Sheldon Silverstein

Sheldon Silverstein born on September 25, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois, United States, was an American author of literature for children, a poet, screenwriter, songwriter, composer and musician. In some of his works, he styled himself as Uncle Shelby. He won the Grammy Award for the Best Country Song.

Sheldon studied at the Roosevelt High School. This accomplished writer and producer lived for 2 decades in Rome and worked with notable and influential directors like Federico Fellini and Sergio Leone. He worked on the Edith Piaf Story in Paris with Claude Lelouche. For his series of surrealistic L.A Shorts, called ‘Midnight Movies’ he gained a cult while he was a student in college. Hazard Jack, Desire, The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Pumpkin Karver, Death Mask, Trapped, Angel and The Devil, The Killing Jar, Never on Friday and many more are his well known film credits.

Silverstein Sheldon is also accredited with turning a number of incomplete movies into finished movies. The many films he bought from Technicolor Rome, he finished and got sold all over the globe. ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ and ‘The Giving Tree’ are two of Sheldon Silverstein’s well known books for children. ‘A Light in the Attic’ is also one of his poetry collections.

In 1950 he was enlisted in the US Army, after which he soon began to draw cartoons for magazines. However he gained national recognition for his work for the Playboy magazine from 1957 to mid 1970’s. At the same time he began exploring other areas of creativity including music and writing. As the 1970s began he ramped up his efforts in writing songs. Some of his popular songs include So Good to So Bad, One on the Way and A Boy Named Sue. Besides this he also wrote soundtracks for motion pictures. In the 1980s his output was minimal. Silverstein Sheldon died of a heart attack on May 10, 1999 at Key West, Florida, United States.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman, also called ‘Bard of Democracy’ born in West Hills, New York, United States on May 31, 1819 was one of the most influential and published American writer and groundbreaking poet of the world. He was also a humanist, journalist and essayist. Whitman had great love for his country America and its democracy. As a humanist he was part of the transition between realism and transcendentalism and his work incorporates both views. His most popular poems include Song Of Myself, Leaves of Grass and O Captain! My Captain!.

In his family of 11, he was the second child. At age 12 he began working as a printer and discovered that he had great passion for literature. Being a voracious reader and self taught, he turned to a full time career in journalism at 17, in 1836 after he was left without a job. Long-Islander was the weekly newspaper he founded besides editing many New York and Brooklyn papers. He became editor of New Orleans Crescent in 1848 and witnessed how slavery was practiced in the city. With whatever he saw he was greatly repulsed and opposed this. All through his life he followed politics closely. In the fall of 1848 he returned to Brooklyn and founded the Brooklyn Freeman newspaper. Besides journalism Walt Whitman became absorbed in writing distinctive and uniquely styled poetry. ‘Leaves of Grass’ was his seminal work consisting of 12 sections. He finished this in 1855. Though during the time of publication, it was a considered to be a highly controversial book, in American literature, the book is a landmark now.

During his younger years Walt had to help out with income for the household. By 17 he began teaching, worked as educator and later he set his sights on journalism by 1841. He continued with newspaper career with a weekly called the ‘Long Islander’ and became editor of a prominent newspaper, the ‘Brooklyn Daily Eagle’ in 1846. With a sharp pen and as a volatile journalist, his opinions and of the bosses, didn’t align always. Also he was never afraid of going after other newspaper editors, due to which his reputation with other newspapers was tarnished and short-lived.

He died in Camden, New Jersey, United States on March 26, 1892 and was buried in the mausoleum he built in Camden’s Harleigh Cemetery. He had continued to work with Leaves of Grass right till the end. A year before he died, Good-Bye, My Fancy was published.

Hughes Langston

Hughes Langston born in Joplin, Missouri on February 01, 1902, was an American poet, writer of short stories, social activist, newspaper columnist, playwright and novelist. He is known well as leader and primary contributor to the African American cultural movement, called Harlem Renaissance that occurred in the 1920s and 1930s. Langston is noted well for creating jazz poetry. In 1921, his first poem was published. He studied at Columbia University, however left after a year to travel. Vachel Lindsay promoted his poetry after which in 1926, Langston published his first book. He continued writing plays, prose and poetry in countless numbers including a well known column for the Chicago Defender.

Soon after Hughes birth, his mother moved during his youth while his and his father moved to Mexico. Mary his maternal grandmother looked after him after the parents separated. After moving to many cities, Hughes and his maternal grandmother settled in Cleveland, Ohio. Here he began writing poems under the influence of one of his teachers. He submitted poetry to magazines including the literary magazine of his school.

