4 Facts About T.S. Eliot And His Poetry That’ll Keep You Up At Night

T.S Eliot was said to be one of the most dominant figures in poetry and literary criticism in the English-speaking world. He was predominantly a modernist writer; he experimented with literary form and expression, and “made it new”, as Ezra pound would have said. A major component in the modernist movement was self-reflexivity and individual freedom, and with that includes the representation of a writer’s personal context and historical context. Eliot’s poems are said to be some of the best of the 20th century, but that doesn’t mean they are easily understood. Some of the references Eliot made in his poems are indeed shocking and may indeed ‘keep you up at night’ when you understand their true meanings.

 

  1. He used his poetry as a medium to mourn his ~supposed~ boyfriend

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 Over many years, it has been suspected that T.S. Eliot was a closeted homosexual, which wasn’t a rare occurance for gay men in the early 20th century. His alienation from sexual desire with women was a mere catalyst for the rumors surrounding his sexuality. But apart from his no sex rule (he was celibate from 1928), it was his relationship with a certain frenchman that convinces most people of his love for men. Eliot met Jean Verdenal when studying at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910 after he graduated from harvard. They boarded at the same pension and quickly became companions; some even say they were ‘literary soulmates’. After that year he and Verdenal met, they never saw each other again. They exchanged some letters, but then Verdenal enlisted into the Army as a medical officer. He was killed in Gallipoli in 1915.

 

Eliot dedicated his first book of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, to Verdenal (mort aux Dardanelles – Death in Dardanelles) when it was published in 1917. Eliot seemed to have believed Verdenal had died by drowning (he did not), which he included in The Waste Land. Part IV of The Waste Land, Death by Water, named a “Phoenician” named “phlebas” who died by drowning, and can possibly be a reference to his close ‘friend’ Jean. He compared an unknown man to Phlebas as he suggested in the poem “Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall as you”; could he have been referring to his ‘male friend’ Jean Verdenal?

 

 

  1. His poems were jack-packed with death and destruction:)

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 One of Eliot’s most famous and influential poems in his repertoire is The Waste Land, and as well as following a theme of rebirth and resurrection, death is a heavily covered topic whether it be through imagery, symbolism, recurring motifs or common sense to anyone who reads it (parts I and IV of The Waste Land are literally called Burial of the Dead and Death by Water). During the period in which Eliot wrote The Waste Land, humanity had been shattered by the events of World War I; the war that was ‘supposed to be over by christmas’, that ended up being prolonged by 4 years. Both world wars and the devastation that followed were some of the pivotal points that introduced modernism in which loss was a common and repeated motif.

 

The epigraph of The Waste Land includes a Latin and Greek quote referring to Sybil, a woman with prophetic abilities, who looks into the future and states all she wants is to die; a great indication into what The Waste Land is going to entail. The title of the poem itself is a metaphor for the loss of life. A “Waste Land” depicts a region of land that is sterile and unable to grow vegetation. Some would describe wargrounds following a battle to be “Waste Land(s)” as the nature that was once there is lost and replaced with death by the lost soldiers. The image of dead nature is present in The Burial of the Dead and represents sterility and infertility. The description of “dull roots” and “dried tubers” just further reinforced the motif of a lack of life as they are being illustrated as already dead or dying. The fourth part of the poem titled Death by Water follows “Phlebas the Pheonician” a man who drowns, and that’s it. Nothing becomes of him, such as renewal or regeneration, only his decaying “bones”. By placing the section in the distant past, making Phlebas a Phoenician, he is further reinforcing the irrelevance that becomes of corpses after death.

 

  1. Ironically, his poems also contained a lot of sex and female representation

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Famously, one of Eliot’s biggest influences and inspiration was his relationship – or lack thereof – with women. I won’t go into too much detail about Eliot’s relationship history (don’t worry, just be patient), but his first marriage was indeed an unhappy one. Him and his then-wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood, seemed to be sexually estranged, but he eventually undertook to normalize the abnormality. In 1927 he was confirmed into the Church of England, making divorce almost impossible, and by 1928 he took a vow of celibacy. Whether connoting to meaningless sex or using sex as a symbol of sorrow, Eliot wasn’t afraid to allude to the birds and the bees. His representation of women was also abnormal for the time period as he rejected many societal gender norms.

 

In one of his earliest works, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Eliot describes the persona’s experience in “one-night cheap hotels and sawdust restaurants with oyster shells” to translate the experience of meaningless sex. “One-night cheap hotels” allude to the use of prostitutes that men would spend single nights with to receive sex they weren’t getting from their wives, which obviously as men they needed. The theme of sexual desire in the poem is further reinforced by “oyster shells”, as oysters are commonly known aphrodisiacs and provoke sex and lust. Violence and sorrow is created in the poem A Game of Chess (part II of The Waste Land) as mythology is used to allude to sexual themes. Eliot mentions “the change of Philomel” who was a figure in Greek mythology; the princess of Athens who was raped and mutilated by her sister’s husband, King Tereus (hasn’t the treatment of women in society come such a long way?). She eventually is transformed into a nightingale, a bird renowned for its song. In the poem, she is said to have an “inviolable voice” as she “cried… dirty tears”. Eliot uses sex, in this instance, to illustrate the cruel ways of the world and the longing lasting effects that sex can cause.

 

 

  1. As reflected in his poetry, his first marriage was a bit of a nightmare

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~ HaHa, he never actually got a divorce~

 

T.S. Eliot was quite unlucky in love for most of his life, especially during the periods when he wrote his most notable poems. Eliot met his first wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood, while living in London, and after only three months of knowing each other they were married (Eliot was 26-years-old and a frustrated virgin). Haigh-Wood had quite a few health problems; she was plagued with heavy and irregular periods and had severe premenstrual tension; these lead to mood swings, fainting spells, and migraines (plus the embarrassment that came with mega-periods). She was eventually prescribed potassium bromide to sedate her which probably meant she was diagnosed with “hysteria” (an old fashioned way of labelling women as being difficult). She later experienced neuralgia, panic attacks, and addiction to her medication, mainly ether. Eliot’s own medical and emotional condition wasn’t exactly the strongest, and he quickly became tired by the demands of caring for Vivienne. She was a troubled woman to say the least, some even believe she cheated on Eliot with Bertrand Russel (Pedofile?). They separated 18 years after their marriage but never divorced due to Eliot being anglican and a member of the Church of England.

 

His poor relationship with women as well as his first wife, fueled the construction of his most notable poems including The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, Portrait of a Lady, and parts of The Waste Land through symbolism, allusion and syntax.. In The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, his relationship with women and his portrayal of interactig with them is underdeveloped; he is in a constant state of nervousness which alludes to his own self-consciousness. In the poem “women come and go talking of Michelangelo”. “Michelangelo” symbolises the ‘renaissance man’; a person who is well versed in many different skills such as art, music, poetry etc. He believed he was not good enough and that women wouldn’t find him desirable.

 

His poem Portrait of a Lady reflects his troubling relationship with his first wife. The epilogue of the poem states “thou hast committed fornication: but that was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead.” Presumably, this is alluding to the extramarital affair between Haigh-Wood and Bertrand Russell, while also expressing his true feeling of his late wife.

 

In part II of The Waste Land, A Game of Chess, there is a conversation (?) between (assumingly) a male and a female persona in which one person (most likely the male) says “my nerves are bad tonight. Yes, bad. Stay with me. Speak to me. What are you thinking of?… I never know what you are thinking. Think.” The enjambment and parataxis used in the one sided conversation reinforces a feeling of chaoticness and frustration felt by the male, similar to what Eliot may have been feeling in his relationship with Haigh-Wood.

 

by A.C.

Eliot: the Leader of the Modernist Movement

Be honest, you’ve searched for an article regarding T.S Eliot after you’ve read some of his poems, to gain a grasp on how you’re expected to arrive at a deeper meaning beyond the words written on the page. Eliot was quite isolated compared to the other poets of his time, as he would stray from the fading idea of realism and instead, would confront disturbing and absurd topics while utilising a variety of elements. These aspects include fragmentation, self-reflection, and symbolism, to make up the idea of modernism in literature. Eliot was not just considered a modernist poet, he was the most influential modernist writer of the 20th century, from the time he moved to England at the age of 25 in 1914 from his hometown, St. Louise, Missouri, up until the time he passed, in 1965. In today’s society, Eliot is still commonly referred to as the leader of the Modernist movement, utilising a variety of elements from the modernist period in his poetry. Through these elements, a reader is able to establish meanings and interpretations that are not always understood, because “genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”

Fragmentation:

Viewing fragmentation from a literary essay standpoint, this characteristic is an extensive topic to discuss, as there are many different interpretations of the idea, that any explained change in form is accepted as fragmentation. The aspect of fragmentation was a part of literary Modernism, normally used to break down the characters, plot, setting, and any other element in writing. Eliot commonly used fragmentation in his poetry to disrupt any of the reader’s familiar context, which may have been a large reason for the many misinterpretations of Eliot’s writing. One of Eliot’s most well known pieces, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (Love Song), sees a lot of fragmentation throughout, beginning with the title. The term “Love Song” implies to the audience that it will be a supposed delicate poem featuring a common romantic story between two characters, but boy are you wrong. The poem starts off with, “Let us go then you and I, / When the evening lies stretched out against the sky / Like a patient etherised upon a table.” The first line invites the idea that there are two characters with a type of connection, setting up the audience for an expected romantic fantasy between these two unintroduced characters. The second line applies a metaphor supported by personification, that says the “evening is stretched out against the sky” the importance of these techniques is to guide the audience into a state of assumption, and allow them to interpret the “evening” and the “sky” as metaphors of the characters and their physical connection between each other, therefore propelling a romantic feeling onto the audience. Then in the third line, Eliot applies the thought of a “patient etherised upon a table” for the audience, which manipulates and changes the tone and rhyme of the poem, from a classic romantic setting to a sudden surgical environment,  to break free from the audience’s expecting grasp. The lexical choice of “patient” implies a medical setting, while the word “etherised” suggests a dreamlike state, where Eliot is able to juxtapose the ‘classical poetic’ and ‘modern literal’ world in order to develop and set a new realm of literature. Through the opening three lines to ‘Love Song’, Eliot is able to correctly implement an element of modernism into his work to enhance the effect of the poem, and cause the audience to view the text without any preconceived ideas involving context or genre. Eliot’s five-part poem, The Waste Land is considered by some to be the epitome of the modernist era. Being published in 1922, only four years after the end of World War 1 (WW1), utilises the element of fragmentation to represent the now broken empire of Europe, and the uncertain society of England during this time period.  In Eliot’s first part, ‘The Burial of the Dead’,  the form of the poem is manipulated to deter the reader’s understanding by disrupting the setting and language to represent the feeling of division in post-WW1 Europe.

“Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee

With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,

And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,

And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.

Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.

And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,”

The multiple settings in this passage, support the interpretation that there are a number of speakers at once, all talking in a disruptive and uncooperative manner with each other, as a way for Eliot to represent the state of Europe after the devastation of WW1, and put the reader into a position of confusion, similar to the feeling of England after their loss. The repetition of “and” reinforces this understanding, as it is an attempt to connect each disjointed sentence into a fragmented reality, even going as far as to use the German language, (which in English says “I’m not a Russian, I’m from Lithuania, really German.”) to strongly separate and break the form of the poem. This statement can also be read as a representation of the newly fragmented world, as the Russian’s and German’s were enemies during WW1, and the disparity felt by both countries leaves a long-lasting impact, even after the ending of the first World War. Eliot was able to express the feelings and concerns of his country about a topic so wide-spread, through a type of writing that was never really seen before. He did this in order to communicate messages through not just the words, but the emotion that the form in relation to the text produces, and how that impacts the reader on a level that is deeper than a romantic metaphor. Through Eliot’s insightful understanding of fragmentation, the reader is provided a ‘blank canvas’ of sorts, in being given the ability to interpret Eliot’s work in a way that has never been seen before. This has been done by Eliot manipulating poetry to suit his own ideals of modernism, and disregarding the assumptions and ‘rules’ of poetry before him.

Self-Reflection

As a topic, discussing self-reflection in an essay relies on the knowledge of context that a reader can apply to a particular writer in relation to their work. As a poet, Eliot utilises self-reflection in his poetry, to express his personal feelings about an idea or state of society, by aligning the character’s personality with his own in a way that allows for a stronger representation of argument or opinion within writing. Importantly, a writer by the name of Dante Alighieri, commonly referred to as Dante, was an Italian poet during the late Middle Ages who died in 1321. Eliot seemed to have many views and opinions that corresponded with Dante as a poet, which led to Dante being Eliot’s most prominent influence in poetry. Dante’s positive impact is specifically noticeable within Eliot’s ‘Love Song’, as each text seems to have an interconnecting suggestion about their immediate societies and social constructs in which they lived.  At the opening of ‘Love Song’, Eliot includes an epigraph, which is an excerpt from Dante’s three-part poem, Commedia (Divine Comedy), in particular the first part, ‘Inferno’. This poem features a man, who has committed many wrong-doings throughout his life, and an ancient Roman poet is sent from Heaven named Virgil, to come to Earth and guide him on the right path. Virgil takes the man to Hell for a ‘tour’ of the 9 circles of Hell, in an attempt to scare him away from any further sins or treacherous actions. They find a soul at the eighth circle, and the man asks him what he did during his life to deserve to be that deep in Hell. The souls response was the excerpt that Eliot uses as the epigraph to ‘Love Song’, which was;

“S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse

A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,

Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.

Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo

Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,

Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.”

In English, this says “If I thought that my reply would be to someone who would ever return to earth, this flame would remain without further movement; but as no one has ever returned alive from this gulf, if what I hear is true, I can answer you with no fear of infamy.” This relates to Prufrock as a character, because he is also concerned about his appearance in the eyes of the public, as he continues to fret about how people view him, which is evident when he says to himself, “Time to turn back and descend the stair– / (They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’) / … (They will say: ‘But how his arms and legs are thin!’)” This can relate to Eliot himself in less of a physical way, but more of an expression of emotion or idea about the world they live in. Therefore, it can be interpreted as a metaphor, explaining that both Eliot and Dante were in positions of criticism from the societies in which they both lived, as a result of particular viewpoints or actions that were negated in their time periods. The importance of prefacing ‘Love Song’ with this specific epigraph, can be a reinforcement of this metaphor, meaning that the audience is only able to read Prufrock’s ‘Love Song’ because they are trapped in a “gulf” from which they can never return, which in a literal sense, refers to the perceived reality that they are trapped in.  Eliot is able to orchestrate the idea of self-reflection in his poetry to strengthen connections between his writing and the real world, in order to express interpretable ideas that can be derived from societal actions during Eliot’s time.

