Nineteenth century England had flourishing cities and emerging industries. Machines made it possible for those with money to invest to earn great profits, especially with an abundance of poor people who were willing to work long hours at hard or repetitive jobs for little pay. By contrast, the rural system included landlords, farmers, and common laborers who owned no land. In this rural system that had existed for centuries, those without land had no hope of bettering their lives: once in poverty, always in poverty. These hopeless poor moved to the city on the dream of making their own fortunes; it was usual for working class families to send young children off to the factories for twelve to fourteen-hour shifts or longer. Child labor laws would not be enacted until the 1860s.
Meanwhile, children and women were ideal workers because they did not form labor unions, and were easily intimidated, beaten, or fired if they . . . Read More
Point of View
The first-person narrator of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is an adult Pip who tells the story in his own voice and from his own memory. What is distinctive about that voice is that it can so intimately recall the many small details of a little boy’s fear and misery, as well as the voices and dialects of others-from the rough country speech of Magwitch and Orlick to the deaf Aged Parent’s loud repetitions or the mechanically predictable things Jaggers says. Yet other details seem to be forgotten. Pip tells almost nothing of his beatings from Mrs. Joe, but a great deal about his fear of them, using adult vocabulary and concepts in these reflections. The opening scene with little Pip in the cemetery recalls the tombstones as looking like “lozenges,” soothing the throat of this mature narrator. This way, the adult Pip not only evaluates events as he remembers them but also adds a deeper insight than . . . Read More
Alienation and Loneliness
Beneath Charles Dickens’ major theme of a great respect for wealth is an analysis of the fate of the outsider. At least four known orphans-Mrs. Joe, Magwitch, Estella, and Pip himself-have suffered loneliness, but each character reacts differently. Pip begins his story as a child standing in a gloomy cemetery at the grave site of his family, so pitifully alone that he can do no more than imagine his mother as the “wife of the above,” which he can only interpret as directions to his mother’s current address in heaven. Pip himself is often threatened with death by his sister and again by his convict, Magwitch. Even Orlick, the town lout, tries to kill an adult Pip. Joe Gargery is Pip’s only friend on the marshes, and even after Pip is introduced to city life friends are few compared to the number of those who are coldly uncaring or dangerous. On the other hand, Estella’s odd childhood, . . . Read More
The First Stage of Pip’s Expectations
Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations opens as seven-year-old Philip Pirrip, known as “Pip,” visits the graves of his parents down in the marshes near his home on Christmas Eve. Here he encounters a threatening escaped convict, who frightens Pip and makes him promise to steal food and a file for him. Pip steals some food from his brother-inlaw, the blacksmith Joe Gargery, and his cruel sister “Mrs. Joe,” with whom he lives, and takes it to the convict the next day. The convict is soon caught and returned to the “Hulks,” the prison ships from which he had escaped.
Pip is invited to visit the wealthy Miss Havisham, and to play with her adopted daughter, Estella. Miss Havisham lives in the gloomy Satis House, and Pip discovers her to be an extremely eccentric woman. Having been abandoned on her wedding day many years earlier, Miss Havisham has never . . . Read More
In his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, James Baldwin divides his narrative into three distinct parts. The first section, “The Seventh Day,” sets the novel’s central action, what Shirley S. Allen, in “Religious Symbolism and Psychic Reality in Baldwin’s ‘Go Tell It on the Mountain,”’ calls John’s “initiation into manhood.” John completes that initiation and discovers a sense of self in the closing section, “The Threshing Floor.”
Between these two sections comes “The Prayers of the Saints,” which is broken into three narratives that focus on the history of John’s family: his stepfather Gabriel, his mother Elizabeth, and his Aunt Florence. Marcus Klein in “James Baldwin: A Question of Identity,” argues that the different narrative voices in this section produce “a technical fault” in the novel since “John doesn’t really know the lives . . . Read More
The setting of James Baldwin’s novel – the impoverished part of New York known as Harlem, and more specifically the storefront church within the Harlem community – was undoubtedly a key reason for the book’s popularity upon its first publication, giving intellectuals an inside look at a world not many of them had known. This setting may be the reason some people read Go Tell It on the Mountain today, even with the inner city well documented by television cameras. The important thing about this setting, though, is that it is integral to the personality of the characters, affecting them and being formed by who they are.
The adult members of the Grimes family, for instance, all came to New York for different reasons. Florence came first, thirty years earlier, rebelling against the limitations put on her as a woman; Gabriel to escape the deaths of his illegitimate son and his barren wife; and Elizabeth came . . . Read More
Identity (Search For Self)
Go Tell It on the Mountain is primarily about John Grimes’ quest to find out who he really is, to distinguish the values of those around him from the ones that he holds. It is no coincidence that the novel takes place on his birthday, which is the day representing a step forward into maturity, or that it is his fourteenth, marking the boundary between childhood and young adulthood because it implies the start of puberty. The point of growing up is discovering one’s own identity.
John comes from a family that is involved in his life, but, because of his father’s thoughtlessness and bullying tendencies, he cannot accept that his role in this family is who he really is. Even without knowing that Gabriel Grimes is not his real father, John holds him at a distance. This could be explained as a result of Gabriel’s harshness, while Roy’s wild ways, which reflect the childhood Gabriel . . . Read More
Seventeen years old and recently arrived in Harlem from Georgia, Elisha is the nephew of the pastor of the Temple of the Fire of the Baptized. He has been publicly chastised in front of the congregation for “walking disorderly” with Ella Mae Washington, meaning that they had been walking without supervision and might have given in to temptation and had sex. J
ohn is infatuated with Elisha. At Sunday school, “John stared at Elisha all during the lesson, admiring the timbre of Elisha’ s voice, much deeper and manlier than his own, admiring the leanness, and grace, and darkness of Elisha in his Sunday suit, and wondering if he would ever be holy as Elisha was holy.” While clearing the church to prepare for the Saturday evening tarry meeting, John and Elisha wrestle: He saw the veins rise on EIisha’s forehead and in his neck … and John, watching these manifestations of his power, became wild with . . . Read More
James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain chronicles the experiences of its young narrator, John Grimes, in Harlem in 1935. The novel opens on the morning of John’s fourteenth birthday and centers on the events that lead up 10 his spiritual conversion later that evening. The narrative also provides a history of his family, of his stepfather Gabriel , a preacher in Temple of the Fire Baptized; of his aunt Florence, Gabriel’s sister; and of his mother Elizabeth. All of these stories add poignancy and context to John’s efforts to come to terms with his present and his future.
On that morning as he is lying in bed, John thinks about his family’s expectations that he will follow in his father’s footsteps into “the holy life” but wonders if that is the path he wants for himself. His Jack of devotion to the church angers his father. John remembers one Sunday morning when Father James, . . . Read More
Chaim Potok’s The Chosen focuses on the contrasts between extreme ends of Orthodox Judaism. Despite criticisms that Potok is overly optimisticReuven regains his sight, Danny renounces the tzaddikate without being ostracized by his father, Danny and Reuven resolve many of the conflicts they feel between the secular world and Orthodox Judaism-Potok’s novel provides us with valuable insights into American Orthodox Jewish life during and after World War II. The novel explores in detail the lives and traditions of Hasidic and Orthodox Jews, and creates an apparently realistic portrait of both cultures. The Chosen attempts to explore the place of Judaism in a secular society, provides insights into tensions between faith and scholarship, and suggests Judaism’s need to create a new philosophy for the modem world.
The setting is Brooklyn in the 1940s. Reuven’s detailed descriptions of his and Danny’s homes and Reb Saunders’ synagogue appear . . . Read More