Edgar Allen Poe-The Gothic Politician?

Until a few days ago, violence in literature was as it seems to be–punches are thrown and arms are scratched…so is the natural way; because, as humans, we tend to fight over the silliest of trifles. Then I read the chapter More Than It’s Gonna Hurt You–Concerning Violence in this book, learning violence has it uses for story as well as historical purposes…

Until a few days ago, Edgar Allen Poe was but a fantastic Gothic writer with a knack for the detective story, and who penned some of the darkest tales to haunt literature. Then I read the chapter It’s All Political in this book, learning Poe wrote The Fall of the House of Usher and The Masque of the Red Death partially over social class issues in his country.

Violence is now more than ever an essential piece of storytelling.

Our world cannot function without violence, so too cannot literature; no conflict is no story.

Must violence must be dealt out by fists or guns? Can it not as well be a covert violence, such as the government blackmailing in Ender’s Game; or an open yet restrained violence like the public shaming of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter?

Violence does not always blood produce…though it is a common symptom.

Any Chuck Palhuniak book, specifically Fight Club, deals the classic type–good ol’ brawling and beating; but that, too, serves to illustrate the gritty tone of the novel and its psychological effects on the main character, a wrestler.

There are some exceptions–quite a few are classics, but even when no noses are broken or ankles twisted, an act of violence is committed, be it insult or embarrassment; for instance, in the book I am currently reading, Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, the focal point of the story is when the main character murders the old woman pawnbroker, the violence of which carries the character into a deepening self-hatred and guilt complex that    could be his destruction.

Murder, as all know, is the the sincerest form of violence; and this murder orchestrates a chorus line of other conflicts, each growing darker than its origin…

Poe is known for his dark violence–take a gander at The Pit and the Pendulum or The Black Cat if you disagree; but when reading the afore mentioned short stories one can also see influences of his personal politics–a disliking towards aristocracy. In The Fall of the House of Usher it is the siblings who represent the wealthy families, and the brokenness and ultimate decimation of their house is a message on the deterioration of material possessions; in The Masque of the Red Death the fortunate nobility thinking themselves untouchable by the sweeping plague are slaughtered in their leisure.

These examples do not mean Poe is a practicing politician, but, so says Foster, “…most works must engage with their own specific period in ways that can be called political.”

Frank Herbert, the acclaimed author of the Dune series, is, to me, painting a picture of the exceedingly religious state of the Middle East in his novels. In the first story the Fremen, a  wandering desert people, worship the main character Paul Arrakis, who they refer to as the prophet Muad Dib; and towards the end of the novel commit the first battle of their galactic jihad–this is how the war is termed in the book.

I could tell when he first mentioned jihad.

But the politics in Dune are like the color white in Moby-Dick–they enhance the experience of the tale, and do not detract from the story itself because of an overflowing symbolical or allegorical expression; and even in Dune the tones of religion act more so as a biopsy than a comparison.

Think daily, 

A Southpaw






Farewell, Old Friend…For Now

At last, it appears, the incredible adventures of Huckleberry Finn have satisfyingly ended; at least satisfyingly so to a reader like myself, which is an oft easily accomplished feat.

In the week since I wrote the last post for this book, I have read from Chapter 11 to Chapter 30, otherwise known as the final chapter; and placed intelligently throughout that large gap are suspenseful conflicts and trickeries I would have never expected from a novel so compact.

So, I will continue to address those with several more posts; this is but a celebratory finale of the reading.

In Chapter 16, Jim and Huck are pleasantly drifting upon the river when a skiff with two armed men comes sailing beside them; they are searching for runaway “niggers”, and so ask Huck if he has seen one around recently. Beside himself with guilt at wanting to give up Jim as they coast into a nearby city, Huck creates an elaborate lie about a family affected with a bad case of “smallpox” sitting inside the raft; this results in the skiff men sailing hastily away, but warning the boy to, if he sees any runaways, to “get help and nab them.”

This is one of the first instances in which Huck openly defends Jim; in fact, he spends the rest of the chapter feeling overjoyed as Jim praises him for being his best friend, saying “…you’s de bes’ fren’ Jim’s ever had; en you’s de only fren’ ole Jim’s got now.”

Phrases like such are the reasons I enjoy reading about Jim so much.

