Wednesday, February 17, 2010

double design.

In their dire circumstances of confliction in the ethics of love, the Lapham’s turn to Reverend Sewell for help, and thus his words become a “central ethical premise” in The Rise of Silas Lapham: “‘One suffer instead of three, if none is to blame?’ suggested Sewell. ‘That’s sense, and that’s justice. It’s the economy of pain which naturally suggests itself, and which would insist upon itself, if we were not all perverted by traditions which are the figment of the shallowest sentimentality… we are all blinded, we are all weakened by a false ideal of self-sacrifice’” (241). Neither a strict guide for moral conduct or for economic organization, Sewell’s “economy of pain” is a combination of the two. It is illustrated by Sewell, and I believe by Howells, as a fair, humane way to distribute and manage pain, and ultimately minimize human suffering as much as possible. If Pen sacrifices her own love for Tom, and his love for her, and Irene cannot have him, then Sewell is merely suggesting that it is irrational for all three of them to have to endure this pain. This approach is appropriate for the ethical dilemmas regarding humanitarianism as well as capitalism in The Rise of Silas Lapham.

On another note, I noticed as Silas and Persis Lapham are making plans for a new house, through their discussion with Seymour, the architect, Howells’ designs a parallel between the architecture of the house and the architecture of his novel. The architect sketched his idea on a scrap of paper: “‘Then have your dining-room behind the hall, looking on the water… That gets you rid of one of those long, straight, ugly staircases,’ – until that moment Lapham had thought a long, straight staircase the chief ornament of a house, - ‘and gives you an effect of amplitude and space’” (41). Effectively, this double staircase, which intersects in many ways, and comes together at the top, is symbolic of Howells’ two plots involving bankruptcy and love.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

naive innocence.

Daisy Miller is portrayed as an ignorant, animated, and flirtatious character in the novella by Henry James. Her charming face and vivacious personality makes a remarkable impression on everyone that lays on her or witnesses her acts colliding with the customs of European society. However, European social rules were too conservative for Daisy Miller, and she constantly pushes the limits, always doing exactly as she pleases. I believe it was her deep fondness of “society” that made it difficult to put boundaries on her lifestyle. The tension increases exponentially as she develops an “intimate” relationship with the handsome Italian man, Mr. Giovanelli. Pretentious women, such as Mrs. Walker, begin to turn a “cold shoulder” to Daisy Miller, as she continues to flaunt herself around the community of Rome. Henry James illustrates the distinction between American values and European etiquette. However, over a century later, our society’s standards and way of life have become much less rigid in countries all over the world.

In the end of the story, Daisy throws caution to the wind by visiting the Colosseum with Mr. Giovanelli after eleven o’clock in the evening, as it was a wonderfully romantic to see the impressive structure dusted in moonlight. Winterbourne chances to see them, and fears for the pretty young woman’s safety: “‘I am afraid, that you will not think Roman fever very pretty. This is the way people catch it’” (55). Daisy Miller retorts, “‘I never was sick, and I don’t mean to be! I don’t look like much, but I’m healthy! I was bound to see the Colosseum by moonlight; I shouldn’t have wanted to go home without that; and we have had the most beautiful time, haven’t we, Mr. Giovanelli? If there has been any danger, Eugenio can give me some pills’” (55). After reading, two burning questions arose about Miss Daisy’s intentions: (1) Is she responsible for her own death? (2) Did she enjoy making a “scandal,” and perhaps forged a close relationship for Mr. Giovanelli to make Winterbourne jealous? The latter, of course, comes from Daisy’s insistence that Winterbourne be informed that she was never engaged. My answer, the way I interpreted Daisy Miller, is similar for both. I do not believe that she is directly responsible for her tragic fate, nor did she deliberately try to make Mr. Winterbourne envious of her closeness with Mr. Giovanelli. She appeared to me to be too “innocent” and far too na├»ve to thoughtfully conduct either of those actions. Her impulsivity and negligence may have played a hand, but her intentions were not to bring upon her own dreadful end or to engage in trickery or obscenities in their culture. Moreover, the Colosseum, oftentimes held gladiatorial shows, battles and hunts involving animals, as well as many other events, usually held by families of power and prestige. This seemed to convey more symbolic meaning in the place Daisy caught her fatal illness, as well as to the theme of social status.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

true identity?

As Jean Muir, the central character in Behind A Mask unfolds, she is depicted as an observant woman with a ruthless and conniving plot to move up in the ranks of society. Entering the Coventry household— members of the English gentry— Jean guises herself as a meek, nineteen year old girl. Near the end of the first chapter, after the Coventry family initially accepts her as an innocent young lady, Jean goes to her room and reveals herself as an actress to the reader, however, at the end of the first chapter. “‘Come, the curtain is down, so I may be myself for a few hours, if actresses ever are themselves’” (Alcott 11). The last part of her statement leads me to question if she is a woman of many faces, even to the reader. However, I thought her physical metamorphosis was very interesting: “…she removed the long abundant braids from her head, wiped the pink from her face, took out several pearly teeth, and slipping off her dress appeared herself indeed, a haggard, worn, moody woman of thirty at least” (Alcott 12).

In every novel we’ve read so far in class, the character(s) have been on a quest, seeking to fulfill a greater purpose in their life. In The Blithedale Romance it was to live the ideal American pastoral life; although, with each character seeking their own hidden agenda. John Rollin Ridge wrote that Joaquin’s goal, in Joaquin Murieta, was to get revenge for the oppressed, which is mainly justice for him alone. And finally, in Alcott’s Behind A Mask, Jean Muir is on her own quest for affluence and financial security in a society dominated by men. Does Jean surrender her own integrity, and/or all of her true identity, while performing in the different parts she takes on through the novel?