In 1920 he graduated from high school and around this time ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’ was published in The Crisis Magazine receiving favorable critical appraisal. After enrolling at Columbia University, he did many odd jobs and was also part of Harlem Renaissance. In 1922 he dropped out of University and worked as steward on a ship, lived in Paris and continued publishing poetry. He continued with various jobs while writing poetry. In the Opportunity magazine literary competition, he won first prize for his poem ‘The Weary Blues’ which in 1926 was published by Knopf.

Hughes was amongst the first to use jazz dialect and rhythms while depicting life of urban blacks. In 1927, ‘Fine Clothes to the Jew’ was his second poetry volume published. In 1929, he published ‘Not Without Laughter’ his first novel, after graduation and could make a living as a writer. ‘The Way of White Folks’ his first collection of short stories got published in 1934. ‘The Big Sea’ was his autobiography up to age 28, published in 1940 and the second installment ‘I Wonder as I Wander’ in the 1960s. Hughes Langston died on May 22, 1967 due to complications of prostate cancer.

Robert Frost

Robert Frost, born on March 26, 1874 in San Francisco, California, was an American poet, one of the foremost of the 20th century. For Poetry, he was awarded four Pulitzer Prizes the first one being for his book, New Hampshire. Through situations and language familiar to the common man he depicted realistic life in New England. For four decades he spent life as an unknown. When the WWI started he returned to England and exploded on the scene. He became an unofficial ‘poet laureate’ and poetic force of USA and at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, he was a special guest.

He spent his early years in San Francisco. He then moved to Massachusetts to Lawrence town with his grandparents, sister Jeanie and mother. When he graduated in 1892 he married his co-valedictorian, Elinor White. Frost attended Darmouth College, after which he did a lot of unfulfilling jobs. An Elegy called ‘My Butterfly’ was the first poem he published in 1894 in a weekly literary journal ‘The Independent’. He attended Harvard University beginning 1897 but due to health issues, after two years, he dropped out. Frost move to a farm in New Hampshire with children and wife, but had face a difficult personal life. However as far as his writing was concerned, he had a fruitful time.

It was during this phase that he acclimated himself to life in the rural areas and grew to depict it in his poems out of which one was ‘The Trial By Existence’ and the other was ‘The Tuft of Flowers’. However he wasn’t able to find publishers for these poems. ‘A Boy’s Will’, the first book of poems printed when he was 38 years of age, was followed by ‘North of Boston’ twelve months later. It was during this time that Edward Thomas and Ezra Pound, two fellow poets in significant ways influenced his life. ‘The Road Not Taken’ was one of his most famous poems. After 1914, the literary world received him well, on returning back to America with his wife. ‘Mountain Interval’ is a collection of works he published in 1916.

Frost had a long teaching career at various colleges. He earned more than 40 honorary degrees. He lost his wife to cancer in 1938. Frost suffered complications from prostate surgery after which he died on January 29, 1963 and was survived by Irma and Lesley, two of his daughters.

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) was a Bengali novelist, playwright, poet, composer and visual artist from India. In 1913 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was the youngest son of the leader of the Brahmo Samaj, Debendranath Tagore. In the 19th century, a new religious sect, the Brahmo Samaj, was an attempt to revive monistic basis of Hinduism. Rabindranath took education at home and at 17 he went for formal schooling in England, but didn’t finish his studies. He had increased interest in social reforms, came up with projects which helped him come into closer touch with common humanity and also managed family estates besides being involved in many sided activities in literature.

Shantiniketan was his experimental school where he tried out Upanishadic ideals of education. In his own visionary and non sentimental way he took part in the nationalist movement in India. His devoted friend was the political father of modern India, Mahatma Gandhi. In 1915 the British Government knighted Tagore but as protest against their policies in India, he declined that honor.

It was in his native Bengal that Tagore gained early success. His poems were translated after which he gained popularly and attained luminous heights in Western countries and across continents. He was a great living institution in Bengal and also voice of the spiritual heritage of India. Most of all, Rabindranath Tagore was a poet no matter in which literary genre he wrote successfully.