Indicated also is a sampling of the critical theory Gender Studies and Queer Theory, which, for those who are new to the term, examines the cultural and social implications of differing races and gender and sexual orientation in reference to our massive, molding world; the largest example in this novel is Jim, the black runaway slave, and the other black servants they come across in their travels.Seldom a scenario prevalent in the South, and a controversial incident sure to stir frustration through those riverside cities and towns, is the white teen helping a slave escape notice of his captors, which is the main cause of distress in the story.

When Jim says Huck is his “only fren’,” he is telling the complete truth. Unlike white settlers, slaves were not typically social butterflies; actually, they were trapped in a tricky predicament similarly hurting the rising numbers of foreign immigrants into the States. It is only later in the story, when they meet up with rowdy Tom Sawyer, that he has a chance to make a few more connections and expound upon his freedom.

There is no small wonder this novel became controversial following its publication, as the union between Huck and Jim would have been seen as unnatural and perverse to the societal norm. Such a caring and loyal friendship is theirs it almost surprises me so few took a stand to change those norms.


Ice Brides and Enterprise Expendables…

Thomas Foster is at it again–in his book, How To Read Literature Like A Professor, he continues to describe the symbolic reasons for near incomprehensible features in novels and short stories; and recently in my reading, he has tackled the topic of rain and snow–the implications there can either be depression or isolation, so which sounds the better?– and the danger to comrades of the hero; they die terrible deaths to serve the story and its

In his chapter, It’s More Than Just Rain Or Snow, he explains why authors like using stormy and depressing weather to express key images and feelings in their story. Sometimes, he says, it is for atmosphere, which got me thinking about a short story by Edgar Allen Poe, perhaps his most popular, The Fall Of the House Of Usher, in which the House of Usher is besieged by dreadful fits of wind and rain throughout the duration of the narrator’s stay in the house with Rodrick Usher; of course, eventually culminating in the torrential destruction of the house as it descends into the pits of Hell.

It is more than just rain or snow…but can it sometimes mean much else than the darker shades of life?  Such as a recent read, The Glimmer of the Snow, by Algernon Blackwood, detailing the strange adventure of a lonely writer in a skiing town who meets a mysterious, yet beautiful, woman while he is skating on the ice rinks.

Turns out the woman is a snow god, or demon, depending on how the story is read and understood.

This the writer does not know, and until he finds out, near death, he views the woman as an unparalleled beauty; in fact, the snowy mountains and the wintry weather are described gorgeously as he searches frantically for that icy femme fatale. A different take on the perspective–though, it sets up the same statement, it is more than just rain or snow.

Then comes the Never Stand Next To the Hero bit, which, by far, is his wittiest piece. Comrades, to Foster, are no more than fodder for the racing plot train, or at least sacrifices to the story so long as the hero does not die in their place.

If you have ever seen an episode of Star Trek, then this should make total sense.

The crew members in the red shirts are always bait for invaders on the S.S Enterprise, simply because they are sacrifices for the of William Shatner’s long life. The same goes for a series like Harry Potter, in which there is a Defense Against the Dark Arts position that constantly needs rehirings, as the teacher seems to die or retire in all the books up to the Order of the Phoenix, simply because they tend to be threats to the titular character.

Honestly, I find the most truth here, and have decided thus far it is the most agreeable of his points. There are often deaths in a story, and those deaths are often centered towards the flat, or one-dimensional, characters in a story; the rare occurrences of round characters being killed off a sure sign the story is taking a major turn in a different direction, usually a rise in tension and conflict.

So far, halfway through the novel, I have learned a number of new ideas in the vast complex of literature; the voice and style is also especially witty, which makes for an ultimately enjoyable read whenever there is time.



That River Abolitionist, Huck Finn…

Huckleberry Finn–what else is there to say about that river rascal? Inadvertently, in his search to escape his drunken father’s clutches, he somehow ends up as a rebel against the racial limitations of his time; and inadvertently, in his wish to hideaway on an island and sail the Mississippi, he befriends a black runaway and they take up to sail off together; a union between blacks and whites despite the townspeople’s views.