Symbolism

One of the most commonly used elements of modernism in today’s style of literature, and one of the most frequent examples used in a variety of essays involving literature, is the aspect of symbolism. Eliot took this convention and moulded it into a specific style that suited the many associations for his writing, to support the vast interpretations of his poems. Eliot is well-known for his poem The Waste Land, but the third part in particular, ‘The Fire Sermon’, features symbolism that dates back to the Arthurian era of the 5th and 6th century. Eliot incorporates the story of the Fisher King, which involved the narrative of a King who was crippled from the waist down, rendering him unable to do anything except fish. The King was in charge of the Holy Grail, but as a result of his injury, the land around him was barren and void of prosperity. Eliot makes multiple references to this tale, with the persona in the text revealing that he is “Fishing, with the plain arid behind [him].” The action of “Fishing” in this particular sense, can be interpreted as a direct reference to the story of the Fisher King, to prepare the audience for the connection between the “plain arid” land behind him, and the King’s land that was also a deserted “Waste Land”, thus having a connection to the title of the poem, The Waste Land. Eliot’s reasoning behind the obscure connection to the Arthurian era and the Fisher King in ‘The Fire Sermon’, may be the result of Eliot’s perceived admiration towards Medieval culture. Eliot was known to appreciate the organic and spiritual community of the Medieval era, but in turn, also commonly expressed elitist and formalist outlooks in a variety of situations. This gained Eliot the label of a “Medieval Modernist” which was given to him by critics of his work. Another poem of Eliot’s that expresses extensive symbolic references which presumes a position within The Waste Land, is the second part, ‘A Game of Chess’. This text incorporates the story of Philomela, a tale dating back to Greek mythology, which involves two sisters who are separated after one of the sisters, Procne, marries a Thracian King, Tereus. Procne soon begins to loathe being away from her sister Philomela, so she asks Tereus if Philomela can live with them. Tereus agrees, and travels to Athens to retrieve Philomela, but during his expedition, Tereus falls into a deepened lust for Philomela. Once their voyage is over, Tereus takes Philomela to the woods, where he rapes her and then cuts out her tongue as a way to prevent her from revealing his atrocity to anyone. Now that Philomela is without speech, she weaves the story into a tapestry that she then sends to her sister Procne. Upon reading the message, Procne kills her son, Itys, and puts his dismembered body in Tereus’ dinner. When Tereus asks to see his son, Procne tells him that Itys is inside his stomach, and then Philomela appears, holding Itys’ dismembered head. In a heat of rage, Tereus attacks Philomela and Procne, who are turned into a nightingale and swallow respectively, and Tereus is turned into a hoopoe. Eliot’s ‘A Game of Chess’ openly references the story of Philomela, when he positions the audience by “a window… upon the sylvan scene / The change of Philomel, by the barbarous king / So rudely forced; yet there the nightingale / Filled all the desert with inviolable voice.” The term “sylvan” refers to the woods where Tereus violated Philomela, followed by the direct reference of the “change”, implying the loss of her virginity, by the “barbarous king” who can be interpreted as Tereus. Another direct symbolic reference follows in the next line, claiming that “there the nightingale / Filled the desert with [an] inviolable voice.” This can be interpreted as the juxtaposition between Philomela as a person, being speechless, and her reincarnation to a nightingale, who has an “inviolable voice” which also can be interpreted as irony of the story. The importance of Eliot making this symbolic connection between the story of Philomela and his writing, may reside with his perception on oppression and how difficult expressing traumatic events may be for certain victims, which is where the symbolic reference of Philomela’s inability to talk may be derived from. Since Eliot has been presumed as homosexual by many of his audience as a result of many hints in his work, a reader can realise where his disdainment of oppression may come from, and how he understands the difficulties of speaking up about specific traumatic events in a society that is against you. Through this adapted style of symbolism, a reader can interpret deep and meaningful associations between Eliot’s texts and historical events. From these examples, it is evident that Eliot was able to utilise symbolism as a feature of modernism, and create a new pathway for literature that was not readily available during the era of Realism.

Conclusion

Literature is an ever-changing subject of writing that accumulates aspects of different styles as time progresses. As a result of this, Eliot was able to incorporate inspiration from different era’s combined with his alienated views, to include certain elements such as the perception of a fragmented reality, the idea of self-reflection, and the involvement of deep symbolism. This was all in order to create a new style of writing and lead the literary world through a new poetic era of modernism. 

J.M

4 Reasons To Stan T.S Eliot

Thomas Stearns Eliot,1888 – 1965, was one of the most influential poets from the 20th century. He is also widely regarded as one of, if not the most, important person from the modernist movement. Some of his most well-known works include ‘The Wasteland’, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’. Basically, Eliot is a baddie and he knows it. Now let’s delve into 4 big reasons that you should be a T.S Eliot stan.

 

  1. He’s the “Daddy of Modernism”

 

The modernist movement started late 19th century in Europe, and lasted until the mid 20th century. This movement was often characterised by individualism, experimentation, absurdity, symbolism and formalism. Eliot, being the smart lad that he was, soon became the front man of modernist literature, and is now often called the ‘Father of Modernism’. He invented the new forms, themes and rhythms in poetry. One of these themes is fragmentation, which is a very common feature of ‘The Wasteland’. For example; LB1

this excerpt, where the fragmentation is not a visible feature of the poem but an allusion to Europe post World War One. After the war, people were struggling to connect with one another, as they grappled with being poor and probably having a bunch of mental health issues. The people are humble but not out of the goodness of their hearts, only because they expect nothing from others because no one has anything left to give. This is only one example of fragmentation in one of Eliot’s works, but it is present in nearly all of them.

LB2Another common theme in modernist literature also used by Eliot is worldwide destruction. This is obvious when linked to the cultural fragmentation I mentioned earlier after WW1 where Europe was completely ravaged by war (war and destruction kind of go hand in hand) but also in relation to ‘The Wasteland’. When analysing just this small section of the poem many things become obvious. Firstly; the title itself is pretty self-explanatory. Secondly; the words “cracked” and “flat horizon” link back to this feeling of destruction as the world around us crumbles. Finally; the destruction theme also mingles with fragmentation in a literal sense as the poem itself has been fragmented along with what is being alluded to within it.

Eliot’s frequent use of fragmentation and worldwide destruction soon became a common occurrence for many texts such as William Faulkner’s novel, ‘The Sound and The Fury’ and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’. These are only two examples of what Eliot contributed to this movement, but is pretty cool as it shows how he fostered the growth of the movement in his revered works and spread it to other influential authors and texts.

 

  1. He’s #Relatable

 

The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’ is one of Eliot’s most well-known poems, showing the thought process of a man as he chases after a woman in a romantic endeavour. The mind of this man (Prufrock) is slowly descending into madness as he longs for this woman (Weird that he’s thirsting after a woman when Eliot was supposedly gay (more about that later)). He is a very indecisive man, constantly backtracking on his decisions LB3and second-guessing himself. The repetition of the rhetorical question “Do I dare?” in the poem differs from the tone your mum uses when she tells you off, but is contemplative as he thinks about what he wants. Eventually he decides he’s too scared to go after whatever it is he’s chasing, and turns back around to go back downstairs. His indecisive nature resonates with me as someone who often struggles to choose a flavour of ice cream when at Baskin Robbins, and the creation of the character Prufrock has been regarded as an outlet for Eliot’s innermost thoughts and feelings show how he’s also just a normal guy (Celebrities! They’re just like us).

LB4Prufrock in his poem is often stilled by his indecision. The poem itself begins with him literally saying “Let us go then, you and I” followed by him waffling on about the “half-deserted streets, The muttering retreats”. The juxtaposition between the proposed action at the start at the book and the following description of “Streets that follow a tedious argument Of insidious intent” display yet another moment of indecision and inaction for Prufrock as he hopes to set out on a new journey with his beloved only to realise that he actually has no idea where he wants to go or what he wants to do, so instead he just talks about the possibilities instead of acting on them. As a teenager with access to social media this connects with me on a very personal level as I know there are so many things I could be doing with my life right now, and I see them being posted everywhere, but most of us have no idea where to even start our adventures so instead we stay paralysed by the fear of it when things get a ‘lil too real.

Eventually, Prufrock decides ‘Fuck it! I should have been a lobster not a stupid human’. LB5 This is yet another #RelatableMoment as I too, often wish I was an animal so I don’t have to deal with the suckiness of being a human in the 21st century (life is HARD).

 

  1. We have him to thank for the word ‘bullshit’ (& a great diss track)

 

In 1910, Eliot got a bit too upset about critics doing their job and evaluating his work, so he wrote ‘The Triumph of Bullshit’ as a big screw you to them. This poem is now known as the earliest publication of the word bullshit, so thank you Eliot for that. The poem itself was written as a 20th century disstrack to his haters, and there are multiple double entendres in there. For example;LB6

His “attentions” are supposed to be a reference to women who he has disappointed with his work, although it is often argued that his work is not all that he’s discussing here. The same can be said for the following line as he discusses the small size of his merits, also referencing his yanno.

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These ridiculous intentions could also be linked to intentions of a sexy kind. Although, he is probably talking about his poetry.

Honestly, this point isn’t all that impressive. I just wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I didn’t make sure more people knew this fact, but props to him for publishing this regardless of the way it may have tarnished his reputation.

 

  1. He was in a supposed homosexual relationship with Jean Verdenal

 

Homosexuality in the 20th century was an extremely controversial topic, although many men in literature from this time period are suspected to be ‘meat masseuses’, ‘bumhole engineers’ or a ‘butt pirate’ (thank you Wikipedia for these slang terms). Nowadays it honestly isn’t that big of a deal if someone’s gay – unless you have the misfortune of meeting a homophobe – but in 20th century England being gay was very much illegal. Obviously Eliot and Verdenal were not flaunting their relationship together as this is all yet to be proven true and we will likely never know the true nature of their relationship (I’m a #Verliot shipper through and through) . Eliot met Jean Verdenal in Paris, where their supposed homosexual affair began. After Eliot left Paris he went to other European countries, and eventually returned to Harvard where he continued his letters to him. Unfortunately, Verdenal later drowned in the Gallipoli campaign. This event is often referred to by Eliot in his works. He even has an entire section of ‘The Wasteland’ dedicated to his death.

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‘Death by Water’ is the fourth section of ‘The Wasteland’, one which is very clearly inspired by Eliot and his boyfie’s relationship. The most obvious allusion to Verdenal lies in the “Phlebas the Phoenician” character, as they both drowned, and their bodies are left to be carried away by “A current under sea”.

So clearly, Jean Verdenal and Eliot’s relationship had a massive effect on the man. He even dedicated his book of poems ‘Prufrock and Other Observations’ to the guy, and in all French too – which everyone knows is the sexiest language.

LB9This translates to “Now can you understand the quality of love that warms me towards you, so that I forget our vanity, and treat the shadows like the solid thing.”. So yeah, pretty gay of him to dedicate a book of poems called featuring a very lengthy LOVE-song to another man, especially when he was married to another woman (although that clearly just wasn’t doing it for him).

 

In conclusion… T.S Eliot was one some king-shit back in his day, and his impact on the modernist era still shines through nowadays.

 

by L.B.

How Eliot Encapsulated Modernism in Only His First Poem

If you have never ever read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, here is a helpful link that I have attached to help you out and I will encourage you to read the poem before reading this blog:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/44212/the-love-song-of-j-alfred-prufrock

A Little bit of Context

(Before I begin, if you are familiarised with Eliot’s personal context already, probably cause you’re in some form of English Literature class, feel free to skip to the next paragraph for the modernism information)

T.S Eliot, or if you are a bit fancier or somewhat rehearsed in the literature world, Thomas Sterns Eliot, is regarded as one of the most influential and innovative modernist poets of the 20th century and maybe in history. There isn’t much information of why Eliot shortened his name to just T.S but if I had to take a guess it would probably be the reason of the meme featured below this.  Eliot was born in St Louis, Missouri (USA) in 1888 and was the youngest of seven siblings. In his later years of education, Eliot enrolled in Harvard in 1906 and later earnt a Bachelor of Arts in Comparative Literature and a Masters in English Literature. After his degree, Eliot travelled to Paris and meant his “soulmate” Jean Verdenal who had an equal interest in literature and an understanding in it. It is widely thought that Verdenal and Eliot were in a homosexual relationship. In April 1915, Verdenal was killed in the war on the shores of Gallipoli, where it is said that he drowned and this devastated Eliot when he found out. In 1914, Eliot moved to London and was befriended by Ezra Pound, possibly the most influential modernist poet of his time (if you are unfamiliar with Pound, I suggested you research him. However, be careful to click on the poet and NOT the bar located in Northbridge, WA called Ezra Pound!). Pound often influenced and acted as an editor of sorts to Eliot’s poems and even orchestrated the publication events of The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (I’m calling it just The Love Song from now on as I can’t be bothered constantly writing a long title over and over. I’m lazy what can I say, I’m sure you would do the same) in 1917. In Eliot’s later life he went on to famously win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948. Throughout Eliot’s life he married twice and had no children due to his eminent ehem… sexual disfunctions and problems. On a side note, a fun fact regarding Eliot’s second wife Viviane was that she was a massive 37 years younger than him! That’s enough for her to be potentially Eliot’s daughter or even granddaughter if he had children (a bit yuck I know!) Anyway, back to Eliot’s personal context, he died at the aged of 76 in 1965 at his London apartment.

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Modernism in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: A Brief Overview

If you skipped the personal context this section is the reason why (I’m assuming) you clicked on this blog so please keep reading so I can reveal to you how many consider Eliot to be one of the modernist writers of the century through only his first poem.

Modernism was essentially based upon a utopian vision of human life and society moving forward through creating new experiences and new forms of expression. Modernist ideals pervaded art, architecture, literature, religious faith, philosophy and even science. The modernist era was a literary movement during the 1890’s to the late 1950’s. Eliot was predominantly a modernist poet and was seen to be largely influenced by the contextual periods he lived in and how the two world wars for example effected his oeuvre (a fancy word for “body of work”). The disillusionment that grew out of World War 1 contributed to the emergence of modernism, in which the genre broke with traditional ways of writing, discarded romantic views of nature and focused on the interior world of characters. The war resulted in many writers shifting their ideals of the world into a more modernist approach and introducing a form of grim brutality and cynical expression throughout their poems. Some modernist characteristics that Eliot merged into his oeuvre are the basic and most well-known elements.

