Close Your Eyes To Read…

Shut your eyes a moment–not your actual eyes, your eyes–the glasses with which you look upon our modern world and say this is this and that is that. Shut those eyes and open the ones in the past, or the future–surprisingly you have multiple sets of eyes, but you don’t know how to use them.

A hint: reading.

An example: H.P Lovecraft, renowned horror story scribe but also a racist.

In his stories there are causal remarks to the vileness of black people; most of the time they are the bearers of bad news or the villains themselves in the stories. Also when Lovecraft was alive civil rights would not be a pressing issue for another hundred years; so white people were extremely opinionated on black people.

While Lovecraft may have been prejudiced most of his readers are not; and when they read a Lovecraft story they drown out the racist overtones in favoring the world in which we currently live, which is good practice, but not helpful to reading with your eyes closed; or as Foster calls it, “don’t read with your eyes…”

Take a second look at the racist overtones. There is evidence for their presence.

As said before the idea of civil rights was in its youth, the area of America where Lovecraft lived was a restrictive area; and as a socially awkward individual Lovecraft scarcely had connections with actual humans…

There is something now–that is evidence. Feels like taking a trip into his world a little. Are your eyes closed? You may open them now…yes, shut your copy of The Dunwich Horror…does Lovecraft’s racism seem more realistic?

Keep those eyes open for this next bit, a chapter called It’s Never Just Heart Disease…And Rarely Just Illness…certainly that produces some pondering; it has a tad philosophical turn to it.

Take The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka–an illness if not an inhibition. Everyone knows the story: the tirelessly laboring Gregor Samsa wakes up in his bedroom turned into a giant beetle overnight; this is a satirical commentary on the labor force and a stressful life.

Through the story Gregor is abandoned and ostracized by his parents and his boss and  his sister. He is beaten with brooms. His pincer is broken by a thrown apple. And at last he is kicked out of his house, where he dies in a garbage heap.

Sounds a depressing illness; but it is not an illness.

That’s contradictory, but bear with me and remember the social commentary, which, when expanded upon allows the reader to find an underlying message: the deterioration of an average working individual as he is continually stressed and literally beaten to the point of mortal exhaustion. It is death by overworking.

Think daily, 

A Southpaw





A Modernized Romeo and Juliet

In the sections prior to the meeting with the Duke and the Dauphin, specifically the conflict of Chapters 18 and 19, the story is taken to a backwoods war zone–the first family being the Grangerfords, and the second the Shepardsons; and who is stuck in the middle but poor Huckleberry Finn, who of course lands with the Grangerfords.

To start off there is a hint of the critical theory Structuralism and Semiotics in these chapters; it should be an obvious one–simply put, the American Civil War, which occurred several years before Mark Twain published his novel, but is nonetheless referenced covertly; as well a certain romantic tragedy penned by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.

The Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons are two feudal families killing off each member of the opposite clan, described by the Grangerford boy, Buck, as a feud, describing it to Huck–“…a feud is this way …man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him;…[the] other man’s brother kills him…and by-and-by everybody’s killed off…there ain’t no more feud…”(Twain. 110).  In the case of allegorical references this feud in the backwoods reflects the durational nature of the Civil War between the North and the South; then there is also the secretive romance to consider.

Love springs between two members of either family–Sophia Grangerford and Harney Sheperdson–in a manner that is kept under wraps until Huck delivers a secret note to Miss Sophia; one can notice a similar approach to the taboo romance in Romeo and Juliet, as either family comes from separate lifestyles and are judgmental of outsiders to their customs. Countering the ending of the play, however, in the novel the lovers live through their escape; and a bewildered Huck is informed by a black servant of their travels: “…run off to git married to dat young Harney Sheperdson…so dey spec’.”( Twain. 116).

As far the reader is concerned the lovers break free of their authoritarian families, which is as well the summation of Romeo and Juliet, seeing as how those lovers escape from the strictness of the living world into the realm of the peaceful dead.

To touch lastly on the feudal relationship between the families, much can be said about its parallel patterning to the Civil War–the warring families are silhouettes of the armies of the North and the South, and Colonel Grangerford is an imitation of President Lincoln, seen by his description: “[He]…was very tall and slim…and…had the thinnest kind of lips[;]…his forehead was high…” (Twain. 108). Obviously the Grangerfords represent the North; the Sheperdsons the South.

Think daily, 

A Southpaw

Blindness and Scars–Confessions of A Teenage Wizard

Okay, pop quiz, think of a deformed character in literature; most usually they are misunderstood and pitiful to read about–oh, their hurt makes you want to go up and hug them…from a distance, of course.

Your answers–ah, Quasimodo; exactly who Foster mentions in the opening lines of his chapter Marked For Greatness. Among such others as Oedipus and Richard III–wait, is that true? It says here Harry Potter is a deformed character. But, deformed characters are deformed because it speaks covertly about their personalities; let’s see…he has a scar given him by a dark wizard, and he is the Chosen One.


Let me steer this in a different direction now.

Ah, blind people, finally a topic that makes sense to this post. When I think of blind people I recall the blind judge in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but surely he is only blind because of his character; unless his character is a symbol for justice, specifically Lady Justice, and as Quasimodo is not the most attractive of humans, is blind to illustrate the perceptions of beauty and ugliness.

This and more described in the chapter He’s Blind For A Reason, You Know. 

All right, I’m ready to tackle scars again…and other wounds.