Manasi (1890), Sonar Tari (1894), Gitanjali (1910), Gitimalya (1914) and Balaka (1916) were some of his first poetry volumes. Raja (1910), Dakghar (1912), Achalayatan (1912), Muktadhara (1922) and Raktakaravi (1926) are some of his major plays. He has authored many novels and short stories including Gora (1910), Ghare Baire (1916) and Yogayog (1929). Tagore also loved writings all types of essays, dance dramas, musical dramas and travel diaries. In his middle years he wrote two autobiographies out of which one he wrote in 1941 before he died. He wrote music for his songs and also left many paintings and drawings behind.

Emily Dickinson

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson is one of the premier poets of the 19th century, from America. She was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on December 10, 1830. On May 15, 1886, at the age of 56 she died in Amherst Massachusetts, United States. She had been a part of a prominent family that had strong ties to its community. During her major part of life she lived in as a recluse.

As a teenager, she left school and lived on the family homestead in a reclusive lifestyle. There, she wrote hundreds of letters and bundles of poems secretly. Her remarkable work was discovered by Lavina her sister and after Emily’s death, she published all works. In American literature, Emily is termed as one of the best towering figures.

Her father, Samuel Dickinson who served as state legislator and worked at Amherst College is known well as founder of Amherst College. In 1828 he married Emily Norcross from whom they had three children, William Austin, Emily and Lavina Norcross. Emily attended Amherst College for 7 years and for 1 year attended Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Reasons are unknown for why in 1848 she departed the academy however it seems that one of the reasons was her fragile emotional state. Also her father took a decision to withdraw her from school. Emily steadfastly went against religious norms those days and never joined any denomination or church.

Emily was highly influenced by Benjamin Franklin Newton a family friend who sent a poetry book by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Besides this, the Amherst Academy, Principal, Leonard Humphrey, a minister from Pennsylvania, Charles Wadsworth were also her early influences.

Emily and Lavina, both unmarried, looked after their ailing mother at a property near their large home homestead, till in 1882, when their mother passed away. Speculation is that Emily, during her later years, with anxiety, depression, agoraphobia, and also a painful eye ailment didn’t leave the confines of her home. She is believed to have friendship or a romantic relationship with Judge Otis Phillips Lord till his death in 1884. While doing her writing work, Emily also produced a vast herbarium and studied botany. She died of kidney disease at the age of 55. Emily an indelible American character influenced the direction of poetry of the 20th century, profoundly with her compressed and poignant verses. She is posthumously well known for the way she used syntax and form, in the most innovative manner.

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde (October 16, 1854 – November 30, 1900) was an Irish playwright and poet born in Westland Row, Dublin, Republic of Ireland. Throughout the 1880s, after his writing in various forms, he became a popular playwright in London in the early 1890s. He was married to Constance Lloyd from 1884 to 1898. From 1874 to 1878, he studied at Portora Royal School, Trinity College and Magdalen College, Oxford. For best dramatic presentation, he won the Retro Hugo Award.

Known well for his flamboyant style and brilliant wit, in late Victorian England, he was a very popular figure in the world of literature. This playwright, author and poet, was also imprisoned for his infamous homosexuality. Oscar Wilde graduated from Oxford University and then became an art critic and lectured as poet. As far as principles of aestheticism are concerned, he became a leading proponent.

‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ a cautionary tale of Dorian Gray a beautiful young man who wishes that while he lives a life of pleasure and sin, he remains youthful as well, was his only novel published in 1891. The Victorian critics panned it as immoral. However it is now considered as one of his most notable works. Oscar Wilde’s most famous play was The Importance of Being Earnest (1895), while his satirical comedies ‘A Woman Of No Importance (1893) and Lady Windermere’s Fan (1892) were well received.

In 1895, due to ‘gross indecency’ he was arrested for an affair with a young man. This was at a time when literacy success was enjoyed at its greatest by Oscar Wilde. He was put into prison for 2 years and after 3 years at the age of 46 years, when he was released, he died, but in poverty. He died at French Third Republic, Paris, France. One of his most famous quotes is, ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’.

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare (April 26, 1564 – April 23, 1616) is often called the national poet of England, the “Bard of Avon” and also the greatest dramatist of all times. On April 26, 1564, William, the third child of Mary Arden and John Shakespeare a leather merchant, was baptized in Stratford-upon-Avon at the Holy Trinity Church, though there were no birth records of his. Hence it is believed that his birth may be on or near April 23, 1564. Though this poet, actor and English playwright’s early personal life was a mystery, he is known well for his works all over the world.