A modernist characteristic that can be highlighted as a motif throughout Eliot’s poem of The Love Song is how the questioning of previously stable assumptions and traditional aspects of society. Eliot was part of the modernist movement after World War 1 and during this time, after the horrors of war, men started to come out of their shells and express more emotions and insecurity which is the exact opposite of the “tough” traditional man who were supposably seen by society to be “afraid of nothing”. By Eliot in liaising this “questioning” of the traditional masculine man, he is embracing the modernist movement and expanding through new forms of expression. This characteristic is most prevalent as the main persona is an insecure, emotional male who is the complete opposite of masculinity. Additionally, another characteristic of modernism is the stream of consciousness. It invites the reader into the mind of the persona in the poem and allows them to understand the associated leaps between the characters undiluted thoughts. Often poets would interpret a stream of consciousness into their poems to reflect their own personal emotions or to get a desired reaction from the audience, thus creating a connection. This is amplified in Eliot’s poem of The Love Song through the persona of Prufrock who had an overthinking, forlorn outlook on society and his decisions. Furthermore, an alternative element of modernism was the severe disassociation with the romantic era which was most predominant in the Edwardian Era of 1901-1914. This modernism element was again influenced by the war and the societal belief of not needing to be in love with a significant other to have… ehem… “a good time”, leading to hedonistic outlooks within the poem. In every modernist poem, a modernist poet will almost always include stylistic features such as fragmentation and irony and Eliot, the master of modernism did just that. Structural fragmentation was used by Eliot in modernist literature to resemble a cultural debris and detritus through the modern man wades. Eliot used structural fragmentation for the intention of giving the effects of, creating a sense of disconnection between the reader and poem as it doesn’t flow and how it forces the reader to find a layered significance in the different sections of Eliot’s poem The Love Song. Irony is the expression or contradiction of an expression to mean the exact opposite. This was favoured by Eliot as it highlighted the ideology he was trying to convey but in a pessimistic or contradicting way to what has been written, it also emphasised the importance of the ironic line for Eliot as it reflected society. Almost all of Eliot’s poems are considered to be high-brow forms of literature, which is an element of modernism and The Love Song is no exception. This means that without the proper knowledge of the intertextual references that Eliot includes in his oeuvre, they are difficult to understand. This is considered to be a modernist element as it creates a barrier between the reader and poem, as it is widely perceived by many that modernist poets created this barrier to allow readers to understand the loss of communication that the modernist’s experienced with society during the 1890’s to 1950’s. Another modernist characteristic is modernist ambiguity and this is expressed in The Love Song. Modernist ambiguity is the content of a text being open to different forms of expression and interpretation but can also have an affiliation with the modernist element and movement. It allows the reader to interact and interpret the poem to how they wish and this encourages them to move forward in their ways of thinking much like the ideals of the modernist movement which reinvigorated the people following to move forward.

A Quick Summary

Now, you may have noticed there are a lot of modernist elements in The Love Song in my basis analysis, but I did it for those few who may possibly be up at 1am on a Wednesday night with no time. If you’re looking for a more depicting and analytical explanation of modernist elements in The Love Song then I must insist you keep on scrolling. The poem of The Love Song highlights the relationship between Eliot and modernism and how he merged many modernist ideologies into his poem. This made him one of the most influential modernist poets to date in just only his first poem to be published. You might even allow yourself a little wow… (I’ll wait for you to “WOW” don’t worry).

How Eliot Encapsulates Elements of Modernism into The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, was published by Eliot with the considerable help of Pound in 1917 and is dedicated to his supposed late “boyfriend” Verdenal (it’s very sentimental and cute isn’t it? I thought so to…). The poem is told from the insecure, miserable, forlorn perspective of the anti-hero Prufrock about his failed life and in his quest to find love while worrying about aging.

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Questioning Stable Assumptions of Society

Questioning stable assumptions and traditional aspects that were previously established was quite popular in the modernist movement as it conformed to the aspect of moving forward and creating new expressions. Eliot the master of modernism did integrate this element of modernism into his literary poem of The Love Song. Modernist noted that the traditional ways of thinking of gender roles were incongruous and outdated within the emerging environment of the modern world. This was widely influenced through the aftermath of World War 1 as many men were distraught by the disarray, deaths and were emotionally damaged. However, it was looked down upon at the time of the 20th century for a man to express his emotions and insecurities as this didn’t conform to the masculine, traditional male role of society that was previously established. The epitome of masculinity was to be a tough, fearless, robust male, who had faith and confidence within himself. Eliot however, challenges and questions this previously stable assumption of how men should be in traditional society through his main anti-hero persona, Prufrock in The Love Song. Prufrock is seen to be an insecure and emotional male whose self-consciousness is apparent to his appearance creating an aspect of superficiality. His insecure nature is highlighted by him comparing himself as a motif throughout the poem to influential Renaissance Era figures such as “Michelangelo” and “Hamlet”. Prufrock exclaims that ‘No!’ he is ‘not Prince Hamlet’ and ‘nor was meant to be’, thus indicating that he is thinks of himself not to be like Shakespeare’s eponymous hero who is subsequently the main character in his play. Prufrock instead thinks of himself to be below, and rather a secondary character in his own story much like an ‘attendant lord’ to serve someone else. By Prufrock not having confidence within himself to be important and constantly comparing himself, it reveals an insecure man who is unafraid to express his emotions. This corresponds to the modernist movement as Eliot creates Prufrock to be explicit in exposing his insecure feelings and little confidence which is the complete opposite attributes to the traditional male thus forming a challenge and a question to the assumption of the tradition male figure. The motif of insecurity is also emphasised by Prufrock’s dramatic monologue as it divulges into his superficial consciousness. The traditional, stable assumption is that men shouldn’t worry about how pretty they could possibly be and should remain confident in their appearance. Prufrock is seen to be the exact opposite of this as he is insecure about the ‘bald spot in the middle of [his] hair’ and how he exclaims ‘I grow old…I grow old…’. The repetition about himself growing old and the worrying of his hair heightens the superficial side of Prufrock and exemplifies his insecure nature, further adapting to the modernist movement as Eliot is challenging the stable assumption of the traditional male role through Prufrock. By Eliot creating Prufrock to have a sense of insecurity to question the established traditional male expectation, he is causing the audience to be more accepting of different attributes of a male. This could possibility be a reflection his own desire to express his emotions after World War 1 which was a particularly tough time for him as it caused the death of his “soulmate” Verdenal. This may cause a late 1910s reader’s reaction to not oppress men’s emotions but instead embrace it and help them get through the traumas. By Eliot amalgamating the modernist element of questioning previously established traditional societal roles through The Love Song he is encapsulating the modernist movement of forming new ideas and forms of expressions into his poem thus reflecting his desire to move forward and accept new concepts as a modernist himself.

Stream of Consciousness

Creating the persona of Prufrock to have a stream of consciousness in a non-linear fashion is considered to be an element of modernism that Eliot has integrated into The Love Song. This is emulated by Eliot building in the unnecessary use of repetition and syntax into his poem. In the rhyming syntax and rhetorical questions of ‘there will be time/ To wonder, ‘Do I dare?’ and, ‘Do I dare?’/ Time to turn back and descend the stairs’ emulates the associative leaps that Prufrock makes between his thoughts to the audience and makes them feel involved in Prufrock’s inner thoughts. Eliot creates Prufrock’s stream of consciousness to have a questioning and negative outlook. This is seen through Prufrock turning back from his task and go somewhere else after overthinking it and thus encourages the reader to pity Prufrock and wish he didn’t have such a bleak and pessimistic outlook on life. They would also want to him to move forward instead of questioning himself. Eliot fashioned this audience’s reaction to Prufrock to reflect the lack of encouragement many modernists were given during the movement. Most of the population in the 20th century thought modernists were trying to change society’s aspects and often thought the way the modernist were forming new expressions was in the wrong direction so there was many against the modernist movement. Many modernist writers may have questioned their integrity, possibly even Eliot and this was seen through Prufrock questioning and overthinking thus giving the audience a reaction for wanting him to move forward. Eliot may have wished the same reaction regarding the modernist movement thus inspiring him to create this stream of consciousness for Prufrock.

Disassociation with Romanticism

Another popular aspect of the modernist movement was the severe disassociation with the romanticism, which was quite popular during the Renaissance and Edwardian Eras. Modernists instead included a hedonistic aspect to their poem through allusions to acts that were often looked down upon during the era of when The Love Song was written. The traditional form of romanticism is about the experience of love and to be able to participate in sexual desire you must be married or be in love with a significant other. However, Eliot disassociates the poem with this assumption and instead approaches romanticism as a concept to freely love without a significant connection with someone. In The Love Song, Eliot alludes to a one-night stand in the lines of ‘Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels’. I’m sure you know what a one-night stand is and what it entails so I won’t go into delving detail about it. This allusion to the aspect of a one-night stand in a hotel room creates a disassociation with the overarching idea of romanticism as it contradicts the tradition form of what love should be. Instead the notion of a one-night stand creates a hedonistic side of life which doesn’t require you to fall in love to have sex, like what the romanticism alludes to (I know, sex is an awkward topic for some, especially Eliot). By Eliot creating the disassociation with romanticism he brings forward the new expression of being about to freely love and not be looked down about for essentially… doing the dirty with randoms. This new expression allows for the modernist effect of accepting forms of expression and moving forward by accepting others in society and disassociating from the traditional form of romanticism.

Stylistic Features of Structural Fragmentation and Irony

Stylistic features are a fairly common aspect that amplified the modernist movement and this was often through the use of structural fragmentation and irony. Fragmentation is part of The Love Song’s structure as there are multiple rhyming couplets and sentences in stanzas that are visually spaced apart from the others. Eliot had created the fragmented stream of consciousness of Prufrock to reflect the complex and disrupted thought process of his character. The fragmentation of certain thoughts disrupts the flow of the poem and therefore allows it to have layered significance, which allows for certain lines to become more important to the audience over others. This is underlined with the fragmentation of the rhyming couplet of ‘In the room women come and go/Talking of Michelangelo’. This separation of this rhyming couplet from other stanzas allows for Eliot to convey the importance of the motif of Prufrock being apprehensive and insecure about himself, as he is comparing himself to the “ladies man” if you would, of ‘Michelangelo’. Additionally, apart from providing the effect of layered significance to emphasise an idea, structural fragmentation was also used to create a feeling of disorientation and disconnection between the reader and The Love Song. This is known to be done by modernist literature poets, including Eliot, to mirror the cultural disconnection that modernist’s felt during the historical period as their ideas and forms of expression were widely looked down upon. Furthermore, in The Love Song, Eliot utilises the modernist element of irony throughout the whole poem by creating an ironic title. With the title of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ you would expect the poem to be full of love, hope and wistfulness, right? Wrong! The poem is in fact the complete opposite, establishing the irony as Prufrock’s stream of consciousness is instead bleak, pessimistic about finding love and instead superficial by worrying about his ‘hair’. Eliot uses the element of irony to express his thoughts of the world, as World War 1 was meant to “change the world for the better”, as some thought. However, during and after the war the real horrors and truth about the war was exposed. The irony is the wish for a better life before the war and in trying to achieve it many people died, making life worst for many families thus representing the modernist vision of decay. Eliot utilises structural fragmentation and irony to fashion the mimetic representation of the satirical, dysfunctional and disrupted world he lives in.

The Love Song is a High Brow Form of Literature

No, this paragraph will not be about how eyebrows and how they sit high above on your face, but rather about how Eliot’s poetry is difficult to understand. Many of Eliot’s poems were considered a high brow and esoteric form of literature and The Love Song is no excuse. There are multiple intertextual references including the opening dedication to Verdenal that is French. The poem even introduces itself with an epigraph of regarding Dante’s Inferno which is written in some language, Latin or French I can’t decide… (if you really want to know its Italian). So, unless you are multilingual and can interpret these extracts, you may struggle to find the relevance between the epigraphs and the rest of Prufrock. If you think the poem is already difficult to understand just wait until we reach the stanzas and the many intertextual references. An intertextual reference that allows the poem to become a high brow form of literature is in stanza four is ‘Indeed there will be time’ and this is reference to the books of Ecclesiatastes in the Tanakh or the Hebrew Bible. It is a famous line from the passage of “A Time for Everything”. If you already have a good understanding of them two books and can interpret them into The Love Song without me telling you… I must applaud you. Eliot, the modernist he is, made his poems high-brow to reflect the society he lives in and how they fail to recognise the modernist movement and the expression it gave causing them to develop an undermining understanding of modernists. By Eliot including multiple intertextual references in The Love Song it forms the poem to become esoteric and allows for the difficult acceptance that modernist movement experience to be replicated.

Modernist Ambiguity

Obviously, this is another element of modernism and too be honest with you, my lovely audience, I’m running out of introductions for each modernist characteristic. Anyway, onwards we go into how Eliot depicted modernist ambiguity into The Love Song. In the second stanza the description of the “Pea Soup Fog” of London is shown to be ‘The yellow fog that rubs its back…/The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle/ licked its tongue into the corners/Lingered/Slipped by’. This creates the extended metaphor of the notorious “Pea Soup Fog” to be personified as a cat, a sly creature. It gives the modernist ambiguity effect as it in a literal reflection of what the “Pea Soup Fog” was like to Londoner’s as it often caused death but this wasn’t discovered till later, thus creating it to be sly and having the effect to slip by the human mind, almost how a cat does. Modernist ambiguity is again highlighted through the metaphor of the ‘Streets’ being ‘like a tedious argument’, which leads to the ambiguous rhetorical question of ‘What is it?’. This ambiguity allows for the reader to interact and take an active role in interpreting the meaning of this poem, further encouraging them to keep reading and keep moving forward, like the modernist movement encouraged. Modernist ambiguity is highlighted in The Love Song as it encourages the audience’s interpretation and contextual references to be pronounced.

Conclusion

Do I really need a conclusion? I think through this analysis of The Love Song you’ve found some key points for that last-minute essay. I hope I didn’t bore you with explaining the amount of modernist elements Eliot infused into his very first poem allowing him to become one of the masters of modernism and to win that Nobel Prize of his. If my blog helped you in anyway, your face will be surely similar to this man’s next time you read The Love Song:

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On a side note if you managed to scroll this far down a good reference if you are a student studying T.S Eliot’s poetry, I suggest you pick up the ATAR Notes Text Guide: Selected Poems by T.S Eliot by Lucy Koh. I deemed it to be very useful to help you understand modernism and how interpret Eliot’s high-brow literature.

 

by E.H.

