Posts tagged ‘literature revealed’

December 14th, 2012

Literature Revealed: Symbol

by Madeleine Rex

“You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have—arm yourselves!”

This year, in AP Literature and Composition, I’ve been assigned a remarkably difficult weekly task. I must turn in two analyses of literary terms within literature we are reading for class, explaining the context, affect, and relation to the story as a whole. Because these are taking up the time I would otherwise spend blogging, I figure I can post them here in case anyone finds them remotely interesting. Personally, I love this assignment. It’s ridiculously tedious and never-ending, but the critical thinking involved is so much fun.

Most of my terms are from William Shakepeare’s Hamlet and E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View. However, this term is from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado.

P.S. WARNING: SPOILERS

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Symbol: A symbol represents an object or idea. It is usually commonly associated with the thing it represents. When symbols are used, it is called symbolism.

Example:

“A huge foot d’or, in a field of azure; the foot crushes a serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel” (Poe 111).

Function: In Edgar Allen Poe’s short story, The Cask of Amontillado, the main character, Montresor, is endeavoring to lure Fortunato, against whom he has a grudge, to his death. Montresor intends to do so by promising Fortunato, a drunk, that he will be one of the first to taste a rare drink (Amontillado) that Montresor has in the cavernous vault beneath his home. As they walk through the vault, an oblivious and very drunk Fortunato says, “I forget your arms,” referring to the Montresor family’s coat of arms. Montresor describes the coat of arms as quoted above.

The Montresor coat of arms can be considered ironic, symbolic, or both. It portrays a heavy, golden foot crushing a snake after it has bitten the foot’s heel, an image of merciless retribution. The “foot of the Montresors,” as it may be called, is brutal and quick in its punishments of those who have harmed or spited it. The fact that the foot is gold cannot go unnoticed, as gold traditionally symbolizes justice and balance, which coincides with the idea of vengeance, which rewards one act with another, the balancing of two evils.

The reader, though unaware of what Fortunato did to incur Montresor’s wrath, knows that, “when [Fortunato] ventured upon insult [Montresor] vowed revenge.” The reader also knows that Montresor, though cautious, wastes no time in exacting his revenge. Such a vengeful reaction and spirit is mirrored symbolically in Montresor’s arms. Just as he is determined to have vengeance, so was the bitten foot that crushed the mad snake.

This theory is further supported by the Montresor’s motto, which translated reads, “No one provokes me without impunity.” This oath, combined with the image of the arms, solidifies Montresor’s character as a man who indignantly crushes those who have done him wrong. Understanding that this mentality has presumably been nurtured by his family for generations illuminates an aspect of Montresor’s motivation to seek revenge. He has been raised to admire such heartless “justice,” which explains the apparent clean conscience with which he lures Fortunato to his death. Our sense of right and wrong depends heavily on what we are raised to believe, so, to Montresor, seeking revenge is likely the only course of action available to him – it is his right and his duty.

The irony of the arms lies in the fact that Montresor is aware of the symbolism of its image and of who plays which part. Fortunato has no idea that he is the serpent who has – possibly in a fit of madness (or drunkenness, considering his tendencies), as the serpent is described as “rampant” – insulted and provoked the heavy foot of a Montresor, who is now determined to crush him.

December 3rd, 2012

Literature Revealed: Personification

by Madeleine Rex

“You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have—arm yourselves!”

This year, in AP Literature and Composition, I’ve been assigned a remarkably difficult weekly task. I must turn in two analyses of literary terms within literature we are reading for class, explaining the context, affect, and relation to the story as a whole. Because these are taking up the time I would otherwise spend blogging, I figure I can post them here in case anyone finds them remotely interesting. Personally, I love this assignment. It’s ridiculously tedious and never-ending, but the critical thinking involved is so much fun.

Most of my terms are from William Shakepeare’s Hamlet and E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View.

P.S. WARNING: SPOILERS

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Personification: Attributing human qualities or actions to an inhuman object or idea.

Example:

“O, heart, lose not thy nature; let not ever
The soul of Nero enter this firm bosom.
Let me be cruel, not unnatural;
I will speak daggers to her, but use none.
My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites–
How in my words somever she be shent,
To give them seals never, my soul, consent”
(III.iii. (346-352)!

