Category: Classics

Compare and Contrast: Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron and the propaganda of the welfare state

Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron is a critique of overstated equality. As members of civil society we all agree upon the value of equal rights and equal opportunities. But when equality is taken too seriously, it can have counterproductive effects. All of us have experienced inequality of power, fortune and endowments in our personal and social lives. We accept it to be part of the game of life and adapt ourselves to the fact. In contrast, the political realm endeavors to offer equality of individual rights, liberties and entitlements. The eligibility to vote to elect our public representatives is one such right. The right of electoral franchise is equal to the extent that one person is allowed one vote and that each vote is weighted equally. It is telling that this fundamental observation of equality still does not make the United States an ideal model of democracy. Hence, there is disconnection between lofty principles and ground realities in both the short-story as well as . . . Read More

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Declaration of the Halfrican Nation by Wayde Compton & Stinky Girl by Hiromi Goto

The two texts in question are foremost witty and profound pieces of literature. The artistry and element of fun induced in the two writings make them alluring to the readers. Within this attractive form they present important social comment. As for their content, they both illustrate various hues and shapes that constitute human oppression. This essay will argue that while both the stories take note of structural oppression, their emphasis is on individual oppression – the latter including even self-oppression.

There is substantial difference between how individual oppression is manifest compared to institutionalized/structural oppression. In the former, there is no historic ethnic conflict between the perpetrator and the victim. It is a random act of disparaging treatment of a fellow human based on prejudice or misconception. In twentieth century American history, for example, the blatant institutionalization of black slavery eventually eased to give blacks nominal . . . Read More

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This Side of Paradise: Literary Elements

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s early twentieth century classic showcases several elements of literary art. The tale of romance and longing of the protagonist Amory Blaine is at once charming, poignant and rich in social comment.

In terms of literary elements, the novel is a bildungsroman, for being an exposition on the process of growing up. Not much emphasis is given to the childhood and adolescent years of Amory Blaine. However, the few years of his young adult life that is depicted is a process of maturation and coming of age. Through his romantic aspirations, with its attendant failures and successes, Blaine goes from boy to man.

In terms of style, Fitzgerald employs a restrained manner of expression. Though the romantic genre gives license for poetic and flowery language, Fitzgerald is shy of using it. Writing the novel in his early twenties, this shows tremendous literary maturity. In this sense, the novel itself can be reflexively seen as the bindungsroman of the . . . Read More

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Elements of Film Thinking: Touch of Evil (1958)

Despite the film not being Welles’ best work, one could see his trademark style throughout. At the same time Welles’ forte is his experimentation and spontaneous innovation. As a result, the film retains Welles’ fingerprints without adopting previously tried techniques. This is true of both the narrative and cinematographic styles. This essay will argue that Touch of Evil is a triumph of style and technique.

Touch of Evil was promoted as a crime-thriller. However, viewing it in its entirety, it is fair to claim that the film overlaps several genres. For example, there are obvious film noir characteristics, most notably in the visualization of shots. Long shadows, angled lighting on characters, dingy settings, the suggestions of secrecy through mise-en-scene all testify to the film noir spirit. Moreover, the pivotal plot element of a murder (through bomb detonation) is consistent with the genre. While the cinematography is novel in this fashion, the core themes of the . . . Read More

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Funeral Oration and the Old Oligarch: Two views of Athenian Democracy

The two documents in question are well regarded for their political and historical comment. Both talk about Athenian democracy and its pros and cons. While Pericles Funeral Oration is an elogé to martyrdom and democracy, the Old Oligarch (Pseudo-Xenophon) takes a rather pessimistic view of democracy.

In the Funeral Oration, Pericles pays rich tribute to warriors, who commit the supreme sacrifice for maintaining the sovereignty of the Athenian state. In the wake of the Peloponnesian War, scores of Athenian soldiers were pressed into duty who they readily endured the hardships of warfare. Though acknowledging their bravery and sense of duty, Pericles notes that one individual’s words cannot sufficiently capture the magnitude of their feat. Pericles goes on to mention how the very foundation of the Athenian kingdom was based on valour and patriotism. He cites the example of martyrs from previous generations to identify this tradition.

