Category: Literature


The Great Man Theory of History as evidenced in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance

Applying the Great Man theory of History as a subtext to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s classic essay Self-Reliance makes for an interesting synthesis. The Great Man theory was brought into public discourse by Thomas Carlyle in the 1840s. But most of the later commentators pointed out to some of the misassumptions and flaws in the theory. Chief among them was Herbert Spencer who viewed that great individuals were products of their culture, history and environment and the inverse is seldom true. Yet the idea of the Great Man holds an intuitive appeal to readers. As people sharing a sense of community we are all looking for leaders and role models to provide us guidance. It is this intuitive appeal for leadership that sustains the value of the Great Man Theory, although it had somewhat become unfashionable in the last century.

Great men are thought to be path-breakers and independent thinkers. (James, p.114) In Emerson’s text, we find a powerful invocation of individuality. He . . . Read More

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Literary theoretical analysis of Virginia Woolf’s To the Light House

Woolf’s novel was a ground breaking work at the time of its publication in 1927.  It broke away from the literary tradition of narrative, plot based story-telling. Instead the work experimented with impressionistic and modernist methods of art, borrowing from their successful implementation in the visual arts. In his insightful essay, Jonathan Culler enlists five observations on the nature of literature. It makes for an interesting scholarly exercise to examine which of these points apply to Virginia Woolf’s novel.  This essay will argue that the presence of both the properties and consequences of the language of Woolf make it a characteristically literary.

Woolf’s novel was a ground breaking work at the time of its publication in 1927.  It broke away from the literary tradition of narrative, plot based story-telling. Instead the work experimented with impressionistic and modernist methods of art, borrowing from their successful implementation in the visual arts. In . . . Read More

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The dehumanizing effects of totalitarianism in 1984 by George Orwell:

The most prominent message of 1984 is that totalitarianism destroys all that is civil and noble in human beings. In the novel, Orwell writes “Freedom is the freedom to say two plus two equals four. Once that is granted, all else follows.” The converse of this quote is that by disallowing fundamental freedoms that are inherent to humanity Big Brother and his Party are able to produce a dehumanized, mechanical race of people. In other words, dehumanization is both the cause and effect of a totalitarian political system. This essay will take this as its thesis and flesh out arguments and evidence in support.

There are several methods adopted by the party to dehumanize its population. One such is the rigid scheduling of everyday activities for the people. This is most pronounced for members of the Outer Party and Inner Party and less so for the Proletariat. Winston Smith, the protagonist of the story, is a member of the Outer Party. As a result he is subject to strict daily . . . Read More

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A speculation on the most valuable book lost to humanity

Much of the knowledge which the world had at one time has been lost to us now.  Natural disasters, wars, fires, have destroyed books and the knowledge in them.  We know they existed once, but they no longer exist now.Suppose you could protect and save ONE of the things we’ve read this semester so people of future generations could read it and think about it, which one would it be and why?

There are several contenders for the title of the most valuable book lost to humanity.  Homer’s Margites is a strong candidate due to its philosophical richness.  Likewise, the Lost Books of the Bible leaves Christians wondering at possibilities.  Jane Austen’s Sanditon would have enhanced the author’s already formidable reputation.   But from several such worthy contenders, my choice for the most valuable book would be William Shakespeare’s Cardenio. If I am endowed with the power to save the book through . . . Read More

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William Shakespeare: A Question of Authorship

William Shakespeare and JS Bach are perhaps the two most important cultural figures in Western Civilization. This high pedestal that they occupy makes questions over their authorship almost blasphemous for their admirers. If Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor has come for scholarly debate in recent years, the question marks over Shakespeare’s authorship were raised four centuries earlier and cover a substantial part of his work. The Anti-Stratfordians (as those sceptical of Shakespeare’s authorship are called) prefer to attribute his works to one among the following contenders: Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, Sir Edward Dyer, the earl of Derby or especially Edward de Vere, the 17th earl of Oxford. In this backdrop, the challenge facing both the faithful and the doubters is the scarce historical record to either support or disprove their claims. If the late Baroque obscurity surrounding Bach’s primary documents lead to no definite conclusions, it is even more . . . Read More

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The Emancipation Proclamation & the Gettysburg Address: A comparative analysis

Abraham Lincoln’s greatness as President lies in his extraordinary ability to take crucial decisions that would prove pivotal to the nation’s history.  The Emancipation Proclamation, which essentially promised blacks of their right to equality and liberty, is one of its kind – not just in American history but in political history as a whole.  The proclamation and the Gettysburg Address are two exemplary documents whose appeal is intellectual, emotional and moral.  This essay will argue that the moral force of the two documents derive from the founding doctrines of the country as well as from scriptures.