Function: Hamlet has been beckoned to his mother’s room after the King’s reaction to his clever play. Hamlet’s suspicions have been verified by his and Horatio’s observance of the King – the Ghost most certainly spoke the truth. All that is left is to follow through with his oath to kill Claudius. Due to the astounding events of the evening, Hamlet is feeling rather on edge as he answers his mother’s call, and thus pleads with himself, uttering the passage above. In this passage, he addresses his heart, commanding it to “lose not [its] nature,” or to remain loving. He makes a reference to the Roman emperor, Nero, who killed his own mother, and says he hopes to not do the same. Personification comes into play in lines 349 and 350, in which Hamlet says he will speak harshly, but not act so, stating, “My tongue and soul in this be hypocrites.” “Hypocrite” is a term used to describe people whose actions or words contradict what they did or said previously. In this instance, Hamlet applies a human attribute (hypocrisy) to objects, the tongue and the soul. Hamlet is emphasizing that, though he will say cruel things, he will not act cruel. Similarly, in line 353, he tells his soul to never consent (allow) harsh action toward his mother. This entire passage is an internal plea of Hamlet’s to keep himself from losing control with his mother and harming her beyond what is necessary to accomplish what he must – avenging his father’s murder. In a sense, he is successful – he does not physically harm his mother, but she exclaims, “O, speak to me no more! / These words like daggers enter my ears” (III.iv. 98-99). However, through a cruel chain of events, his actions toward others eventually result in his mother’s death. In his effort to kill Claudius, he behaves as a madman, eventually earning Claudius’s suspicion, and Claudius commands Laertes to challenge Hamlet to a fencing match with a poisoned sword. In case of Hamlet’s victory, the king prepares a cup of wine, also laced with poison. During the chaos of the match, the Queen unsuspectingly sips from this poisoned cup and is killed. Hamlet’s actions, though not meant to kill his mother, culminate in her death and the deaths of many others. Incidentally, Hamlet’s actions are not the only to lead to unforeseen and unfortunate events. Polonius’s spying leads to his death (when Hamlet kills him in Act III), Claudius is killed just as he hoped to kill Hamlet – and with the poison he used to kill his brother, Laertes is killed in the fencing match meant to kill Hamlet, and Hamlet’s apparent madness leads to Ophelia’s actual madness and suicide. It seems that, no matter what the intention of a character’s seemingly small devious action, it soon goes awry, often coming back to hurt them.

November 20th, 2012

Literature Revealed: Dramatic Irony

by Madeleine Rex

“You want weapons? We’re in a library! Books! The best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have—arm yourselves!”

This year, in AP Literature and Composition, I’ve been assigned a remarkably difficult weekly task. I must turn in two analyses of literary terms within literature we are reading for class, explaining the context, affect, and relation to the story as a whole. Because these are taking up the time I would otherwise spend blogging, I figure I can post them here in case anyone finds them remotely interesting. Personally, I love this assignment. It’s ridiculously tedious and never-ending, but the critical thinking involved is so much fun.

Most of my terms are from William Shakepeare’s Hamlet and E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View. I shall post two a week (like my assignment). They’re not too long, I promise! To prove it to you, I’ll post one today.

P.S. I’m making this picture of David Tennant the picture related to “Literature Revealed” because he is awesome.
P.S.S. WARNING: SPOILERS

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Dramatic Irony: The contrast between what a character is privy to or understands in a particular situation and the understanding and knowledge of the audience.

Example:
“At such time I’ll loose my daughter to him.
Be you and I behind arras then.
Mark the encounter. If he love her not,
And be not from his reason fall’n thereon,
Let me be no assistant for a state,
But keep a farm and carters”
(II.ii. 160-164).

Function: Hamlet is a story laced with deception. Most characters seem clever and conniving, often working against each other for a certain purpose, whether it be discovering truth, personal gain, or, in Hamlet’s case, vengeance. In the passage above, King Claudius’s right-hand man, Polonius, is sharing with Claudius a plan aimed to determine Hamlet’s state of mind and the cause thereof. Polonius believes Hamlet has been driven mad by love for Polonius’s daughter, Ophelia. In order to confirm this, he hatches this plan to arrange a “coincidental” meeting between the two of them, while he and the King observe from behind drapes (“arras”). Little does Polonius know that Hamlet planned his “insanity.” In Act One, Scene Five, Hamlet tells Horatio and Marcellus,

“Here as ever before, so help you mercy,
How strange or odd some’er I bear myself
(As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on),
That you, at such times, seeing me, never shall,
With arms encumbered thus, or this head-shake,
Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase,
As “Well, we know,” or “We could, if we would,”
Or “If we list to speak,” or “There be, and if they might”
Or such ambiguous giving out, to note
That you know aught of me – this do I swear,
So grace and mercy at your most need help you”
(I.vi. 168-179).

This passage clues the reader in, warning them that they will likely find Hamlet much changed, acting irrationally with “an antic disposition” (insane look), and that it is immensely important no one is told it is a ruse. He proceeds to make both Horatio and Marcellus swear they will tell no one. Hamlet desires the King to believe he has gone mad, with the hope that the King will let his guard down and pay no attention to him. Then Hamlet might strike unexpectedly and avenge his father’s death. This plan of Hamlet’s is set in motion the moment he acts insane before Ophelia, knowing Polonius’s character and that he is very aware of what goes on in his children’s lives. Hamlet trusts Ophelia will tell her father of their encounter (which she does, in Act Two, Scene One), and that Polonius, as second-in-command, will report to the King. This Polonius does in the example quoted above. The dramatic irony stems from the fact the reader is aware of Hamlet’s scheme and that Polonius is unwittingly following it exactly. In line 164, Polonius goes so far as to swear he is right, and that if he is not, he is not the King’s right-hand man, but a farmer with a horse-drawn wagon. Considering Polonius’s character, there is probably little he cares for or identifies with more than his position in the Danish court (a position obviously quite influential due to the power of monarchy in the 1600’s), so this expression of certainty is incredibly serious. He has no idea his actions are precisely what Hamlet predicted they would be. Another domino falls in Hamlet’s plotted chain of events, and, inevitably, they will continue to fall until the fateful scene is enacted by the players, and Hamlet can catch the King by surprise.