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HUMANITIES II: BROAD SYMPATHY


005-015, 008-015, 011-015, 023-015, 035-015
Our approach to the texts that we read derives from the conviction that the study of
literature empowers awareness, or as W.E.B. Dubois has put it, broad sympathy, a
knowledge of the world that was and is and of [our] relationto it.

THE HUMANTIES: AN INTRODUCTION

The study of the Humanities is the fascinating study of our own selves: our desires, our
defeats, our triumphs, our sufferings, our joys, and our possibilities. This study of ourselves is,
fortunately, an ages-old, global record kept by writers, painters, sculptors, architects, musicians,
and artisans whose expressive modes, which we know as artistic statements, have influences
generations. These expressions continue to sharpen our self-awareness and stimulate our
pleasure. More understanding and more joy are the direct outcomes of a humanistic education.
Understanding, in the humanistic sense, means awareness and appreciation of the ideas and
feelings of human beings who have lived thousands of years before us and all over the world, not
only when we find how alike we are, but, also, how different we may be. Perhaps no one has
stated the importance of humanistic study, at least at our university, more compellingly than
W.E.B. Dubois, African American philosopher, social scientist, and man of letters, when he said,
Now the training of men [read and women, throughout] is a difficult task. Its
technique is a matter for educational experts, but its object is for the vision of
seers. If we make money the object of man-training, we shall develop moneymakers but not necessarily men; if we make technical skill the object of
education, we may possess artisans, but not, in nature, men. Men we shall have
only as we make manhood the object of the work of schoolsintelligence, broad
sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it
this is the curriculum of the Higher Education which must underlie true life. On
this foundation we may build bread winning, skill of hand and quickness of brain,
with never a fear lest the child and man mistake the means of living for the object
of living.
The Humanities, then, furnishes, as Kenneth Burkehumanist, scholar, and literary theorist
has put it, our equipment for living.
Historically in the Academy, the notion of the humanities derives from the humanists of
the Italian and English Renaissance, who reacted to the heavy emphasis which the medieval
educational system placed on philosophy (and especially logic) by reemphasizing the centrality
of the litterae humaniores, or classical literature, history, and moral philosophy to their
educational system and world view. Besides emphasizing practical moral questions about how

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one should act, rather than abstract and metaphysical or logical questions, the humanists
attempted not only to master the contents of the Greek and Roman classics but also to imitate
their literary style and generic configurations (R. Hillas, Prof. of English at Howard). Yet, some
of the greatest literature in the world has been written outside of and before the birth of Western
Civilization. And, just as we cannot study all kinds of art, neither can we study all kinds of
literature during the course of two semesters. What we will do is to focus on the literary work of
art, suggesting all the while that the themes, styles and structures of a few wonderful books
representing global literature through time are also to be found in other artistic media. And global
literature through time are also to be found in other artistic media. And since literaturelike all
artistic mediais constructed to produce awareness and to delight, we must study the
techniques of the construction to receive both. To study carefullylike the act of creationis
hard work. But that is the delight of a humanistic education: more understanding, more joy.
At Howard, our contemporary course is inspired by distinguished humanistic scholars
who precede us and who have vitalized the intellectual life of our university. Among them Alain
LeRoy Locke, philosopher and cultural critic, Mercer Cook, professor of languages, Frank
Snowden, classicist, Arthur Paul Davis, literary historian, and Sterling Allen Brown, professor of
English and venerable poet, are splendid representatives. Moreover, students of the Humanities
Division at out university distinguish the profession of writing as the worlds most renown
twentieth-century authors: Toni Morrison, Earl Lovelace, and Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott,
for example. In sum, the view of humanistic education that your course and all offerings in the
Humanities Division of our university reflect may best be expressed by the speaker observing an
old farmer in Sterling A. Browns poem After Winter:
He snuggles his fingers
In the blacker loam
The lean months are done with,
The fat to come.
His eyes are set
On a brushwood-fire
But his heart is soaring
Higher and higher.
.
Ten acres unplanted
To raise dreams on.
The lean months are done with,
The fat to come.
His hopes, winter wanderers,
Hasten home.
Butterbeans fo Clara
Sugar corn fo Grace
An fo de little feller
Runnin space

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For you, then, the Humanities is runnin space. Soar.
Eleanor E. Traylor, Professor of English
GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE COURSE
Humanities I is the first part of a new, two-semester core course (014/015) for incoming
freshmen in the college of Arts and Sciences beginning in the fall of the 1992-1993 academic
year.
The year-long course is meant to enhance your understanding of the great and enduring
themes of humanistic inquiry. In the first semester, you will explore cultural collision and
resolution, concentrating on various aspects of the epic tradition. In the second semester. You
will be presented with occasions to examine the relationship of the self to the other in the
light of the differences between comedy and tragedyin drama, autobiography, and fiction. One
of the general aims of Humanities I & Humanities II is to cultivate broad sympathy and a
sense of what it means to be liberally educated.
Sections of the course are offered by each of the departments comprising the Humanities
Division of the College of Arts and Sciences: Classics, English, Romance Languages and
Literatures, German and Russian Languages and Literatures, and Philosophy.
GOALS OF THE COURSE
In designing the course, the faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences has kept in mind
three broad goals:
(1) To offer you an intellectual experience to be shared in common with your classmates
an intellectual experience designed (a) to fit your fullest cultural inheritance and (b)
to address contemporary demands made on you as an educated person.
(2) To offer you opportunities to read and to discuss a carefully chosen set of books.
(3) To enhance your knowledge of ways to approach the Humanities and of the ways
people have transmitted humanistic wisdom, ideas, and heritage.
YOUR RESPONSIBILITY AS A STUDENT
As a full member of your new intellectual community at Howard University, and
especially as a partner in the College enterprise, you will be expected to honor certain important
obligations:
(1) You will be asked to read more carefully and exactly than you ever have before.
(2) You must try to understand what an author is saying, no matter how indirectly the
saying is conveyed

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(3) You will learn to increase your knowledge of each text by reconstructing its historical
and ideological context.
(4) You will be expected to participate in class discussions and to respond to the texts,
both in written and oral form.
METHODOLOGY
The course will be conducted primarily through lectures and discussion of the reading
assignments. This syllabus will guide you through the course and offer background information
when necessary. As you proceed, you should ask yourself how each text you are reading
contributes to your understanding of the themes of the course, of texts read earlier in the
semester, and of the meaning of broad sympathy. You may receive supplementary materials
(for individual sections) and be asked to view scheduled videotexts of attend lectures by guest
speakers.
CLASS PARTICIPATION
The Computation of the Final Grade section of this syllabus shows that a portion of your
grade will be based on your class participation. You may be wondering how that will work. In
order to do well in that component of the course you need to know something about discussion.
Discussion. While the humanities course may offer you other activities in which you can
participate, class participation will mainly be in the form of discussion. There are many aspects
to discussion, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that it is shared learning. You do
not participate in the discussions in order to compete with others or to win points. Discussion
is not a way to gratify your ego; it is a way to learn.
Since discussion is a means to learning, you can see that I requires certain things from
you in order that you get the most out of the process. First of all, discussion requires you to be
prepared for class by reading the assigned text and the relevant section of the syllabus, such as
background materials and study questions. You might even want to bring some notes with you so
that you will have reminders on hand of some things you wish to have discussed. You will also
want to make sure you understand any terms that have come up in the reading.
Once you have prepared for the discussion, you will want to make sure that you
participate in it. When people participate in discussions, they play roles. Some roles are good
roles, and some roles are bad roles. You want to make sure that you participate in the discussion
by assuming a role that contributes to shared learning.
Bad Roles. Bad roles are selfish roles in which you are concentrating on yourself and not
the needs of the group. 1. Controlling: dominating others by exhibiting superiority or authority.
2. Withdrawing: retiring from the group either by becoming silent or by refusing to deal with a
particular aspect of the groups work. 3. Attention seeking: calling attention to ones self and

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demanding recognition from others. 4. Diverting: focusing group discussion on topics of interest
to the individual rather than those relevant to the task.
Good Roles. Good roles help the discussion go forward. 1. Initiating: getting the group
started on a line of inquiry. 2. Information giving or seeking: offering (or seeking) information
relevant to questions facing the group. 3. Coordinating: showing relationships among ideas,
clarifying issues, summarizing what the group has done. 4. Procedure setting: suggesting
decision-making procedures that will move the group toward a goal. 5. Encouraging: drawing
out other members by showing verbal and nonverbal support, praise, or agreement. 6.
Harmonizing: reconciling differences among group members through mediation or by using
humor to relieve tension. 7. Compromising: offering to yield on a point in the interest of
reaching a mutually acceptable decision. Some of these good roles may seem easier for you than
others. You may recognize that you naturally take up certain of these roles when you are in a
group. Now that you realize how groups act, you will want to try out other roles. When you are
in a discussion try to sense what a discussion needs and take up that role. That way you will find
out that you have a lot to contribute and you will get a lot more out of the discussion. And by
entering into the discussion in an active way, you will be sure that you are not only participating
but doing so in a meaningful way.
GRADING CRITERIA
Participation/Quizzes. You will be expected to attend all classes and to participate by
contributing o ongoing discussions, by reading response papers, and by presenting oral reports.
Instructors may administer quizzes to assess your comprehension of reading assignments and
other course matter (classwork, handouts, videotexts).
Writing Assignments. Writing assignments will take the form of paragraphs on the
themes of the course, response papers, and short critical essays. Formal writing done outside the
classroom must be free of grammar and spelling errors and should be typed or computer-printed.
You will be expected to write with insight, clarity of expression, and the skillful use of textual
evidence to support generalizations. The discussion that follows entitled Writing: The
Emancipatory Art offers you a useful approach to writing assignments.
Examinations. Midterm and Final Examinations will require you to write brief analyses
based on the materials and themes of the course.
Computation of the Final Grade. Semester grades will be calculated according to the
following scheme:
Midterm examination(s)
Final examination
Class participation/quizzes
Writing assignments

20%
20%
20%
40%

An overall average of 90 or above earns A, or excellent; 80-89 B, or very good; 70-79=


C, or acceptable; 60-69= D, passing; 59 or below= F, failing.

WRITING: THE EMANCIPATORY ART


I
In Chinua Achebes Things Fall Apart, we view a scene where a character, Nwoye,
begins to achieve self-definition through interaction with a text. Nwoye is listening to stories that
his father Okonkwo is telling him and his brothers. A he listens, Nwoye is remembering his
mothers stories as well. Through this process of double consciousness (DuBois), Nwoye
discovers something important about himself. Here is the scene:
Okonkwo encouraged the boys to sit with him in his obi, and he told them
stories of the landmasculine stories of violence and bloodshed. Nwoye knew
that it was right to be masculine and to be violent, but somehow he still preferred
the stories that his mother used to tellstories of the tortoise and his wily ways,
and of the bird eneka-ntiba who challenged the world to a wrestling contest and
was finally thrown by the cat. He remembered the story she often told of the
quarrel between the Earth and Sky.
That was the kind of story that Nwoye loved. But he now knew that they were for
foolish women and children, and he knew that his father wanted him to be a man.
And so he feigned that he no longer cared for womens stories. And when he did
this he saw that his father was pleased, and no longer rebuked him And so as he
told them of the past, they sat in the darkness or the dim glow of logs, waiting for
the women to finish their cooking.
(52-53, italics added)
Nwoye is not a passive listener (reader). He understands the intent and content of his fathers
stories, but he has heard other stories. His memory of these enables him to compare and judge.
Nwoye is an ideal listener (reader) because he, like us, understands how and what stories
signify. Contemporary theorists tell us that each signifier (in this case, the fathers stories)
embodies a trace of absence and presence. To describe this, Jacques Derrida, a French
philosopher of language, coins the term deference/ difference (note the spelling in English). It
suggests a blending of the verb to defer and the verb to differ. In his influential study called Of
Grammatolgy, Derrida explains that
difference makes the opposition of presence and absence possible It produces
what it forbids, makes possible the very thing that makes it impossible. (143)
Nwoye, conscious of his mothers stories, hears the absences of those motifs in his fathers
stories. This double consciousness allows him to defer to his fathers stories: And so he feigned
that he no longer cared for womens stories; at the same time, he is aware of crucial difference:
he still preferred the stories his mother used to tell Thus, the fathers stories produce what
[they] forbid. Nwoye knows that the masculine stories which his father tells him should
forbid his preference for stories told to foolish women and children (his mothers stories );

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instead, Okonkwos stories produce this preference. Very early in his life, Nwoye begins to
cultivate one of the most important habits that a learner can acquire: the understanding of a text.
Nwoye knows that words, sentences, stories (told or written) convey attitudes, assumptions, and
beliefs which define the text a speakers (writers) words convey. The listener (reader) may either
be a passive victim of a text or a critical participant interacting with the text to choose what is
important for the listeners (readers) own self. Such a listener (reader) is then able to choose
what kind of text he or she will write. Will it be the ones that only the father tells (writes)? The
ones that only the mother tells (writes)? Or will it include valuable aspects of both? To decide,
one must know the choices.
Knowing the choices is the decisive factor in the life of young Frederick Douglass when
in his autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845), he
tells us how, by interacting with a text, he comes to understand the pathway from slavery to
freedom (49). In a scene in which the young Douglass interacts with the text of slavery, he tells
us that Mrs. Auld, wife of Hugh Auld, the owner of the plantation where Douglass is enslaved,
began to teach him to read and write. But
Mr. Auld found out what was going on, and at once forbade Mrs. Auld to instruct
me further, telling her, among other things, that it was unlawful, as well as unsafe,
to teach a slave to read A nigger should know nothing but to obey his master
to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best nigger (speaking of
myself) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to
be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his
master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would
make him discontented and unhappy. (78)
Hearing this text, young Douglass tells us that it made possible the very thing that it attempted to
make impossible. He says,
These words sank deep into my heart, stirred up sentiments within that lay
slumbering, and called into existence an entirely new train of thought. It was a
new and special revelation, explaining dark and mysterious things, with which my
youthful understanding had struggled, but struggled in vain. I now understood
what had been to me a most perplexing difficultyto wit, the white mans power
to enslave the black man. It was a grand achievement, and I prized it highly. From
that moment, I understood the pathway from slavery to freedom. It was just what I
wanted, and I got it at a time when I least expected it I set out with high hope
and a fixed purpose, at whatever cost of trouble, to learn how to read. (78-79)
Frederic Jameson in his study The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act
(1989). Jameson, a theorist of narratology, proceeds from the premise that texts come before us
as the always-already-read; we apprehend them through sedimented layers of previous
interpretations, or if the text is brand newthrough the sedimented reading habits and categories
developed by those inherited interpretive traditions(9). According to Jameson individual texts
can be read or interpreted as parts of a single great collective story, as vital episodes in a single

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vast unfinished plot (19). He borrows the outline of such a plot from Karl Marx and Friedrich
Engles as they depict social history:
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles:
freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild master and
journeymanin a word, oppressor and oppressedstood in constant opposition
to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight
that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstruction of society at large or
in the common ruin of the contending classes.
(The Communist Manifesto, 1848; in Jameson, 1989)
Douglass Narrative, published two years before the Manifesto, illustrates Jamesons point that
texts come before us as the always-already-read. It also illustrates as one vital episode in a
single vast unfinished plot, what James Baldwin, preceding Jameson, meant when he said:
For, while the tale of ho suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may
triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isnt any other tale to tell,
its the only light weve got in all this darkness.
And this tale, according to that face, that body, those strong hands on those
strings, has another aspect in every country, and a new depth in every generation.
(Sonnys Blues)
Of course, we can think of many less glorious examples of individual texts that read as
vital episodes of a single great collective story: and they lived happily ever after or they rode
victoriously off into the sunset or someday my prince will come or Mirror, mirror on the wall,
who is the fairest one of all? The themes of our coursewhich configure variously in the stories
which we readall allude to a single great collective story and can be understood as vital
episodes in a single vast unfinished plot.
Writing like reading, as Douglass reminds us, requires interaction with a text (of
whatever kind). He tells us how that interaction works for him.
I was now about twelve years old, and the thought of being a slave for life began
to bear heavily upon my heart. Just about this time, I got hold of a book entitled
The Columbia Orator. Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book. Among
much of other interesting matter I found in it a dialogue between a master and his
slave. The slave was represented as having run away from his master three times.
The dialogue represented the conversation which took place between them, when
the slave was retaken the third time. In this dialogue, the whole argument on
behalf of slavery was brought forward by the master, all of which was disposed of
by the slave. The slave was made to say some very smart as well as impressive
things in reply to his masterthings which had the desired though unexpected
effect; for the conversation resulted in the voluntary emancipation of the slave on
the part of the master.

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In the same book, I met with one of the Sheridans mighty speeches on and in
behalf of Catholic emancipation. These were choice documents to me. I read them
over again with unabated interest. They gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my
own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want
of utterance. The moral which I gained from the dialogue was the power of truth
over the conscience of even a slaveholder. What I got from Sheridan was a bold
denunciation of slavery, and a powerful vindication of human rights. The reading
of these documents enabled me to utter my thoughts, and to meet the arguments
brought forward to sustain slavery. (83-84)
To meet these argumentsto utter my thoughtsDouglass, in one of the most compelling
scenes of his autobiography, tells us how he learns to write. We learn that writing is a
construction like Douglass Narrative and that writers are architects and builders of the words,
sentences, essays, and stories that convey their texts (themes). What texts we write reveal who
we are, for we are rather transparent beings always-already-read. Or as an old spiritual has
put it:
Went to the Rock to hide my face
Rock cried out no hiding place
There is no hiding place down here.
Since we cannot hide ourselves when we construct a text, we should be sure that the text we
write is one we prefer, one we lovethat was the kind of story Nwoye lovedand that our
text is as clear and attractive and untainted by errors as possible. For the choices are still those
that Nwoye and Douglass and Achilles and all the characters that we read face. We do not know
what text Nwoye ultimately chooses to write, but we can guess because we know that Chinua
Achebe who contextualizes Nwoye chose to write a text that combines his mothers and fathers
stories and uses these to expose and condemn all the things that cause Nwoyes world to fall
apart. We do know, as well, that Douglass writes a text that finally cancels out the text of Hugh
Auld.
What follows is a guide, prepared by your professors, to help young writers construct
vital texts to achieve the self-emancipating intellectual activities that reading and writing
encourage. Those activities accomplish in us learners the goals of our course: Broad sympathy,
a knowledge of the world that was and is and out relation to it (DuBois). This guide includes
examples of the kind of writing assignments that will be expected of you in the course and
helpful instructions on how to avoid errors that may distort your text.
Eleanor W. Traylor, Professor of English
II
SENTENCE COMPOSITION ASSIGNMENTS
One of the ways that students can construct their own emancipatory texts is to recognize and
learn the vital elements on which such a text is built. One of the basic elements, then, for a
student to master in his/her quest for emancipation through writing is the sentence. There are

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four basic types of sentences. What follows is an example of each type; these are taken directly
from texts for Humanities I.
simple:

His fame as an overseer went abroad. (from Douglass)

compound:

His words were in perfect keeping with his looks, and his looks were in
perfect keeping with his words. (from Douglass)

complex:

He was called the Cat because his back would never touch the earth. (from
Achebe)

compound-complex:

Others are feared because they have power, but they know
how to use it, and they are loved because they love justice.
(from Sundiata)

Little oversights in how one constructs a sentence can undermine the power of the sentence and
this skew the logic and authority of a whole text. In the following section, simple explanations of
common sentence errors will be followed by examples of that error taken from students papers.
A comma splice occurs when a comma is placed where there should be a period, that is, when a
comma alone separates two independent thoughts (clauses).
Student example:

Achilles, the son of Peleus, is the mightiest of the Achaian army,


he is also Patroklus good friend.