T.S. Eliot Blog Post

Let me preface this by saying, this isn’t your child’s typical blog post, or even your young adult blog post, this is a blog post written for the purpose of informing, as well as contributing to a wide array of knowledge on T.S Eliot. Obviously many of the points covered will be explained elsewhere assumingly better, but it doesn’t mean I can’t contribute to what actually turned out to be a pretty good poet, thanks Mr Barton. This is a blog of textual analysis and formal writing opposed to saying #relatable, “wow T.S Eliot what a lad”, “damn he a cuckold who knew??”, that’s a format that I cannot write in, it simply doesn’t work, im sorry. That being said, I hope you enjoy this hopefully deep look into Modernism and the world of T.S Eliot.

 

Modernism is the literary movement that marked the transition between the Romantics of the past, and the new form of literature with new values and ideas. Modernism, which started in the early 1900s, and through to the early 1940s was marked by its new style and form which broke the norm of poetry from the past. In a break from Romanticism which boasted sonnets and professions of love, Modernism was characterised by its free-verse structure, as well as its ‘stream of consciousness’ style of writing, opposed to the third-person limited structure of Romanticism. In the case of T.S Eliot, a pioneer of Modernism, his work was heavily influenced by his environmental factors at the time of writing. ‘World War 1’ for example held great contextual importance as the man described as his ‘soulmate’ Jean Verdenal, was killed, an event that is reflected in Eliot’s writing, as well as the dissolve of many European cultures at the close of the war. Modernism showed elements that were different from any forms prior; fragmentation, in form and structure as well as of culture, irony, allusiveness ,and the depiction of the modern man are some of the elements and themes of Modernism that Eliot described in his poetry. So here are 4 elements of Modernism, as shown through the gay, impotent loner; T.S Eliot.

 

Cultural Fragmentation:

Fragmentation is the thematic and formal breaking of writing. It breaks down the plot, characters, theme, images and form of writing. Cultural Fragmentation refers to the breakdown of period cultures for new ones. This was seen after World War 1, as many of the European cultures were dissolved after the war, The Ottoman Empire, Russia, and Germany to name a few were struck by the war and some never recovered. This event is reflected in Modernist writing. In reference to Eliot, the literary culture that was prevalent before him was Romanticism, an appreciation of the beauty of the world and largely enveloped in love ballads and sonnets for other people. This is fragmented in Eliot writing, as he, a pioneer of Modernism, breaks conventions of Romanticism and portrays a fragmentation of the culture of romanticism by alluding to the era, but breaking it in his writing.

 

 

The title of the poem; “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” has connotations of the conventions of the Romantic Era, as “Love Song” refers to the love professions and writing to appreciate the beauty of the world that were common at the time. Eliot fragments this by juxtaposing his “love song” with the imagery of the dirty and polluted streets of London. The “yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window panes” and “sawdust restaurants”, reflecting the ‘pea soup fog’ of sulphur dioxide and soot that polluted all of London, as well as the “sawdust restaurants” having connotations of the 20th century restaurants that had sawdust flooring in their establishments which was a feature of lower-class eating. This portrays the dirty and subclass living that Prufrock sees when walking around London, in a contrast of the appreciation of beauty of the world found in Romanticism. The purpose of Eliot’s passage is to highlight the contrast between Romanticism and Modernism as the harsh juxtaposition between the “love song” and the dirty streets provides readers with a modernist world; as the Industrial Revolution provided London with a dirty and unsanitary place which contrasts against the appreciation of beauty in Romanticism.

 

Cultural fragmentation in Prufrock is prevalent in juxtaposition between descriptions of landscape and the content thereafter. In the opening of Love Song, Eliot conforms to the aspects of Romanticism in the appreciation of the beauty of the world and a ballad of love. When Prufrock asks to “go then you and I,/ When the evening is spread out against the sky” the diction of the passage portrays a romantic undertone of Prufrock asking a woman to explore the night with him, as well as appreciating the sky above him. Eliot uses simile to compare the sky to a “patient etherized upon a table”, providing a harsh juxtaposition to portray the night sky as an unconscious and having a lack of life. The purpose of which is to portray the nights of London, as well as the landscape as dead, and unattractive in a reflection of Europe at the time, which was polluted and dirty.

 

Fragmentation of both the form and content of The Waste Land is prevalent to explore the idea of alienation and the consequence of World War 1. “You know only a heap of broken images.” The content of the passage explores the ravages of World War 1. The “broken images” being both a mention of fragmentation but also the “images” that are broken reflect the countries that fought in the war. The “images” are the broken and destroyed cities left from years of combat and death. Again explored in The Hollow Men the “broken jaw of our lost kingdoms” refers to the broken head of the kingdoms and empires of Europe as a result of the War. The synecdoche of “broken jaw” alludes to the cutting off the head and dissolving of the empires of war-time europe. Empires like the Ottoman’s, the German and Russian all suffered “los[s] [of] kingdoms” during the war. The purpose is to portray the large-scale destruction of the world that occurred during World War 1, and show the change from the era prior to Eliot and the new modernist era.

 

The form of The Waste Land is manipulated by Eliot in order to portray Europe in shambles after the events of the war. The fragmentation of the different ‘sections’ of the poem, as well as multiple voices of varying cultures, and different time periods create a disjointed and messy poem as a reflection of Europe after the war as disjointed and fragmented. The title of the poem; “The Waste Land” has connotations of a bleak, and barren area of land. This can be read as an interpretation of Europe after the war, as many countries were left barren and dead as a result of the conflict on their soil, as well as portraying the static and dead state of Europe, as they lost empires and were recovering after the supreme losses in the war. The use of different voices in the sections, such as in The Burial of the Dead which includes the initial structural voice, changing to the voice of a German woman, ‘Countess Marie’ after “summer”, provides readers with a fragmented passage and creates a disjointed and disconnected structure. The purpose of the fragmentation in the section is to serve as a parallel of the society that the text was written in. The German section for example, provides a parallel for the events that Germany was facing at the time, after the end of the war, they were forced to pay reparations and their monarch fled the country, leaving their country in a disjointed and vulnerable state.

 

Irony:

Irony is the form of creating meaning by using language that signifies the opposite. Modernist literature used irony in a break from the Romantic Era of sincerity and writing for love. Irony is used in Eliot’s poetry to highlight the distinction between the romantic and modernist era in literature as well as to emphasise the themes of his poems.

 

In ‘The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock’ by Eliot, the title itself is ironic in nature. At face value it portrays the idea that the poem will contain a depiction and profession of love from Prufrock to his significant other. The Irony is found in the content of the poem juxtaposed with the title, Prufrock never actually speaks to any women in the text, and makes no “love” profession either. Repetition of “Do I dare? and, Do I dare?” reinforces this as the man who is supposedly supplying a “love song” is found considering “descending the stair[s]” and leaving. The purpose of the irony in the poem is to highlight the break from traditional conventions of Romanticism as well as reinforcing the theme of the poem; Insecurity. In contrast to the love ballads and sonnets, meaning little song, of Romanticism, Love Song breaks this to show the distinction of the new world of literature. The passage also reinforces the theme of Insecurity as neurotic Prufrock, considers leaving the party to avoid contact with the women attending, this complemented by his internal monologue of “(They will say: ‘How his hair is growing thin!’)” portray Prufrock as emotionally stilted and insecure, reinforcing the theme of the poem.

 

Irony in The Waste Land is used as a reflection of the distinction between modernism and romanticism as well as providing context for the author. The opening line of the poem, “April is the cruellest month,” is ironic as April itself is spring for Europe and Northern Countries, a season that is not cruel to live in. The use of irony in the opening line of the text provides the distinction between the Romantic era of the past and modernism of the present. In contrast, describing Spring-time as “cruel” portrays a clear distinction between modernism and romanticism, in romantic literature, spring would be worshipped, describing the new flowers blooming and animals coming out again. Ironically, The Waste Land describes April and Spring as “cruel” and the “dead land”, reinforcing the distinction from Romanticism of the past.

In terms of context, Irony of “April is the cruellest month” portrays the loss of Eliot’s soulmate ‘Jean Verdenal’ in the first world war in April of 1915. The theme of The Waste Land being loss and death is reinforced here as Eliot comments on the death of a loved one as a result of the war.

Irony in The Hollow Men is used to reinforce the theme of the poem, reflect cultural changes as well as providing what can be read as the context of the author. The use of the nursery rhyme, “Here we go ‘round the/ prickly pear,” being an alteration and parallel to the nursery rhyme of “here we go ‘round the mulberry bush”, which was derived from a fertility dance, is reversed in irony to reinforce the theme of The Hollow Men, the poem which describes “dry grass” and the “dead land”, is complemented by the irony of the nursery rhyme to portray the desolate and barren life of the “hollow men” in the text. The use of irony translating the mulberry bushes to cactus’, from fertility of fruitful bushes to sterility of a desert, portrays the cultural shift from Romanticism to Modernism. Within Romanticism, the subject matter pertained to the appreciation of nature, as well as love ballads and sexual professions to women. This is characterised in the mulberry bushes, contrasted against the “prickly pears” or cacti, in which characterise modernism, a break from the appreciation of nature and glamorization of women, to a modern depiction of the world, desolate, barren and dead, as a result of World War 1. When the nursery rhyme is read through the context of the author, an insight into his love life can be read. Although only trusted to Eliot’s close friend, Eliot had a hernia, and was unable to consummate with his wife. This is alluded to in the text as the impotent Eliot, can be read as a stand-in for the cacti in the nursery rhyme. The “prickly pears” as well as the diction of “dead land” and “cactus land” which have connotations of infertility of soil in the desert, can be read as a representation of Eliot’s love life, as he too, was infertile and impotent, similar to the “prickly pear[s].” The purpose of the allusion to the nursery rhyme and translation into the “prickly pears” is used to highlight the cultural shift of modernism, and portray the new world that was created at the close of the war.

 

Irony in the last stanza of The Hollow Men is used as an anti-climax to shock the viewers. The depiction of the end of the world, in the line of “This is the way the world ends” is highlighted due to the repetition of the phrase in the passage. The effect of the repetition builds the tension of the end of the world for the ‘hollow men’. The last line of “not with a bang but a whimper” subverts the audience expectations of the end of the world as not having a large impact providing irony when juxtaposed to the repetition prior. After the repeated phrase builds the tension, the anti-climax provides the ending of The Hollow Men as ironic, as what appears to have a large impact on the ‘hollow men’ in the text is reduced to a “whimper.” The purpose of ending the poem this way is to reflect the society that he lived in when writing his book. The diction of “whimper” has connotations of a weakened animal or injured human, this is reflected in the European society as they were still recovering from the losses of the war, they too were injured and were only a shell of their previous status, it can be interpreted that European society too was a “hollow” shell of its past self.

 

Allusiveness:

Allusion is an expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; it is an indirect or passing reference. Eliot, is an incessant user of allusion, inspired by his environment and literary icons of the past; Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, to name a few, Eliot alludes to literature in all his poems, some to create meaning, others serve less purpose. Allusion is an element of Modernism that Eliot certainly conforms to, he alludes to his environmental impacts; poets and authors of past, and mythology to provide meaning to his poetry.

Allusions in The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock are used to assist in the establishment of the tone of the poem, as well as the emotions within Prufrock the character. The opening stanza is an allusion to Dante’s Inferno. The use of the epigraph, relates to ‘Count Guido’ who lives in the eighth circle of hell. Allusion to this reflects Prufrock, as he is living a hellish life on Earth. The allusion provides a reflection of Prufrock as he, as well as Guido, speak without shame. Prufrock lays his insecurities and worries out in the poem through dramatic monologue, “(‘How his hair is growing thin’)”, and in the epigraph, Guido is said to speak with no shame. Prufrock’s insecurities of fear of rejection are displayed through allusion. “The women come and go/ talking of Michelangelo”, referencing the renowned Renaissance artist Michelangelo, Prufrock, can see the women are cultured, which intimidates him as he compares himself to the artist and believes that in contrast, he doesn’t compare to Michelangelo’s majesty.  The purpose of Eliot’s allusion is to reinforce the theme of insecurity of the poem of Love Song as Prufrock believes he isn’t quite as good as other men and sees himself as less.

 

Allusion to death further reinforces this. “And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker.” The allusion to death is displayed in the diction of “eternal” as well as a “footman” having connotations of a servant waiting to help people across to the afterlife. This reflects the theme of insecurity of Love Song as Prufrock believes, even in death, that he would be mocked for his conduct of his life. When linked to the irony of the juxtaposition of “Love Song” and how Prufrock never actually speaks to any women the theme is reinforced, as his stagnation in life of never acting and being too insecure to confess his love, is an action to be mocked by death.

 

Biblical Allusion in Love Song is used to further portray Prufrock’s self deprecation. Comparing himself to John the Baptist and Lazarus portrays Prufrock’s insecurity and insignificance. The biblical allusion in the passage of, “Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter, / I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;” portrays the story of John The Baptist, a prophet who was beheaded, and his head was served as a prize. Unlike John the Baptist, Prufrock believes that even when his head is cut off “[he is] no prophet”, complemented by the monologue of “(grown slightly bald)”, Prufrock believes that even in death and decapitation, he isn’t a prize, that he is insignificant. This reinforces the theme of Love Song, of insecurity and self-doubt.

 

Allusion to Lazarus portrays Prufrock’s stagnation and creates a parallel to the established setting of the poem. In the passage, “To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,” Eliot uses metaphor to akin Prufrock to Lazarus, a figure from the bible who came back to life after dying. By portraying Prufrock as ‘being’ Lazarus, Eliot portrays Prufrock as lifeless and reinforces the theme of Prufrock’s insecurity as he wonders whether or not being lifely is worth it. Complemented by Prufrock “measuring his life out in coffee spoons”, it can be read that Prufrock feels insignificant about how he used his life, and whether or not parties of “tea, cakes and ices” are worth it.

 

 

 

Allusion to Shakespeare’s Hamlet is used to further reinforce the theme of insecurity in Love Song and portray Prufrock as inferior.

The allusion in the passage of, “No I am not Prince Hamlet/ Am an attendant lord/ at times the fool.” refers to characters in the Shakespeare play, Hamlet. He claims that he is not “Hamlet”, that he is not the main character even in his own story, rather he is more like ‘Polonius’, an attendant lord, inferior to Hamlet that uses fancy words to make himself seem smart. Prufrock also claims that he can at times be the fool, a court jester that is inferior to “Prince Hamlet” and is a spectacle to laugh at. The purpose of the allusion in Love Song is to reinforce the theme of insecurity that Prufrock feels, he believes he is the side character in his own life and a “fool” for people to laugh at.