Speaking of wounds, how about Frankenstein’s Monster? He is one big corpse, all stitched together with the limbs and skin patches of the deceased…ew, creepy.   Although, contrary to the Universal movies, the Monster is capable of speech and thought and profound emotion; if so, then, isn’t his stitched body symbolic of the world into which he has been zapped to life? A monster, or man, of, quite literally, the people?

Oops, I did it again.

Blindness–yes, of course, the horrid disorder which restricts sight; but can it also release a deeper vision within a character; for example, Neo, protagonist of The Matrix trilogy? Even though he is only blind for the last scenes of the third movie it is because he needs to see further, specifically further into the machine world to overcome it.

Now, for my last attempt: the wooden peg leg of Captain Ahab. It is a serious injury, and constantly he is blaming that darn white whale for the loss of his leg, more so for the loss of his sense of reality. Ahab is already a Biblical reference–he is a madman in the Bible, as well; and losing a piece of connection to his ever floating world reveals him as a complete lunatic unbounded by the restrictions of society.

There, a near perfect explanation–that didn’t take too long, did it?

Think daily, 

A Southpaw


Sex and Baptism–An Unusual Pair


It is a word expressing a multitude of things–mostly, well…sex.

But did you know eating greasy food is a form of sex? What about “fighting a dragon?”

Okay, so sex is a versatile subject…but also versatile is its use in literature. In the chapters It’s All About Sex… and …Except Sex examples are pulled from books like D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Anthony Burgess’s controversial A Clockwork Orange–granted, those are entirely separate instances of sex; in fact, most of the time, they aren’t even truly sex.

The books that are sex…we call those by their proper names–erotica.

Scenes coming to mind–ah, Dracula, for example, a Gothic novel with sexual and aggressive overtones; but being in the age before Freud there were no double meanings or lewd imagery in commonplace objects. The world simply had sex.  See, then Bram Stoker penned a scene in which Count Dracula fluttered into innocent Mina Harker’s bedroom, slit open his pale chest, and made her drink the blood–again, before Freud; but read this:

“…his right hand gripped the back of her neck, forcing her face down on his bosom.”

That, and the other vivid descriptions are implicating an action similar to sex, but this is far from it; in fact, you might see Dracula tarnishing Miss Harker’s vulnerability as a woman, and as well beginning her conversion into a vampire. Not only sex, see?

Taking a trip on to the opposite side of the spectrum, we find baptism, which, as it turns out, is symbolic of surviving a drowning, or when caught in a rainstorm emerging soaking in a new life…specifically, as a new person.

Here, some of my own examples,

The Shawshank Redemption: The movie or book I have not had the pleasure of seeing, but on the original movie poster there is a kneeling prisoner cheering amid pouring rain–now, guessing here, but I feel the prisoner has escaped Shawshank Penitentiary and chosen to do so on the night of a thunder storm; and freed from his chains he is splattered with water, maybe he is slightly submerged in it.

Moby-Dick: In the incredible last thirty pages of this novel as Captain Ahab and his crew are battling the Great White Whale, there appears a tropical storm which forms a    violent whirlpool. Once Ahab stabs Moby, completing his lifelong mission, his ship, the Pequod, is swallowed wholly by the whirlpool; and Ishmael, the lone survivor having emerged with newfound wisdom, writes his novel and spends the rest of his life warning passerby on the streets of “Manhattoes” about the dreaded white whales.

I thought it an especially interesting point, by far the most thought-provoking of his ideas. Rain as a form of rebirth…it has a nice touch.

By the way, pairing these two ideas together–not a coincidence.

Think daily,

A Southpaw






The Duke and the Dauphin, Or, the Liars

It has been close to a week since I wrote last of my dear friend Huckleberry Finn; and, while the story is finished, there remain some details to go over in these posts–for example, the duke and the dauphin, the two false royalties who stow away on to the raft halfway through Chapter 19, and who Huck refers to as “rapscallions.”

They are the worst rapscallions, and during their stay the reader cannot help but hope they are pushed from the raft, never to be seen again.  Drifting from town to town the two knuckleheads devise these grand schemes–a memorable trip into the “State of Arkansaw” features the spectacularly dreadful Royal Nonesuch, the largest attempt to swindle townspeople out of their money, but which also, later, has the largest comeuppance on the duo, in terms of feathers and tar.

A quote by Huck–“All kings is mostly rapscallions, as fur as I can make out,” describes the nastiness of those acting liars; and is simultaneously a generalization of the nature of royalty interpreted by Huck.

He has yet to see genuine royalty, and so his inexperience leads to generalizing, based perhaps on perceptions and inferences gathered from books he has read, either the kings of the Bible, or literary rulers, such as Tschezrezade in Arabian Nights. 

Of course, generalizing– in this case, globally generalizing–is a component of Structuralism and Semiotics. This theory plays a role here because generalization and stereotyping are the cooperating components of this novel; they work majorly behind the scenes, especially in the racial prejudice against Jim and the otherwise unnecessary black servant; it is  also to be heavily noted in the later sections in which Huck and Tom argue over the details of jail breaks learned from fiction and life.

Equally significant in these adventures is the scene in Chapter 29 when the duke and the dauphin, accused of identity theft–what a phrase to hear in those times–are told to sign their false names on a slip of paper, so the jurors can compare the signatures of the real brothers and the fakers. At the time a judicial measure like so was only beginning to appear in courts around the country; evidence related to individual markings, like fingerprints, was a new presence in the field of law.

Talk about ahead of its time.

These, and separate segments with the duke and the dauphin, ranging from fraud to aggression, are defining points in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, more so perhaps than lesser sections of the book, being a veritable gold mine of hidden information.

Think daily,

A Southpaw



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.



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.