Corrected version:

Achilles, the son of Peleus, is the mightiest of the Achaian army.


He is also Patroklus good friend.

Suggestion: In cases where two independent thoughts are closely related, the student can connect
the two independent clauses by using a semicolon [;] or a comma followed by a coordinating
conjunction. (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).
A run-on sentence occurs when there is no punctuation between two independent thoughts.
Student example:

The signifying monkey is a fun-loving villain the reader is able to


hate him and love him at the same time.

Corrected:

The signifying monkey is a fun-loving villain. The reader is able to


hate him and to love him at the same time.

Other errors occur within the sentence itself. Again, such errors are usually small oversights, but
they can, ultimately, detract from the authority of the text.
Subject-verb agreement is usually not a problem for college students except when students use
indefinite pronouns (e.g., each, either, neither, and words that end in one, body, and thing). These
indefinite pronouns give the most trouble. As a rule, they take the singular form of the verb and

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provide a singular antecedent for any other pronouns in the sentence. An example would prove
helpful here.
Each student needs to work hard.
Sometimes we hear the following:
Each student needs to do their own work.
While the is pardonable in informal standard English (spoken English), it is not acceptable in
written English. The most effective way to write a sentence like this is to put it as follows:
OR
OR
OR
OR

Each student needs to do her own work.


Each student needs to do his own work.
All students need to do their own work.
Each students needs to do his or her own work.
Each student needs to do his or her own work.

In an attempt to avoid sexist language, it is important in many cases to make sure that you use
both feminine and masculine pronouns when the antecedent is singular and gender
indeterminate.
Writing in a manner that allows students to reach selfhood is not something that comes easily or
automatically. It is vital to remember that, just as many of the epic heroes had to persevere in
their quests for enlightenment and empowerment, so too most students think of writing as a
journey, a quest for empowerment.
III
THE PARAGRAPH COMPOSITION
The sentences that compose a paragraph collectively release an idea which the paragraph
embodies. Many times, that idea is contained in a topic sentence situated, often, at the beginning
of the paragraph but sometimes within its body or at the end. Sometimes the collective sentences
of a paragraph suggest what we must infer to be its central idea. In all cases, a fine paragraph
emancipates an idea necessary either to its discrete purpose or, if part of a longer composition, to
the overall purpose and understanding of the larger whole.
Example Paragraph #1
[1] Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. [2] His
fame rested on solid personal achievements. [3] As a young man of eighteen he had
brought honor to his village by throwing Amalinze the Cat. [4] Amalinze was the great
wrestler who for seven years was unbeaten, from Umuofia to Mbaino. [5] He was called
the Cat because his back would never touch the earth. [6] It was this man that Okonkwo
threw in a fight which the old men agreed was one of the fiercest since the founder of
their town engaged a spirit of the wild for seven days and seven nights.

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This paragraph is a fine example of a texts moving from the general idea to the specific material.
Sentence #1 is the topic sentence, and the sentences which follow seek to support
the topic sentence while they became increasingly detailed about the topic sentences
subject: Okonkwos great and widespread fame.
Sentence #2 begins with the implied subject of sentence #1: His fame. And it
stresses that his fame was solid and based on personal achievements.
Sentence #3 is concerned with the specifics of those personal achievements: he
was a great wrestler who at a very young age outwrestled a legendary and much more
experienced competitor who had gained a legendary title the equivalent of Billy the
Kid.
Sentence #4 then seeks to support the solidarity of Okonkwos great personal
achievement by being specific about how great was the wrestler the young Okonkwo had
vanquished. Notice also, just as with sentences #2 and #1, the writer uses the last words
of #3 at the beginning of #4 to ensure an easy transition from sentence #3 to #4.
Sentence #5 then begins by specifying the reasons for calling Okonkwos
defeated opponent the Cat.
Sentence #6 sums up the reasons for dwelling on the subject of this paragraph and
emphasizes what its topic sentence asserts: Okonkwos fame is great and widespread
because Okonkwo was a legendary wrestler at a young age. In addition, as this sentence
concludes the paragraph, the seven days and seven nights phrase transmutes
Okonkwos battle into an almost extra-human, almost mythical (or even actually
mythical) event.
Example Paragraph #2
[1] That was many years ago, twenty years or more, and during this time Okonkwos
fame had grown like a bush-fire in the harmattan. [2] He was tall and huge, and his bushy
eyebrows and wide nose gave him a very severe look. [3] He breathed heavily, and it was
said that, when he slept, his wives and children in their houses could hear him breathe.
[4] When he walked, his heels hardly touched the ground and he seemed to walk on
springs, as if he was going to pounce on somebody. [5] And he did pounce on people
quite often. [6] He had a slight stammer and whenever he was angry and could not get his
words out quickly enough, he would use his fists. [7] He had no patience with
unsuccessful men. [8] He had had no patience with his father.
This paragraph is a fine example of a texts moving from the specific to the general. It also
shows how one paragraph can connect itself to a distant preceding one as well as to paragraphs
that follow.
Sentence #1 is the topic sentence of this paragraph. It begins by reaffirming that
the great wrestling match established Okonkwos fame and by claiming that, in the
intervening years, his fame had spread in intensity and range. Notice also that this
sentence established the approximate age of one who has become a great hero of the

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region. The sentences that follow support #1 while being more specific about why and
how Okonkwos fame spread for twenty years.
Sentence #2 describes Okonkwos appearance; his great size and very severe
look contribute to his intensity.
Sentence #3 describes his intense and impressive breathing. Notice that it was
said that also suggests that people talk about Okonkwos extraordinary personal qualities
and that this talk spreads and intensifies his fame. Notice also that the repetition of
sentence structurespronoun/subject followed by the predicates that describe his
attributes #2 and #3.
Sentence #4 offers more specifics about Okonkwos formidable appearance. The
use of hyperbole, metaphor, and simile in #4 adds variety to the sentences and the
description. The image of Okonkwo in #4 reminds us of his vanquished opponent,
nicknamed, we recall now, the Cat. Okonkwos feet hardly touched the ground, just
as Amalinzes back had ever touched the ground; Okonkwo seems always ready to
pounce on somebody, just the same as the Cat implies. So, sentence #4 also serves to
link Example Paragraph #2 to an earlier textout Example Paragraph #1 (which, by the
way, does not immediately precede this one).
Sentence #5 confirms this feeling that Okonkwo has taken on the characteristics
of his one-time, more mature opponent: And he did pounce on people quite often. If we
are reading closely, however, we notice that where Amalinze was famous for wrestling
alone, Okonkwos fame is today dependent in part upon his willingness to pounce on may
a lesser opponent.
Sentence #6 gives us more specifics about why, where, and how Okonkwo takes
on what are now opponents outside the wrestling ring: when he is angry at someone and
his words fail him, he uses his fists to express himself. This fighting is clearly outside the
realm of wrestling or any other kind appropriate athletic competition. And so now we
understand that, contrary to his first garnering of celebrity at eighteen, Okonkwos
spreading and intensifying fame has, over the last twenty years, depended upon
inappropriate, violent, and anti-social behavior.
Sentence #7 provides more particulars about the causes of Okwonkos increasing
fame and its relationship to his violent temper: he is impatient with all men less
successful than himself. Sentence #7 is ties to #6 by the repetition of the first two words
(He had), the subject and the predicate, followed by direct objects (stammer, patience).
Sentence #8 repeats the pattern with its own twist: He had had no patience with
his father. The repetition of words and syntax ties tightly together the last three
sentences to help us to understand that Okonkwos inappropriate, violent, and anti-social
behavior, the cause of his fame the last twenty years, is partially caused by a falling out
with his father. The emphasis at the end of the paragraph on the general idea of
impatience and the mention (in that connection) of his father then prepare the reader
to learn more about Okonkwos fatherin the next paragraph.
Though we find out that he disliked his fathers behavior, as the story progresses, we come to
realize that Okonkwoa man who stammersalso envied his fathers easy use of oral
conventions.
GENERAL COMMENTS ON WRITING

14

One must always remember that a writer may move in any direction he or she wishes
and at any moment. Many times writers have a particular storyline they wish to follow, and they
utilize rhetorical devices, content, and structure to achieve a message. At other times, they write
in order not so much to tell u something (to make a point) as to explore something for
themselves. There are variations between the message writers and those who are exploratory
writersbut all writers have the freedom to create and to discover.
While working from the character of Okonkwo, Achebe is able to convey to us much of
the culture of the village while simultaneously telling us of its leading warrior and champion.
Achebe could easily have written in generalities about the village and it men, but he chose to
embody much of what he felt about life and culture through the particularity of a character who
epitomized the male virtues of the time. Through Achebes descriptions of Okonkwo and of
Okonkwos battles and behavior, we can grasp a literal history of the man and the village; but as
we go further into the novel, we realize that this literalism translates into a metaphorical quality.
We become aware that the tragic fate of Okonkwo and of Umuofia is also the fate of the Ibo
culture as a whole.
Although we must read sentences and paragraphs very carefully to see how they are
constructed for our immediate understanding of the particular situation at hand, we must also
keep another, larger eye open to see how these particulars become parts of a greater and
symbolic whole.
IV
THE ESSAY: GOOD ORGANIZATION THROUGH OUTLINING
If writing is the architecture of thought, then the outline serves the writer as a blueprint.
The construction of an outline is the writers effort to emancipate his or her thought.
We all assume that our communication skills allow us to say what we mean; however,
this assumptions is seldom true. Clarity in written communication is not accidental but the result
of careful planning and thought. Only after you have arranged your ideas in their most effective
format can toy be sure that what you write will express your thoughts clearly. The arrangement
of ideas is accomplished through outlining. The outline allows you to place your ideas next to
each other so that you can see whether or not they will be developed in the most effective way. It
takes the form of a sentence and should be written at the top of the page. The example that
follows is based on a passage in the essay Some Questions and Some Answers by Ralph
Ellison.
Main Idea:
What I understand by the term Negro Culture is
So vague as to be meaningless.
You will need to support your main idea. To do this you will have at least three major points.

15
Major Point I
As for the term culture used in this connection, I know of no valid
demonstration that culture is transmitted through the genes.
Major Point II
The American Negro people is North American in origin and has evolved
under specifically American conditions: climatic, nutritional, historical,
political, and social.
Each of your three major points will need to be developed within its own paragraph. To develop
the major points, you will have to produce evidence supporting them. Have at least to examples
of evidence for each major point.
Major Point I, Evidence A
In Africa the black identify themselves by their tribal names; thus it is
significant that it is only in the United States that the torn Negro has
acquired specific cultural content.
Major Point I, Evidence B
Even if culture were transmitted through the blood stream, we would
encounter quite a problem in explaining just how the genes bearing
Negro culture could so overpower those bearing French of English
culture, which in all other way are assumed to be superior.
In the same way, Major Points II and III will be expanded and supported by evidence.
The outlines itself uses an alphanumeric plan that arranges numbers and letters to identify each
point and indents them to show which ideas are of equal statusas follows:
I.__________________________________
A.__________________________________
B.__________________________________
1.________________________________
2.________________________________
a._________________________
b._________________________
C.____________________________________
II.___________________________________
A.___________________________________
1.________________________________
a.____________________________
b.____________________________
2._________________________________
3._________________________________
B.______________________________________

16
Your first paragraph should set up your essay by including your main idea (thesis
statement) and stating, however briefly, your three major points.
Then you must develop each major point in its own paragraph, using your evidence to
support each major point.
This gives you at least four paragraphs. The fifth paragraph of your essay will summarize
your discussion and give a conclusion to your thoughts. Your conclusion does not have to be a
restatement of the major points, for you are free to bring your essay to its conclusion by moving
your discussion into other directions if they logically follow from what you have previously
shown to be true. Here is the conclusion of the essay used in the demonstration:
Since most of the so-called Negro cultures outside Africa are necessary
amalgams, it would seem more profitable to stress the term culture and leave
the term Negro out of the discussion. It is not culture which binds the people
who are of partially African origin now scattered throughout the world, but an
identity of passions. We share a hatred for the alienation forced upon us by
Europeans during the process of colonization and empire, and we are bound by
our common suffering more than by our pigmentation. But even this identification
is shared by most non-white peoples, and while it has political value of great
potency, its cultural value is almost nil.
OFFIC HOURS
You should feel free to follow up on discussion held in class by visiting your instructor
during his or her office hours. Office hours are posted outside faculty offices.
PLAN OF THE COURSE
Themes to Be Discussed in Relation to Each Work on the Syllabus
1. The Question of the Self and the Other (the Subject of Drama)
2. The Question of Choice and Right Action
3. The Question of Conventional Wisdom vs. Examined Thought
4. The Question of Identity
5. The Question of the Community and the Pariah
6. The Question of Alienation and Reconciliation
7. The Question of Good and Evil
Genres Introduced
Drama (Tragedy, Comedy, Other Modes), Autobiography, Fiction.
Texts in Common for All Sections of the Course Books:
Wole Soyinka, The Strong Breed.
Sophocles, The Theban Plays.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet.
Johann Wolfgang von Geothe, Faust.
Williams Shakespeare, The Tempest.
Edward Brathewaite. The Arrivals.

17
James Baldwin, The Amen Corner.
Black Elk Speaks.
Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima.
Gwendolyn Brooks, Maud Martha.
Toni Morrison, Beloved.
Schedule for the Course
Units
1
Week 1.
Wole Soyinka, The Strong Breed.
2
Weeks 2-3.
Sophocles, The Theban Plays; The Gospel at Colonus.
3
Week 4.
William Shakespeare, Hamlet.
4
Week 5.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust.
5
Week 6.
Williams Shakespeare, The Tempest.
6
Week 7.
Edward Brathewaite. The Arrivals.
7
Week 8.
Themes of Alienation and Reconciliation
(Works chosen by individual instructors)
8
Week 9.
James Baldwin, The Amen Corner.
9
Week 10.
Black Elk Speaks.
10
Week 11.
Rudolfo Anaya, Bless Me, Ultima.
11
Week 12.
Gwendolyn Brooks, Maud Martha.
12
Week 13.
Toni Morrison, Beloved.
STUDY GUIDES
Unit 1: Wole Soyinka, The Strong Breed.
Historical Background
The social context of Wole Soyinkas The Strong Breed (1963), as with most of his plays,
is the Yorubaland of Nigeria. Soyinka portrays, with an unanswering sense of social mission, the
meaning of life and the metaphysical realities that shape human existence in an African cultural
milieu. If he sees any conflict between the requirements of personal achievement and cultural
authenticity, it is certainly not reflected in the way he pursued the self-imposed mission of laying
bare the cultural heritage of the Yoruba. Indeed, on more than one occasion, Soyinka has urged
the reader of his works should not see them primarily as vehicles for exposing any culture
conflicts between Africans and Europeans. Rather, he sees himself as engaged in the
reconstruction of the metaphysical realities that underlie the African universe. Therefore, his
plays, including The Strong Breed, have extracted from resources in the cultural traditions of the
Yoruba people.
The Yoruba are an ethnic group, numbering about 15 million people, spread over three
countries in West AfricaNigeria, Benin Republic, and Togo. The largest concentration is in
Nigeria, where they number over 13 million, covering several states (Oyo, Oshun, Ondo, Lagos,
and Kwara) and are one of the three major ethnic groups which include the Hausa and the Igbo.
There is also a thriving Yoruba culture in South America and the Caribbean, especially Brazil
and Cuba, where a distinctive Yoruba identity has been faithfully kept. Thus, in Brazil, the orisa

18
tradition is one of the important ties that bind the people to their African roots. Here in the
United States, the religious tradition of the Yoruba is alive and well-maintained I several
locations, including New York, North Carolina , and Florida, where the belief in and practice of
animal sacrifice has recently become a legal issue.
Oral tradition is divided on the origin of the Yoruba. One source, which has enjoyed the
widespread endorsement of scholars, traces their origin to Upper Egypt where they were believed
to be subjects of the Egyptians conqueror Nimrod (Lamurudu). Lamurudu later settled in some
part of Saudi Arabia after a series of conquests. However, as a result of religious differences
between Lamurudus people and the Saudis, and the eventual death of Lamurudu, his people
were forced to leave. Oduduwa, Lamurudus son, assumed leadership of the group. They escaped
to Ile-Ife where Oduduwa became kingand was later deified as the legendary progenitor of the
Yoruba. His seven grandchildren later became kings of several Yoruba kingdoms.
There is a different version of the story according to which Oduduwa was in fact an orisa
(deity) appointed by Olodumare, the Yoruba supreme being, to take over the creation of the
earth. Etymologically, Oduduwa means odu ti o da iwa. Odu means means container or
author; da means create, and iwa means the ultimate owner of the container or author of
existence. Which is to say that Oduduwa is believed to be the author of existence, responsible
for the being of Oduduwa, too. In spite of the widespread adoption of Christianity and Islam
among the Yoruba today, a substantial number of them still practice traditional religion, and there
are some Christians and Muslims who do not totally abandon their traditional roots and would
practice in rituals as the need arises. In any case, many Christians and Muslims would not
hesitate to take advantage of the opportunities offered by traditional religion to increase
metaphysical powers and to fortify themselves against the powers of the strong.
Major Characters in The Strong Breed
Eman
Sunma
Ifada

Girl
Jaguna
Oroge

Emans Father
Omae
Priest

Special Themes or Concepts


Destiny
Will/Consent
Carrier
Community
Inheritance
Tradition
New Year Festival
Strength/Power/Force
Initiation
Death