To see those parallels in a novel so comprehensive is to see examples of Gender Studies and Queer Theory. Now, there are the colloquial references to consider, the methods of Jim’s speech specifically, which is constructed of Ebonics, a modern term for black language; for example, when Jim is speaking to Huckleberry in Chapter 8, his dialect is far cruder than an educated, articulate individual, as he uses “‘uz” or “wuz” instead of “was,” and “gwyne” rather than “going to.” His organization flows well though, and if one examines the pattern of his speech closely, then the focus of his story becomes easily understandable, with a few strange terms here and there that can simply be passed over as nonessential to the story.

The stronger route of study lies in the choice taken by Huckleberry to, when fleeing his family and friends on the raft in Chapter 8, tell only Jim of his not dying and his plans to sail away on the Mississippi. He has well-founded trust in Jim to share with him these wishful secrets, an odd decision in the late 1880s, a period when any blacks, as happened to Jim in Chapter Eleven, were lynched for performing badly in society and ousted from the general population.

Jim is by all means just another runaway, as is Huckleberry. They are one in the same in this novel; no racial ties separate their orders of life, and no bitter thoughts are expressed towards one another. A pleasant union is theirs, yet neither examines the social implications it challenges as they travel onwards.

Jim wants to escape slavery in New Orleans, while Huckleberry wants to escape his prim and proper lifestyle and his drunken father. Different motives, but an all encompassing feel of the need to flee their crumbling lives. It makes sense.

So too does Structuralism and Semiotics.

This novel expresses these lost souls wandering hopelessly on a raft along the stretching river as pieces to the larger social message of seeking out purpose, or a destiny, in other words, that in turn connects to the idea of Semiotics. It does so because like Huckleberry and Jim, all humans, regardless of race or gender, are always out there searching for a sense of belonging in a world that either appears to have forgotten them, or has left them isolated in a downright miserable lifestyle.

That is the summation of their journey–a journey, in fact, all can relate to, as it displays the instinctual key to human happiness, which, of course, is finding belonging, a placement, where one can be who they want without being thrust down from their individuality by naysayers. For Jim and the black slaves in the 1800s, the journey is mostly about seeking freedom from slavers. For Huckleberry and wayward children alike, it is finding an adventure away from the boundaries of society; a parallel there perhaps is Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger, which contributed to the youth movements of its modern times.        

A Look into How To Read Literature Like A Professor

In the non-fiction book, How To Read Literature Like A Professor, by Thomas C. Foster, an English professor at the University of Michigan-Flint, the author goes in depth into the aspects of truly reading a novel or a short story the way only an experienced veteran can–examining the minutest of details and events that, to an amateur reader, are no more than common happenings; then, having all those little intricacies figured out, producing an estimation about the specific part of that piece of literature.

So far, in my beginning reading, I have covered barely a quarter of his teachings, but in the few I have read, there is a knowledge in his words, and in the methods he uses to express his opinions, that is hard to deny. Personally, I enjoy his thoughts in the chapter, “When in Doubt, It’s from Shakespeare…” as they describe the influence the Bard continues to maintain posthumously upon the modern writers; Foster mentions Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, which is a line taken from the Weird Sisters of Macbeth; and he explains the reason so many writers add a Shakespearean quote to their work, terming intertextuality, an effect created when a modern writer and a past writer’s works combine to produce a new telling of a story.

The primary focal point of Foster’s work, however, is his telling the reader there is only ever one story, and while originality can be present almost anywhere in literature,  the roots of storytelling as a practice over thousands of years continue to morph according to the differing characters and the conflicts that those characters face.

That it tallies off all these wonderful books is an achievement in itself…and one hard to find in most non-fictions.



A Look Into the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Getting into Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an easy enough task–the tact with which Twain writes is unmatchable by current grammar methods, and the fluidity of his colloquial language is a benchmark in the history of the English language, even beyond the standards of Dickens and Hemingway. His use of “without” for the word “unless” is a casual example of his smooth prose; it brings to light to Structuralism and Semiotics in a natural method that has established a new form of individualism in grammar from then to now, and, by his frequent use of “black” colloquial language intermixed with a touch of Southern dialect, Twain is perhaps intentionally applying the theory of Gender Studies and Queer–an entire book about the union of a white boy and a black boy on the banks of the Mississippi certainly qualifies this claim, as well the use of terms like “nigger” and “negro.” The form is personalized, and without a single misconception, marking it immediately as the trademark witty style of Mark Twain.