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 monsters, . . . Read More
It is fair to claim that the first half of the twentieth century was the most turbulent in modern Chinese history. The revolutionary fervor, mixed with the wave of Western cultural influences, created a national identity crisis in these decades. The two characters in question transcend their fiction and represent the society at large during this period. They stand for two contrasted Chinese identities that speak of the good and evil in the Chinese character. This essay will elaborate on how Ah Q and Hsiang Tzu symbolically represent a nation, culture and society that was in transition.
Ah Q is a powerful yet critical portrayal of young Chinese men at the turn of the twentieth century. As the novelist Lu Xun introduces him, he is full of folly and vainglory. He is also shown to possess the vice of sloth and lack meaningful goals in life. Lu Xun’s main concern with the novella is not the moral dimension but the social and political ones. In this view, Ah Q is the . . . Read More
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 . . . Read More
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 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
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
This essay is a classic in feminist discourse and is rich in irony. The foremost of the ironies is the fact that the author is a woman and yet longs for a wife. There is no homosexual connotation here, but this device is employed to convey the ordeals and drudgery facing housewives. Author Judy Brady attempts to transcend her gender and sexuality in order to gain a new perspective on the role of married women within the household. She looks at women from the point of married men and their expectations. The point of this exercise is to show how men’s needs and wants dominate interpersonal relations with their wives. Married women, on the other hand, submit to the pressures of social conformity and economic dependency on men, thus incurring a big sacrifice. What stands out in this essay is the whole litany of chores and responsibilities that a married woman carries out in her home and workplace. This list, by virtue of seeming endless, aptly captures the realities of . . . Read More
This landmark speech of the Civil Rights Movement is one of the most powerful public orations ever. It was delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. on 28th August 1963 at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The speech is exceptional for both its logical merit and emotional appeal. Indeed reading the transcript of the speech dilutes some of its rhetorical effects that were witnessed firsthand by the fortunate congregation at the Lincoln Memorial. King uses a range of allusions and symbols to reinforce his message of racial equality. He uses Biblical phraseology as fluently as he quotes from the preamble to the Constitution. He also uses common everyday experiences such as ‘en-cashing checks’ to illustrate a political point. Though the speech is delivered for political mobilization and has for its subject the deep-rooted social malaise of racial discrimination, it does not sacrifice its rhetorical flourishes. The combination of a powerful . . . Read More
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
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