19
Cultural Background
The Strong Breed is, at many points, a celebration of culture. As an artist, Soyinka has
used the genre of the drama to record and reconstruct some of the most enduring aspects of
Yoruba culture. Especially relevant to the themes of The Strong Breed are Yoruba cosmological
ideas beliefs about destiny, community, and death.
The Yoruba universe consists of two elements: material and spiritual. The material world
is further divided into two main levels. First is the level of direct experience, which includes the
earth, the abode of plants, animals, and humans. Though most human problems arise here, their
explanations and solutions are not always located there and may be traced to the world of
spiritual beings. The other level of the material world is below the land, where every person is
believed to have his or her final rest. Thus, every community places a great deal of emphasis on
the need to respect the land. It cannot be desecrated, and special rituals are performed from time
to time to cleanse it. The spiritual world is the home of spirit beingsincluding the supreme
being, the orisas, and the ancestors. Collectively, they are believed to be human helpers against
the forces of evil, ajogun, which continuously hover around too, and it is important for human
beings to live an exemplary life in order to avoid their wrath. Sacrifices are the food of the
orisas, and human beings need to offer them for good fortune. The carrier tradition is an
indication of the belief in the metaphysics of sin and cleansing.
The Yoruba belief in destiny is complex piece of thought with a religious dimension.
According to this belief system, the human being is made of body and spirit. The body (ara) is
the work of Obatala, the arch divinity, while Olodumare, the supreme being supplies the divine
breath. It is this that makes everyone a child of Olodumare. In addition to body and breath,
however, there is a third element in the human make-up. This is ori (inner head), and it is the
bearer of destiny. The belief here is that each individual, in his or her pre-natal spiritual
existence, made a free choice as to what it would be like as a human being in the human world.
Such choices are endorsed by Olodumare, and thereafter the individual is born. The choice
thus made is, of course, immediately forgotten, and the individual needs to consult a divination
priest to remind him or her of his or her destiny. Otherwise, the individual may embark on a
wrong course, with disastrous consequences. Ori, as the bearer of destiny, is considered to be a
divinity in its own right; and, in some cases, as the most important one, because of its closeness
to the individual. As the saying goes, no orisa blesses one without the consent of ones ori. It is
the indicator of ones purpose in life; it has the secret of the Deitys plan for one. It is a
forerunner, the pathfinder, in the earthly bush. It is the meaning of life, providing us with a
means of resolving the most significant puzzles of the human condition. It alone can explain, to
the satisfaction of a typical Yoruba, why, for instance, Eman would not listen to the pleadings of
Sunma that they both leave the village and why Ifada, the idiot, should escape the hands of
Jaguna and Oroge, two powerful individuals, and thus escape a role that has been assigned to
him by human beings. Apparently, Ifadas ori never made that choice for him, while that of
Eman apparently did.
Personal existence is separable from personal destiny, which is the purpose for which is
the purpose for which an individual exists. However, this purpose, though personal to him,
cannot be separated from the social reality of which he is just a part. Here is the limit of
individualism and the meaning of The Strong Breed. Emans father recognizes this fact and

20
willingly accepts its, urging his son to recognize it. The purpose of individual existence is
intricately linked with the purpose of social existence and cannot be adequately grasped outside
it. Though destiny confirms the individuals personality, it also joins him to the community, and
individuality and community thus become one. A person is what s/he is in virtue of what s/he is
destined to be, his /her character, and the communal influence on him/her. The I is just a we
from another perspective. The crown of communal life is to be useful to ones community.
The ancestors are he watch-dog for ensuring the discharge of individual responsibilities
to the community. Once living beings, they have at death exchanged materiality for spirituality
and, in the process, have acquired greater authority. Therefore, they can offer protection to their
offspring and descendants. On that score, death is a continuation of life, an affirmation of its
meaning; therefore, it need not be feared. Emans father waited for his with dignity, especially
because he knows that he knows that he is also realizing the meaning of his existence by
fulfilling his destiny as a member of the Strong Breed.
The Scapegoat Theme
Many cultures have practiced a purification ritual involving a scapegoat. A scapegoat is
one onto whom are transferred the sins, curses, diseases, bad luck, or evils of a whole
community. The scapegoat may volunteer or be chosen. He may be strong, weak, ugly, or
previously condemned. When the scapegoat is expelled from the community, the evils are
believed to go with him. This expulsion may take place regularly, as once a year at a fixed time,
or occasionally, as when the community is under particular stress. He is regularly beaten,
sometimes with leaves, sometimes with stones. When he is stoned, he is usually killed. In ancient
Greek, the scapegoat is called a pharmakos. In Soyinkas The Strong Breed, he is called a carrier.
Greek myth and drama have two sets of characters who are not called pharmakoi, but
whose circumstances are analogous. In the first set is the one whose death will ensure the victory
or safety of his people, as in Antigone Creons son Menoeceus offers himself for the victory of
Thebes over Polyneices and his allies. In the second asset are those, like Oedipus in Oedipus
Rex, guilty of murder, unpunished and unpurified, to whom pollution (miasma) is attached. Tis
pollution can infect the whole community, and the polluted one must be expelled.
The term scapegoat has lost most of its force, but has retained much of its meaning. A
mild, contemporary example of the scapegoating may be seen in the practice of drawing straws
or tossing a coin for some distasteful task.
Study Questions
1. How is the confrontation between the living and the dead illustrated in The Strong
Breed?
2. Discuss the theme of choice and right action in The Strong Breed. In what way does
Eman personify the theme of the scapegoat?

21
3. What are the distinctions between a martyr (in the Christian tradition) and a scapegoat (in
the ancient)?
4. Philosophically, can the scapegoat or martyr fulfill the requirements of a tragic hero?
5. Does Eman ever become reconciled to his fate? Argue, as always, from the text itself
6. How are the mores and experiences of Yoruba society reflected in this play?
7. What is being questioned in the play?
8. What is the role of the woman in this play? Does she represent anything more than a
dramatic device or expedient, as a blocker, for example?
Unit 2. Sophocles The Theban Plays
(Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone)
and The Gospel at Colonus
Historical Background
Like many other Greek city-states, Athens was descended from a tribal culture consisting
of small kingdoms in frequent conflict with each other. These farming kingdoms combined
interests and land to form the polis of the fifth century BCE (before the Christian Era), with
which we are concerned. Most of these poleis, with the notable exception of Athens, created
colonies throughout the Mediterranean from 750-550 BCE, The growth and spread of these
poleis caught the attention of the large Persian empire to the east, and the Persians began to take
over some of them. In 490 the Athenians dealt a surprising defeat to a small Persian force
attempting to conquer the polis; that battle at Marathon gave the Athenians great confidence both
in their military and in their citys special favor in the eyes of the gods. In the next ten years,
they built a powerful navy, which had been bent on conquering them. Greek confidence and
pride was extremely high, and the Athenians quickly built a confederacy of city-states for the
liberation of poleis in Asia Minor and the Aegean islands.
The confederacy, the Delian League, was the original structure of what was to become a
half-century of Atheian empire-building. Members of the 150-poleis League voluntarily
contributed ships and money to their mutual defense, but, as the most powerful member, Athens
was soon extracting large sums for its own civic glorification and imperial foreign policy. When
other cities objected, Athens used the military forces the League had built to crush them. War
broke out throughout the Greek world in 431 between the Athenians and the Spartans, and it
lasted for 27 years. After many victories and many reversals, Athens found itself (in 404)
defeated and demoralized, subject to rule by the Persian-backed Spartan army.

22
In a lifetime which lasted from 496 to 406 BCE, Sophocles career as tragedian poet,
general, intellectual, priest, and treasurer of the Delian League was synonymous with the history
of Athens in the fifth century. His plays reflect hi intimacy with Athens rise and fall.
Politics
Athens population consisted of citizens, women, foreign residents, and slaves during the
fifth century BCE. To its citizens (about one-sixth of its population), Athens offered unparalleled
political power. Each citizen had one vote and state power derived from, if it did not in practice
always reside in, the citys Assembly.
In this non-representative democracy, the people control the state. But since many
citizens are away at the frequent wars and most rural folk wont leave their farms, a voting
Assembly usually consisted of two to three thousand mostly urban and nearby Athenians. The
day-to-day operations are run by a representative council of 500 citizens, called the boule. It has
an executive committee of fifty, and each day one of these executives sits as president of the
republic. The government bureaucracy consists of officials and magistrates chosen by lot for
one-year terms. There is no professional priesthood or Church, but there are many priesthoods in
the hands of aristocratic families. There is no public prosecutor, but there is a very vigorous legal
system accessible to citizens of even the lowest class. There is a police force consisting of stateowned foreign slaves. The Athenian state thus provides, at least to its citizens, a heretofore
unprecedented number of civic benefits. Such is the political world of Sophocles day.
The development of that democracy was the result of complex forces. One of the most
important was a change in military organization. Around 650 BCE there were revolutionary
changes in the ways Greeks fought their enemies when they found that infantry forces were a
more efficient means of fighting than cavalry. The military changes may have empowered
average citizenswho could more easily afford the lower costs of arming and supplying
themselvesrather than aristocrats, who had traditionally been the supporters of the horse, rider,
and attendant of the cavalry. The military factor combined with a growing population and
diminishing crop yields led to who in the seventh and sixth centuries frequently sold their
families into debtor slavery in order to survive. In sixth- and fifth-century Athens, a series of
great leaders abated this class warfare by means of a succession of compromises between the
classes. The greatest of these Athenian leaders was Pericles, who was elected general in 461
and again in each of the next thirty years. Pericles innovations included salaries for Council
members and jurors (thus enabling the poorest to afford to be civic minded) and lotteries to fill
Council seats and the offices of the highest magistrates (thus ensuring that representation was
distributed equitably among the properties classes). The changes in government that this radical
democrat negotiated enabled the non-aristocrats in Attica to gainat the expense of the
aristocratsas much power as any large body of ancient peoples has ever enjoyed.
Greek Society
The riddle of the self for the Greek is characteristically to be resolved by discovering
ones true social status; the mystery resides in ones social position and in the social bonds these
carry with them (Gouldner). Fifth century Athens has only recently developed out of a tribal

23
culture where ones family could be polluted by the errors of any one of its members dating
back for generations, so it was very important for Greeks to know their own identified; in such a
culture, to know yourself is in large part to know who your parents and family members are and
were. In addition, slavery was a large part of Greek culture, and slavery may have helped
determine what it meant to be Greeki.e., to be a Greek is to be born a non-slave, someone who
is not under anyone elses authority, someone who is free enough to have a personal identity and
wealthy enough to be able to give gifts.
Whether pollution or slavery made it so or not. The nature of ones self and that of others
is of great interest to the Greeks. As you may know from reading Plato, the self is felt to contain
mysteries that invite the quest to know it better. But it seems to be more than just a feeling that
they ought to but do not know the self; there is this suspicion among some Greeks that the self is
not what it seems to be. As in the case of Socrates, the search for this true self is an active one
meaning the Greeks. They do not sit back and contemplate their navels in private but rather seeks
the self in their relationships with others.
As loyalty to tribe decreased, loyalty to family unit and to polis increased. This too has
important effects on individualism and the self. People began to consider themselves more as
members of a city than of a tribe. Many Athenians without claim to great families often ignored
their family names altogether and substituted the name of the region from which they came.
Even people born well up the social ladder might use their fathers name to identify themselves
but never that of their tribe. Indeed, membership in cities becomes not only important in terms of
naming oneself but also in terms of other peoples membership or lack thereof. The man without
a city (e.g., Oedipus at Colonus) is, almost, a man without self. To be without a city was a true
handicap suffered by slaves, exiles, and other marginals.
There are costs associated with the Greek sense of self-conscious individuality, an two of
the most important are a sense of isolation and separation from others and heightened concern
with death. In a society where the average lifespan of a citizen was a mere 29 years (explained in
part by a high infant mortality rate), death becomes deeply dismaying, a longing for an afterlife
grows. The Greeks are haunted by a concern with death; it is implicit in their notion that the
distinction between men and gods is essentially that between mortals and immortals; on one
level, know thyself means, know that you will one day die, since you are only a man. Only a
people who hate death as much as the Greeks do could have invented a hero who, by risking
death valiantly, becomes half a god and wins a purchase of immortality (Gouldner). The origins
of this notion may lie in their theology, where what separates men from gods is only a matter of
mortality. All of this seems especially true of the Iliad. In examining their lives so vigorously,
again and again the Greeks are forced up against their own mortalities and the inadequacy of an
afterlife as a mere shadow of their living selves. To know yourself is to know your limitations, it
seems.
Religion
The Olympianism that came to be the state religion of Athens contributed to the Greek
view of the individual as a potent creature. The gods themselves, the most powerful creatures in
the cosmos, are in every wayexcepting their immortality and supernatural powerssimilar to
human beings, Just as important as their anthropomorphism, these Greek gods can use or

24
withhold their power over men, so that men can sometimes act independently of the gods. The
gods are not responsible for all that men do or suffer because they have their own affairs to
attend to, and this potency on the part of man leaves space for the development of individuality
and free will. The Greeks believed strongly in fate and determinism, but that belief was tempered
with a belief in free will as well. Men also seek to learn the divine intention, to learn the future,
and therefore there is widespread practice of checking with divine oracles about important
matters.
As difficult as this relationship between fate and free will is, it is just as difficult for us
today to understand the degree to which religion permeated every aspect of Greek life. For
example, church and state are so inseparable in Greek thought that patriotism and piety are often
the same thing. Greeks in Greek thought that patriotism and piety are often the same thing.
Greeks were required by custom to perform a minimum of religious duties, but there was no
specific creed by which a Greek had to abide since there was no book of sacred writings such as
the Bible or the Koran, and no Church or professional priesthood. The religion of most Greeks,
in practice, depended upon oral culture and family and tribal tradition. Most homes had a small
altar where offerings were made to protect the household. The center of Greek religion was in
cult, not faith; a matter of daily practice, bot dogma or sacred books. Olympianism may have
been the state religion, but there was as well a more important and intimate religion having to do
with the worship of cults of heroes and much lesser and often more chthonic gods. Every trade
and profession had its own cult deity, as did many sacred places known only to immediate locale.
Sophocles himself was of course a cultist of some renown. He was chosen by his fellow
Athenians to welcome to the city the demi-god Asclepius (soon to become the god of healers and
physicians; physicians today signify Asclepinss presence in their profession with the familiar
icon of the staff wrapped round by the snake-god). He was in addition a priest of the cult of an
obscure hero named Halon, and he established a shrine to the hero Heracles the Denouncer. After
his death, like Oedipus, Sophocles was honored with worship as a cult hero by his fellow
citizens.
Tragedy
The origins of tragedy are difficult to determine. One of the sources apparently was in
public, religious dances performed at a week-long, Spring fertility festival (known as the City
Dionysia) in honor the god of wine, Dionysus the Greater. There dances were accompanied by
sung poetry which often told a story of a legendary hero or god. The chorus was led by a man
who sang a solo lines while the other members danced and responded in song. A second source
may have been the satyr play, in which a chorus of men dressed as goats or satyrs performed a
rowdy, possibly feverish dance in honor of Dionysus. Fifth century tragedy saw the development
of drama: two or three individual actors, wearing masks and standing outside of this
traditional dancing and singing chorus, engaging the chorus in discussion about some
dilemma the actor and the chorus aced. Sophocles was innovative in adding the third actor,
increasing the chorus from 12 to 15 dancers, and using scene painting.
The Attic theater in which dramatists worked was quite simple, usually a circular stage
where the chorus sang and danced, intimately connected to the audience surrounding them. The

25
actors, each capable of playing several roles by changing masks, stood on the raised proskenion
in front of the skene, the latter frequently constructed to look like the palace doors of a particular
polis. The audience sat on stone bleachers constructed on the side of a cliff, and the play was
performed, of course, in the open air.
The performances were supported by the state and the aristocracy. Both comedies
tragedies were submitted to the archon or chief magistrate as part of a literary and civic
competition, and he chose the finalists who would have their plays performed. Three authors
each presented three tragedies and a satyr drama. Originally the three tragedies were on a related
theme, but this fell out of fashion. Three tragedies presented one after the other on the same day,
on a related theme, constituted a trilogy. Sophocles three extant tragedies on Oedipus and his
family were presented at different times and so do not make up a trilogy (Antigone, 441 BC;
Oedipus Tyrannus, after 430; Oedipus at Colonus, 401, produced posthumously).
The three greatest Athenian tragedians were Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.
Aristotle (384-322 BCE) describes Athenian tragedy in his Poetics. By his definition, tragedy is
the imitation of an important moral action, [an imitation] which is complete and of a certain
length, by means of language made pleasing for each part separately; it relies in its various
elements not on narrative but on acting, through pity and fear it achieves the purgation [Gr.
catharsis] of such emotions. The pity is for underived misfortune; the fear regards the
misfortune of a person like ourselves. Aristotle prefers that the protagonist be a good person who
has fallen into misfortune through some error or missing of the mark (homartia). But the hero of
tragedy must not be so virtuous that instead of feeling pity or fear at his downfall, we are simply
outraged. Also he cannot be so evil that for the sake of justice we desire his misfortune. Instead,
best is a man who is neither outstanding in virtue and righteousness; nor is it through badness or
villainy of his own that he falls into misfortune, but rather through some flaw [better error,
hamartia]. He should be famous or prosperous, like Oedipus Aristotle identifies the actions
of tragedies and their plots as simple or complex. A simple action or plot is continuous and does
not involve reversal (peripeteia) or recognition (anagnorisis); a complex action or plot has a
reversal (peripeteia) or recognition (anagnorisis) or both. Peripeteia is a change of situation to
its opposite. Anagnorisis is a change from ignorance to knowledge or to friendship or to hostility
for those destined for good or ill fortune.
Very often, and particularly for the Antigone, tragedy is structured around a conflict
(agon). The major agon in the Antigone is between Antigone and her insistence of following the
gods laws and Creon and his insistence on maing his own. Several minor conflicts emerge. The
terms protagonist (the main character of the play, with whom the audience primarily
identifies) and antagonist (the econd actor; the principal opponent of the protagonist) derive
from agon.
The word tragedy can be applied to a whole genre of literature. It can mean any serious
and dignified drama that describes a conflict between the hero and a superior force and reaches a
sorrowful conclusion that arouses pity or fear in the audience. Tragedy is based on the
possibility that a man may be destroyed precisely because he attempts to be great or morally
good. (Irony is essential in tragedies.) Tragedy implies a conflict between mans goodness and/or
greatness and a reality controlled by divinities which seemingly do not care about moral

26
goodness and often are offended by individual greatness (see hubris). In a Christian world of
divine justice, where each person eventually gets what s/he deserves; there may be no tragedy.
Greek tragedy, on the other hand, assumes that the universe run by the gods is askew and men
are caught up in this tragic condition Therefore, there is the possibility in tragedy of exploring an
individuals nobility in the face of such conditions. Through the evocation of admiration as well
as pity or fear for the hero, the playwright may lead the audience to similar emotions about the
condition of humanity in general.
Conventional Wisdom and the Themes of Greek Tragedy
Conventional wisdom is important for the world of classical Greek tragedy. Some of this
conventional wisdom is expressed in two maxims inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi:
Know thyself (gnothi sauton) and nothing in excess (meden agan). These two ultimately
counsel moderation (sophrosyne). Tragic heroes most frequently lack moderation; indeed, the
hamartia most noted is hubris, the tendency to be excessive, especially to try to rise beyond
mortal status, to impinge on the prerogatives of the gods. A third important concept is learning
by suffering, pathei mathos, called by Aeschylus in the Agamemnon a valid law from Zeus.
Learning by suffering is usually another way to encourage moderation.
Other aspects of conventional wisdom which relate to the Oedipus plays and to the
themes of the course are the belief in the efficacy of curses and of ritual purification, the belief
in the contagious pollution (miasma) contracted from unpurified murderers, and the
prescription that a good person help his friends and harm his enemies. The word for friend,
philos, you should note, includes relatives. The choruses of Sophocles tragedies tend to
represent the opinions of ordinary citizens; they are not bold; they often give expression to
conventional wisdom.
Some antitheses (sets of matched opposites) are important thematically for these
tragedies, particularly friends and enemies, words and deeds, Athens and Thebes, man(kind) and god. A possible intermediary between man god is the hero. The term hero often
means little more than sir, someone of somewhat superior status. The literary hero is basically
the main character, the protagonist; the tragic hero is the person the tragedy is about, ideally
for Aristotle, the good person in good circumstance whose reversal of fortune s caused by some
error. But the term has a religious dimension as chthonic hero. A chthonic hero is an important
person who retains power to help friends and harm enemies even in death, and who must,
therefore, be attended to and placated even after death, usually at his tomb. Chthon means earth,
ground. In the Oedipus at Colonus, when Oedipus is translated from life, he becomes a chthonic
hero. The Thebans want him back because of the power he will possess in death.
The Gospel at Colonus
The Gospel at Colonus is a brilliant adaptation of the Oedipus at Colonus, made by Lee
Breur and Bob Telson of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The religious setting of the original is
maintained, but has been transferred to a black Pentecostal church. In the original, one actor
plays several parts; here several actors play one part, particularly the part of Oedipus. Clarence
Fountain and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama play the blind Oedipus together and separately;

