The elderly Shukichi and Tomi Hiroyama leave their youngest daughter Kyoko in Onomichi to visit their other grown-up children in Tokyo. Mild disappointment dogs the whole enterprise as their presence is clearly considered burdensome. Only their widowed daughter-in-law Noriko shows genuine warmth and welcome. Returning home, Tomi falls ill and dies. The family expresses regret but only Noriko and Kyoko show more than superficial duty. Shukichi urges Noriko to remarry and move on while he contemplates his own lonely future.
Tokyo Story’s plot is simple. However, ‘explaining’ Tokyo Story is like trying to have the last word on Citizen Kane. Its director, Ozu Yasujiro has been considered both modernist and traditionalist; his work Zen-like while wryly urbane; his themes specific to their context, yet universal. Ozu’s films were not seen outside of Japan until after his death in . . . Read More
Nathaniel Hawthorne was one of those rare writers who drew great critical acclaim during his own lifetime. To his contemporaries—Edgar Allan Poe, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Herman Melville—as well as to the next generation of writers, Hawthorne was a genius. Poe said in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tales that Hawthorne has “the purest style, the finest taste, the most available scholarship, the most delicate humor, the most touching pathos, the most radiant imagination.” Hawthorne’s work, consisting of over 50 stories and sketches as well as such classic novels as The Scarlet Letter, continued to draw attention after his death and experienced a particular resurgence of interest after World War I. His writings attract readers not only for their storytelling qualities, but also for the moral and theological ambiguities Hawthorne presents so well.
The Latin American writer Jorge Luis Borges and the eminent American scholar Harold Bloom both agree . . . Read More
Lingering Puritan Influences in Nineteenth-Century New England
Although the Salem Witch Trials had unfolded more than one hundred years prior, nineteenth-century New England was still reeling from inherited guilt, even as it rebelled against the constrictive morals of its forebears, the Puritans. It was into this Salem, Massachusetts, society that Hawthorne was born in 1804. Despite the fact he listed Unitarian as his official religion, his roots and sensibilities were unmistakably Puritan.
Hawthorne’s great, great grandfather William Hathorne (Nathaniel added the “W” to the family name when he began signing his published works) was the first family member to emigrate from England. He once ordered the public whipping of a Quaker woman who refused to renounce her religious beliefs. Following in the footsteps of his father, William’s son, John, presided over the Salem Witch Trials. Hawthorne claims he was . . . Read More
“Young Goodman Brown” tells the story of a Puritan man who loses faith in humankind after he thinks he witnesses his wife and respected members of his town participating in a Black Mass. His experience dooms him to a life of gloom and mistrust.
Guilt vs. Innocence
Hawthorne presents Young Goodman Brown’s evening of diabolical revelry as the first and last fling with evil the inexperienced young man ever has. Early in the story, Brown says: “after this one night I’ll cling to [Faith’s] skirts and follow her to heaven.” He believes Faith is an “angel” and one of the Puritan elect who is destined for heaven.
Unfortunately, Brown’s experience in the forest makes him reject his previous conviction of the prevailing power of good. He instead embraces the Devil’s claim—”Evil is the nature of mankind”— by crying out “Come, devil: for to thee . . . Read More
“Young Goodman Brown” tells the tale of a young Puritan man drawn into a covenant with the Devil, which he adamantly tries to resist. His illusions about the goodness of society are crushed when he discovers that many of his fellow townspeople, including religious leaders and his wife, are attending the same Black Mass.
“Young Goodman Brown” takes the form of an allegory. An allegory uses symbolic elements to represent various human characteristics and situations. Brown represents Everyman (“Goodman” was a title for those under the social rank of”gentleman”) while Faith represents his faith in humanity and society. In leaving his wife, Brown forsakes his belief in the godliness of humanity. He immediately enters a wood”lonely as could be” that is enshrouded in a “deep dusk.” These woods are the physical location in which Brown explores his doubts and . . . Read More
Faith Brown serves an allegorical purpose in this story. It is Faith that Brown leaves behind, presumably for one night, in order to keep his appointment with the Devil. Explaining to the old man why he is late Brown says, “Faith kept me back a while.” She represents the force of good in the world. Thus, when Brown perceives that she too has been corrupted, he shouts “My Faith is gone!” and rushes madly toward the witches’s gathering.
The pink ribbons that decorate Faith’s cap have drawn more critical attention than any other symbol in the story. On one hand they have been said to represent female sexuality, while on the other, innocence. Or, they may merely signify the ornament of a sweet and cheerful wife. Whatever their purpose, Faith’s pink ribbons are integral to the story’s structure. They are mentioned three times: at the beginning when Brown is leaving Faith behind, . . . Read More
In 1913, more than twenty years after the first publication of”The Yellow Wallpaper,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman wrote that she devised the story, “to save people from being driven crazy.” Gilman had suffered a near mental breakdown herself, and had been prescribed a rest treatment very similar to that prescribed to the narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” For Gilman, the act of resuming her normal life, which certainly included writing, was what restored her health. Though we don’t know what became of Gilman’s narrator, we can chronicle Gilman’s own life after her near mental breakdown. If Gilman’s narrator in “The Yellow Wallpaper” regressed into her insanity, Gilman certainly did not; unlike the narrator she created, she made her voice heard. She pursued her career as a writer and lecturer, and she wrote works of theory and social commentary that brought her international fame. Though she concentrated on . . . Read More
“The Yellow Wallpaper” was written and published in 1892. The last three decades of the nineteenth century comprised a period of growth, development, and expansion for the United States. Following the Civil War, which ended in 1865, the United States entered the era of Reconstruction, which lasted until 1877. There were many social and cultural changes during this period. Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1892) expounded his theory of evolution, and further incited controversy over women’s roles and issues. His theory of evolution flouted conventional wisdom, contending that women were actually the hardier and more necessary sex, the one able to preserve the species. Because women were mothers, they were vital to survival. Darwin’s theory was used to promote both sides of what came to be known as the “Woman Question.” Some scientists argued that because women were physiologically hardier, they were capable of being both mothers and . . . Read More
“The Yellow Wallpaper” tells the story of a woman’s mental breakdown. Suffering from depression following the birth of her first child, the woman is taken to the country by her physician husband, where she is kept in a room decorated with yellow wallpaper that used to be a nursery. Instructed by her husband not to engage in any intellectual activity and to get total bed rest, the narrator becomes obsessed with the wallpaper until, at the end of the story, she goes insane.
“The Yellow Wallpaper” takes place in a country house that is located about three miles from the nearest village. Although the house is large and is surrounded by hedges, a garden, and servants’ quarters, the narrator notes that the house and its grounds have fallen into a slight state of disrepair. At the beginning of the story, the narrator is interested in the surrounding scenery as well as the other rooms in the house. As . . . Read More
“The Yellow Wallpaper” is the story of a woman who suffers from depression. Advised by her husband to rest, the woman becomes obsessed by the yellow wallpaper that decorates the room in which she has been confined.
Role of Women
“The Yellow Wallpaper” examines the role of women in nineteenth-century American society, including the relationship between husbands and wives, the economic and social dependence of women on men, and the repression of female individuality and sexuality. The Victorian Age had a profound impact on the social values in the United States. Victorian values stressed that women were to behave demurely and remain within the domestic sphere. Suffering from postpartum depression after the birth of her son, the protagonist is advised to get complete bed rest by her husband and brother, despite her suggestions that she would like to write and read. While she does secretly write in a journal, it . . . Read More