 

The Depiction of the Modern Man:

The modern man reflected the cultural shift of what was once the expectation of men from times before the war and the times after. To explain a pivotal reason that men after the war was different than prior was the trauma and loss they endured on the battlefield. Many came back with post-traumatic stress symptoms, and the expectations of a manly man started becoming obsolete. The modern man, as depicted in Modernism as well as the culture they lived in, was an emotionally stilted, awkward and neurotic, self conscious and paranoid person. Eliot portrays the ‘Modern Man’ in his poetry, most prominent is The Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock in which the character of Prufrock exemplifies the traits of a modern man scarred and damaged from the society of the time.

 

Love Song, portrays the character of Prufrock as emotionally ill equipped and paranoid about his own physical inferiority. Repetition and allusion in the text explaining that Prufrock sees “the women come and go/ talking of Michelangelo” conveys Prufrock’s interior monologue and self comparison to the Renaissance artist of Michelangelo. Prufrock believes that the evidently cultured women speak of the artist in comparison to Prufrock. It is Prufrock’s assumption that he cannot compare to the artist. This is reinforced by the inner monologue of “(But how his arms and legs are thin!)” portray Prufrock’s neurotic thinking, as well as his paranoia that he is inferior to Michelangelo, and thus he will never be able to speak to the women. The purpose of portraying Prufrock as this is to exemplify the Modern man as he is self-conscious about his appearance and believes himself inferior to other men.

 

Allusion to Prufrock’s physical features portray the persona’s neurotic tendencies, as he claims that when he descends down the stairs women above will see the “bald spot in the middle of my hair” as well as commenting on “(how his hair is growing thin!)” The internal monologue used portrays Prufrock’s internal thoughts and insecurities as he thinks he is aging beyond attractiveness, and no woman will want to be with him. This reinforces the idea of the modern man, as he is self-conscious about his balding, as well as believing that as a result of his aging he won’t be able to find a wife. The purpose of Eliot portraying Prufrock this way is again to reinforce the idea of a modern man, and show the distinction between the men of the past, an example being the Romantic era of love ballads for women and sonnets to woo, and contrast them to the Modernist depiction of a man, who refuses to speak to the women he wants to as he believes his inferior and getting too old.

Diction and Zoomorphism in Love Song portray the idea of a modern man. The passage exclaiming Prufrock’s clothing portrays his own beliefs about his status and place in the society of the text. His “necktie rich and modest” held on by a “simple pin” portrays his believed social status and own attractiveness. The diction used of “modest” and “simple”, have connotations of a person of inferior class as well as someone less eloquent. Linking to the idea of a modern man as paranoid and neurotic, Prufrock’s belief that he is a lower-class and inferior to the other characters in the text portrays his neuroticism and self-consciousness over himself, it also portrays the belief that he isn’t sophisticated enough to get the cultured women who speak of “Michelangelo” as he is “simple” and “modest.” Zoomorphic allusion to insects portrays Prufrock as subhuman and less than the people around him. Prufrock is described to be “sprawling on a pin/ wriggling on the wall” and “fixed in formulated phrase.” The use of zoomorphism in the passage compares Prufrock to an insect stuck on the wall. This portrays Prufrock as insignificant as he is figuratively smaller than the other characters in the text, and they are the “eyes” that fix him there and make him feel insignificant. The purpose of portraying Prufrock as insignificant and less sophisticated than the other characters in the text is to display the neuroticism and paranoia of the modern man, as well as perhaps being an insight into Eliot himself, who was an attendee of parties in London, as Prufrock may be a stand-in for Eliot’s insecurities about himself.

 

If you made it this far, I’m sorry, I understand that it is long, but I aimed for close textual analysis, and the length of the blog reflects this. Again, sorry.

K.M.

 

 

 

 

 

T.S. Eliot: A Discussion of Mental Illness

T.S. Eliot’s poetry is quite intimidating when it comes to analyzing, but there’s common motifs he explores in most of his work – the poems in particular that we’ll discuss today are ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘The Waste Land’. The common motif we’ll explore today are the human experiences of mental illness; most specifically, anxiety and depression, and how Eliot portrays these in his poems. If you’re an ATAR student, then hopefully this will be of some help to you!

So… Who is T.S. Eliot?

Born in 1888 in St Louis, Missouri; T.S. Eliot was an American-British poet, essayist, publisher, playwright, literary critic and editor. Eliot was a leading role of the Modernist movement in literature – more specifically, poetry – producing works such as ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (1915) and ‘The Waste Land’ (1922).

Most of his works explore aspects of religion, Greek mythology, mental illness, levels of love, and death-rebirth. Eliot wanted his poetry to express the fragile psychological state of humanity in the twentieth century, which is reflected in both ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘The Waste Land’.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock is known to be an examination of the tortured psyche of the modern man – eloquent, neurotic, overeducated and emotionally stilted. The poem seems to follow the character of Prufrock, giving us a small glimpse into the life of a socially awkward, impotent and insecure middle-aged man who fears intimacy.

Prufrock is labelled as one of the most influential texts of the modern era – This is because it envelops the transition from the structure of classical literature to the much less restrictive structure of what we now know as modernist literature!

Prufrock: Anxiety and Insecurity

As an inner monologue, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ showcases ones thought patterns and self-perception to be neurotic and in adequate. These two characteristics of Prufrock contribute to the insecurity and anxiety he’s represented to feel.

The poems momentum and rhythm are continuously interrupted by Prufrock’s digressions. Digressions are the speaker’s thoughts trailing off in unrelated paths and are caused by the speaker’s own sense of inadequacy. These digressions usually bring to light Prufrock’s anxiety and struggle with indecision.

With Eliot bringing emphasis to the speaker’s struggles, he suggests that obsessive feeling, some experience, with doing the right thing – whether it be expressing yourself, forming relationships, or simply deciding what to wear – could stop the person from seeking adventure or doing much of anything at all. The constant indecisive digressions produce a sense of habitual procrastination with Prufrock’s character. His procrastination seems to be centralised in social anxiety, as he admits he has time for (lines 32-33):

“a hundred indecisions / and for a hundred visions and revisions”.

Prufrock is constructed imagining (line 39):

“descending the stair”

and greeting people, however, in reality, he is too timid and insecure to do so as he imagines that people will laugh and scrutinise his appearance. This prominent insecure nature that Prufrock has is further reinforced as he observes the women illustrated in the poem (lines 35-36):

“women come and go talking of Michelangelo”

Michelangelo is an extremely influential figure (a sculpturist and painter) in which Prufrock is constantly comparing himself to, symbolising Prufrock’s sense of inadequacy. With the women ‘talking of Michelangelo’, the notion of women in the twentieth century only caring about wealth and status becomes prominent – this knowledge further strengthens Prufrock’s insecurities as he sees himself as inferior to the figure of Michelangelo, therefor feeling undeserving of another person’s attention and care.

Prufrock pities his appearance through his habitual ways of thinking how others perceive him (line 41):

“(They will say: ‘how his hair is growing thin!’)”

Another habitual way Prufrock sees himself is evident through zoomorphism and metaphor (line 58):

“When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,”

The act of pinning an insect is alluded to in this line. Prufrock states this in reference to himself, comparing himself as a middle-aged human male to a small insect being pinned on a wall for closer inspection. This reflects how Prufrock feels when people look at him – like they’re inspecting every little aspect of his appearance and judging his exterior. He again compares himself to a small animal, this time he’s a crab (lines 73-74):

“I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.”

 These self comparisons Prufrock makes to small animals symbolize how inferior he feels and how insignificantly he views himself. He dehumanizes himself while viewing everyone around him to be of high value – the zoomorphism alone is a representation of the insecurity Prufrock struggles with. Prufrock’s indecisive nature seen once again, brings forth his neurotic ways as he constantly questions his actions before he does anything. (lines 45-46)

“Do I dare? Do I dare disturb the universe?”

His significant worry and concern for the size and kind of effect his actions would have on the universe – that he still needs to venture into – is reflective of his overly cautious habits as he limits himself from experiencing anything that would pose a threat to him, be it physically or emotionally. ”

The Waste Land

‘The Waste Land’ is one of Eliot’s longest poems with five different sections;

I. The Burial of the Dead

II. A Game of Chess

III. The Fire Sermon

IV. Death by Water

V. What the Thunder said

The five different sections are joined together by a wide variety of voices; sometimes in monologue, dialogue, or with more than two characters speaking. The poem is notable for its disjointed structure, jumps from one voice or image to another without clearly delineating these shifts for the reader. He also includes phrases from multiple languages; Latin, Greek, Italian, German, and French!

I. The Burial of the Dead

The first section, as its title indicates, is about death. The section begins with the words:

“April is the cruelest month.”

Eliot’s dark words inform the reader that the poem will be dark and heavy (line 1). There is a reinforcement of a juxtaposition between something that’s alive growing/stemming from something that’s lifeless:

“breeding / Lilacs out of the dead ground”

“Dull roots with spring rain.”

“feeding / A little life with dried tubers”

These few instances of juxtaposition between life and death (lines 1-7) can be reflective of the persona’s view on life – to be something so difficult like trying to grow (themselves or nature) from the base of something so lifeless. It gives a sense of hopelessness to the reader as these are too difficult to do, typically leading someone to give up and just stay with the ‘dead ground…dull roots…dried tubers…’ The German phrase (lines 12-13) leads into a conversation from a sledding episode in the childhood of a girl named Marie. The season has changed again, to winter. Marie notes:

“In the mountains, there you feel free,”

implying that when she is not in the mountains, or sledding adventure, she does not feel free. Marie feels trapped, just as humanity feels trapped in its own waste land.

Eliot starts to give some visual cues about the waste land of modern society (line 19):

“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / Out of this stony rubbish?” ‘

The poet tells the reader that he or she “cannot say, or guess” what the roots of this waste land are, because the reader knows only (lines 21-23):

“A heap of broken images” where “the dead tree gives no shelter.”

These and other images depict a barren, dead land. The lexical chain of ‘broken, dead, rubbish’ help reinforce that notion of difficulty to grow – that sense of hopelessness in which the personae in ‘The Waste Land’ seem to experience. Eliot notes there is (line 68):

“a dead sound on the final stroke of nine,”

which refers to the start of the typical workday. These people trudge along in a sort of living death, going to work, which has become an end in itself. The repetitive lifestyle pattern has bored the people, bringing forth emotions of sadness and feelings of hopelessness.

IV. Death by Water

The shortest of the five, starts off with a reference to “Phlebas the Phoenician,” the dead sailor who was first mentioned in the second section. Eliot is again focusing on death, and in this section, he gives a thorough description of the sailor’s body being torn apart by the sea:

“A current under sea / Picked his bones in whispers.”

The word choice of ‘picked’ emphasizes the slow and constant deterioration of one’s mental health. The metaphor alludes to the whispers being intrusive negative thoughts that are ‘picking’ apart their mental state, making them feel closer to death – or feeling numb – rather than feeling happy.

The section ends with an address and warning to the reader to:

“Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome and tall / as you.”

V. What the Thunder said

The poem’s final section builds on the images of death but attempts to offer hope that this can be overcome. The section begins with a long discussion of Jesus Christ,

“He who was living is now dead,”

The biblical reference can be a metaphor for how one feels dead emotionally, with all the trauma and intrusive thoughts they’ve experienced, feeling alive has become foreign to them now. This motif of depression is constantly appearing through the poem with this being the final emphasis.

by S.H.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Historical Inspirations Behind Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale That’ll Keep You up at Night

If you haven’t read or watched The Handmaid’s Tale, you must be living under a rock. But at least you aren’t living under the rule of an ultraconservative patriarchal theocracy, am I right? Well Margaret Atwood will have you know that this isn’t actually too far from reality, and if society isn’t careful, you’ll be wishing you were still living under that rock. Anyway, rocks aside, I know what you’re thinking – you’ve never heard a boulder claim before; Western culture is shifting toward respecting women, and y’know, not being a theocracy, right? Atwood herself has referred the novel as a “speculative fiction,” which is backed up by her promise that she “would not include anything that human beings had not already done in some place or some other time, or for which the technology did not already exist.” This separates the novel from a dystopian drama, and a true reflection of the terrible things humans are still capable of doing if we don’t learn from our mistakes. In the following article I will guide you out from under your rock, help you learn from some of recent history’s greatest mistakes, and of course transform you into a chronic insomniac; here I’ve put together the chilling ‘3 Historical Inspirations Behind Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale That’ll Keep You up at Night.’

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#1 Decree 770 – Romania

As I’m sure you gathered from the subheading, one of the events that inspired the Handmaid’s Tale was the result of Decree 770 in Romania. This was a law passed in 1967 that banned the use of contraception, or any form of abortion. It was issued by the country’s new dictator (a man) in order to rapidly increase the population to satisfy his obsession with state autonomy. The government had already introduced a 6% income tax on married couples if they didn’t have children while between ages 25 and 50, but it was proving ineffective. During the 60’s, abortion became the most common form of birth control, as there weren’t really any other options; this resulted in a sharp dip in birth rates, which ultimately prompted the enactment of Decree 770. Without any form of birth control, that year birth rates soared higher than ever before, approximately double those of the previous year. There were financial incentives offered to families who bared many children, however, they weren’t enough to properly raise a child; this resulted in countless women dying by attempting illegal abortions, and tens of thousands of horribly mistreated orphans, which was covered up for over 2 decades through state propaganda. Heavy surveillance of the population evoked fear of expressing any discontent of the decree. Now I know driving women into extreme circumstances, and mass neglection of children are messed up on a whole bunch of levels, so I’ve left this picture of a puppy here to cheer you up.

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Aww, look at him – he just wants a lil pat ༼ つ ◕_◕ ༽つ

Uh, anyway, the point is not everyone gets what they want; in this case, Romanian women were denied their want of control over their own bodies. Not only had the government literally assigned all women as compulsory baby-makers, but they had invaded their personal life. A Romanian woman was quoted as saying, “When the state usurps the private, the body is undressed in public,” which to me is just a fancy way of saying the state should mind their own damned business; their breach in privacy was comparable to stripping women in public. We see Offred in the novel shares a similar situation, except she copes by placing herself in a “state of absence, of existing apart from the body,” which is perhaps even more horrific. In Gilead there is no privacy to begin with; after performing ritual sex with a stranger, it is unlikely Offred would use being undressed in public as a comparison to the state’s control over her body.

Contraception is also banned in the Gilead, but not quite for the same reasons. Romania was looking to boost its economy with population growth, whereas Gilead was trying to do everything it could to just re-establish its population. We see Aunt Lydia tells the handmaids everything will be better “when the population level is up to scratch again,” to give them a sense of purpose within society. Another similarity between Romania and Gilead would be the heavy surveillance. Gilead is riddled with surveillance; there are the ordinary guards, the Aunts, the Eyes, and even the handmaids themselves, who are used to spy on each other. Because of this Offred has thoughts such as “perhaps he is an Eye” upon meeting someone, and she won’t express herself to her partner handmaid in fear that she is loyal to Gilead.