27
Morgan Freeman narrates as Oedipus, from time to time. As the entire original work was in
meter, so most of this is sung. As the original has a chorus representing the community, so here
both the larger gospel choir and the smaller groups give voice to it.
The following description of The Gospel at Colonus is taken from the program notes to
the recording of the live performance:
The Gospel at Colonus reconceives Sophocles Oedipus at Colonus as parable-like
sermons on the ways of fate and particularly on a happy death. It is set in a Black
Pentecostal church. The congregation performs the Invocation (Live Where You Can)
and as the Ministers narrate, portions of the story come to life.
THE STORYAfter years of wandering with his daughter, Antigone, repentant and
suffering for the sins he committed in innocence, Oedipus comes to Colonus, the holy
resting place he has been promised for his death. At first the citizens of Colonus turn him
away (Stop Do Not Go On). His second daughter, Ismene, finds him there with
Antigone, rejected. However, she has come to bring Oedipus the prophecy that he shall
now be blessed (How Shall I See You Through My Tears). She tells him to pray to the
gods he once he offended (A Voice ForetoldPrayer). Theseus, King of Athens, hears
his prayer and is touched by his story, and they are welcomed to Colonus (Never Drive
You Away--Jubilee). Hearing of this, Creon, King of Thebes, comes to bring Oedipus
back to that city. Oedipus refuses to go and Creon has the daughters sized (Numberless
Are the Worlds Wonders/Lift Me UpLife a Dove). Theseus returns them. At his
death Oedipus passes on to Theseus alone his knowledge of his life and his blessing
(Sunlight of No Light/ Eternal Sleep). The final sermon is delivered, reminding the
congregation to mourn no more, for Oedipus has found redemption at his death (Lift
Him Up). Indeed, his emd was wonderful, if mortals ever was.
By changing only the setting, The Gospel at Colonus recaptures the religious experience
of the original. The words are primarily those of Robert Fitzgeralds translation of the Oedipus at
Colonus, except for Numberless are the Worlds Wonders, which is from Fitzgeralds
translation of the Antigone.
From the other direction, genuine and distinctive aspects of the African American
Pentecostal liturgy are incorporated into this production. These include:
(1) Rhythms, created either by percussive instruments or sounds used to similar purpose,
such as hand-clapping, that tie the play together; especially characteristic is the use of
the Hammond organ to create the musical atmosphere and provide continuity;
(2) Call and response, signaling a transaction between one individual or group and
another and an invitation to participate in the celebration of the presence of God,
deliverance, redeption, and so on;
(3) Repetition/reprise of whatever is sung or said, in order to build to a sense of
openness and responsiveness, and culminating in a dramatic climax;

28
(4) Dance (shouting), deriving from African sacred dancing, as an integral part of
worship;
(5) Choral singing, in a variety of forms and structures from full choir to differing small
groups (quartets, trios) and integrating different styles (operatic, country); its
harmony synthesizes European structures African musical rules, exemplifying the
generally synthetic approach that amalgamates the disparate elements;
(6) Prophetic utterance, speaking both to God and for God, as well as a kind of
energetic preaching (involving articulation, posture) that demonstrates the grace of
God and that makes room for the expression of all emotions;
(7) Final benediction, involving eternity and identifying mankind with the timelessness
of God.
Word List
Archon: chief magistrate and highest civic official
Arete: goodness, excellence, distinction; the most important Greek virtue
Chthonic: of the earth (rather than the sky), particularly as it applies to gods or heroes
Dramatic irony: situation in which the significance of words or acts are seen differently by an
audience
Genos: a patriarchal group whose members shared a common fictional ancestor or god and
whose chief came into his powers by patrilineal succession
Hamartia: Fatal error which frequently causes a persons downfall
Hubris: Overweening pride which threatens the boundaries between gods and men
Polis: city-state, community, body of citizens, such as Athens and the countryside and people
immediately surrounding it.
Study Questions
On The Theban Plays:
1. Aristotle argues that tragedy often has a reversal of the situation. Do you find this to be
true of the Sophoclean plays you have read? If so, where?
2. How are the choruses of the Theban plays different? How are they similar?
3. How does Oedipuss reaction to his heinous deeds differ between Oedipus Rex
(Tyrannus) and Oedipus at Colonus?
4. Do the characters on-stage behaviors ever seem out-of-line or strange to you?
5. Which of the characters display a fatal error (Gr. hamartia), and what is the error in each
case?
6. What effect might the positioning of the chorus on the orchestra have for our
understanding of the actor-audience interaction in Greek drama?
7. What does Oedipus know? And what does he not know?
8. What is the meaning of sight in Oedipus Rex?
9. How does Creon represent a good foil for Oedipus?
10. What if any hubris does Oedipus display? Is he always punished for it?
11. In what ways is Oedipus responsible of his actions? How much free will does he have,
and when does he have it?

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12. At what point does Jocasta first become aware of the truth? Point to the lines. When does
she first decide to kill herself? Why does she kill herself?
13. Why does Oedipus put out his eyes?
14. Why does Oedipus refuse Polyneices and then curse him? What does this action have to
do with Oedipuss greatness?
15. Does Creon recognize the nature of his mistakes? How is Oedipuss recognition similar
to or different from Oedipuss?
16. Should the gods in Oedipus Rex be condemned?
17. What else does Creon assume after Oedipuss discovery of the truth?
18. Read carefully Jocastas plea to Oedipus that he cease probing. Note his reaction. Is this
consistent with his character?
19. Explain the final speech of the chorus.
On Antigone:
20. What is the action of the play?
21. What is the basic conflict (agon) of the play? Name four minor conflicts.
22. Who is the protagonist, who is the antagonist of the Antigone?
23. The Antigone actually has a double plot line. Creon is a character of almost equal
importance with Antigone. Is the plot for Antigone simple or complex? Justify your
answer. With similar justification, pronounce the plot for Creon simple or complex.
24. What was Teriesiass message to Creon?
25. How does the maxim pathei mathos apply to Creon?
On The Gospel at Colonus:
26. What are the signs that Oedipus is experiencing pain? How is his suffering shown?
27. What are the indications that the action of the production has reached a climax? What
specific actions depict this point of crises?
28. How important is the display of emotion to the play? What types of emotions are we
shown? What types are left out?
29. Discuss the use of the costume? What does dress reveal about the various characters/
30. How are opposing views resolved by the actions in this pay? What types of action show
opposition? What actions signify resolution?
31. What Christian elements are introduced into the play? Is it possible see this play as a
fusion of two tradition, or is one dominant over the other? To what extent is this a Greek
play?
32. Discuss the fact that more than one Oedipus is on stage at one time. What does this
mean?
33. What elements of the play allow it to speak to a modern audience?
34. What is the effect of having real blind men on the stage?
35. How many different forms of choral groups participate in the production?
Unit 3. William Shakespeares Hamlet
Historical and Intellectual Background

30
William Shakespeare lived during the Elizabeth era (1558-1603) at the height of the
English Renaissance (1500-1620). Renaissance means rebirth, and one of the main reasons for
the re-birth of European spirit at the end of the middle ages was the rediscovery of the learned
cultures of ancient Greece and Rome. This renewed interest in ancient knowledge and values
came to be known as humanism. Humanism refers to the broad based study of the humanities
(but especially literature and philosophy) that allowed people of the Renaissance to generate a
new, more idealized attitude about the man and his place in the world. While the medieval world
saw man as a depraved creature of God to be shaped by the Church for salvation in the hereafter,
those in the Renaissance had a more optimistic view of life. They felt that mans daily
aspirations, energies, and desires were important and valuable. They believed that man should try
to increase his knowledge and develop his abilities rather than passively accept the world as he
found it. Increasingly during the Renaissance, the life of man can to occupy center stage.
The enthusiasm over the rediscovery of classical learning as they called it occurred
simultaneously with the religious upheaval that came to be known as the Reformation. Martin
Luther and John Calvin were two important and powerful religious leaders whose attempts to
reform the Church of Rome eventually lead to the establishment of Protestant churches. These
protestant churches were anti-authoritarian: instead of accepting the authority of a Pope and a
cadre of priests, each individual believer was expected to follow his own conscience. Those who
could read were encouraged to study the Bible in their native language (not Latin), and without a
clerical intermediary. For Protestants, the individual direct relationship with God through faith
superseded the ritualistic dogmas mandated by the Roman Catholic Church.
During the Renaissance, a variety of scientific discoveries also began to change longstanding attitudes and beliefs about man, the world, and the cosmos. Early encounters with the
New World (e.g., Columbus, 1492) and the circumnavigation of the Earth (Magellan, 1522) were
especially momentous in their impact, albeit for contrasting reasons. That is, while such
expeditions opened up vast new areas for conquest, exploitation, and commerce, they also
disrupted the sense of identity, place, and tradition which had ensued from the European belief
that the finitude of the world extended not much farther than the Mediterranean. Similarly,
Copernicus revolutionary assertion that the planets revolved around the sun rather than the earth
(1543) invited men to acknowledge the power of their own intellect, but only by destroying their
assurance in the older tenets that has once defined mankinds place in the cosmos.
Political Background
The greater part of the fifteenth century in England was taken up with the devastating
civil wars between the noble houses of York and Lancaster (the War of the Roses). In 1485,
Henry VIIs victory over Richard III at Bosworth field signaled the end of this exhausting
internal conflict. This victory also heralded the beginning of 118 years of political stability under
Tudor rule. It was during the Tudor era that England began to define its national identity, and to
shape its social and economic institutions in ways that would allow the country to assume the
status of a major world power.
In 1509, Henry VII passed the scepter to his son VIII. Despite his infamous marital
difficulties and his break with the Church of Rome, Henry VIII continued to hold Englands

31
religious and political factionalism at bay. After brief reigns by his son, Edward, and daughter,
Mary, another daughter Elizabeth I, ascended the throne in 1558 to begin her legendary 45- year
rule. This era came to be known as the Elizabethan Age. It was Englands Golden Age and it was
the Age of Shakespeare. It was a period during which exploration, commerce, government, and
the arts flourished.
Elizabeth reign as not without its problems however, England was still divided over
religious issues, and many Englishmen questioned a womans ability to rule. Nevertheless,
Elizabeths deft personal and political style and her judicious selection of advisors, allowed her
to steer a steady course between extremist views throughout her long and largely peaceful reign.
Life in Elizabethan England
For many Englishmen, the Elizabethan era was a time of great opportunity. As the
discovery of new lands and resources began to stimulate trade and the acquisition of wealth,
rapid social and economic advancement became a more common phenomenon than it had been
earlier. And since the Tudors were not inclined to be overly generous with a powerful and
fractious nobility, opportunities arose for new men of modest means to gain favor and
employment from a Tudor monarch who expected their allegiance in return.
Despite the undeniable rise in prosperity among many Elizabethans (including
Shakespeare), it should be noted that this new prosperity was by no means universal. For
instance, as England became more commerce-oriented, rural communities suffered as cities
(especially London) accrued more power and wealth. Farmers and peasants also suffered when
rich landowners turned croplands into sheep pastures to support the booming wool trade.
Periodic crop shortages led to food riots by the rural poor, whose old ways precluded their
participation in the new Elizabethan prosperity. Even in the cities, wealth and well-being were
not evenly distributed among all citizens: urban unemployment was a chronic problem, and
overcrowding contributed to the unsanitary conditions that spawned frequent epidemics of the
plague. In the nearby suburbs, where the theaters were located, one could also fid houses of
gambling and prostitution.
Genre
Hamlet is most often placed in the category of drama known as revenge tragedy.
Revenge tragedy was a popular form the 1590s to the 1630s. Its action is typically centered
upon a major characters attempt to avenge the murder of a loved one, often at the behest of the
victims ghost. The form also involves complex intrigues, subterfuges, and disguises, and usually
raises questions concerning the morality of vengeance. English revenge tragedy is loosely
modeled upon classical Roman tragedy (Senecan), but is far more ruthless and bloody in its
explicit exposition of horrific violence. Examples include Thomas Kyds The Spanish Tragedy,
Christopher Marlowes The Jew of Malta, John Websters The Duchess of Malfi, Shakespeares
Titus Andronicus, and, of course, Hamlet.
Themes

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Many of the themes or conflicts in Hamlet find their resolution in the plays larger
concern with truth, or the method by which truth may be determined. The play seems to say that
it is only after we discover a reliable way of learning the truth that we might then effect actions
that bring substantive meaning to our lives.
In terms of the Self and Other, we find that Hamlet has two excruciatingly divergent
courses of action open to him. On the one hand, he could accept Claudius and Gertrudes account
of the events that have transpired and continue to be the dutiful sensitive, rational son that we
presume he was prior to his fathers death. Or, Hamlet could act upon his intuition (as articulated
by the Ghost) that a foul murder has been committed and become a brutal revenger, i.e., an
antithetically violent other quite unlike the contemplative student/courier he appears to be.
Hamlets decision in this regard invites questions about Choice and Right Action.
Should Hamlet be the acquiescent son his mother would prefer, or should he choose rather to be
an avenging other? Which choice represents right action given the tension between the plays
Christian values and Hamlets desire for justifiable revenge? Is it quite clear which choice
Hamlet makes (if any), given the unpremeditated nature of the killing of Polonius and Claudius,
or given the premediated, but essentially passive role he plays in the deaths of Rosencrantz and
Guildenstern? These are questions which audiences (as well as Hamlet) are confronted with
throughout the play.
The audience as well as the characters in the play are also made to wonder about
Hamlets psychological state. Certainly the preponderance of deeply introspective soliloquies
testify to the existence of Examined Thought in the drama, most frequently by Hamlet.
However, the rather infamous speculation that thinking is a mask for cowardly delay on the
part of Hamlet raises questions about the efficacy of intellectualizations that stray too far from
thought appears to be at odds with revenge tragedys formulaic demand for action, thus raising
further questions about whether the drama supersedes or rather subverts its own generic givens.
With regard to themes of Community and Pariah/ Alienation and Reconciliation, it
seems clear that Hamlet has placed himself outside the prevailing views of the larger community.
After all, no one else in the play continues to question and protest the circumstances surrounding
the death of the king. Hamlet has indeed alienated himself with his melancholy and seemingly
mad antic disposition as he pursues the truth about his fathers death. Yet given all that is
rotten in Denmark, Hamlets pariah status would seem to locate him as the hero of the play
rather than its scapegoat. In the end, however, neither Hamlet nor any of the Danish leaders
survives the revenge onslaught to lead Denmark to renewal after mayhem. (Fortinbras is
Norwegian.) If there is reconciliation here, it is a bleak affairone which makes us wonder
whether even a highly intellectualized and inadvertent course of revenge can ever be reconciled
in a Christian worldeven when the cause seems just.
William Shakespeare, 1564-1616
Shakespeare was born and reared in Stratford-on-Avon, a small country town outside of
London. It is likely that he attended the towns grammar school, which was said to be excellent.
His family was middle-class, the father having held several government positions. At age 18,

33
Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, a woman eight years his senior. They had three children:
Susanna and the twins Hamnet and Judith. At some point after his marriage, Shakespeare moved
to London, where he earned his living as an actor and a playwright, and later as a shareholder in
the theatrical company for which he worked. While it was by no means easy for an author to
make a living from his writing, Shakespeare was successful enough to retire to Stratford in 1612.
There he lived a relatively quiet life as a property owner and private citizen until his death in
1616.
Despite much speculation, no one knows for sure what attitudes Shakespeare had toward
the conflicting social, religious, scientific, and political issues of his day. This was probably due
to the fact that the central interest of his art seems to have been the sympathetic dramatization of
knowledge as he found it in Elizabethan England.
Study Questions
1. When we first meet Hamlet in Act I, scene ii, he is manifestly upset and alienated. How
do Claudius and Gertrude perceive and interpret his alienation? How do we
readers/viewers interpret it?
2. What is the significance of the ghosts revelation to Hamlet in Act I, sc.v?
3. Does the ghost exist? Hoe does Hamlet seek to test the status of the ghost and what he
says/ What role does the play within a play serve in this search?
4. Why does Hamlet fail to act upon the ghosts revelations? Is he unable to choose a course
of action, or is he unable to act upon his choice?
5. Is Hamlets madness feigned or real? How does it compare to or contrast with Ophelias
madness?
6. Compare Polonius as a proponent of conventional wisdom to Hamlet as a proponent of
the examined life, especially in his soliloquies.
7. How does his pursuit of revenge morally compromise Hamlet?
8. How culpable are Claudius and Gertrude? How much do we know about their motives
and actions? How justified is Hamlets indictment of the speedy marriage of his mother to
Claudius?
9. How does Hamlet reconcile himself to his role as revenger in Act V?
10. Does good triumph over evil at the close of Hamlet? At what cost? What role does
Fortinbras play in the meaning of these final resolutions?

