembles the Montagues and Capulets called the Grangerfords and Sherperdsons, as well as a pair of convicts who call themselves the King and the Duke.

In one of the King and Duke’s worst schemes, the two sell Jim back into slavery. Through this action, Huck is forced to reconcile his moral dilemma regarding Jim. Twain writes,

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter–and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote…

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking–thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

‘All right, then, I’ll GO to hell’–and tore it up.”  (Ch. 31)

In this apex of Huck’s moral journey, Huck decides to damn himself rather than leaving Jim to suffer his fate as a slave. Huck, through the development of his relationship with Jim, learns to develop a superior conscience outside of society’s teachings. Despite his genuine belief that helping free Jim will result in eternal damnation and suffering, Huck resolves to help Jim anyways, showing the power of their friendship and Huck’s growth in racial tolerance.

Suddenly, Tom Sawyer reappears and encounters Huck. Huck informs Tom of Jim’s circumstance, and Tom hatches an elaborate scheme to free Jim. Tom begins to draw out the plan unnecessarily in an attempt to recreate the adventures from the novels that he has read. Despite Tom’s wild shenanigans at the expense of Jim, Huck remains passive and complies with Tom’s whims.

Eventually, the two free Jim, but in the process of their escape, Tom is shot in the leg. At the sacrifice of his own freedom, Jim helps Tom get medical attention. The doctor who nurses Tom testifies that,

I never see a nigger that was a better nuss or faithfuller, and yet he was risking his freedom to do it, and was all tired out, too, and I see plain enough he’d been worked main hard lately. I liked the nigger for that; I tell you, gentlemen, a nigger like that is worth a thousand dollars—and kind treatment, too.” (Ch. 42)

The irony of Twain’s phrasing of this passage is that in this instance Jim acts in a way that is more morally courageous and ethical than the actions of arguably any other character in the novel. However, Jim’s is still identified as the n-word, signifying his identification as a commodity and a symbol of stereotypes like that of black cowardice. Jim defies all societal expectations of black behavior in this instance, indisputably proving himself as a brave and selfless human being, and his behavior is brought into stark contrast with the n-word. Twain masterfully satirizes black stereotypes through his characterization of Jim, creating a character that not only challenges black stereotypes but becomes a symbol of complex and humanistic depictions of African Americans in literature that was almost unique at the time.

The book closes with Tom revealing that Jim was actually freed by Ms. Watson upon her death. Jim discloses to Huck that Pap died, and the two decide to head back to Missouri. Aunt Sally offers to civilize Huck, but Huck decides to try going West instead. He writes,

But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.” (Ch. 43)

Characters

Huckleberry Finn: The 13 year old protagonist of the novel. An uncivilized and uncultured son of a local alcoholic who befriends a black man named Jim.

Jim: A runaway slave. Intelligent, superstitious, compassionate, and selfless.

Tom Sawyer: Huck’s friend who is enamored with stories of romanticism and heroism.

The Widow Douglas and Ms. Watson: Two wealthy sisters who adopt Huck in an attempt to civilize him.

Pap: Huck’s alcoholic father.

Overall Thoughts & Review

Yeah, I love Mark Twain. I was first introduced to Mark Twain in history classes, learning about him in the context of his political commentary and satire. From very early on he developed into someone I admired, and I eagerly anticipated reading his most famous novel.

The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn lives up to the hype. With complex and flawed characters, especially in Huck, the reader watches the characters embark on both a physical and moral journey down the Mississippi River. Especially in a modern reading, the reader can fully appreciate how ahead of his time Jim was as a character, and appreciate Twain’s ability to critique and point out the hypocrisies of American society in his time period.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn raises questions that still hold validity and clout hundreds of years later. We the readers, like Huck, have to reconcile our personal conscience with society’s conscience, and question whether we can ever really develop universal morals within the limitations of society. The novel raises critical questions about race and racial stereotypes, and argues firmly for the triumph of reason over romanticism.

For these reasons, and many others, I really loved The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The novel has an unforgettable cast of characters, and series of adventures which allow the novel to be read at a shallower level as a simple adventure. But, I think it is the nuances of Twain’s storytelling which really make the novel an American classic.

Potential readers of this novel should be aware of the southern vernacular that the novel is written in, as well as the grounding of the novel in American geography. I highly recommend this novel, and believe that it is best enjoyed by readers who can appreciate the social and political commentaries and satirical elements.

Rating: 4.6/5

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Sorry for missing last week’s post. I was swamped with standardized testing and couldn’t seem to get a post up. Equally sorry for only getting this post up late at night. I will continue to try and post every Sunday. Links to my book reviews/progress on the 100 page.

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I hope you have an amazing week and tune in next week for my next review. Happy reading!

xoxo.

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