A complete range of human conflict and emotions are captured by him, in the plays Shakespeare wrote. From 1590 to 1613, in two decades time, he wrote 37 plays on themes like tragicomedies, history, comedies and tragedies. “Romeo and Juliet”, the tragic love story was a huge hit. The upheaval in Roman politics is portrayed in his other powerful play “Julius Caesar“. During his early period he wrote many comedies like the charming Twelfth Night and As You Like It, the witty romance A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the romantic Merchant of Venice and the wordplay and wit-filled Much Ado About Nothing.

Before 1600 he wrote a number of plays like The Merry Wives of Windsor and Henry V, Titus Andronicus, King John, The Comedy of Errors, The Taming of the Shrew and many others. After 1600 he wrote a number of tragicomedies and tragedies include King Lear and Macbeth, Othello and the best known, Hamlet in which the characters present universal and timeless impressions of temperament in humans. During his final period, he wrote Measure for Measure, Winter’s Tale and The Tempest, All’s Well That Ends Well and Cymbeline – popular tragicomedies that end with forgiveness and reconciliation.

Hardly any records of his education and childhood exist. On November 28, 1582 at 18, he married the 26 year old Anne Hathaway from whom he had a daughter and a set of twins. No records of Shakespeare exist for 7 years after his twins were born in 1585. Speculations are that he worked somewhere in Lancashire as Assistant Schoolmaster or went into hiding for poaching game from the local landlord. Documents indicate that he was managing partner at an acting company in London, called Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It was in the 19th century that the he gained reputation as a dramatic genius. As of today, the highly popular plays of William Shakespeare are reinterpreted in performances and studied constantly with diverse political and cultural contexts.

William Wordsworth

Major English Romantic poet William Wordsworth, born in 1770 at Cockermouth, Cumberland, England in the United Kingdom, is considered to be one of the most important literary figures in modern history, as well as one of the leading purveyors of the Romantic Movement in English literature at the end of the 18th century.

William Wordsworth (April 7, 1770 – April 23, 1850) has been one of the finest literary figures in modern history. He studied at Cambridge University. In 1798 he worked on Lyrical Ballads (1798) with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. English poetry was introduced to Romanticism with this collection containing Wordworth’s “Tintern Abbey”.

When he was 7, his mother died and by13 he became an orphan, but studied well at the Hawkshead Grammar School. It was here that he wrote his very first poem and did further studies at Cambridge University to graduate in 1791. In the midst of the French Revolution in 1790, he visited France and became supporter of republican ideals of the new government. He fell in love with Annette Vallon, but got separated from her, though she was pregnant with his child, in 1793 when war was declared between France and England.

With no income in England and left adrift, radicals like William Godwin influenced him. He lived with his younger sister after receiving an inheritance in 1795. He became friends with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and worked with him in 1798 on Lyrical Ballads. Wordsworth wrote an epic autobiographical poem The Prelude in 1850, the same year in which was published. He married Mary Hutchinson in England but before that he was able to see Annette Vallon and Caroline, their daughter. In 1803 his wife Mary gave birth to his first child with her. “Ode: Intimations of Immorality” and “I Wandered Lonely as Cloud”, were pieces published in 1807. I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud’ is one of his best known poems, which shows Wordsworth’s affinity for nature.

William Wordsworth started rejecting radicalism as he grew older. He was named as stamps distributor in 1813 after which he move to Lake District with his family. He ardently supported conservative Tories by 1818. In 1843 he became a poet laureate in England, a role he held until death at Rydal Mount, Westmorland, England, United Kingdom.

Henrik Ibsen

Personal

Henrik Johan Ibsen (March 20, 1828 – May 23, 1906) also known as ‘The Father of Realism’ was a profound poetic dramatist, theatre director and playwright from Norway. He was born in a merchant family in Telemark County. He wrote his plays in the Danish language which were published by Gyldendal the Danish publisher. During most of his productive years he lived in Germany and Italy, though most of his plays are set in Norway. In theatre he was one of the founders of Modernism. In the European tradition, he is ranked as one of the finest distinguished playwrights. Many other novelists and playwrights like Miroslav Krieza, George Bernard Shaw, Eugene O’Niel, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Arthur Miller have been influenced by him. In three consecutive years, 1902, 1903 and 1904, Isben was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Literary Contribution

Brand (1865), Peer Gynt (1867), Emperor and Galilean (1873), Pillars of Society (1877), A Doll’s House (1879), Ghosts (1881), An Enemy of the People (1882), , The Wild Duck (1884), Hedda Gabler (1890), The Master Builder (1892), John Gabriel Borkman, Rosmersholm, The Lady from the Sea and When We Dead Awaken are some of Henrik Isben’s master pieces. After Shakespeare, he is known in the world as the most frequently performed dramatist. The most performed play in the world by the early 20th century was A Doll’ House.