The Gettysburg Address was delivered amid very tumultuous events.  The Civil War has already brought loss of human lives and material wealth.  Even the very conception of the nation is being questioned by the two warring factions.  Lincoln was clearly a shaken man due to the tragedy unfolding under his command.  Yet he was duty bound to . . . Read More

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Huxley’s effective use of conflict and control in reinforcing the dangers of technocracy in Brave New World

Brave New World is a profound literary work that encompasses themes of philosophical discourse, projection of societies in the future, the impact of technology on human relations, etc.  The major theme in the novel, however, is the link between dystopian societies and an underlying technocratic socio-political order.  Huxley uses conflict and control in the realms of politics, human relations, culture and technology to showcase all the malefic aspects of a technocracy.  This essay will flesh out this thesis in detail.

One of the constant undercurrents in Brave New World is the dehumanizing effects of technological progress.  It would be simplistic and false to blame technology per se for the situation, for there is a political angle to it as well.  In other words, if sophisticated technology is wielded by powerful political institutions for vested gains then the results can be disastrous for humanity.  Eugenics and scientific planning are two . . . Read More

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Massacre at Paris: Why does Marlowe decide to expand on the character of Guise at the expense of Navarre?

Despite no authentic version of the play extant, Christopher Marlowe’s play Massacre at Paris continues to be of importance.  The play is heavily drawn from real historical events happening in French politics at the time of it being written. The Massacre at Paris that was unleashed by the Third Duke of Guise upon all his suspected enemies is both brutal and real.  Marlowe portrays Guise as a thorough Machiavellian character who is bent upon usurping power through any means.  The killing of his father Francis when he was just 13 is a key event in the development of Guise’ personality.  Facing this calamity at a tender age impresses in his mind the motivations for revenge. This would later transpire into a more generic blood and power lust.  His immediate ascension to throne after his father’s premature death forced Guise to mature very fast.  His chief nemesis would be Henry of Navarre, who is an able and imaginative administrator.

Marlowe devotes so much more . . . Read More

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How does power of Higher Authority manifest in Antigone by Sophocles and Another Antigone by A.R.Gurney?

Almost two and a half millennia separate the ancient Greek version of Antigone (attributed to Sophocles) and its modern adaptation written by A.R. Gurney. The classic version is part of Sophocles’ trilogy of Theban plays: Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone. The great Greek myth of Oedipus continues to be integral to the Western literary canon even today.  Starting from 5th century B.C., various ancient writers of the Hellenistic era made references to Oedipus in their works.  The modern adaptation for theatre by A.R. Gurney offers an interesting contextualization of heroine Antigone’s fight against authority.  In both the cases, the theme is the same, one of confrontation of the individual will against a powerful authority figure.  In Sophocles’ Antigone, this antagonist was Creon the King. In Gurney’s play it is the Professor in Classics Department George Henry Harper.  But the nature of struggle of the two heroines is the same. This essay . . . Read More

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Is Ahab the uncivilized one in Moby Dick?

There is no doubt that Ahab is the most uncivilized and barbaric of the sailors.  Although he is the captain of the ship and holds authority over the entire crew, his actions do not merit him respectability.  The harpooners carry a tarnished image by virtue of their profession – they are obligated to massacre the whales.  But Ahab’s livelihood is more of his own choice. He could easily have chosen a merchant’s life and look at fishing and hunting as merely commercial opportunities.  Indeed, Ahab was reminded of this saner and safer option by his lieutenants in the Pequod. But his vanity is too big for such humbling decisions.  Even before the grand ship set sail, Ahab was deep in his ambition of killing Moby Dick the white whale.  His battle cry is full of vehemence and bloodlust, as his final moments spent fighting the giant beast clearly reveal: “Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from . . . Read More

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