So how does this all relate to us? The key takeaway is that there are people in power (politicians) who think it’s alright to make laws controlling the bodies of others. Don’t believe me? Of course you do, look at the Trump administration. Trump’s sexist language has sparked fear in many he would revoke women’s rights such as the right to use contraceptives, the right to an abortion, and the right to taking maternity leave. If America can go as far to make this man their president, who is to say it can’t be taken a step further?

 

#2 The People of Hope – New Jersey

“Clip-clippety-clip, out of the newspaper I clipped things,” said Atwood as she showed her research notes to journalists. And out of the paper she happened to clippety-clip an article on a 1100 membered religious sect gaining control of a Roman Catholic Church. Established in 1975, they called themselves the ‘People of Hope;’ from this one might think-thinkety-think they prayed in hopes for the betterment of society. Well, not quite; a better description of them would be a fundamentalist cult. The sect had reportedly indebted residents using financial leverage, such as buying them houses to entice them into joining, and later prevent them from leaving. They subordinated women, and treated them in a “very Islamic” fashion; they discouraged social contact with non-members; they pre-arranged the marriages of children; they prevented children from dating; and they placed their teenage disciples in “households” for indoctrination. Ex-members of the sect described it all as a form of “subtle brainwashing.”

TL;DR they’re manipulative misogynists disguising themselves as Catholics.

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The wives of the sects’ coordinators were called “handmaidens,” which Atwood had underlined in the news article for obvious reasons. Outside of the use of the word in the title of Atwood’s novel, ‘handmaiden’ or just ‘handmaid’ isn’t a very common word anymore (thankfully). You can probably partially guess its meaning on your own, but its literal definition is just any subservient woman. The sect ironically used this term as a compliment to these women, as they were the servants of God. Funnily enough (not really) they were also the servants of their husbands, who in turn gave them power within the group. Because of this they were less similar to Atwood’s handmaids, and more comparable to the Commanders’ wives, whose titles also define their subservience.

The controlling theocratic structure of Gilead is also comparable to the structure of The People of Hope. Both of them use the Bible as an excuse for their authoritative, misogynistic crap. In the handmaid’s tale religion mostly resembles puritanism, as the handmaids are told they are chosen by God. Their ‘ritual,’ aka state-sanctioned rape, is directly justified in the bible’s verse, “Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her.” The People of Hope’s fundamentalist ideologies mean they take the bible at face value with no further interpretation, though it also means they ignore passages that don’t suit their ideologies, which reminds us of the Gileadean “modified” bibles. A passage relevant to the sect’s actions would be “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent;” this refers to women’s authority within the church (which is stupid enough on its own), but fundamentalists can extrapolate its meaning to be all women are subservient.

This is especially relevant to Atwood’s message on the fragility of democracy, as she has stated in interviews that “nations never build apparently radical forms of government on foundations that aren’t there already.” America has a “deep foundation” in Puritanism, therefore it’s reasonable a theocracy could possibly be formed given chaotic circumstances. The People of Hope are a proof-of-concept miniature-scale example of this happening, a fundamentalist ideal building itself on top of a Catholic one. Oh, and by the way – they still exist to this day

JD4

 

#3 Soviet Uranium Mines – Soviet Territory

We’ve all heard about the Soviet Union, lovely group of people no? Okay maybe not. Well then you probably wouldn’t find it hard to believe that during the 1970’s they forced prisoners to perform manual labor in heavily radiated uranium mines. This aimed to gather materials for the soviet’s growing arsenal of nuclear weaponry. Prisoners were expected to live no longer than 2 years, as their bodies would fall apart thanks to radiation poisoning. I would provide some imagery into what that would look like, but I’m only trying to keep you up at night over here, not traumatize you (let’s just say it isn’t a pretty way to go out). The camps were allegedly used as a death sentence, which is backed up their “almost 100%” death rate. Many prisoners that collapsed with exhaustion had their skull smashed open with hammers to ensure they weren’t faking their deaths to escape; their bodies were then thrown down a mineshaft and covered with dirt. More prisoners were brought in via train every few months; all the walkways and buildings were fully enclosed to hide the movements of prisoners, and the existence of the camps. Prisoners with especially deadly sicknesses were taken out of the camp to be studied so that the Soviets were aware of the effects their bombs would have after detonation.

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This of course partially inspired Atwood to create the colonies, which are “toxic dumps and radiation spills” where they sent “old women […and] Handmaids who screwed up their 3 chances […] discards].” Other less brutal colonies were mentioned, but Atwood didn’t dedicate very much ink to describe them. She likely chose toxic waste instead of Uranium because it was much more relevant, and likely to happen in America at the time, as there were worries surfacing about the U.S. congressional hearings on the regulation of toxic industrial emissions. They are both similar though in the sense that they are used as death sentences; the colonies primarily consisted of old women and infertile handmaids because they are no longer of use; they had been disposed of. Offred tells us, “They don’t bother to feed you much, or give you protective clothing or anything, it’s cheaper not to,” so they clearly weren’t expected to live long, probably even less then the Soviet prisoners.

A big difference between the colonies and the Uranium mines is that the mines were a hugely kept secret. It took years for vague pictures of them to be smuggled out of Russia, and even now not much is known about them. Alternatively, the colonies were well known by every man and his handmaid, why is this? This is because the colonies served a second purpose, to subjugate through fear. Offred says the Aunts “showed me a movie” about them, where they purposefully excluded footage of the “not so bad” colonies. Atwood would have added this detail to add some stakes to the narrative, there needed to be some sort of connection between Offred and the colonies to make them relevant to the plot.

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Anyways I have a question for you after my little comparative analysis: which sounds worse, the colonies or the Soviet mines? And then on top of that, how did you feel while reading about the conditions in the mines? Were you quivering in disbelief? Did you get bored? Go back and look at them. No, I’m not trying to make you feel guilty; it’s easy to separate yourself from this sort of thing, to you it’s just a story. Offred herself reinforces this in her recollection, “newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others […] they were awful without being believable.” And to me this is exactly what the Handmaid’s Tale is about, it cautions us on the desensitization to the horrific shit we should be afraid of, which leads us into a sort of apathetic complacency, allowing the sluggish, detrimental changes in society to be dismissed. And now you, the reader (yes I’m talking to you) have demonstrated this process yourself. If that won’t keep you up at night, I don’t know what will.

(or maybe I’m just projecting and was completely wrong, who knows?)

 

Conclusion

We might not be living in the Stone Age, but society certainly isn’t perfect at the moment, and honestly I doubt it ever will be. By taking inspiration from history, Atwood has legitimized her criticisms of society by demonstrating each separate aspect of her novel is possible on a smaller scale. By linking a seemingly fictional dystopia with real life, we have found ourselves examining the true nature of humans once given power, and the mechanisms by which we nonchalantly let them abuse said power. If you’ve developed crippling insomnia and can no longer function as a regular human being, look, ok I’m sorry but I warned you in the title didn’t I? On the other hand, if you’re still enjoying a good night’s rest be sure to complain in the comment section, I look forward to it.

Oh, and one last meme…

JD7

 

by J.D.

4 Reasons Why Margaret Atwood Hates Her Protagonist

 

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard of the controversial dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. In early 2017, a television adaption hit the screens, renewing it in the eyes of the modern consumer. In the first episode, Margaret Atwood, the original author, cameos as one of the tyrannical Aunt figures. And what did she do, you ask?

Literally slap her protagonist across the face. That’s it. A good, firm slap to wake her character to the reality of her new life.

JC1

 

In all fairness, Atwood has to put her through some tough times, otherwise why would we bother indulging in anything without a little suffering? … Or a lot, in this case.

Margaret Atwood has presented a plot where her protagonist, Offred, endures a number of wrong-doings, with suffering and dehumanisation around every corner. With only one option- to breed, the mono-theocratic society of Gilead is one of misogyny, religious fanaticism, classist social hierarchies, but is basically just a living hell for poor Offred.

Looking for 4 ways that you, a budding author, can be assured to completely screw with the sanity of your protagonist? Atwood sets the best example around.

 

  1. The sex wasn’t great.

First and foremost, there is simply no way I can ignore THAT sex scene. Yeah, you know the one. I can confidently say it was two minutes of my most nauseating reading experience. The Commander doing his *ahem* “duty”, Offred lying on the bed blatantly describing the encounter, and just to make things even weirder, Serena Joy gripping the handmaid’s arms. When the Commander finally finishes, he removes himself from this messed-up threesome of sorts. With as much grace as one could possibly muster, he exits the room, leaving the two women together. Instead of resting for 10 minutes like she is supposed to, Offred is commanded to leave the room by a very impatient Serena Joy. As Offred quickly leaves, she feels the “juice of the Commander [as it] runs down [her] legs”.

Okay. Ew.                           JC2

But let’s crack down to it, to see why Atwood pulls this major dick move. Oh no, the innuendos…

In a society where reproduction is of the highest priority, the legislative alterations that support the goal of population growth are heavily enforced through strict consequences (like, you know, death). Through the tyrannical nature of Gilead, a focus on banning abortion, artificial reproductive technologies, and converting the nature of modern sex are entwined with puritan ideologies to deliver a return to traditional ideals.

In this quotation, Atwood presents her protagonist as enduring a ceremony that is neither pleasurable nor painful, due to her ability to remove her emotions from the situation. This emptiness she portrays creates a stark juxtaposition with the reader’s pre-determined mind set in regard to the elements pertaining to sex.

Normally, we are shown a romantic scene. Delicate rose petals, scented candles, and probably a Boyz II Men song. Comparatively, the horrific recounts of rape usually feature intense fear or even survival mechanisms. Offred consents to all sexual encounters, admitting that it’s what she “signed up for” when she choosing to become a handmaid. The alternate option of becoming an ‘Unwoman’, banished to the lands of nuclear radioactivity, ensures that she is forced to choose between life as a dehumanised womb or certain death. Now that’s living!

Instead, this chapter falls into a no-man’s land of sorts, belonging to no traditional sex scene genre. This is achieved through its hyper-realistic descriptions and all together atypical, dystopian context. Offred settles on the label of “fucking” to accurately describe the sex, highlighting her resistance to Gilead and Biblical discourse (

JC3

which, TBH, still doesn’t really seem that much better). The use of profanity employs a candid and blunt effect, rather than one of provocation, adding to the absolutely nauseating encounter. It’s the inability to relate as a reader that makes the chapter so confronting in the abnormal content it presents.

But seriously, “juice”? Bleugh.

 

 

  1. Do you have this in any other colour?

First of all, Atwood limits Offred’s options to the point where constitutionalised rape is literally the best option available. To add to this pain, she makes her endure this in a colour that she says she has “never looked good in”.  Damn, Atwood. Harsh. And to rub it in Offred’s nose even more, she goes and gives those nasty wives a delicate blue. Yet, underneath all these ‘wOmanLY iNjuStiCEs’, Atwood’s intricate symbolism and manipulation of colour can be seen as the true intention. JC4

In this novel, red is used as a continual reference to the handmaids, and because of this, acts as a reminder of fertility – their defining characteristic. Mimicking that of menstrual blood (because dressing up as a period is super in right now), the handmaids are constantly presented as a national resource, prompting the sole purpose they serve.

Intertextual links can be drawn between the red of the handmaid’s and that of the ‘A’ worn by a woman in the Scarlett Letter. Spoiler, women are about to be demonised… shocker. Used to shame those who commit adultery, red portrays these characters as demonic and shuns them from society. As the handmaids technically commit adultery, these novels can be viewed as parallel. Despite being told they are valued and important, the other characters openly scorn the handmaids and the duties they perform.

Throughout the ages, red has been a colour symbolic of power, worn by the likes of kings and rulers. When applying this to the handmaids, their only possessed power is that of child rearing. Even Offred’s name, whilst designed to be “Of Fred”, demonstrating their objectified nature, can also be seen as “Off Red”, no doubt of simple coincidence there, hey Atwood?

Yet, we shouldn’t be so dismissive. It is, after all, the most valuable possession – to control whether the population continues or not.

As wretched as these wives may seem, you’ve got to have a little sympathy for them. Their ovaries are all shrivelled up and they have to “share” their already distant husbands with a younger, fertile woman. Their designated blue attire corresponds with that of the Virgin Mary’s (it’s no wonder their heads are so far up their arses), and just like this Biblical figure, are presented as the exulted motherly symbols. Which, mind you, is pretty damn unfair considering their contributions to this process. Unlike the wives, handmaids must perform Ceremonies, carry the child during pregnancy, give birth, at which point their child is taken away and given to these purported ‘great mothers’.

At one point, Offred compares her red dress with that of a nun’s habit, of which I’m sure you can detect the blatant irony – because nothing says traditional puritanism like a pregnant nun.

 

  1. Weird Freudian Penis Stuff.

On top of all the extremely awful sex scenes, you just had to go adding in that whack Freudian business. Honestly, at this point I don’t know who is worse off, Offred for having to live in Gilead, or me, about to unpack this quotation. Okay, fine its her, whatever. JC5

During one of Offred and the Commanders’ clandestine rendezvous in chapter 29, Offred asks the Commander for the translation of a Latin phrase she found etched into the corner of her wardrobe, “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum”. Eventually, he tells her that’s its just a school boy’s joke – “don’t let the bastards grind you down”. Okay, first of all, low blow. Atwood gives Offred this hope of some deeper meaning, which she lives by until the moment she discovers it’s simply a joke.

But in order to do this, Offred asks to initially write the phrase down. After being deprived of the ability to speak freely, read or write, this is played out as a rather significant moment. It is here, that she fully understands the power of the written word, realising that, “Pen Is Envy”. Which looks absolutely nothing like penis envy, right Atwood? How subtle.

Penis envy is a psychosexual stage theorised by Sigmund Freud (the founding father of all zany shit) regarding the development of young females. This is the resulting anxiety of the realisation they do not have a penis. Yep, weird. The gist of it is that females become jealous of masculine features that are associated with power, domination and status, leading us straight back to the core of this issue – the patriarchy. Despite some women possessing more power than men, such as the Serena over Nick, Gilead is ultimately orchestrated by [TRIGGER WARNING FOR ALL FEMINIST READERS] male supremacy. Women can only marry into power, which men have attained by climbing the ranks. It presents males and the essence of masculinity as one of dominance, and therefore deserving of the reign they hold over the Gileadian society. Atwood places us in an interesting position, where we acknowledge Offred’s desire for power to improve her diminished social status; however, I naturally frown upon this whack-job’s theory that this suggests a craving to be male.

Now that the obligatory phallic reference is over, we can move on.