34
A Brief Hamlet Bibliography
Bradley, A. C. Shakespearean Tragedy (1906; 1985).
Eliot, T.S. Hamlet and His Problems in Essays in Modern Criticism (1961).
Granville-Barker, Harley. Preface to Hamlet (1946; 1957).
Green, A. Hamlet and Hamlet, One Psychoanalytical Interpretation of Representation (1982).
Held, F.G. Hamlets Other Purpose, in Anglia (1988).
King, Walter N. Hamlets Search for Meaning (1982).
Muir, Kenneth, ed. Aspects of Hamlet (1979).
Unit 4. Johann Wofgang von Goethes Faust
The Author
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)along with Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare
is one of those titans of world literature whose writings have achieved international fame and,
consequently, exercise an enormous and continuing effect upon contemporary artists and
thinkers. Goethe wrote on a wide variety of topics in a number of disciplines, including botany,
zoology, geology, anatomy, and optics, but his fame rests upon his well-deserved claim to the
title of Germanys greatest poet. His ballads and lyrical poems are unsurpassed in quality and
beauty. His dramas, along with those of his contemporary Friedrich Schiller, constitute the
modern beginnings of a theatrical tradition that is truly reflective of German culture. His
epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther was a huge success and evoked a sensational
response when it first appeared (1774). His Wilhelm Meister is the prototypical Bildungsroman.
Greater than any of these, however, is his monumental epic tragedy Faust.
The Faust Legend
Faustalong with Oedipus. Hamlet, Don Quixote, and Don Juanis one of those
archetypal figures of Western literature that exemplify an original pattern of human response to
some basic problem existence. As such, they exhibit a mythical quality that makes them timeless.
Goethes Faust is not the first, but rather the most famous of the numerous works on this figure
who has enjoyed a fairly lengthy history.
The legend begins in the sixteenth century, a time of religious ferment marking the
transition from the rigidity of the Middle Ages to the inquiring spirit of the modern age. Early in
the century (1517), Martin Luther wrecked the unity of the Christian world with his protest that
matured into the Protestant Reformation. The printing press, earlier attributed to magic, was now
coming into general use. Alchemy was yielding to primitive chemistry, astrology to astronomy;
but the devil was still very much alive, and a pact with the devil was frequently attributed to a
famous scholar or scientist whose activities and thirst for knowledge were suspect in this age of
religious fervor. Such a person was a certain Georg Faust (ca. 1480-1540), who lived in
Wittenberg (Luthers scene of action), Erfurt, and Ingolstadt, all in the very center of Germany,
studied medicine, astrology, alchemy, and magic, conjured up the spirit world, made an attempt
to fly in Venice, and gathered innumerable legends about himself, including that of being fetched
into hell by the devil, who appeared in the shape of a dog.

35

This Georg Faust became the Johann Fasut of chapbook The History of Doctor Johann
Faustus, printed in Frankfurt in 1587. (A chapbook is a cheap popular pamphlet, rather like a
modern-day comic book.) In this pamphlet, Faust is granted his every wish for twenty-four years;
then Mephistopheles demands the forfeit of his soul.
It was only one year later, in 1588, that Christopher Marlowes great play, The Tragical
History of Dr. Faustus, was first performedclear evidence that the Faust legend was already
widespread long before the publication of the 1587 German version and a subsequent English
translation by P.F., Gent. Marlowe gave the theme a sophisticated depth totally lacking
theretofore, including the grandiose initial monologue that we find again in Goethes work.
Faust material now fell, much debased, into the hands of traveling comedians and puppet
shows, and it was in this form that Goethe first became aware of it, as a child. Then, in the
1770s, it was taken up by the poets of the Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period of
German literature, whose romantic motto was Titanic defiance, and who, after the dry
rationalism of the Age of Enlightenment, again stood in awe of the inscrutable forces in nature. It
is not surprising that the Sturm and Drang poets should be attracted to the Faust theme. Three of
them used it; one of the works is of much literary merit. They are interesting, however, in that
fact that Goethe was a member of this dynamic and vital young group of poets and, of course,
was aware of the preoccupation with Faust. The source of another motif in Goethes play is to be
found in the theme of another mediocre Sturm and Drang play by a young poet and composer
named Richard Wagener, about a girl who kills her illegitimate child: Goethes Gretchen is to do
the same with her child by Faust.
Goethes Faust
The tragedy of the scholar and the tragedy of Margaret (Gretchen) are the two main plot
strands of Faust I. Both were close to Goethes experience. Fausts desire to know, to perceive
the inmost essence of things, which drives him finally into his pact with Mephistopheles,
mirrored Goethes own striving to recognize how the many seemingly disparate elements of
creation interweave so as to form the cosmos. The searching mind, in its effort to understand life
by analyzing it, destroys the unity of life, and this is the tragedy of the scholar. Faust, driven
desperate by his inability to penetrate to the core of being, summons forth the Earth Spirit, only
to be rejected by it. Next he considers suicide; eventually he comes to an agreement with
Mephistopheles.
of it, Fausts soul is demanded, and Faust descends into everlasting damnation. Goethes Faust
makes no such contract; he is altogether different: If I ever rest on a lazy bed of ease, then let
me die at once If you can beguile me with blandishments, satisfy me with what I am, or deceive
me with pleasure, let that be my last day. Ill bet on that! (textbook, p. 52). Then Faust says: If
even I say to any moment: Lingeryou are so wonderful! then you may throw me in
chains.As soon as I stagnate, I become a slave (pp. 52-53). Mephisto accepts the wager.
In other words, Faust will lose his soul not after a set number of years, but if he ever
striving, ever becomes satisfied. It is this form of the contract that has made Goethes Faust into

36
the symbol for Western man: the searcher, the dissatisfied explorer who presses on, the titanic
rebel not content with the explainable world around him, forever unfulfilled, forever
discontented.
After using his blood to seal the pact with Mephisto, the white-haired Faust ventures out
into the larger world. Unhappy with his appearance, he is rejuvenated in the scene entitled Witch
Kitchen. He is in the form of a handsome young man when he sees Margaret (Gretchen) as she is
going home from confession. He is entranced by her innocent beauty, much as Goethe was
charmed in 1770 by the artless good looks Friederike Brion, the nineteen-year-old daughter of
the pastor of Sesenheim, a village near the city of Strassburg. Goethe, who was completing his
studies at the university, was captivated. They had a love affair which he broke off when he
received his degree the next year and returned to his hometown of Frankfurt am Main. He was
haunted by feelings of guilt and remorse.
It was typical of Goethe, throughout his life, that he resolved inner conflicts by turning
them into poetry. In the case of Friederike, this process is carried out not only in the
Sesenheimer Lieder, still among the most beautiful and immediate love poems ever written,
but also in the figure of Gretchen in Faust. Another model for Gretchen was Susanna Margarete
Brandt. She was publicly executed in January, 1772, in Frankfurt, for the crime of infanticide.
The plight of a young woman who, in a frenzy of insane despair, kills the child she has borne out
of wedlock was a burning social issue of the 1770s that is also reflected in the Gretchen episode.
With the assistance of Mephisto. Faust is able to make Margarets acquaintance. The next
several scenes are devoted to his efforts to seduce her. The result is a disastrous pregnancy which
is followed by Fausts murder of her brother. Faust abandons her to her own devices, but she is
helpless before the scorn of an intolerant society. Like Ophelia, in Hamlet, Gretchen is not
mentally capable of dealing with such a harsh reality, and she collapses psychologically under
the burden of guilt and ostracism. The final scene in the dungeon, where Margaret is confined for
murdering her child, is a heart wrenching effort on Fausts part to save her from her fate, but he
is unable to persuade her to flee. Because she turns to God in her despair, however, her soul is
saved.
The outcome of Fausts contract with the devil has not been resolved by the end of Part I.
For nearly twenty-five years, Goethe labored on Faust II; he completed the manuscript of Part II
in 1831. Our text has only Part I. In the second half of the work Faust continues his many
adventures, including a journey into the past of classical antiquity and an encounter with Helen
of Troy. The product of their union is a Byronic offspring named Euphorion. In the final act (V)
of Part II, Faust is once more an elderly figure living in the sixteenth century. The Emperor has
given him a stretch of land near the sea that he is cultivating, with the assistance of
Mephistopheles. He is determined to colonize the barren land. Only in his last vision is the
ultimate goal no longer that of triumphing over nature, but of helping mankind. The liberating
effect of unselfishness is his last great insight, and it comes just before he dies.
Faust is not an ideal or perfect character, but rather a representative one. His redeeming
feature is his awareness of his imperfections. He seeks to overcome them and to gain access to
the absolute. Of course, he never achieves it, but his striving is what is important. He never
yields to Mephistos debased view of life, and the devil never gains possession of his soul.

37

Study Questions
1. What does the Prologue in Heaven, which was inspired by the Biblical Book of Job,
indicate the nature of man and his destiny to be?
2. What is the role of Mephistopheles in Faust? In what way(s) is he a trickster figure?
3. Faust is presented to us as being representative of mankind. Do you agree or disagree?
4. What are the particular circumstances of Gretchens life? What does she represent?
5. Draw up a list of binary opposites in Faust such as light and darkness. There should be
at least eight pairs. Are any of these opposites resoled in the play?
6. Faust talks about two souls living within him. What do you think he means?
Unit 5. William Shakespeares The Tempest
The Author and His Acting Companies
William Shakespeare (1564-1616), the famous humanist and most beloved playwright of
the English Renaissance, moved from his boyhood home of Stratford-on-Avon to London
sometime in early youth. He left behind a wife, formerly Anne Hathaway, and their twins, Judith
and Hamnet. Of his early efforts to be a playwright we have no record but by 1592 [age 28] he
had become an important man in London theater (The Shakespeare Theater at the Folger, 198990, 6). Shakespeare worked with and wrote 37 plays for a group of actor-friends who enjoyed the
patronage of court and royalty. Shakespeares first acting companythe Lord Chamberlains
Menwas sponsored by King James I (Elizabeths chosen heir and the son of Mary Queen of
Scots). Shakespeares leading man, Richard Burbage, played the romantic male leads when he
was young and the parts of Hamlet, Othello, and Lear as he grew older. The crowd-pleasing
clowns, like William Kemp and Robert Armin, had their specialties; so Shakespeare also wrote
parts especially for them. No women acted in plays during the Stuart-Tudor era; all female roles
were played by boy actors who could often sing as well as dance.
Shakespeares company competed for afternoon audiences with other acting companies
those featuring plays by Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Kyd, and Ben Jonson, for example.
Several rival playhouses, such as the Swan and the Rose, like Shakespeares own Globe Theater,
were located across the Thames, while others such as the Red Bull and the Fortune, were located
north of Londons city limitsall positioned to avoid the crowding associated with spread of the
plague. The Kings men also acquired another, private, indoor theatre called the Blackfriars. This
intimate court theatre probably featured mechanized machinery that could, for example, lower a
goddess in a car (a deus ex machina) or cause a spirit (such as Ariel) to disappear into a trap
door. Inigo Joness designs for court masques illustrate the fancy costumes and scenery that
accompanied courtly performances. Stage directions in The Tempest indicate that elaborate

38
staging may have been required, especially for the appearance of Ariels banquet and for the
masque presented to the lovers.
When Shakespeare left the London stage community, retiring to his home town, he had a
wealthy patron, Henry Wriothesley, the third Earl of Southampton, to whom Shakespeare
dedicated his Sonnets, and many other friends. He was as famous in his day as George Lucas or
Steven Spielberg.
Today, we may enjoy watching a resident Shakespeare Theatre company at work in a
modern playhouse at the Lansburgh in Washington, D.C. Shakespearean (and other plays) are
regularly performed on various stages in the greater Washington area; these range from dinner
and community theaters to college and university theaters (like Howard Universitys Ira Aldridge
Theatre) to commercial playhouses like the Arena Stage, the Kennedy Center, the Source, the
New Playwrights, the No-Neck Monsters, and the Wolly-Mammoth.
The Tempest and Colonial Imperialism
The first recorded performance of The Tempest occurred at Whitehall palace on
Hallowmas Night, November 1, 1611. By that time, Queen Elizabeth had been succeeded by
James I, a scholarly monarch whose interests were legal and philosophical. His character may be
the inspiration for Prospero. Many scholars have argued that Shakespeare, as well, is reflected in
Prospero, the Faustian-sorcerer, philosopher-king, whose passionate adieu to the stage appears in
the Epilogue.
In the seventeenth century, allegory may also have been intended. Caliban may have been
modeled after the artists John Whites imaginary Picts portrayed in Thomas Harriots A Brief
and true Report of The New Found Land of Virginia. Similarly, Ariel may have been suggested
by the spirits who inhabit the imaginary English pastoral landscape of Edmund Spencers The
Faerie Queene, from which Puck in A Midsummer Nights Dream also must have come. Ariel
and Caliban, together, may forecast the spirit of rebellion welling within the English populace
the Puritan insurgence against the monarchy that culminated in the Reformation and led to the
closing of all English playhouses by 1642. In that light, Prospero could be understood to portray
the weakness of an all-powerful monarch who heeds the clarion call of liberty. In any event, The
Tempest creates a dialogue between the seventeenth-century audience and the discoveries of the
New World. Scholars have noted that in 1609 a storm off the coast of the Bermudas destroyed
the flagship of a fleet of nine ships owned by the Virginia Company, with hose sponsors of
Shakespeare was well connected. A year later the castawats of the 1610, Sylvester Jourdain
published A Discovery of the Bermudas. Another account, entitled The True Declaration of the
estate of the Colonie in Virginia, also appeared. Some scholars speculate that Shakespeare read a
letter regarding the Virginia Company, written by William Strachey and dated July 15, 1610.
These scholars believe Shakespeare may have had British colonial explorations in mind when he
wrote The Tempest.
As George lamming, a modern West Indian novelist and critic, points out, when Prospero
is viewed as representing the colonizer who invades the island home that Caliban has inherited
through Sycorax, his mother, then Caliban may be understood as pinched and tormented by

39
Ariel at Prosperos command. Caliban may be viewed as the Other, the dispossessed and
disinherited. The double-plot structure reflecting these contemporary cruxes has been powerfully
represented recently (1990, Folger Theatre). In the dangerously preposterous plot (drawn from
the commedia dellarte tradition), Trinculo, Stephano, and Caliban (representing the common
folk) devise to kill Prospero and recover Calibans lost kingdom. As two very funny scenes
disclose, they are foiled by their weakness for the good life: for wine and new clothes. Likewise,
the wicked mirror subplothatched by Antonio and Sebastainto kill King Alonso is foiled by
the intervention of Ariel, who lures them by mysterious music to wander until, completely
exhausted, they see a sumptuous banquet which soon vanishes (via some quaint device of
stage machinery). Their hunger also symbolizes the important theme of spiritual emptiness and
greed; for they, too, are men of sin (III. 3.53). Their shallowness is offset by the devotion of
Gonzalo, the good-hearted courtier, another cameo part allegorizing Shakespeare himself, or the
role of the player on the Renaissance stage.
While eighteenth- and nineteenth- century productions of The Tempest centered Prospero
rather than the interaction between Prospero and Caliban, contemporary viewers are more likely
to see the revolutionary aspect of Calibans identity. Today, literary historians and critics find in
The Tempest an embedded commentary on colonial imperialism and Europes relations with the
peoples in the new worlds described in the travel books of the eraas perhaps Shakespeares
audiences themselves did. Shakespeare clearly indicates that Caliban is the descendent of
Sycorax, originally of Tunis by way of Argier. Calibans name may represent an anagram of
cannibal; indeed, scholars see clear correspondences between The Tempest and Michel de
Montaignes famous essay On Cannibals
Setting and Characters
Whatever place we may imagine as the setting, the play opens with a shipwreck, the
result of a summer storm created by Ariel at Prosperos command. Shakespeare takes advantage
of the contemporary interest in the New World to revisit the shipwrecks in Greek and Latin
legends chronicled in the Aeneid, the Iliad, and the Odyssey. Like the Hebrew biblical account of
Job and like Greek and Latin epics, The Tempest presents characters in philosophic quest of their
identities, as well as characters in the romantic tradition of the courtly epics, such as the Tale of
Genji, Sundiata: An Epic of Old Mali, and the Mahabharata. However, Prosperos quest reflects
the storm in his own heart and conscience. Like Hamlet, he is a man driven from power and
consumed by revenge. Prospero ultimately abjures his magic only after achieving success and
regaining his kingdom. His story recalls timeless religious doctrines reflecting the spiritual
struggle to identify the self in relation to communal and folk morality as well as to cosmic
powers.
Prospero and Caliban are not the only inhabitants whose identities and actions are
problematic. All the characters are alienated in some way from the hierarchal social organization
of Renaissance British Culture. In the Miranda-Ferdinand plot, for example, the Patristic
(fatherly) formula for romance that Prospero in his role as benevolent dictator prescribes is
subverted. On the one hand, modern feminist theory may read Prospero as exchanging Miranda
in marriage to Ferdinand in hopes of arranging a peaceful merger with the kingdom of Naples,
thereby achieving the passing home, On the other hand, Prospero perhaps merely takes

40
advantage of the psychology of forbidden love when he confines Ferdinand in order to cause his
adored daughter Miranda to pity the of pre-chosen suitorwhich she does, in the spirit of the
New World atmosphere of freedom that the magical island supplies. Ferdinand (a courtly and
pastoral swain drawn from the Italian romance tradition) woos Miranda in conventional language
associated with courtly love; The Tempest thus raises feminist questions that Shakespeares
contemporaries (both men and women writers) were examining concerning the social condition
of women. Shakespeare comments on role reversals and the problem of friendship in a culture
where couples, who interacted mostly in coteries, or same-sex circles, found it difficult to
become acquainted before marriage.
The Dramatic Action
At the heart of The Tempest is the tension between the two great poets, Prospero and
Caliban (Orgel 37). Whether we consider him as the Stranger or the Scapegoat or the Other,
Caliban may be read as the perpetrator of an ignoble attack on Miranda (understood in this
reading as an allegorical representation of the courtly class), or he may be read as the ungrateful
leader of foul revolt against the benevolent magus Prospero (the allegorical King who stands for
the solidified, traditional values associated with western Europe). Whatever our interpretation,
Shakespeare clearly identifies Caliban as the fully human child of Sycorax (I.2.281-84), and they
were the first inhabitants and natural heirs of the island itself.
If Prospero serves as the colonial imperative in that he can impose his will on the
captive and shipwrecked islanders, he recognizes that he can rule only through knowledge that
permits power over nature, knowledge he has gleaned from his magical book. This is the book
that Caliban wishes to possessindeed, that he creates a (comic) revolution to obtain. The issue
is power, but we must not forget that tragedy is averted in the end; for The Tempest is a romance,
closing, as do many Shakespearean comedies, with reconciliation of opposing parties and with
an anticipated marriage of lovers (allegorically, read social classes). All the same, the play
reflects only a partially achieved reconciliation of opposites: all disharmonious chords do not
achieve social harmonya condition signaled by the presence of musiceven though Prospero
returns the island to Caliban, abjures his magic, releases the invisible Ariel to the four winds, and
tosses his book fadoms deep into the sea. This book of alchemical formulas and chants
associated with magic (with the voodoo tradition, as George Lamming suggests) we may
imagine as a metaphorical counterpoint to the new King James Version of the Bible compiled in
the Renaissance and named after James I. The Tempest clearly reflects a revolutionary text, but in
all Shakespeares plays obvious compliments to the tradition of royal patronage also reflect the
players obligations to and love for the long line of the English monarchy, a tradition that (after
the Civil War) was once again happily restored to England in 1660 in the person of Charles I,
King Jamess son.
Is The Tempest, then, simply an ironic commentary on the human condition, a kind of
caveat or warning that all humanity looks forward to the sea change of life beyond this world?
Written toward the end of Shakespeares professional career, The Tempest reminds us that there
is a deeply spiritual, although not religiously dogmatic, and philosophical side to all his works.
As Prospero remarks, the insubstantial pageant of our lives and out world, our Globe, will