Pericles assures the audience that . . . Read More

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How do Amélie and Ikiru glean the meaning of life from within?

Both the films, Amelie and Ikiru, are in essence about individuals. The characters of Amélie Poulain and Kanji Watanabe negotiate and overcome their share of life’s travails. But there is great variation with respect to the nature and complexion of their challenges. Amélie’s life was not as precarious and grave as Watanabe’s was poised toward the end of his life. Hence the standards applied to evaluating their qualities will have to be adjusted accordingly. Watanabe finds himself in an imposing and impossible situation, where he feels betrayed by his family, his work as well as his failing health. Amélie’s issues are that of loneliness and longing for love. Both the protagonists eventually succeed in overcoming the hurdles and finding meaning in their lives. They do so by looking within and unearthing solutions from the depths of their souls. This essay will elaborate on this thesis.

In Amélie, we have a fresh-faced young woman who finds joys in small pleasures of . . . Read More

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‘Negro’ by Langston Hughes

Negro by Langston Hughes is neither technically complex not metaphorically rich. Yet it strikes a powerful chord in the hearts of the reader, mainly on the back of its emotional appeal. The poem is an illustration of how simple words and easy historical references can be synthesized into powerful art. This essay will argue how the medium of poetry is employed by the poet in conveying one of the blights of human history, namely, black slavery.

A prominent theme in the poem is the comparison between the status of blacks then and now. Written from the point of view of an enslaved American black, the poem is full of comparisons with slave experiences from history. Bet it in King Caesar’s empire or under the Egyptian Pharaohs or as captives in native Africa or under the hands of Belgians in Congo, blacks have suffered great oppression throughout history. What more, slavery of blacks had occurred in different corners of the earth, under various political and social contexts, . . . Read More

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On Miracles by David Hume

David Hume’s essay On Miracles is a strong refutation of supernatural phenomena, often linked to divine intervention. Hume states boldly that even religious events such as miracles should be judged on the basis of empirical evidence. He thus makes evidence the chief determinant of credibility. The credibility of a claimed miracle will increase in proportion to the reliability, method and number of witnesses. Hence Hume dismisses outright any kind of revelatory recounting of miracles. Take say, the example of the resurrection of Christ three days after his death. Though it is an important miracle in Christian theology, it fails the rigorous standards of empiricism that Hume mandates. We only have references to the event in the scriptures, the writing of which happened much later than the event – sometimes centuries later. On top of this, those who witnessed Christ’s resurrection were invariably the faithful, who wished that it were so. Moreover, even if a claimed miracle is . . . Read More

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Author style in A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner

William Faulkner is identified as a Southern writer, showcasing the issues and peculiarities of this part of the USA. To this extent, his short stories and novels reflect the culture, language and religion of the American hinterland. A Rose for Emily is no exception. Although set in a fictional city named Jefferson in Mississippi, the details distinguish it as a southern city.

A clear indicator of a southern city is the style of language – the southern dialect as it were. Through all dialogues, especially those used by the illiterate or rural folk, the southern accent is evident. Faulkner’s style also captures the social hierarchy within the city. It is on account of Emily’s high social status that her tax evasions are tolerated and her privileged lifestyle permitted. The epitome of this is when the town police pour lime around Emily’s house to absorb the foul smell emanating, instead of actually going inside and investigating.

Faulkner uses tragic irony in . . . Read More

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Stalin’s Barber by Paul M. Levitt

Consciously or not, Stalin conjoins religion and politics. Why?

Religion, especially the monotheistic religions profess the idea of damnation and divine retribution for sinners. Stalin must have thought that where bullets and the baton are inadequate in suppressing dissent, the fear of God would serve as a complete deterrent. Another explanation for Stalin’s mixing of politics and religion is to develop cult followership. In religion, we find how the revealed word of God is never contested. It would suit Stalin’s totalitarian agenda quite well to have the citizens worship him as a cult figure. By encouraging religion, Stalin is promoting certain personality traits that are complementary to running a totalitarian regime.

What is the point of having numerous Stalins? (the plaster of Paris busts in the basement)

Although Stalin was a man in possession of enormous political power, deep inside he was very insecure. Some consider . . . Read More

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