Category: Classics


The Origins of Negro Slavery by Eric Williams

1. In sum, what is the Williams thesis? What is his main point and central argument?

Eric Williams is an important black intellectual who witnessed, documented and analyzed African slavery in America firsthand. His main argument is that multiple factors were behind the origins of Negro slavery. The powerful papacy of the Roman Catholic Church, in collusion with powerful European Kingdoms of Spain, Portugal, and later Britain and France, permitted the practice of slavery. Since African Negroes were not of Christian faith, they were deemed infidels by the Catholic Church along with Muslims, Pagans and the rest. Williams contends that economic exploitation went hand in hand with religious dogma in perpetrating slavery. Theories of white racial supremacy were another source of this hideous institution.

2. The Williams thesis critiques which interpretations of the origins of plantation slavery? In other words, which other explanations of the origins . . . Read More

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Mythological Creatures from Dante’s Inferno

The Inferno (Hell) is the first part of The Divine Comedy, followed by the Purgatorio (Purgatory) and Paradiso (Heaven). It is a classic Christian theological text that uses strong poetic imagination and allegorical allusion.  Though originally written in Italian between 1308 and 1321 AD, the work is widely translated and its themes are drawn upon by generations of writers since.  Written in first person narrative, the comedy is about the imaginative events and experiences of Dante (and his companion poet Virgil) as he traverses through Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso in his afterlife. Dante meets both mythological and real people during his long voyage.  He also comes across mythological creatures that pose moral dilemmas and questions to him.  By successfully resolving such challenges, Dante (and by extension anyone with faith in Christ) steadily attains spiritual salvation.  The rest of this essay will dwell on the mythological . . . Read More

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A Hanging by George Orwell: An analysis

The short story is based on the author’s first hand experiences as an imperial police officer in Burma.  It has all of the trademark Orwellian touches, including the futility and the dehumanization that the imperial project entails. Moreover the story is a strong indictment of the practice of capital punishment.  There are numerous clues that this is the author’s moral stance.  First the dog that strays into the gallows obviously does not find the prisoner guilty. It is a mark of its love for its master and loyalty the dog jumps on the prisoner and licks his face.  Here Orwell is hinting that guilt is a morally relative judgment.

Another point Orwell implies is the shared common humanity between the unfortunate prisoner and his persecutors. This insight comes through at the moment when the prisoner steps aside from a puddle of water. It was a powerful moment that revealed his capacity for rational thinking and action.  The other instances of hangings narrated by . . . Read More

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The Gospel According to Mark by Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges is famous for his short stories.  The Gospel According to Mark is an allegorical take on the time-worn story of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  It excels in all the essential features of good short fiction.  In particular, as this essay will argue, its theme, symbolisms, tone and style showcase the Borges’ mastery of the form. These elements unite and complement one another to produce a cohesive and powerful piece of fiction.

The most powerful element in The Gospel is its theme. The writer draws upon an ancient and codified biblical theme of sacrifice.  Just as Jesus Christ sacrificed his life for the salvation of his fellow brethren so does Espinosa end up being crucified.  But in Espinosa’s case it was involuntary and much to his shock.  This deviation from the original story comes to define the short story, for by transposing an eternal religious myth upon a real-life situation it questions the significance and meaning of the original . . . Read More

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What is the source of law’s legitimacy for Antigone and Creon?

The confrontation between Antigone and her uncle Creon (the ruler of Thebes) begins with the demise of her two brothers Eteocles and Polyneices. Since Creon was on the side of Eteocles during the combat between the two brothers, he decrees to honor him in death.  In sharp contrast he decrees that Polyneices be left rotting in the battle field sans a proper burial.  This is the highest form of punishment in ancient Greek and its evocation is a measure of Creon’s hostility toward Polyneices.  In Creon’s own view, what legitimizes his decree is his authority as the supreme ruler of Thebes.  He performs very little moral deliberation before setting his order to execution.