41
fade away: we are such stuff/ As dreams are made on, and our little life/ Is rounded with a
sleep (IV.1.155-58).
Those famous lines remind us that The Tempest is a seventeenth-century fantastic voyage,
a shipwreck on a place resembling the galaxy far away of George Lucass Star Wars. The
Tempest represents the emerald isles of Great Britain; the coast of Virginia; the glittering
islands of the Caribbean. Of Jamaica, Trinidad, Cuba, Puerto Rico; the luminous spaces of the
Mediterranean islands and the Philippines; the warm and paradisiacal lands of Africa and
Madagascar, of India and Islamall those foreign shores from which the sweetsmelling
spices, coffee, tobacco, and sugar were imported into Britain. For all these reasons, The Tempest
presents the core experience of travelers, enacting a myth of culture shock, a story of entry and
return. Seen in its most universal light, The Tempest forecasts the troubled storm of emotions, the
cases of the human conscience, those historical movements When ignorant armies clash by
night (as Mathew Arnold writes in Dover Beach), or when cultures clash between an old
world and a new.
Language: Renaissance Blank Verse
Shakespeare composed prose passages and lyric songs, but mainly he used the blank verse form
common to Renaissance poetry, which is also known as Marlowes mightly line or accentualsyllabic verse without rhyme. When two lines of ten syllable verse rhyme in pairs, they are called
heroic couplets. Shakespeare used heroic couplets to mark the ends of scenes or for the speeches
of nobles. Later, the seventeenth-century poet Jon Milton defined blank verse as heroic verse
without rhyme (The Argument to Paradise Lost, Bk. 1), meaning that in blank verse the tensyllable lines did not rhyme aa bb cc and so on. Each line of blank verse contains ten-syllables
which, most often, fall into five feet of iambic (x ) pentameter verse; here, for example, is one
way to scan (to measure) a line from The Tempest:

English versification depends a great deal on the distinction we can hear between
accented and unaccented syllables. You can better understand the rhythmic patterns (the beat)
of traditional English verse forms by marking and analyzing the light (x) and heavy () stresses
within the lines of verse in question. Light stress (x) usually falls o articles (a, an, the);
conjunctions (and, but, or, for, nor); one-syllable prepositions (of, for, by. to, in, out). Heavy
stress () usually falls on nouns; on one-syllable pronouns (we, they, he, it, our, my, mine); on
one-syllable verbs. Adjectives, and adverbs. Some prosodists (verse analysts) mark light stress
with U instead of x. Edward Weismiller recommends the following system of prosodic markings,
believing that markings for English Renaissance poetry should reflect the intent of British poets
to distinguish English accentual-syllabic verse from Greek and Latin quantitative measures
(which measures lines of Poetry by the length of the syllabus rather than by their beat).
Poetry should be read as naturally as possible, without stopping unduly at line ends,
especially when the sense runs over from one line to the next; when that happens, the line is said

42
to be enjambed. In Renaissance blank verse, the iambic pentameter measurewhether endstopped or enjambedprovides a dysyllabic base rhythm, which means that each foot (or
rhythmic unit) of the line accommodates only two syllables. There are three potential
substitutions for the iambic foot ( ); and the phyrric foot (x x). Sometimes, in order to achieve
the ten syllables demanded by the blank verse form and following or imitating the way Italian
verse is measured, English poets ecpected readers to compress or elide syllables so that a twosyllable word like heaven (/ x) must be pronounced as just one syllable: hevn. Elisions also
reduce the number of syllables: many a day (/ x x / = 4 syllables) can be read as men-ya-day (/
x / = 3 syllables). Another way to think of a compression is to consider the vowels that are
compressed as silent, although in fact they are not entirely so: quality for quality, tempst for
tempest.
Exercise.
Try to scan several lines of verse from The Tempest, marking the light (x) and heavy () stresses
over the vowels of each syllable as you read aloud. Mark the internal compressions with a hoop
over the slurred vowels. Mark the elisions between words with a hoop under the slurred words;
then, divide each line into five disayllabic feet. Read your scansion aloud to fellow students,
conferring with them about the various prosodic possibilities.

Word List
Act I

Act II

Act III

Act IV

Act V

Vessel
Wrack

Afric
Dido and Aeneas

Crabbed
Odious

Tender
Phoebuss Steeds

Distracted
Bedimmd

43
Perfidious
Neapolitan
Prescience
Bermoothes
Malignant
Apparition
Sea-change
Changd eyes

Enmity
Commonwealth
Burthen
Gaberdine
Moon-calf
Ague
Credulous
Abominable

Visitation
Precepts
Deboshd
Sorcerer
Compassd
Nonpareil
Pheonix
Discourse

Villainous
Rabble
Dalliance
Saffrom
Bounteous
Naiades
Temperate
Insubstatial Pageant

Promontory
Abjure
Rankest
Providence
Prohesied
Liege
Setebos
Nuptial

Study Questions
1. How does Shakespeare dramatize the class divisions (even conflict) between the common
sailors and their noble passengers in I.1.
2. How does Shakespeare develop the theme of legitimate and illegitimate rule through his
depictions of Prospero, Antonio, and Alonso?
3. Is the book-loving Prospero a Platonic philosopher-king? If so, how is his brother
Antonio able to usurp his rule?
4. Does Prospero ever show signs of questioning his own pursuit of vengeance upon
Antonio and Alonso? Does that pursuit compromise him morally?
5. What is the function of Prosperos magic within the play, and what part does Ariel play in
it? Why does Prospero renounce his magic at the plays end?
6. How does the play dramatize the European colonization of the New World?
7. On what basis does Caliban claim to be the rightful ruler of the island? How convincing
do you find that claim?
8. How do Caliban and Prospero both define their own identities in contrast to the other as
the Other?
9. Compare and contrast Caliban and Ferdinand as suitor to Miranda.
10. Discuss Caliban as leader of Stephano and Trinculos comic revolt against Prosperos rule
of the island. Is Caliban an effective leader? Are his goals realistic?
11. Examine Mirandas relation to Prospero and to the other men in the play. How does
Shakespeare use her to raise issues of gender and patriarchy?
A Brief Bibliography for The Tempest
Bentley, Gerald Eades. Shakespeare and His Theatre (1964).
Briggs, Julia. This Stage Play World: English Literature and Its Background 1580-1625 (1983).
Burger, Harry. Miraculous Harp: A Reading of Shakespeares Tempest. Second World and
Green World: Studies in Renaissance Fiction Making (1983).
Greenblatt, Steven. The Tempest and the New World. In The Bedford Introduction to Drama
(1983).
Leininger, Lorie Jerrell. The Miranda Trap: Sexism and Racism in Shakespeares Tempest. In
William Shakespeare: The Tempest, ed. Robert Langbaum (Signet Classic 1987).
Levine, Harry. General Introduction and Appendices to The Tempest / The Riverside
Shakespeare (1974).
Lovejoy, Arthur O. The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (1936).

44
Skura, Meredith Anne. Discourse and the Individual: The Case of Colonialism in The Tempest.
Shakespeare Quarterly 40, 1 (Spring 1988): 42-69.
Some Works Influenced by The Tempest
Auden, W.H. The Sea and the Mirror: A Commentary on Shakespeares The Tempest (1945).
Beethoven, Ludwig van. Sonata Apassionata, op. 31, no. 2 (1802-04).
Brathwaite, Edward. The Arrivants: A New World Trilogy (1973).
Cesaire, Aime. A Tempest. Adaption for a Black Theatre (1969).
Davenant, Williams and John Dryden. The Tempest: or the Enchanted Island (1667).
Purcell, Henry. Music for the opera version of Thomas Shadwells The Tempest (1695).
Sibelius, Jean. Incidental music for orchestra (1926).
Unit 6. Edward Brathwaites The Arrivants
The Author
Edward Kamau Braithwaite (formerly, Lawson Edward Brathwaite) is of an Africandescended generation of great writers that includes Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, and Derek
Walcott, all born in the 1930s. Brathwaite was born in Bridgetown, Barbados, and educated at
Harrison College (the word college here means prep school, the British nomenclature being a
legacy of Barbadoss colonial history). In 1949, Brathwaite won an Island Scholarship to
Cambridge University England, where he read (majored in) history; he graduated in 1953.
After an additional year there, he earned a certificate in education.
Brathwaites vocational career has been various, but one of the most significant phases of
it was his work in Ghana, Africa, for the Ministry of Education (1955-62). So astonishing and
consciousness-raising was this experience for Brathwaite, as he came to terms with his past and
identity, that what he writes about it in his essay Timehri is worth quoting at some length:
Accepting my rootlessness, I applied for work I London, Cambridge, Ceylon, New Delhi,
Cairo, Kano Khartoum, Sierra Leone, Carcassonne, a monastery in Jerusalem. I was a
West Indian, rootless man of the world. I could go, belong everywhere on the world-wide
globe. I ended up in a village in Ghana. It was my beginning.
Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly; obscurely, slowly but surely, during the eight years that I
lived there, I was coming to an awareness and understanding of community, of cultural
wholeness, of the place of the individual within the tribe, in societyI came to a sense of
identification of myself with these people, my living diviners. I came to connect my
history with theirs, the bridge of my mind now linking Atlantic and ancestor, homeland
and heartland. When I turned to leave, I was no longer a lonely individual talent; there
was something wider, more subtle, more tentative; the self without ego, without I,
without arrogance. And I came home to find that I had not really left. That is was still
Africa; Africa in the Caribbean. The middle passage had now guessed its end. The
connectionhad been made.

45
In Brathwaites personal odyssey, another experience was also crucial. He points to the eyeopening encounter, In London, with Stokely Carmicheal, the 1960s Black Power advocate and
U.S. political guru. He says that upon hearing Carmicheals speeches, he then understood Black
internationalism and the possibilities of links of sympathy; that it was possible, then, for him to
make sense of the history of slavery. Brathwaite later participated in and was to gain much
important spiritual and intellectual comradeship from the London-based Caribbean Artists
Movement (CAM).
Though Brathwaite is a pre-eminent poet, he is by profession an historian. He earned his
doctoral degree in history in 1968 from the University of Sussex and teaches at the University of
the West Indies. He has written distinguished historical studies, the most well-known of which
are The Folk Culture of Jamaican Slaves (1969) and The Development of Creole Society in
Jamaica 1770-1820 (1971). His poetry includes Other Exiles (1975), Black and Blues, which
won the Cuban Casa de las Americas Prize (1976), Mother Poem (1977), Sun Poem (1982),
Third World Poems (1983), and X/Self (1987). A very strong influence on his poetry is music,
especially jazz and other black musical forms.
Overview of The Arrivants as a Social Text
Historical study, The Development of Creole Society in Jamaica 1770-1820, he argues that
A study of the forms, institutions, and attitudes of West Indian society during the period
of slavery during the period of slavery is essential to an understanding of a present which
is becoming increasingly concerned with racial and cultural identity.
Brathwaite views the period before the Emancipation (of slaves) in the West Indies (1833) as the
creative moment of creolizationwhen a New World identity was being achieved. This impetus,
he feels, was worded after Emancipation, and a fragmented society solidified still fragmented.
Henceforth, the folk-African culture was marginalized and even at times repressed. Since that
time, Brathwaite believes, the people of the West Indies have been born and educated within that
fragmented culture and therefore start out with a sense of wholeness.
In fact, however, two great ruptures constitute Caribbean history. First is that of the
misnamed Discoverymore aptly called a Conquest. Although that so-called discovery
served as the basis for colorful and wonderous tales, voyages imaginaires, and travellers tales
that would fertilize the imaginations of European writers, the truth is that it was a conquest that
devastated the native Indian populations of the islands, totally erasing several groups. In
contemporary times, both the African and the Amer-Indian pasts are heritages that writers are
trying to reclaim.
The following dates indicate some major events of colonial history:
1492
1509-10
1515
1516

Oct. 12, Columbus sights Guanahani, the Bahamas


First sugar mills begun in Santo Domingo
First samples of Caribbean sugar sent to Spain
Las Casas, a Dominican priest, appointed Protector of the Indians

46
1518
1595
1604-20
1921
1649
1798
1808
1883
1940s
1960s

Charles V (Spain) grants permission for 4,000 African slaves to be sent to the
Antilles
Spain grants Asientos to supply slaves to the Indies
Attempt by the English and the Dutch to plant permanent colonies
Dutch West India Company formally established
First slave revolt in Barbados
Toussaint LOuverture establishes rule of slaves in Haiti
British trans-Atlantic slave trade abolished
Emancipation Act passed by the British Parliament; apprenticeship system
proposed
Universal adult suffrage
Decade of Independence

The Arrivants
This epic poem is Brathwaites answer to the New World Africans sense of
psychological and cultural fragmentation, alienation, and rootlessness. It is an epic because it
is a long narrative poem that recounts history, even though the national hero is a representative
hero, and African Everyman. As an Epic, the work profiles the themes of journeys, exiles,
arrivals; and it includes encyclopedic knowledge of society, history, myths, and so on, just as the
epic poets Homer and especially Hesiod did. The trilogy (its constituent books being Rights of
Passage, Islands, and Masks) is a symbolic representation of the quest for identity. It rehistoricizes and recovers through memory the history of the New World black, tracing his
beginnings in Africa to many nations and parts of the New World, for example, to the West
Indies, to England, and to the U. S. The Humanities II themes and you will find best exemplified
in this poem are The Question of the Self and the Other, The Question of Identity, and the
Question of Alienation and Reconciliation.
The Arrivants takes the reader on a journey of recovery through a poetical re-living of the
historical and social history of the New World African. Thus, its first part, Rights of Passage,
recapsulates the journey from the deserts of Africa, through its forests, to its West, where many
Africans are eventually captured and put on slave ships. Because the poem is not about the
Caribbeans only, but about the people of the African diaspora, many sections of Rights are set
in the U.S. (the South, Harlem) and have centuring symbols and archetypes that the student will
find recognizablefor instance, Uncle Tom, The Spades, Folkways. The global
distributions of blacks is suggested by the nameless voice of the poem who asks, Where to?/
They do not know./ Canada, the Panama/ Canal, the Miss-/ issippi painfield, Florida? Or on to
dock/ at hissing smoke locked/ Glasgow? Recent historical events and persons are frequently
alluded to in this part of the epic poem.
Masks, on the other hand, reintroduces the reader to his/her African heritage. As we
have lost this history, it is not surprising that there are many terms, myths, geographies that
will be at first confusing. Brathwaites Glossary, Maureen Warner-Lewiss Notes t Masks, and
accounts by such historians as basil Davidson, Robert July, and Kevin Sillington, as well as
encyclopedia summaries, should help you to appreciate more fully the Brathwaite attempts to
suggest the modes of reconciliation we can achieve, since these places of the New World are
suffused with religious, spiritual, and folk presences and retentions.

47

I.

Rights of Passage. Pages 1-85.

The Preludelike its musical counterpartsignals the themes, the motifs, the
dominants: Drum skin whip/lash. Read it several times, until its rhythms, repetitions, allusions,
historical references are clear in your mind. Notice that much of this fabric is repeated in the last
section, Epilogue, and that the evolving attitude is not one of futility, but of faith in survival:
Should you/ shatter the door/ and walk/ in the morning/ fully aware/ of the future/ to come:/
There is no/ turning back.
Meaning is condensed, and the modern free verse form of metreless, rhymeless,
fragmented lines aptly reflects the negative history of the owned/disowned. Notice, however, the
specificities of each and every line; the poet/voice is extraordinarily concrete, precise, steeped in
historical and cultural experience and information. And to repeat: the rhythm of sound and
images are compelling elements of the poetry.
New World A-Comin evokes the experience of the Middle Passage, the most traumatic
journey of the African. You will hear the personal quarrel with Ogun, African god (orisha) or
iron and fire, patron of warriors, hunters, with smiths, who (as the poem suggests) has betrayed
the Africans by also extending technologies of war (tools) to the Europeans. The despair of the
alienated children of Africa is emphasized in the historical perspectives gained by shifts in time,
in the movement back and forth among and within histories. Tom is a particularly poignant
lament, made more so by the juxtaposition o Toms own voice in All Gods Chillun, which
follows. The section The Spades can be usefully examined as a socio-historical presentation of
the sons of Tom. The last sectionsIslands and Exiles and The Returncapture the
colonized, imperially-dominated history of the Africans who were brought to the Caribbean.
Passage concludes with Epilogue, a recapitulation of themes, but rising to a hopeful finale.
II.

Masks, pages 88-157.

What more appropriate symbols to use than the mask and the drum. This section provides
a poetic retelling of the originating African civilization. Libation reverberates with
associations. As a fitting reintroduction into African history and culture, The Making of the
Drum begins with the poets descriptions in respectful and caring detail the skin, the barrel of
the drum, the carved sticks of the drummer, gourds and rattles, the gong-gong. With this voice
of god framing the poets stories of the nation, the poet can then tell great histories: of Axum,
Ougagougou, Chad, Timbuctu, Volta. The crossing of the continent, The Forest, is retold.
In the section The Return, the poet speaks of his own reentry to Africa, the returned
son. At first he is distressed: I traveled to a distant town/ I could not find my mother/ I could not
find my father/ I could not hear the drum/ whose ancestor am I? Neither is he always pleased
with the country and the people he encounters; in fact, he is at times suspicious of them. The poet
at one point appeals to the gods and masks of Africa, then to the drums, that he can understand
them. Lost in Africa, too, the poet bemeans the loss of The Golden Stool, the symbol of the
Ashanti nation. In Africa, he feels an orphan. As the critic Mark A. McWatt explains, Brathwaite
wants to give the paradoxically simultaneous sense of both spiritual amputation and spiritual

48
consolation or healingseeking to develop the full, complex, and paradoxical awareness of the
cultural privation and the cultural roots of the Black man. Even so, the last poem of this section
is entitled The Awakening, and propels a cyclic renewal of spiritual and social regeneration as
through the repeated references to the dawn and akoko the cock, and the poets own confession
and plea, I am learning/ let me succeed.
III.

Islands, pages 160-170.

The islands are full of African religions, rituals, memories, and the titles of some sections
show this: Legba, Ogun, Negus, Veve. Furthermore, the distinctive renderings of a multiple
history and its ironies are reflected in the sections Jah, Ananse, Caliban, and even Cane.
The student might do well to focus most on Jah, Ananse, and Caliban.
Notice that the poem, uncannily, ends with a section named Beginning. After the
spiritual death represented in Tizzic, the poem ends on the powerful note of Veve
symbolic chalk that the voudoun priest uses to mark the ground at the beginning of ceremonies
and another powerful symbol of survival and rebirth. jouvert (the first day of Carnival), a folk
ritual that shows the essence of creolizationthe creative will that makes something torn and
new (italics added).
Word List
Brathwaites Glossary: and Maureen Warner-Lewis Notes to Masks should be
consulted. Additional terms:
Alienation
Patois
Creolization

Marginalization
Colonialism
Limbo

Cultural Fragmentation
Epic
Study Questions

1. What is the significance of the titles Arrivants, Rights of Passage, Masks?


2. What are the intrinsic functions of each book, and how do they relate to each other? What
links them together?
3. Why is Uncle Tom made a main character of Rights?
4. How does music operate in each of the texts? How does the music move?
5. How do the structure and theme correlate: For example, how do the concepts of
wholeness and fragmentation play themselves out in the theme>
6. What kind of homecoming does the poetic voice/persona experience in Masks? How
does the personal perceive himself within the context of his new community?
7. What are the distinctly Caribbean aspects of culture that Brathwaite brings to Islands.
8. How does the persona perceive the islands? Does the work make suggestions about the
direction the Caribbean needs to take?
9. What are the innovations in language: How does Brathwaite use creole or nation
language?
10. Why is the knowledge of history essential to the pursuit of identity?