#OnlyLitKidsWillUnderstand

 

  1. Adam and Leave.

Ahh yes, religion. A faith in deities which has led to endless bloodshed throughout history and seems to bring destruction wherever it ventures. Offred’s new life is no different. Atwood creates a society where the Old Testament reigns, and with it, its archaic and misogynistic values. Margaret Atwood demonstrates the dangers that come with legally reinforcing religious extremism. Again, the patriarchy is all up in this business – is anyone even surprised? JC6

The dystopian trademark of theocracy and its purpose can be surmised by the concept that a woman’s role in life is to bear children and serve a male. This is featured in the epigraphs and repeatedly throughout the book, reinforcing its validity as a social norm. After being unable to conceive, the biblical Rachel says to Jacob, “Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees”. Okay someone get my girl Bilhah the heck outta there.

During the “Women’s Prayvaganza” in chapter 34, a Commander begins his speech to open the event. Whilst, young women are blindly married off to men, he states, “let the woman learn in silence with all subjection”, because after all, “Adam was first formed, then Eve”. Seems legit. In Gilead, legislation is designed to place men in positions of power and dictate citizens lives. Atwood presents its role as tyrannical and oppressive, acting as the architect in a fearful society. The ability to force “silence” upon a person demonstrates true power, yet not one worth admiration. A population of mind-numbingly repressed females is the direct consequence of removal of speech and expression of thought, especially when raised in this environment. But if you ask me, what’s the point of a growing population if all the citizens are the same? By drawing the parallel of Adam and Eve, it links these ideals back to religion, and how it is used to legitimise its subjugation of women. This reminds us of the power that religion holds in Gilead, and how its puritan values control its citizens through the mechanisms of fear and loss of freedom. Old testament-inspired fanaticism and fundamentalism provides a direct pathway to a society filled with backward ideology and stunted progression.

This age-old gendered prejudice is cemented in the premise that essentially men are the superior being, and I mean who couldn’t argue with that logic? After all, both God and his son (a white male named Jesus who was left to die on a crucifix) are males, so why wouldn’t they be better? JC7

(P.S. check out this link about Jesus to see why he would be a she: https://youtu.be/VknatF-Ddtw )

#FightForEqualRibs

 

To end this blogpost, I wish to leave you all with the reminder that no one is inherently good or bad, no matter how evil they, *cough* Atwood *cough*, may seem. Serena Joy and her fellow wives, whilst malicious and spiteful, have reason for their jealousy toward the handmaids. The Commander, a curious mixture of ignorance and intellect. Offred, the protagonist we so often sympathise with, just as flawed an individual as any other character in the novel. So, in the immortal words of the infinitely bad-ass, Moira, “everybody shits”.

 

by J.C.

 

but if the GIFs don’t work you can blame Barton.

 

What Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaids Tale’ can teach you about the human experience

“To me the human experience does involve a great deal of anguish. It’s joyful, but it’s bittersweet. I just think that’s life”- Amy Grant.

The human experience is defined as a term that incorporates all the realities of human life including the mental, physical and emotional characteristics. All elements of an individual’s life no matter how significant build up to form the human experience, for example birth, aging, fear or joy. When reading Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaids Tale’ it demonstrates the full context of the human experience through not only the positive interactions but through the vast number of negative elements of the protagonist Offred’s life. But it’s through these negative interactions that a better lesson can be learnt and a greater individual mental and physical experience can be formed.

 

Summary

Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaids Tale’ is an epistolary novel written from the protagonist Offred. She finds herself in the Republic of Gilead, which has replaced the United States of America, due to critically low reproduction rates. Offred serves as a Handmaid, whose sole purpose is to bear children for choice couples who have trouble conceiving. The handmaids are offered limited freedom as they are only permitted to leave the house on shopping trips, cannot sleep with the door shut and all their public moves are watched by the Eyes (Gilead’s secret police force). The novel continually visits flashbacks to the reassemble the events that lead up to the creation of Gilead. Through these flashbacks it is understood that the figureheads responsible for Gilead used the military to murder the president and members of the congress, before taking control of all power. Once they gain power they remove basic human rights away from woman such as owing a job, owning property or holding money. After attempting to cross the border into Canada with her then husband, Luke, Offred is captured and drugged before waking up in the Centre. At the centre the women are removed of their names, their voices, their rights and anything that made them individuals before being brainwashed into the religious ideologies of the new society they live in. As the book progresses some of the rituals that are run within the society are presented such as:

Pravvaganza: This is an event where all women in a district (Wives, Marthas, Econowives and Handmaids) congregate to view weddings for the Wives’ daughters, where young girls get married.

The Ceremony: Is a ritual performed by the Handmaids, a high-ranking male and their wife where the intention is for the Handmaid to conceive a child. More or less is a form of institutionalised rape.

Particicutions: This is a portmanteau on the word’s participation and execution, where the handmaids perform an execution. This is a compulsory event for all handmaids and can also be referred to as the Salvaging.

 

Physical Experience

Within ‘The Handmaids Tale’ the physical experience that the protagonist Offred experiences is quite clearly exhibited through Atwood’s depictive and graphic language use. By creating a highly visual novel Atwood is able to better represent the intense scenes that make up the physical experience Offred struggles with. She leaves the interpretation of these scenes up to that of the audience and allows readers to garner there own understanding of the events but manipulates her language to create a bland and passionless tone which can be interpreted as a distaste towards the events. The main way in which the differing physical experiences is shown is through the two titles that incorporate the sexual encounters that Offred has. One of these is within Chapter 16 of the novel where the idea of the ceremony is properly introduced to the reader. In this chapter Offred explains it as neither making love, copulating or rape as ‘nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for’. Although that is stated to the reader the idea of having forceful sex without being offered any form of saying no other than being forced into the colonies to die is classed as institutionalised rape. An author who discussed this issue of consent was Susan Estrich who released a book called,  ‘Sex and Power’ in 2000 talking about rape cases during the 1980s, which was around the same time that ‘The Handmaids Tale’ was written, deliberating over the definition of force and the line between consensual and non-consensual sex and how this wasn’t clear under the law and made for difficulties in rape cases. She goes on to explain that men wanted to haveJW1 consensual sex with a woman but somehow got interpreted as rape. This didn’t happen as a completely unknown but rather the male blurring the lines by remaining ignorant to the woman’s ability to say no as well as not listening to her instructions. This was linked back to how a woman’s voice was not trusted in a court of law because there was a belief that they would manipulate a situation and get an innocent man sent to jail. This social construction was obviously very flawed in the sense that a man could have sex with any woman and there was a very miniscule chance that he would be jailed for it. This removed all sexual autonomy from a woman and also a woman’s power to refuse a man. The time period this book discusses coincides with that of ‘The Handmaids Tale’ allowing Atwood to publish her thoughts on these issues in a more disguised manner. This helps to teach the readers about the difference between consensual and non-consensual sex.  Through this readers understand that chapter 16 is referring to rape due to the lack of sexual autonomy and how the negative language and the lack of engagement by Offred is demonstrative of a negative physical experience. Through the quotation, “Maybe I’m crazy and this is some new kind of therapy. I wish it were true; then I could get better and this would go away”, we as readers realise the truth of the situation Offred is living, how she doesn’t want to be there and how through a lack of love this is an emotionless torture. This whole negative experience is opposed in chapter 40 where Serena Joy arranges for Offred to have sex with Nick in the hope of conceiving a child. In this chapter Offred tells two different accounts of the events, the first of passion and the second more of uncertainty and awkwardness. Although readers can’t be certain of what happened it is clear that in this scene Offred takes more pride in this experience and is fully consensual to it. The main way that the scene distinguishes itself from the other is through the act of Nick kissing Offred as this is perceived as a sense of emotion and love in a sense. This chapter is a better reflection of how a positive physical experience is supposed to occur. By contrasting these two chapters it is evident that one identifies a negative physical experience for the protagonist and the other a more positive experience. Through these the readers learn the way in which a negative physical experience can lead to a more demonstrative show of positivity when experiencing a positive physical experience. It helps to further educate the readers on the way that rape can affect a person as well as the way that the person can feel trapped and how the line between consensual and non-consensual sex can be very limited at times. This novel demonstrates to the reader how a build-up of negative physical experiences can lead to a greater sense of enjoyment during a positive one.

 

Mental Experience

The mental experience alludes to the facet of intellect and consciousness experienced as a combination of thought, perception, memory, emotion, will and imagination. It takes into account all of an individual’s unconscious cognitive processes. Over the course of the novel the mental experience that Offred deals with is easy enough to comprehend as it is written in an epistolary format, which is where the novel is narrated through a series of document or in this case a series of tapes. Through this format we experience all of Offred’s unconscious thoughts, desires and emotions which help the reader to pick up a better understanding of her mental experience and how she progresses throughout the novel based on the different interactions and events that she is faced with. One of the toughest mental experiences that Offred goes through is the entire wiping of her previous life including her name. Now the relevance of not including her name is quite important in the context of the book as a name is something that characterises a person more than in a sense of individual identity but its one of the few things in the world that translates universally, even without the ability to properly communicate to an individual sharing your names makes communicating 10x easier. This idea that a name means a substantial amount to an individual is shown in the well-known play ‘The Crucible’ through the character of John Proctor when he states, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life. Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul, leave me my name!”. This represents that no matter what you take away from someone as long as their name remains there is still meaning to their life as it is their legacy and is the only way people remember an individual. Noting all that with Atwood removing the original name of Offred she doesn’t allow the reader to resonate on a more personal level with Offred as a character. This means that the emotional response that the reader gives to Offred’s emotional trauma is less of a personal ‘I feel bad for you’ and more of a moral response where no one should have to live in a society like that. Through the removal of her name Atwood immediately creates a negative mental experience as she is wiping away the majority of the what consisted of Offred as a person. Then as the novel progresses the positive experiences that Offred receives when she goes back through unconscious memories points to how that sense of identity gives her something to hold onto and restore a sort of meaning to her life. The idea that Offred’s mental state inclines and dips based off her unconscious memories is further identified when she states, “I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off”. This again implies that mental experience within the confides of Gilead is traumatic in a sense and doesn’t fill her with any form of emotion rather than negative ones. In this quotation we understand her will to believe she’s in a dream and none of it is real and that she’ll be able to go back to her old, happy life which we all know she can’t. This is another example of where she uses that past positive mental experience to negate the effect of the current negative ones she’s facing. This helps to educate the reader on the ways in which using past positive mental experiences can help you to get through the negative mental experiences that an individual may be struggling with. It demonstrates a simple and convenient way to deal with unfortunate situations and shows how one of the best ways to deal with a negative mental experience is to use prior positive mental experiences to help improve your current mental predicaments.

 

How the 2 link together

Both the mental and physical experience work together to make up the preface that is the human experience. By forming theses both together to create the singular experience which ebbs and flows purely based off a negative or positive experience. In that sense the idea that as someone’s mental health starts to decline their physical health will experience the same negative effects. While as someone’s mental health increases their physical health will also benefit. This is represented within Atwood’s novel as when Offred experiences that negative physical experience then her mental experience becomes more negative. Then as she would find a positive mental experience to hold onto then the physical experience which she endured wasn’t as bad overall. This novel helps to embody the ideology that as an individual has a positive mental experience then this will translate straight into a positive physical experience, and vice versa in the sense that positive physical experiences also cause an outlasting effect where the person’s mental experience will be enhanced.

 

 

Within Atwood’s ‘The Handmaids Tale’ the human experience is something that is relevant and is demonstrated in every scene or chapter. As the human experience integrates every detail and all the realities in a person’s life Atwood has made it easy to observe the human experience that the protagonist Offred goes through as she has written it in an epistolary form. The novel teaches to the reader’s how a build-up of negative physical experiences can lead to a better sense of fulfilment during a positive experience, and how one of the better ways to cope with negative mental experiences is to motivate yourself using prior positive mental experiences. It also furthers the readers education of how each intricate detail that forms the sole human experience are all linked and correlated to each in other in some way. Overall Atwood’s novel is able to provide a high level of teaching to it’s readers and helps to educate them on the human experience.

btw

Categories of the Population (Gilead)

Marthas:  A class of women who serve as domestic servants to wealthy/ high-ranking families

Econowives: Are a class of women whom are the wives of the poor or low-ranking men.

Wives: Are among the highest-ranking women in Gilead and are married to high ranking men. The role is regarded as a high honour and only given to women considered ‘pure’ and ‘moral’.

Aunts: A class of women responsible for overseeing the training and indoctrination of handmaids, as well as overseeing births and presiding over women’s executions.

Handmaids: Are a class of fertile women who are tasked with conceiving children. They are assigned to a family if the wife is incapable of reproducing.

Unwomen: Are a class of women in Gilead. They are forced to live out their days in the colonies, as they no longer are considered important to society.

Jezebels: A class of women who refuse to follow Gilead’s teachings are offered a chance to serve out their lives as ex workers.

Commanders: Are a class of men in Gilead. They are the highest-ranking member and serve as politicians and law makers.

Guardians: Are a class of men in Gilead. They serve as peacekeepers in the cities, foot soldiers in the army and servants to Commanders.

Angels: Are a class of men in Gilead. Serve in the army and are second only to commanders.

 

 

 

J.W

 

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: A Study of Manipulation and Misogyny

EL1Imagine a world, post-apocalyptic, dystopian and a mono-theocratic dictatorship run by right wing religious fanatics who have overthrown the government and started a civil war between what left of the United States and themselves, the old United States, now called Gilead. The society is patriarchal and based on biblical principles, with the intent to oppress women into the ‘traditional gender roles assigned by god’. They have taken away their privileges and freedom, with women no longer allowed to be educated, have right of free speech, hold employment, money or property.

And yet despite this oppression this society relies upon women to succeed. Without them they would have no food prepared on the table, no clothes washed, no clean house, but most importantly no future. Whether that be to conceive or to raise the child, without women there would be no Gilead in the future.

As a result of this women are manipulated into conforming to societies misogyny and disregard for females through fear, propaganda and in some cases force. This causes an appeal to the sense of pathos of the reader evoking a sympathetic response. The novel in turn makes a social comment on gender equality and the mistreatment of women allowing for Atwood’s novel to become, although controversial, critically acclaimed and make her a household name.

Here is how Margaret Atwood uses Manipulation and oppression of women in her 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, to create a misogynist and feminist theme and become a shorthand for repressive regimes against women.

**For future reference the Angels are like the army, they are the guards considered heroes within the society and the Aunts are the class of women tasked with the teaching and indoctrination of the Handmaids. Also The Sons of Jacob are the leaders or the dictators of Gilead.