But Polyneices’ beloved sister Antigone is a balanced, intellectual and humane person (as evidenced from allusions in the play). Her love for her brother impels her to bury him properly. Though this action would invoke the wrath of Creon and jeopardize her life, her humanity and love supersedes all . . . Read More

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Gender Bias: ‘Cat in the Rain’ by Ernest Hemingway and ‘Sweat’ by Zora Neale Hurston

Both short stories contain abundant instances of gender bias. To be more accurate, the gender bias witnessed in these stories is so pronounced and persistent that it is fair to call them misogyny. In Cat in the Rain, the victim is an American girl who is married to a man indifferent to her wishes and needs. In the case of Sweat, Sykes is the abusive husband of Delia who pushes her to dire desperation. Though these two short stories carry the themes of gender bias and misogyny, they are conveyed through different literary devices. This essay will explain how gender bias is expressed in these two stories and will briefly analyze their socio-historical implications.

Cat in the Rain by Ernest Hemingway is a compact story that packs a punch. Known for his concise prose, each word of this 500-word story is weighted with significance. The story is about an outwardly casual conversation between an American and his wife vacationing in Italy. The girl is discontent about something in . . . Read More

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The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy: An analysis

One of the later works of Leo Tolstoy, the novella is preoccupied with the meaning of death, and by extension the meaning of life.  The main character, Ivan Ilyich, is a sort of a symbol for common man in the industrial age.   Outwardly, he has all the trappings of a successful life, but there is a persistent feeling of hollowness and ennui.  As Tolstoy writes, his life had been “the most simple, the most ordinary and therefore most terrible”.  This sentiment is all too common in the capitalist age, the rise which Tolstoy witnessed firsthand.

It is basic human individual psychology to ward off the idea of their own death although everyone understands death in the abstract.  The Death of Ivan Ilyich is not so much a work about death in the abstract, but death as a personal confrontation.  It is ironic to note that even as he is terminally ill, Ivan cannot come round to grasp his own extinction.  To the contrary he still believes that death is something that happens . . . Read More

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How do the themes, elements and issues found in Candide resonate with contemporary audiences?

There are many themes in Candide which resonate with a contemporary audience.  One of the recurrent attacks in the book has been against religious institutions and the politico-cultural power wielded by them.  Although Voltaire was a deist, he did not espouse the view of the Optimists who believed that we inhabit a perfect world in which all events happen for the good.  Voltaire found this precept highly problematic, especially viewed in light of major catastrophes to have hit Europe in the decade preceding the conception of Candide.  It is fair to claim that religious superstition is rife in many parts of the world even today.  Indeed, and ironically, much of conflict between groups of humans has religion at its base.  Currently, the ongoing War on Terror operation between the West and the Islamic fundamentalist groups can be studied as a continuation of the ancient Crusades.  To this extent the military-militant confrontation can be interpreted as a veiled . . . Read More

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The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri: An Overview

The Inferno (Hell) is the first part of The Divine Comedy, followed by the Purgatorio (Purgatory) and Paradiso (Heaven). It is a classic Christian theological text that uses strong poetic imagination and allegorical allusion. Though originally written in Italian between 1308 and 1321 AD, the work is widely translated and its themes are drawn upon by generations of writers since. Written in first person narrative, the comedy is about the imaginative events and experiences of Dante as he traverses through Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso in his afterlife. The people and conditions he encounters in these places pose moral dilemmas and questions to Dante. By successfully resolving such challenges, Dante (and by extension anyone with faith in Christ) steadily attains spiritual salvation. This essay concerns itself with Inferno and recurrent imageries and motifs found in this section of the epic.

The first part Inferno begins on the eve of Good Friday in the year 1300. The world of . . . Read More

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Movie Review: Bicycle Thieves

The film Bicycle Thieves (original Italian title Ladri di bicyclette) is an emotionally engaging film.  Made in 1948 in the aftermath of the Second World War, the film gives a realistic account of war-ravished Italy.  The economy is in a bad shape and social fissures are pronounced.  There is poverty and misery everywhere.  Unemployment levels are also high.  It is in this setting that the misfortunes of a poor family are narrated.

The young boy Bruno is central to the plot, although he is always in the shadow of his father’s actions and thoughts.  In many ways, the young boy represents a purity and moral fortitude that elders around him have difficulty to master.  The young boy accompanies his father through his long, arduous and ultimately futile attempt to locate his stolen bicycle.  But throughout these travails, he hardly betrays his immaturity.  The poise and understated maturity of young Bruno is pleasing to see.  I believe it is upon De . . . Read More

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