Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” is regarded as a strong example of post-colonial literature. The story also features many aspects of Realism, such as the up-close look of the main character, Okonkwo. Also, throughout the course of the story, the reader experiences a strong sense of verisimilitude. Achebe introduces the idea of history, which helps to strengthen the novel’s realistic features. One aspect that did strike me as a bit odd, however, was the idea of time. In class, we discussed how, for the most part, Achebe displays time fairly accurately throughout the novel. However, this accurate display of time is disrupted when Okonkwo is banished for the accidental murder of the young boy. These seven years, and the time immediately following it, seem to move by faster, at an almost surreal pace. From Okonkwo’s banishment, to his return, to his eventual death, are all presented to the reader very rapidly. These aspects undermine the idea of a fluid and normal movement of time, which could be seen as Achebe being influenced by the Modernist and Post-modernist movements before his time.
While reading the first few paragraphs of Garcia Marquez’s “Light is Like Water”, one does not immediately notice its supernatural elements. However, when continuing to read, these aforementioned magical aspects hit the reader quite hard, describing children sailing on light, and having vast underwater (or underlight, rather) expeditions in the comfort of their own house. This, of course, leads to a sort of tension for the reader, who must discern between what is real and what is not. This is just one of the elements which Garcia Marquez’s writing employs to cement itself as a staple in the realm of magical realism. Garcia Marquez also describes the magical elements in great detail, speaking of light channeling “down the great avenue in a golden rapid that illuminated the city” (Garcia Marquez 2). The idea of time and space is also clearly evident, and it ties into the idea of realms that intermix with each other. The timing is crucial, and it is explicitly mentioned that every Wednesday, the parents go out to see a movie. This, of course, is when the children’s magical escapades enter the “real” world, essentially penetrating normality. Space is also important, as a seemingly normal room is transformed into islands. What ties this all together, I believe, is magical realist element of the irreducible element. The magical light is never explained, it is just simply to be taken and understood in the contexts of the story. For these reasons, I believe Garcia Marquez’s text employs every primary characteristic of magical realism.
While reading about Calvino, his story Invisible Cities was mentioned and it piqued my interest. Calvino, being heavily influenced by modernism and part of the postmodernism movement, included many postmodernist ideas in the story. I found it interesting that the story displays a story within a story; the poems describing the city, and then Marco Polo’s communication with Kublai Khan. This, coupled with the obvious language barrier between Polo and Khan, highlights an important feature of postmodernism: a disbelief in absolute truth. Postmodernists believed that ones’ perception of the world is subjective. I believe that by juxtaposing Marco Polo and Kublai Khan and their language and social barriers, Calvino attempts to force the reader to imagine on his own. It almost becomes open-ended in a sense. The reader’s views are subjective and the author cannot determine them for him. This ambiguous nature, I believe, was a key factor of Calvino’s writing and his postmodernist ideals.
While reading Conrad’s Heart of Darkness I immediately noticed the connection the text had with many other writings from the Victorian era. From my reading, it seemed Kurtz’ goal in the jungle was one of conquest. He felt the need to rule over the lesser foreigners. This exact ideal is characterized in Rudyard Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden.” The poem explains how it is England’s duty, a moral obligation, whether the ones being colonized like it or not. The poem goes on to justify this blatant invading, and a portion of the English population began to agree with this mentality. I believe the same happens with the Company and Kurtz’ character. They continued to colonize the jungle and viewed themselves as superior. However, Conrad juxtaposes this idea with that of the idea of modernity, another challenge that many from the Victorian era felt. With such an increase in population, colonization, and technology, they struggled with their place in society. I believe Conrad shows this through Kurtz’ infamous lines at the end of the novel. He says, “The horror, the horror…” essentially realizing the complex views of the time.
Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” focuses on the character of Gregor, who at the start of the story is turned into a giant insect. The rest of the story gradually shows Gregor being alienated from his family and life. Many focus on Gregor’s family and how they distance themselves from him. Even his sister, who was close to him, eventually does not want to take care of him. What I found interesting, however, was Gregor’s alienation with his human self. At first, he is very scared and confused at the transformation. However, as the story progresses, he becomes more and more comfortable in his insect form. This is evident in the scenes where he happily eats the rotten scraps his sister left him, or when he is shown leisurely crawling around his room. As hard as it was for him, he began to slowly forget his past human life and adapt with this new life. I was curious as to whether this theme of adaptation was one that was brought up repeatedly during Modernism? Regardless, though Gregor tried to adapt fully to this new life, in the end he still harbored many of his human feelings. He continued to feel he was a burden to his family, and in the end this overtook his adaptation to his new life.