MISOGYNY:

“The words and works of God is quite clear, that women are either wives of prostitutes”

  • MARTIN LUTHER

According to the oxford dictionary, misogyny is defined as, dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women. Included in this is any action upon which a person of the female sex gets negative or unfair treatment for little to no reason despite their gender. Over the course of human history this has been a common occurrence with ‘traditional’ gender values being patriarchal and male dominant while the women must be at home doing all the work around the house. Our religions also hold this attitude and value with the bible being highly misogynistic and sexist, “Let a woman learn in silence and full submission. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man: she is to be silent.” (Timothy 2:12) She must, “submit yourself unto your own husband, as it is fit in the lord” (Colossians 3:18), and, “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man” (Corinthians 11:3-10). As can be shown throughout the bible, these sorts of passages state that women are the property of men, are listed with the slaves and work animals, and hold little to no power throughout the text implying they are objects and inferior.

This is alluded to within the quote above from German professor Martin Luther that states “The words and works of God is quite clear, that women are either wives of prostitutes´, emphasising the misogyny within modern and traditional religious systems

Now if we consider that Gilead, the society created in The Handmaid’s Tale, is based off religious principles and ideologies, we can begin to piece together the way that women are going to be treated or thought about within the setting.

Gilead follows these religious principles, especially Martin Luther’s comments, as women are inferior and are forced into roles of wives, the wives of the powerful men, Marthas, the women that do the jobs of traditional wives, and Handmaids, who are the prostitutes in this situation, their role is to procreate with the man that ‘owns’ them and bear them children for the wives to raise. The women have no power, money or possessions and almost no other alternative then to conform to the job they have been given.

Three of the main examples of misogyny in The Handmaid’s Tale is the role of the Handmaids, the lack of choice, and the possessive objectification toward the Handmaids and Marthas:

THE ROLE OF THE HANDMAIDS:

Due to Gilead’s takeover of the area formally known as the United States and the civil war that ensued, there has become areas called the colonies that have high amounts of nuclear radiation. This nuclear radiation, also possibly caused by nuclear plant meltdowns, have caused mass infertility among the women in the Republic of Gilead, meaning a large portion of the population is unable to procreate successfully.

This is where Handmaids come in.

Their main role, once assigned to a married couple or a household, in the case of Offred it’s the Commander Fred and Serena Joy, is to have scheduled sexual intercourse in a process they call, ‘the ceremony’, in the hopes they become pregnant and provide the household with a child. This is because the Handmaids are the only ones in Gilead who are fertile and have the ability to bear children. Minus this the Handmaids are confined to their rooms except for times where they can go out to do the houses shopping or go to sanctioned events and have little to no freedom.

This ceremony happens on a regular basis and heavily against the will of the handmaid, but it is their job and have no choice. Due to the unwillingness of the Handmaids, the ceremony basically becomes institutionalised rape, where it becomes normal within the society for this to happen. This is a major example of misogyny within the novel as the women aren’t consenting or allowing this to happen, they are being forced into the role of the handmaid and into the situation with no way to avoid it and they do not enjoy it. Page 104-5, “What he is f***ing is the lower part of my body. I do not say making love, because this is not what he’s doing. Copulating too would be inaccurate, because it would imply two people and only one is involved.” implies that due to her unwillingness and lack of choice it is like she isn’t there, like the commander is just doing it and she has no control or option to stop. Page 105 also states, “This is not recreation, even for the commander. This is serious business. The commander, too, is doing his duty”, showing that the society has become numb to the gravity and misogyny of the ceremony and it has become just a normality or a chore that has to be completed.

The acceptance and nonchalance of the ceremony by the society highlights the inequality and misogyny that is developed within The Handmaid’s Tale which creates a feminist comment challenging repressive regimes against women in society.

LACK OF CHOICE:

A couple of paragraphs ago I said in reference to the Handmaids, ‘but it is their job and have no choice’. This, in a way, is actually incorrect as they do have a second choice besides being a handmaid and that choice is…

…Death…

Not exactly an appealing option but their second choice, whether they openly disobey a section of the society, or whether they attempt to escape, is death, by execution or by radiation poisoning in the colonies respectively.

This means most Handmaids will ‘choose’ to stay in their job and put up with the punishment and the ceremony despite there not really being a second choice. Offred demonstrates this on page 105, “Nor does rape cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven’t signed up for. There wasn’t a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose”, emphasising the lack of choice, but the admittance that there is another option, despite its unpleasantry. As well as this, on page 17-18, “I know why there is no glass, in front of the waterproof picture of the blue irises, and why the window opens only partly and why the glass in it is shatterproof. It isn’t running away they’re afraid of. We wouldn’t get far. It’s those other types of escapes, the ones you can open in yourself, given a cutting edge”, Offred is saying that the people who run the society are worried about the Handmaids committing suicide, so they take away that option and that choice.

Offred’s decision to choose institutionalised rape over death with the additional worry that the Handmaids will commit suicide rather than continue their role highlights the inequality and misogyny within the society of Gilead and makes the reader empathise with Offred and the other Handmaids causing a social comment challenging the sexism and prejudice within our society.

POSSESSIVE OBJECTIFICATION:

Throughout the novel the protagonist is referred to by the name Offred. This is not her actual name, and despite the fact it is said at the start on page 14, “Alma. Janine. Dolores. Moira. June”, we never actually find out which name is hers. This is because all the Handmaids get knew names when they join a household dependent on the name of the husband. The new name consists of ‘Of’ then the name of the husband to show that they are the property of the Handmaids. Offred, our protagonist, and Ofglen, our protagonist’s friend, are examples of this occurrence.

By changing the name of the women to represent the male they ‘serve’, Atwood creates a sense of ownership toward the men in terms of the Handmaids. This also dehumanises and denies the Handmaids a sense of individuality and uniqueness as they have no human name, just a label stating who they belong to. Offred states this on page 94, “My name isn’t Offred, I have another name, which nobody uses now because it is forbidden. I tell myself it doesn’t matter, your name is like your telephone number, useful only to others; but what I tell myself is wrong, it does matter.” Offred is attempting to distance herself from her new name, saying the name is not her identity, and that using her old name is important, so she feels like herself again.

The changing of the names causes the males to hold ownership against the Handmaids, taking any sense of individuality, uniqueness and human qualities away from the women turning them into objects meant for use by the male, rather than for human actions. This highlights misogyny within the society as the women are reduced to objects and ‘owned’ by the men creating a comment on the unfair treatment of women and the inferiority implied encouraging an empathetic response from the audience and challenging the traditional gender roles and oppression of women. isTHisTHisthusighp-dogjsodighsoidghisdlghhhhhh

 

MANIPULATION:

“Belief can be manipulated, only knowledge is dangerous”

  • FRANK HERBERT

Due to human greed, to get someone to do something for you, that person needs to get a positive outcome. Whether that be bribery, or inclusion, physical or emotional positive feelings most of the time something good needs to happen in return.

So how did the people in control of Gilead manage to get Handmaids to agree to a life of institutionalised rape, no freedom and no opportunity?

They manipulated them.

According to Psychology Today, ‘Psychological manipulation can be defined as the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits and/or privileges at the victim’s expense.’ This is potent in The Handmaid’s Tale as the leaders of Gilead need to use mental distortion, Rachel and Leah, emotional exploitation, lack of choice or other options for life, and constant control to keep people in line, spies and observation to make sure the Handmaids don’t try to escape.

All the manipulation must be for a reason though and that reason is control and maintaining power. Humans want to have power, they want to have control over someone else, and they want this control to be long term. In the case of The Handmaid’s Tale it is the right-wing religious fanatics, The Sons of Jacob, that created the premise for Gilead and overthrew the government to put this premise into action. Once in power, these people want to maintain that position, to do this they need to minimise rebellion or large-scale disagreement from a group within the society. Due to the, in my eyes in modern times with atheist views, highly controversial ideologies proposed within the society of Gilead, the people in power can expect a rebellion from the oppressed power, to and to overcome this they manipulate the minority to confirm their position of power.

The three main forms of manipulation used by Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale include: Indoctrination and punishment, through the Rachel and Leah Centre, Lack of choice or ability, and Observation and control. These together create a sense of inferiority towards women, emphasising the misogyny and inequality in the society, causing readers to empathise with the protagonist and her peers, contributing to a social comment challenging repressive regimes and misogyny in society.

It is worth stating that all the misogyny points above count towards manipulation as well because for these to occur some sort of manipulation or control must occur as well.

INDOCTRINATION AND PUNISHMENT:

Indoctrination is defined as the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically. This is exactly the role of the ‘Rachel and Leah Centre’, otherwise known as the ‘red centre’, within The Handmaid’s Tale as they must teach the women becoming Handmaids the ideologies of the new Gilead system, which in this case is basically religious indoctrination, to reduce the chance of rebellion and keep the order.

Within the centre Handmaids are under strict surveillance, with an aunt even escorting them when going to the toilet and are not permitted to leave unless assigned to a commander. The centre is run by Aunts, who teach the religious ideologies of the Gilead system. This is where the quote from Frank Herbert shown above comes in, “Belief can be manipulated, only knowledge is dangerous”, which states that one’s belief can be changed and manipulated to assist another at the expense of the manipulated but if that person knows the truth and the contrary to the common belief they have power to overthrow or rebel. This is the case with red centre as they know the women will think the religious ideologies and treatment of the gender is wrong and that knowledge is dangerous to the leaders of Gilead so to counter this the manipulate their beliefs to keep them in line and avoid rebellious conflict.

If disobedient the Aunts use force through the, “cattle prods”, that they are supplied as weapons. This is the fear manipulation, where the manipulators, the Aunts, use punishment, public displays of physical abuse, to scare and control the Handmaids forcing them to obey.

The mental manipulation comes through the indoctrination, when teaching the ideologies of Gilead, the Handmaids are forced to learn and abide by these set of rules, brainwashing them into believing it to be true so they do not rebel.

Some people believe what is fed to them and some people do not, for example Offred is always very reluctant to complete the orders given to her but she does them anyway, this comes through the fear side of the manipulation, where she knows she doesn’t have the power while in the centre and will be overcome with a tirade of physical abuse if she does not obey. This causes her to be stuck in the situation where she can rebel and fight but by doing so subject herself to physical abuse and possible death highlighting the manipulation and control the people in control have.

This manipulation and oppression of women for the benefit of the Sons of Jacob and the men in the society emphasises the misogyny within the text. The thought that they are being forced into new values and attitudes with the fear of being physically abused also encourages sympathy from the reader, creating a social comment challenging the oppression and treatment of women in society.

LACK OF CHOICE OR ABILITIES:

As stated earlier, most of the ideas within the manipulation section link to the ideas in the misogyny section and this one is no exception. I talked in the misogyny section about the Handmaids having a lack of choice as their only options are to be a handmaid, die of execution due to rebellion or die of radiation poisoning in the colonies post escaping. This is also a type of manipulation as they use the lack of choice to keep Handmaids in the job and make them feel happy as they chose life, although not a very fulfilling one, over death. Another idea within the misogyny section was that the houses of the commanders are created with rooms and areas that are essentially suicide proof. This is another form of manipulation as they are taking away the option of suicide encouraging the Handmaids to stay in the job and not rebel against the system.

Apart from these there are also other forms of manipulation through control of abilities and actions such as reading and writing, sports, being active, and hobbies. On page 49, “Tell, rather than write, because I have nothing to write with and writing is in any case forbidden”, Offred tells us that this epistolary reciting of the events of her life are thoughts in her head or a recording rather than writing as writing is forbidden showing an example of the manipulation and control by the leaders of Gilead. Offred’s astonishment at a simple game of scrabble, “” I’d like you to play scrabble with me.” … Now of course it’s something different. Now it’s forbidden, for us. Now it’s dangerous … It’s as if he’s offered me drugs” (Page 148-149), emphasises the control and lack of activities available to the Handmaids highlighting the manipulation.

This manipulation, for the gain of the leaders of Gilead as to avoid rebellion and dissent, highlights the negative treatment of the Handmaids causing and sympathetic response from the reader and adding to the challenge of societies misogyny and treatment of women.

OBSERVATION AND CONTROL:

As stated above, all manipulation occurs for a reason and in this case, it is to maintain power and make sure there is no large-scale rebellion or disagreement about society that could put that power in jeopardy. The way the people in control do this, minus the psychological and physiological manipulation, is through observation and constant maintenance.

The fact that the Handmaids aren’t allowed to leave the house, and when they do it is for sanctioned events, with the supervision of an armed guard emphasises the constant observation. The Handmaids aren’t allowed to write, read, and in most cases socialise with others in the house or anyone from the outside world. The only other person outside they interact with is the partner handmaid that is walked with to shopping and prescribed events, in the case of Offred this is Ofglen. Even this interaction is seemed to be unreliable, “It occurs to me she may be a spy, a plant, set to trap me”, as Offred states on page 178 when she remarks that Ofglen may be a spy sent to entice her, trap her into saying something anti-Gilead which will be counted as treason so Offred is careful to confide in her to be careful.

If Offred has to be worried that every person that is sent to spend time with her is sent to spy on her and observe her as to what she thinks and feels she can’t fully trust anyone. This causes high anxiety and makes Offred be very careful about what she says to anyone. The constant worrying and, metaphorically, ‘looking over her shoulder’ highlights the negative treatment and manipulation of women within the society causing an appeal to the readers sense of pathos toward Offred and the other women in the society.

As for constant maintenance, once Handmaids start working at a household, the Aunts can’t continue to educate, and indoctrinate the religious ideologies into, the Handmaids. As an alternative, the Handmaids have to attend a Women’s Salvaging, a women only event where the Aunts run public executions of people that went against the societal ideals or failed in completing their tasks. As well as this are particicutions, where they make the Handmaids carry out a public execution of their own on a man who has, ‘done women wrong’, or in the case of chapter 43, “A rapist”. As it turns out he is not a rapist at all and just, “A political”. These services and formalities are carried out to show the Handmaids what happens when you rebel against the system or don’t complete your task, another method of fear manipulation with the intention of keeping the Handmaids in line and reduce the chance of rebellious actions.

These methods of physiological and psychological manipulation cause fear and anxiety within the Handmaids having a negative effect on their wellbeing. The fact they have to go through all of this struggle causes a sympathetic response from the reader and creates a critical comment about the mistreatment of women and misogyny within society.

 

The women within Gilead are manipulated into conforming to societies misogyny and disregard for females through fear, propaganda and in some cases force. This causes an appeal to the sense of pathos of the reader evoking a sympathetic response. The novel in turn makes a social comment on gender equality and the mistreatment of women allowing for Atwood’s novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, to become, although controversial, critically acclaimed and make her a household name.

Applause.

Are there any questions?

 

by E.L.