49
11. Discuss some of the major symbols.
12. What is the place of nature in this text?
13. What are the religions referred to, and what are their significance and effects?
14. What interconnections do you make between this text and The Tempest
Unit 7. A. Theme of Alienation
Discussion of a play chosen by the individual instructor.
For example, Samuel Becketts Waiting for Godot.
or B. Theme of Alienation and Resolution
If you have not read The Autobiography of Malcolm X during the two semesters of this course,
you should read that text to see a clustering of all the themes of this course.
Unit 8. James Baldwins The Amen Corner
Biographical and Cultural Background
James Baldwin grew up in the Pentecostal church, where his father was a deacon and a
regular preacher. The author himself, while still a teenager, was saved and became a preacher
in his fathers church for a few years. He eventually fled both the church and America in pursuit
of his career as a writer. Ironically, though, in his flight, he left behind neither the church nor the
experience of growing up black in urban America. The baggage that Baldwin the artist took with
him to Europe was his pastgood thing, since it was from this past that most of the material
came from which he created his art.
When he was a youngster growing up in Harlem, Baldwins most passionate desire was
to win the approval, the acceptance, and the love of his family, especially his father. The church
was the senior Baldwins life, and so the son attempted to make it his. Baldwins first published
novel, Go Tell It On the Mountain, recounts the young protagonists desperate struggle for his
fathers love and acceptance, and the young mans frustration and anger when he fails to win it.
Even after he had been acclaimed for his first novel. As he found his literary voice and
broadened his artistic canvaswriting more novels, essays, short stories, playsthat same
thematic focus remained constant: individual salvation is won, he kept saying, through love and
human affirmation in relationships, Baldwin the writer never ceased being Baldwin the son,
incessantly seeking, often demanding his fathers love.
Nor did the writer stop at soliciting the love of his father; much of what he wrote was also
a cry to America to look beneath his black skin and accept and love him because he, too, was a
native son. In addition, Baldwin often made dire predictions as to the fate of America unless (or
until) white America accepted, acknowledged, and returned the love that Black America so freely
offered. Above all else, then, Baldwin in his writings stressed the importance of human
relationshipsthe need for love and understanding between human beings. The importance of
caring, acceptance, and human affirmation became the rallying cry for much of Baldwins work,
just as it is the fundamental message in The Amen Corner.
Genre

50
First presented on the Ira Aldrich Stage at Howard University and directed by the late
(and now legendary) Owen Dodson, Chairman of the Department of Drama for more than a
decade, The Amen Corner (1954) received its premiere professional production in Los Angeles
by Frank Silveras Theater of Being on the stage of the Robertson Playhouse and, later, on the
larger stage of the Coronet Theater in Los Angeles, where it played eight performances a week
for over a year. In April 1965, The Amen Corner opened on Broadway, playing for twelve weeks,
Of the genre of the play, James Baldwin had this to say: I know that out of the ritual of church,
historically speaking, comes the act of the theater, the communion which is theaterI was
armedto write he play by the fact that I was born in the church (Hatch-Billops Oral Black
Theater Collection, City College of New York; in Black Theater USA, 514). Director Owen
Dodson, theater historian, also
Knew the church that James Baldwin was writing about and so did the actors at
Howard. We knew about the store front churches and their songs, the songs of our
own childhood. And the crammed audience on opening night must have known
them too, for there was applause, like a rock and roll applause. And they kept it up
until we finally pushed Jimmy up on the stage.
(Black Theater USA, 514)
That audience included Professor Sterling A. Brown, who called The Amen Corner the finest folk
play written in America. The elements of its style, its call and response rhythms, its
unsentimental resolutions, its syncretism od African American sacred and secular oral tradition
modes, and its representation of the ritual of the Pentecostal church cohere to furnish the stage
with the creative motifs of the African American folk.
Social Context and Treatment of Themes
The themes of Self and Other and of Alienation and Reconciliation figure centrally
in Baldwins play. The author intimates that the first line that came to him for The Amen Corner
was Its an awful thing to think about the way love never dies (Notes for The Amen Corner
xvi). He gives the line to Sister Margaret, the main female character, whose estranged husband
Luke, ill and broken in body and spirit, has just reentered her life, at the very point that her own
personal and professional life is beginning to fall apart. Her church members are challenging her
authority, and her son David is planning to leave home and church to follow his dream of playing
in a jazz band. The words Its an awful thing are torn from Margarets soul when she realizes
that she still loves Luke. She still loves Luke after all the years of peril and pain, the years when
she had convinced herself that the love of God was fulfillment enough for her. Coming to terms
with her true feelings, with her self, she finally acknowledges, Maybe its not possible to stop
loving anybody you ever really loved. I never stopped loving you, Luke I tried. But I never
stopped loving youOh Luke! If we could only start again (131).
in the summer of 1952 to examine the dilemma of the wife and mother having to choose between
family and career, an issue as relevant then as it is now, even though feminist activism was
virtually dormant during the 1950s. Margarets conflict is exacerbated by the fact that she is a
Black woman trying to support herself and raise a son in a world that limits her actions for two
reasons: her race and her gender. First, Margarets career options are seriously limited because

51
she is a workin woman in a world in which jobs are controlled by men, mostly white men. As the
author himself asserts, Margaret is in the church because her society has left her no other place
to go (Notes xvii). But in the Black church Margaret faces resistance from both men and women
who are not quite reader to accept a woman in a leadership position. As she struggles to maintain
control as leader of the church, she undergoes a metamorphosis, a change for the worse,
becoming intolerant, less loving, and less loveable. She suggests to young Mrs. Jackson that the
reason this woman has lost one baby and has another who is sick is that the Lord wants her to
leave her husband. Stressed to a crisis point, Margaret is diminished not only as a woman, but
also as a human being and spiritual leader; she loses her spiritual integrity, so to speak. Second,
Margaretlike countless Black women have donewalks through a veritable minefield as she
attempts to maintain her role as strong career woman while trying to be a good wife and mother.
How can a Black woman be self-assertive without diminishing the manhood of her husband and
son, in a society that often limits and emasculates the Black man and then blames the situation on
the Black woman? Baldwins answer to this question resonates clearly throughout this work as it
does in others: The emotional and spiritual survival of the individual man or woman depends on
cultivating and maintaining loving human relationships.
Finally, then, Margarets redemption and epiphany, which take place simultaneously, are
the result of Examined Thought. Margaret realizes that she must set her priorities in order. She
must let go of the uneasy reins of power she holds in the church; she must acknowledge to
herself and all others that she does still love and has always loved her husband (if this makes her
a weak woman, so be it); She must love her son enough to release him to make his own life
choices. By so doing she will redeem what she has jeopardized. In the authors words, although
Margaret has lost everything, [she] also gains the keys to the kingdom. The kingdom is love and
love is selfless, although only the self can lead one there. She gains herself (xvii-xviii). The
Amen Corner repays intense study: students will find threaded through this important African
American play nearly all of the themes of this course.
Study Questions
1. There is a great deal of signifying taking place in Sister Margarets sermon in Act I and
in the conversation between the Boxers and Sister Moore in Act II. Identify examples of
this, and discuss signifying as a cultural and linguistic phenomenon.
2. In this play, there are occasions when it seems that Sister Margaret is being penalized for
the fact that she is a woman. Give examples of such moments, and comment on what
appears to be gender bias in the community.
3. Comment on the relationship between Sister Margaret and Odessa. What are the
relationships between women likein generalin this play?
4. What possible reasons could Sister Margaret have had for suggesting to Mrs. Jackson that
perhaps God wanted her to leave her husband?
5. Why do both Luke and Mrs. Jackson spurn the God that Sister Margaret threatens them
with? Explain with references from the text.

52

6. How does Sister Margarets letting go of her son David prove to be the greatest gift of
love from her to him?
Unit 9. Black Elk Speaks
Genre
Black Elk Speaks is an autobiographythe historical narrative of a life told in the
protagonists own words. However, like other particularly American exercises in the genre
Franklins Autobiography, Douglasss Narrative, or Washingtons Up From Slaveryit is
peculiarly public. There is little information on the individuals private life, except for those
subjective details that indicate his singularity and prepare for his assumption and execution of the
role of culture hero. For instance, the significant fact that this great Sioux shaman actually
converted to Christianity is excluded. In its place is the historical spectacle of the defeat and
demise of a people and their culture. And Black Elk operates as chronicle of these events and as
a representative consciousness through which they are filtered.
You must bear in mind, however, that this book represents a collaborative effort, with its
authors directly representing the cultures that came into historical conflict. Black Elk related his
story in Sioux; his son translated it into English; and the white American poet John Neihardt
prepared the manuscript for publication. It is interesting that Neihardt interviewed Black Elk in
1931, but he ended the story in 1890 with the battle of Wounded Knee. Although the Sioux chief
had been both a hunter and warrior, the book focuses on his shamanic role. This emphasis, along
with the omission of details concerning his family, his long accommodation with white culture,
and his sense of failure, all point to severe editing by Neihardt. As a result, Black Elk Speaks
cannot be read as a transcript of the Indian Mind or as a document providing a key to some
archetypal Indian culture. Rather, it is a problematic text of an old mans recollections of his
personal psychic experience as that relates to a specific people. It is the remembrance of a
depleted world, a monument to a past that it in some sense fixes; it becomes, in Emersons terms,
the sepulcher of the fathers.
Historical Background
During the present period of the quincentennial celebration of the discovery of the
Americas by Columbus, there is a heightened awareness of the inhabitants died within the first
100 years, the victims of violence, disease, and social dislocation. History has few parallels for
such an ethnological catastrophe. Black Elks own experience, and the general history of his tribe
can be read as individual instances of the larger calamity.
It would be a mistake, however, to view the New World as an unspoiled paradise people
by naked innocents, and immorally assaulted by Europeans. Indeed, the immediate success of the
Spanish was significantly a result of their political skill in exploiting divisions among the
natives. The conquest of Mexico is a case in point: Cortezs triumph owed as much to indigenous
hatred of the ferocious Aztec overlords as to superior military technology.

53

In these terms, the Sioux owed their domination of the American plains to the
introduction of the horsea Spanish gift. They became expert riders and were described as the
finest light cavalry in the world. In fact, the term Sioux is a French corruption of the
Chippewa/Ojibwa Nadowe-is-iw, which means enemies of the West, and James Fenimore
Cooper, an early mythologizer of the American West, wrote in The Prairie (1827): From time
immemorial the hands of the Sioux had been turned against their neighbors; and even at this day,
when the influence and authority of a civilized government are beginning to be felt around them,
they are considered a treacherous and dangerous race (chap. 4). If you discount Coopers
questionable reference to civilization, you find Vine Deloria corroborating this notion of their
warlike natures and aggressive behavior:
The Sioux, my own people, have a great tradition of conflict. We were the only
nation ever to annihilate the United States Calvary three times in succession. And
when we find no one else to quarrel with, we often fight each otherDuring one
twenty-year period in the last century the Sioux fought over an area from la
Crosse, Wisconsin, to Sheridan, Wyoming, against the Crow, Arapaho, Cheyenne,
Mandan, Arikara, Hidatsa, Ponca, Iowa, Pawnee, Otoe, Omaha, Winnebago,
Chippewa, Cree, Assiniboine, Sac and Fox, Potowatomi, Ute, and Gros Ventre.
(Custer Died for Your Sins, p. 29)
Sioux contact with an expanding American culture was exacerbated by the discovery of gold in
the Black Hills, their traditional homeland. And the ensuing conflict is perhaps best framed by
their stunning victory at Little Big Horn (1876) and their massacre at Wounded Knee (1890).
According to Alan R. Velie (American Indian Literature, p. 3), most Native Americans
identify with a specific tribe rather than with some vague pan-Indianism, much as the various
ethnics of Europe see themselves as Dutch, French, Croats, or Serbians first amd only
secondarily as Europeans. When Columbus arrived, there were more than two thousand
independent tribes, speaking five hundred languages from fifty language groups, some of which
were as different as English and Chinese. The Sioux were a part of this diversity and constituted
a nation comprised of seven semi-autonomous groups, or Council Fires, that came together
during periods of national crisis. Black Elk belonged to the Oglalas.
Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse are probably the two Sioux chieftains with which you are
most familiar. Black Elk was related to the latter and a distinguished chief himself. To attain such
a position, a good war leader or a wise and powerful shaman was invited to join the Chiefs
Society, which acted as a kind of supreme legislative council. This body appointed the executive
officers of the tribe. These, in time, appointed a still higher executive group called Shirt
Wearers, who were considered the supreme councilors to whom all the people turned in time of
trouble.
By 1886 the Indians had been successfully restricted to reservations. Confusion,
frustration, and despair accompanied the destruction of traditional values and institutions, and the
Western Indians eagerly joined a messianic movement that swept the reservations 1889-1890.
Combining both Christian and traditional nave values, the GHOST DANCE doctrine promised

54
the restoration of the old way of life and the disappearance of all white people. This millennium
was to be achieved by peaceful meansprimarily by ritual danceathons lasting for days until the
participants dropped in ecstatic exhaustion. But among the warlike Oglala and Brule Sioux it
assumed violent dimensions that resulted in the Sioux defeat at Wounded Knee. The movement
collapsed in 1891 and marked the end of armed conflict between the Indians and the United
States Army.
Religion
For the Sioux, nature was a living bible and provided a sensual apprehension of the
Divine connectedness of all things. Ritual was important to them and they observed seven rites
central to their cultural and spiritual welfare. These rites were brought to them by White Buffalo
Calf Women, a divine emissary from the Supreme Being and are briefly described as follows:
1. The Keeping of the Soula purification of the dead so that they can return to the Great
Spirit.
2. The Sweat Lodge Ceremony (Inipi)a rite of purification in which the individual
prepares the body for spiritual experience.
3. Vision Quest Ceremony (Hanblecheyapi)this rite was central to the individuals effort
to get close to the Supreme Being. It was particularly important to young people as a time
to reflect on spiritual and occupational choices. The focus was on inner peace and
strength; isolation on a mountaintop or butte, fasting, and thanks to the Supreme Being.
4. Sun Dance Ceremony (Wiwanyag Wachipi)the focus here was on tribal peace, unity,
and strength through giving honor and thanks to the Supreme Being.
5. Making Relatives (Hunkapi)this ritual established a special bond between two people
that was closer than mere physical kinship. It was based on three principles: (1) Peace
from understanding our connection with one another through our connection with the
universe; (2) Peace from the realization of out universal physical kinship; and (3) Peace
from the recognition that all nations/families are kin in the tribal sense.
6. Preparing the Girl for Womanhood (Ishnata Awicalowan)an endorsement of the central
place of Women for the Sioux; they are the source of the flowering Tree of the world.
7. Throwing the Ball (Tapa Wanka Yap)another female ritual, in which the ball
symbolizes the world, of which the young women were custodians.
You should be alert to the various ways any of these rituals and their principles surface in Black
Elks narrative.
Shamanism was at the heart of the practice of Sioux religion. The shaman was a kind of
informal priest, who achieved a vocation through special individual qualities rather than as the
result of institutional sanction. He or she performed a variety of social functionsseer, healer,
visionary, poet, singer, spiritual leader, judge, politician, and the repository of secular and sacred
history. Shamanism involved one form of ecstatic religious experience, as the shaman became
the focus of basic human values that defined a societys relation to the cosmos and to the
environment, and the relationship between individuals. The shaman was thus separated from
ordinary individuals by the ability to control, appease, and direct spirits who merely victimize
others. Death, resurrection, and spiritual illumination form the paradigm of the shamanic

55
experience. Death here was, of course, symbolic; but suffering and deprivation were important,
for they opened the mind to things that normally are hidden. Illness (see Black Elk) itself played
an important role in initiating the shamanic vocation; it became a vehicle to higher
consciousness. Through the experience of the disease, the future shaman was thought to learn
the art of dying, so that he could become a guide to others through their maladies. The periodic
retreat into wilderness solitudes was also important, for they offered a precinct where forces
beyond the rational (idea, concept, construct) spoke to the individual soul. In sum, the shaman
played a crucial role in maintaining the social and cosmic balance. In the guise of animal helpers
and spirit allies, his disincarnate soul travelled to the celestial realm to contact the Supreme
Being or to the underworld of disease and death to retrieve the sick or guide the dead. He was a
vessel for spiritual contact with the forces that exalt or terrify us.
Vocabulary
Black Elk Speaks offers no particular challenge to the language skills of the literate
English-speaker. It is simple and directprobably Neihardts attempt at fidelity to the supposed
simplicity of Native American speech (see any cowboy-Indian western). All specifically Sioux
terms or concepts are defined contextually.
Study Questions
1. What is the significance of the female divinity (particularly as compared with the male
divinities of religious like Christianity, Islam, Judaism)?
2. What is it that is being celebrated through song and dance?
3. Explain the emphasis on buffaloes and horses.
4. How does Black Elk acquire credibility with Oglala?
5. Describe the process by which Black Elk acquires his wisdom.
6. Do Black Elks visions become conventional wisdom for the Oglala?
7. Explain the interplay between internal and external experience within the narrative.
8. What is the Sioux attitude toward the Wasichu?
9. Describe the vision of the Sacred Way. How was it broken? Can it ever be restored?
Unit 10. Rudolfo Anayas Bless Me, Ultima
The Author