The twentieth century was filled with war and revolution, but also progress. This era is noted having focused heavily on the idea of modernity, almost to the point of obsession. This passion for constant progress was seen in the arts, literature, technology and science. It seemed that in this era, society was dead-set on the idea of mastering this idea of modernity. I think this passion for mastery and understanding of the progress that was happening around them stemmed from a past experience. When thinking back in time, specifically to the Victorian Era, they also faced the similar issue of progression. The Industrial Revolution had just ended, and under Queen Victoria, people entered a new era. This age of transition seemed to be a very jarring thing for the population. By the end of the Queen’s reign, population had increased over three times. In literature of the time, it was evident that the Victorians struggled with their place in history and the idea of modernity. I believe it was due to this past experience that the Modernist movement took the idea of progression and mastery so seriously.
Henrik Ibsen is known for popularizing dramatic realism in the late 19th century. This style of writing was severely different from earlier literature, which primarily focused on the aristocracy and used verse. Ibsen’s famous play, A Doll’s House, contained several of these genre defining characteristics that help cement Ibsen in that role. A Doll’s House focused on contemporary, working class people, and used prose, making it seem more conversational and realistic. That being said, the play is also identified as a tragedy. At the time the play was written, a tragedy, for the most part, implied that the character starts a good position, and by the end of the story, is in a worse one. I find this strange, as in my eyes, I do not believe Nora to be in a worst situation at the end of the play. I believe the title of the play, A Doll’s House, refers to Dora being dehumanized over the course of her marriage and simply manipulated and controlled like a toy. She is confined to her place in the “doll house” and lives to conform with societal norms. By the end of the play, she breaks free from these societal chains. She is left without money and without family, which may be the basis for many labeling the play a tragedy. However, from a psychological (which was another key feature of Realist literature) and emotional standpoint, I believe Nora has progressed. She is no longer bound by her societal role and can start a new life without masking her true self.
Kate Chopin’s writing, done in the lately 19th century, had several Realist characteristics, and focused on the the historical contexts of the time. Boundary crossing, primarily seen in the form of different classes or races intermixing, was a very common trait in her writing . Desiree’s Baby is a great example of this, as it focuses heavily on the idea of mixing class and race, and the problems it creates in society. I believe that to fully understand this work, one needs to familiarize themselves with the history of the area and the time period. I would like to particularly point out the character of Armand. Armand completely removes himself from the life of Desiree and the baby when he finds out that the baby is of mixed race. On the first reading, one immediately interprets Armand as the “villain” of the story. I think these 100 or so years that have passed have changed the meaning of the story and characters for us. Back then, being of mixed blood was definitely looked down upon. The region where Chopin wrote was struggling with issues of racism. Even though Armand is ironically shown to be the cause of the mixed child, I believe that the audience of the story at the time it was written would have identified differently with him, not necessarily viewing him as we do now. I believe that this is a feature with most Realist writing. Since Realism portrays such a vivid image of what is currently around the writer, it is hard to fully understand the work without thoroughly looking into the historical contexts in which it was written.
After the French Revolution, the world entered what was known as the Romantic era. While it was a rather universal change in ideology, texts in particular saw a very drastic change from those found earlier. Where the Enlightenment era advocated equality, the Romantics preached individuality and originality. The Enlightenment texts generally were very formal and used lofty language. This was changed with Romanticism, as “romances were medieval tales of knighthood and adventure and ballads of the common people” (Longman 3). Basically, they were a return to the long forgotten past, similar to an adult reminiscing of his childhood. I found this interesting, as it relates heavily to the ideals of Rousseau, a prolific writer in the Age of Enlightenment. He believed people were more innocent during their early years. Rousseau was also very influenced by the idea of nature. I believe it can be argued that Rousseau was not only an important figure in the Enlightenment, but also in Romanticism. His work, The Social Contract, is primarily looked at for its views regarding Enlightenment and issues of freedom that eventually led to the French Revolution. I believe The Social Contract can also be seen as a bridge not only to the French Revolution, but to Romanticism as well. Rousseau’s ideals and thoughts on nature and freedom should cement him as a pioneer of the Romantic movement.
Citizen: Someone who is a member of a free society with many families, who shares in the rights of this society, and who benefits from these freedoms.
This definition was written in 1753 by Diderot himself for the Encyclopédie. Diderot’s “citizen” is very interesting when compared to the views Rousseau proposed about society in his Social Contract. I believe Diderot’s definition of a citizen reveals a personal bias; the “citizen” he speaks of has not already been established, it is simply Diderot voicing his views on how to better society. Diderot spoke of this so called “citizen” in 1753. Rousseau argued almost ten years later that society should be a coexistence of citizens who are equal, where these people were sovereign amongst themselves. Rousseau’s intentions and ideas are strikingly similar to those that Diderot had previously mentioned. This shows that even ten years after Diderot’s definition, it was not achieved. For this reason, I believe Diderot’s entry into the Encyclopédie to be biased. He may have been voicing an opinion that was agreed upon by many, but this ideal citizen was not born until well after the publication of the article.
Word Count: 189