56
Rudolfo A. Anaya was born in New Mexico in 1930. He earned his B.A. and M.A.
degrees in Literature at the University of New Mexico where he is a member of the faculty of the
English Department. In addition to Bless Me, Ulitma, he has published in 1972, won for Anaya
the coveted Quinto Sol National Literary Award for the best Chicano writing of the year.
Historical Background
Spanish-speaking explorers and settlers arrived in the Southwestern region of what is
now the United States long before English-speaking settlers did. Until 1848, all of the
Southwestern region belonged to Mexico. In that year, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was
signed, and Mexico lost not only the area which now the state of Texas but also the present-day
states of California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming.
A few years later, with the Gadsden Purchase, the United States obtained additional land in
Arizona and New Mexico. By that means, the United States carried out its plan to extend its
expanse to the Pacific Ocean.
The Mexicans who remained in the areas obtained by the United States received
American citizenship unless they opted not to accept it. Although the Treaty promised to
guarantee Mexicans their rights, it is known that they suffered all types of injustices. In many
cases, they lost their civil rights and their land.
Today, there are approximately nine million Mexican Americans living in the
Southwestern region of the United States. They include persons whose ancestors originally
settles there and those who crossed the border in more recent years. They also include Mexican
families who searched for asylum in Texas during the turbulent 1910 Mexican Revolution and
others who came to the United States during the two World Wars to work on farms and in
factories.
Mexican American versus Chicano
The terms Mexican American and Hispanic American have been used traditionally to
refer to many Spanish-speaking persons of Mexican descent living in the United States.
However, as a result of the Mexican American power movement, many of them preferred to
refer to themselves as Chicanos. The name Chicano is derived from Mexicano and was chosen
self-consciously by many people as symbolic of positive identification with a distinctive cultural
heritage. As a point of comparison, one might say that the designation Mexican American is
analogous to Negro or colored, whereas Chicano is analogous to Black.
At the root of the Chicano movement was the very positive cultural and biological
identification with Indian/Mestizo roots. This alignment resulted in the rejection of the Spanish
or European heritage. The notion is summed up by writers on the subject:
It is this emphasis on the physically conquered but spiritually vibrant aspect of
raza [race] that is central to the Mexican and Chicano identity. For, like the
Mexicans, Chicanos have chosen their Indian heritage as the symbolic force of
their identity. The area where most Chicanos live is not called the Southwest or el

57
sudoeste [by them], but Aztlan, after the mythical origin of the Aztecs perhaps in
what is now Colorado or New Mexico.
(Duran and Bernard, p. 3)
Chicano Literature
The common themes of contemporary Chicano literature are social protest, poverty,
malnutrition, injustices, exploitation, police brutality, as well as Chicano self discovery. In this
literature, elements of Chicanismo are prevalentChicano barrio jargon (Calio); references to
the extended family, to suffering, to pride in the Chicano culture; references to Mexican food;
and an existential view of alienation.
Unlike many Chicano writers, Rudolfo Anaya, however, does not focus on the
confrontation between his own culture and that of the dominant Anglo society. His major
interests seem to be the differences between the European-Hispanic-Catholic heritage and the
Indian-Mestizo modes of viewing the world. In Bless Me, Ultima, Anaya is primarily interested
in depicting a way of lifewith its pros and consthat has developed over centuries in areas of
New Mexico.
Themes Explored in Bless Me, Ultima
Elements of Chocano folklore, mythology, and religion
Man versus Nature
Cultural collision
Destiny
The role of dreams
The supernatural
Language in Bless Me, Ultima
The novel assumes local color by Anayas scattering of Spanish words and phrases
throughout. Lack of knowledge of Spanish, however, should not hinder ones comprehension of
the text. In most cases, the reader will be able to follow the meaning by contextual guessing.
Some of the Spanish words are not found in standard Spanish-English dictionary because they
are examples of Calo, Chicano slang.
Genre
Bless Me, Ultima has often been referred to as a Bildungsroman, a novel of development,
inasmuch as it deals with the matriculationthe building of the social, cultural, and historical
consciousnessof the six-year-old boy-hero, Antonio Juan Marez y Luna. The entire action of
the novel, however, takes place within a two- year period. In those two years of plot time, there
is indeed a profound, radical development in the self-awareness if the boy-hero, but this novel
differs from the usual examples of the genre in that it does not follow our hero through
adolescence to physical adulthood.

58
Because of the novels emphasis on the spiritual realm of existence and because of its
narrators (Antonios) patent acceptance of that dimension of life, Bless Me, Ultima may also be
seen as belonging to a genre now commonly associated with the works of many contemporary
South American novelists (such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa): magical
realism. Through Antonios character and his relationship with Ultima, the great curandera or
folk healer, the underlying conflict between reality and spirit evolves. Antonios conflict is
presented through his consciousness, subconsciousness, and interaction with other characters.
Structurally as well as thematically, the novel is literally held together by the Antonio-Ultima
relationship. With the exception of a few flashbacks and dream sequences, the narrative is simple
and episodic, although the descriptions tend to reach the eloquence of poetry. It is not in
technical accomplishment that the strength of this work lies, but in Anayas ability to construct a
regional story in the fashion of costumbrismo, where local color is combined with realistic
elements and the characters are used to reflect a whole way of life.
Folkways and Symbolism
Through the narrator, Antonio, the story rebounds with Anayas adoration and
understanding of his people. Through the eyes of Antionio, the author presents a sensitive story
of the New Mexican people, their traditions,
To the present. The union of the Spaniard and Indian propagated many outcomes and beliefs.
Among the most remarkable is the harmonious blending of the natural and the supernatural. That
being the case, there is always the village or town curandero or curandera (m. or f. folk healer)
who with herbs cured ills and through magical powers can lift evil curses. In the face of the evil
Tenorio, the villain of the story, Ultima has strength and courage that cause the antagonist to fail
in his treacherous deeds.
Antonios parents represent the two cultures from which the Chicano culture came: the
conquistador of Spain and the indigenous population. Antonio, product of two families (the
Marez and the Luna clans), is an archetype of the modern Chicano. He is the embodiment of
modern chicanismo, or of La Raza. As we explores the novels representations keep in mind
that the Spanish words for sea and moon are mar and luna, respectively. As J. Karen Ray has
pointed out, the identification of the Marez family with the sea or ocean first indicates their
connection with the Spaniards who arrived by sea. Second, Ray continues, the Marez quest
for freedom and adventure, plus their refusal to be tied down associates them with the
conquistadores (p. 24). Further points of association may be made. One that is particularly
noteworthy is the Marez almost obsessive and over-protective behavior toward the horseand
animal introduced to the New World by the Spaniard. Antonio tells us of his fathers fanaticism
with the open wind and pride in being a long time vaquero, or cattle rancher:
My father had been a vaquero all his life, a calling as ancient as the coming of the
Spaniard to Nuevo Mejico. Even after the big rancheros and Tejanos came and
fenced in the beautiful llano, he and those like him continued to work there. I
guess because only in the wide expanse of land and sky could they feel the
freedom their spirits needed. (p.2)

59
Indirect contrast with the Marez family, the Luna family, like the native peoples, survived
through an agrarian economy. Again, using the words of J. Karen Ray, the Luna family are quiet
tillers of the soil with a sophisticated culture and communal life styleThey are rooted, settled
in the fertile valleyThey observe the rhythms of nature, the phases of the mood, and they work
together to reap the harvest (p. 24). Below is a chart (See Lamadrid, p. 498) on the Marez and
Luna families in Bless Me, Ultima:
_____________________________________________________________________________
_
THE MAREZ FAMILY (Paleolithic)

THE LUNA FAMILY (Neolithic)

PASTORAL ECONOMY
LIVE IN Las Pasturas
ON OPEN PLAINS
PEOPLE OF THE SUN
DESCENDANTS OF CONQUISTADORES
AND SEAFARES
BAPTISED IN THE SALT WATER OF THE SEA

AGRICULTURAL ECONOMY
LIVE IN EL Puerto de la luna
IN A FERTILE VALLEY
PEOPLE OF THE MOON
DESCENDANTS OF PRIEST

SPEAK WITH THE WIND


TEMPESTUOUS, ANARCHISTIC FREETHINKERS
LIVE FREE UPON THE EARTH AND ROAM
OVER IT
THE HORSE IS THEIR TOTEM ANIMAL

BAPTISED IN THE SWEET WATER


OF THE MOON
SPEAK WITH THEIR PLANTS AND
FIELDS
QUIET, INTROSPECTIVE PIOUS
PEOPLE
LIVE TIED TO THE EARTH AND ITS
CYCLES
CORN IS THEIR TOTEM PLANT

Bibliography
Cantu, Roberto. Estructura y sentido de lo onirico de Bless Me, Ultima. Southwestern
American Literature 4 (1974), 74-79.
Clements, William M. The Way of Individualization in Anayas Bless Me, Ultima. Midwest
Quarterly 23, #2 (1982), 131-143.
Duran, Livie and Russell Bernard, eds. Introduction: La Raza and Chicano, in Introduction to
Chicano Studies. New York: Macmillan, 1982.
Lamadrid, Enrique. Myth as the Cognitive Process of Popular Culture in Rudolfo Anayas Bless
Me, Ultima: The Dialectics of Knowledge. Hispania (1985), 496-501.
Lattin, Vernon E. The Quest for Mythic Vision in Contemporary Native American and Chicano
Fiction. American Lit. 50, #4 (1979), 625-40.
Ray, J. Karen. Cultural and Mythical Archetypes in Rudolfo Anayas Bless me, Ultima.. New

60
Mexico Humanities Review 1, #3 (1978), 23-28.
Rogers, Jane. The Function of the La Llorona Motif in Rudolfo Anayas Bless Me, Ultima..
Latin American Literary Review 5, #10 (1977), 64-69.
Testa, Daniel. Extensive/ Intensive Dimensionality in Anayas Bless Me, Ultima. New Mexico
Humanities Review 1, #3 (1978), 70-85.
Trejo, Arnilfo. Review of Bless Me Ultima. Arizona Quarterly 29, #2 (1979), 95-96.
Vallejos, Thomas. Ritual Process and the Family in the Chicano Novel. MELUS 23, #2, 131143.
Note: A special issue of the Latin American Literary Review 10, Spring- Summer 1977, is
dedicated to Chicano Literature.
Historical Background for the 1950s
As the United States moved into the second half of the twentieth century, the integration
of its Black citizens into society emerged as a primary issue. Several important factors led to this
pressing concern: the battle waged by many social political activists to eliminate discrimination
in the Armed Forces during World War II, the United States awareness of its status as a world
leader and therefore sensitive to its global image, and the heavy migration of Blacks from the
Southern states to the Northern industrial centers, producing a climate for change, The increase
in the Black population in the cities brought into sharp focus the problem of racial discrimination
in housing, employment, and public accommodations. But change had already begun.
In 1954, the N.A.A.C.P., led by its chief counsel, Thurgood Marshall, argued the
constitutionality of spate but equal schools for white and Black students. In Brown versus the
Board of Education, the Supreme Court declared racial segregation in the public schools to be
unconstitutional. Black citizens also challenged the legality of segregationJim Crownin
housing and in public accommodations. But these measures toward change were met with
hostility from those opposed to any improvement in the condition of African Americans. For
example, in Little Rock Arkansas, Governor Orval Faubus barred the door of Central High
School rather than admit Black children. They gained admission only after President Eisenhower
dispatched federal troops. In both the North and the South, Blacks seeking housing in so-called
white neighborhoods were met with fierce resistance, sometimes subjected to threats and cross
burnings. In many parts of the South the homes of civil rights leaders were bombed and innocent
people were killed. The most noted case was the 1955 murder of Emmet Till, a 14 year-old boy
from Chicago accused of whistling at a white woman. Although there was generally no
prosecution of these crimes, people who believed in fairness and justice fought back with vigor.
In 1956, political activists in Montgomery, Alabama, boycotted the city bus lines to
protest the companys policy of discriminating against Black passengers and of refusing to hire
Black bus drivers. This action demonstrated the effectiveness of the boycott as a political weapon
and established Dr. Martin Luther King as an international spokesperson for human rights and
nonviolence. The stage was now set for the revolutionary decade of the Sixties

61

Maud Marthas Genre and Social Significance


Maud Martha (1953), the most important work of prose fiction by the celebrated poet
Gwendolyn Brooks, resonates as strikingly modern forty years after its publication. Its focus on
the interior life of the protagonist and stark depiction of a society conflicted by issues of race,
class, and gender predate the Civil Rights Revolution, the feminist movement, and the urgent
calls for recognition from the many sectors of tis contemporary multicultural society. In relation
to issues of social concern, Maud Martha continues to offer a compelling voice.
It is not surprising that we must use the tools of poetic analysis to understand the
message of this text. In fact, explication of elements of poetic technique, imagery, and
metaphor help us to decode the silence that critic Mary Helen Washington reads in Maud
Martha, to apprehend the tone of the narrative (which critic George Kent describes as one of
poetic intensity), and fully to appreciate its authors exquisite literary craft, the same kind of
artistry that won for Gwendolyn Brooks the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Annie Allen (poetry).
Of the proliferation of works about this remarkable writer, To Gwen With Love: An
Anthology to Gwendolyn Brooks stands out as extremely important. This volume symbolizes the
dynamic relationship that exists between Gwendolyn Brooks and her community. It carries
the collective energy of a 1969 tribute by the many artists, institutions, and cultural activists of
the African American, highly nationality network of Chicago and is an example of orature
transformed into a loving collection of literature. It reflects the years of exchange between the
poet who offered her home and energies and the cadre of the Blackstone Rangers, who gave their
elder a new sense of race. It frightens me to realize that of I had died before the age of fifty, I
would have died a Negro fraction, the poet explains.
Race dominates the emotional response of the character Maud Martha to her world. Few
whites enter her intimate circle, and she reacts with a clear sense of uneasiness in situations
involving few other Blacks. Maud notes the ponderous racism of the white society, but wrestles
continually with the variance of color within the Black race itself. Each relationship and
encounter, familial or casual, is refracted through the prism of skin color. Historical evidence of
these years validates the cryptic and ironic observations of this urban housewife.
At the same time, the restrictions of class and money, or their lack, are evident as
measures and weights of the society in the muffed material dreams or underlying anxieties and
comments of the characters in Maud Martha. Brooks adapts poetic realism to the respectful
dignified statement. The author tells us that
Much of Maud Martha is autobiographical. I didnt want to write about somebody who
turned out to be a star cause most people dont turn out to be stars. And yet their lives ae
just as sweet and just as rich as any others ad often they are richer and sweeter. (emphasis
added)

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This statement divulges not only Gwendolyn Brooks relationship to Maud Marthas interior life
but the authors strong identification as well with the working class depicted in Maud Martha as
a whole. This work is both a highly personal statement and a work of social criticism.
Gender plays a vital role in the text. The birth scene provides insight into the
empowerment of women and throws poetic light on their conscious transformation. Feminists
have rallied to the reading of Maud Martha for that reason. Mauds rolesas daughter, sister,
wife, and motherall relate to Mauds essential self.
Study Questions
1. Are there recurring images throughout the work? How do these images relate to gender or
race? For example, explain the image of the little brown mouse.
2. With what images is Maud Martha associated?
3. How does awakening define itself in the novel?
4. How does Maud Martha see here in relationship to her world?
5. What purpose is served by the allusions to Joe Louis, Duke Ellington, and Bette Davis?
How do these allusions relate to the action of the novel?
6. What are the kinds and degrees of conflict in the protagonists life?
7. What does Maud Martha think about marriage?
8. Discuss the way love plays an important part in this work.
9. How does Maud Martha fashion a self out of words?
10. How does the novel dramatize Maud Marthas internal conflicts?
11. Locate places in the novel where the narrator focuses specifically on the questions of
choice and right action; on the question of self and the other; on the question of identity;
on the question of community and the pariah; on alienation and reconciliation; on good
and evil.
13. The novel is a form usually employed to examine social realities. In what ways does
Maud Martha employ the conventions of the novel to examine personal consciousness?
And what it the relationship of that consciousness to reality?
14. Is there a place in the novel where the color line becomes important?
15. Is there evidence of intraracial prejudice in Maud Martha?

63
Unit 12. The Examination Text of the Course:
Toni Morrisons Beloved
Toni Morrison, award-winning author of Beloved, began her first novel, The Bluest Eye
(1970) during those years when she taught the introductions to the humanities course at Howard
University, which your present course updates. Before that, Toni Morrison had earned a Bachelor
Arts degree in classics and English at your university. She came to Howard las an undergraduate,
from Lorraine, Ohio, where she was born and reared. It is that of Claudia, the child narrator of
The Bluest Eye. In that novel, Morrison counters the traditional bourgeois view (Dick and Jane)
of the American family by writing a story as realistic as todays newspaper accounts and as
mythical as the stories of Persephone and Philomela told by Homer and Ovid (see any dictionary
of classical mythology). In Sula (1973), her second novel, Morrison continues the story of the
American town typified by Lorraine, Ohio, particularly that section (which in Sula becomes the
Bottom) where African American life, history, and culture center. In Sula, the novelist tells us
the story of the growth to womanhood of two girls who may be seen as double conscious
countertexts of each other: one representing the traditional life of woman, the other breaking out
of tradition but filing creatively to produce a spiritual home for her talents or her own self. In
Song of Solomon (1977), this ground-breaking novelist takes up the monomyth (described by
writer James Joyce and critic Joseph Campbell and the heroic rite of passage), the story of the
young mans growth to maturity, and runs it through the grid of a black boys quest; this specific
quest has been established in fiction, for example, by James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes,
Richard Wright, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison. We may perceive in Morrisons Song of
Solomon an additional dimension: the monomyth is here narrated from a womans point of
view, which is the new thing that Morrison adds to that single great collected story (see p. 9 of
this syllabus). In Tar Baby (1981), her fourth novel, Morrison employs the motif of the bestknown African American folktale, a cautionary tale, to write a contemporary novel about
miseducation through disconnection from ones history and heritage. Such miseducation, in the
novel, is the undoing of purpose, perception, and love. Beloved (1987), her fifth novel,
renegotiates her preceding novels just as it remembers many great writings of world literature
to offer the greatest commemorative story of the African American past. If some books, said
Alexander Pope, eighteenth-century poet and critic, are to be tasted, others digested, then
Beloved is to be feasted upon as a twelve-course banquet, each course to be savored as the
following questions suggest.
Study Questions
1. What elements of Beloveds structure resonate the narrative characteristics of the epic
genre?
2. How does the novel represent the oral tradition?
3. (a) Who are the writers in the novel? (b) What kinds of narratives do they write?
4. (a) In what ways many Beloved be called a cautionary tale? (b) In what ways may it be
called an etiological tale?
5. Trace the ordeals of the characters who seem t endure the heroic rites of passage
(separation, initiation, return).

64
6. How does he novel combine the truthful and verifiable aspects of realism with the
magical effects we associate with myth, folklore, and tall tale?
7. (a) What stories in the novel read like autobiographies? (b) What scenes of the novel
play like scapegoat rituals?
8. (a) Who are the novels protagonists? (b) Who are its chorus characters?
9. (a) How does the novel represent the Christian concept of resurrection? (b) How does it
represent the African and Eastern concepts of reincarnation?
10. What is the basic action (or plot) of Beloved?
11. Many of the novels motifs and settings remember moments from well-known writings
of the world, some which you have read throughout your course. For starters, maybe you
can match some of the following literary moments with scenes or episodes from Beloved:
*Antigones refusal of Creons edict
*Oedipus as outcast at Colonus
*the Sermon on the Mount
*the experience of David in The Amen Corner
*the plantation (viz. Douglasss Narrative)
*scenes of resurrection/ rebirth/ renewal
*Antonios encounter with Ultima and Tenorio in Bless Me, Ultima
*the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Revelations, NT)
*Eliza crossing the ice (Uncle Toms Cabin)
*the madwoman in the attic (Jane Eyre)
*the Nativity, Christs birth in a manger (the Gospels)
12. What themes of the course are especially resonant in Beloved?