Writing Style

Some of the most enduring modern plays have been written by Henrik Isben. This granddad of realist drama had a life that was anything, but easy. He had a conversational and straightforward writing style, concerned with everyday things in normal life. His main aim was to examine ideas of individuals and challenge them to think about the society they lived in.

Significant Themes

When it was expected that European theatre would model strict morals of propriety and family life, many of Henrik Isben’s later dramas were termed as scandalous to many of his era. Realities lying behind many facades were examined in his work which revealed a lot that was disquieting to a many contemporaries. As far as issues of morality and life conditions are concerned, his work utilized free inquiry and a critical eye. Strong surreal elements are seen in the cinematic and poetic play, Peer Gynt, he created. Films and contemporary culture have been significantly influenced by Isben’s dramas.

Trivia

In 1873, Henrik Isben was decorated Knight, in 1892 as Commander and in 1893 as Commander with the Grand Cross of the Order of St. Olav. He was Knight, First Class of the Order of Vasa. He has also received the Grand Cross of the Swedish Order of the Polar Star and the Grand Cross of the Danish Order of the Dannebrog. The asteroid 5696 was named in 1995, in his memory.

Arthur Miller

Arthur Asher Miller (October 17, 1915 – February 10, 2005) was an essayist, playwright and cult figure in the American theatre in the twentieth century born in Harlem in the New York City. All My Sons (1947), Death of a Salesman (1949), The Crucible (1953) and A View from the Bridge (1955 – which was later revised in 1956) are some of his most popular plays. Besides this, The Misfits (1961) was his most noted work; besides he wrote several screenplays. In the 20th century, Death of a Salesman alongside A Streetcar Named Desire and Long Day’s Journey into Night has been considered one of the strongest literary influences. For Drama, Arthur was awarded the Pulitzer Prize during his time. The Saint Louis University Library Associates awarded him the St. Louis Literary Award in 1980. In 2002 he received the Praemium Imperiale prize and the Prince of Asturias Award. In 2003 he was awarded the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Lifetime Achievement Award as well as the Jerusalem Prize.

Literary contribution : 50(6-10 titles and timelines)

Arthur Miller produced his first play, The Man Who Had All The Luck in 1942 and went on to win the Theatre Guild’s National Award. However with disastrous reviews, after four performances, the play closed. He won the Tony Award for Best Author for All My Sons, in 1947. It was in this year that he established his reputation as a playwright. In 1960 he wrote the screenplay for The Misfits, starring Marilyn Monroe and directed by John Huston.

Writing Style

Arthur Miller, an influential and important novelist and essayist, has experienced a lot of luck in his career in writing. His ingenious ability of controlling what the readers feel or picture has made him gain more fame. Through his ingenious writing he very effectively conveys the message that the inescapable problem of man is man himself. According to Miller, a man often has trouble while expressing his worries, feelings and thoughts and accordingly makes use of symbolism in his work.

Significant Themes

Arthur Miller was of the belief that delicate balance between society and individual, between collective and separated elements of life and between the singular polity and personality, should be central in his plays. Accordingly he synthesized diverse movements and dramatic styles in his social plays. More emphasis was laid on moral issues in the American society. Besides this he has questioned psychological behavioral causes in his plays. As far as familial relationships are concerned, he has penetrating insight. In his plays, he maintains that family and family relationships must immerse in social context. With the roller coaster of responsibility and guilt Arthur Miller has confronted a level of banality in his work.

Trivia

Arthur Miller married Mary Slattery, his first wife in 1940 and then left her to marry film star Marilyn Monroe in 1956. Arthur Miller received the Four Freedom Award for Freedom of Speech in 1993. He has been member of the American Theatre Hall of Fame and in 1979 was inducted in. His drafts, notes, letters and other documents are housed at the University of Texas at Austin at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre. Rebecca his daughter is married to actor Daniel Day-Lewis who in 1996, played the leading role, in the film version of The Crucible.

Carol Ann Duffy

Personal profile

Carol Ann Duffy, born on December 23, 1955 to a Roman Catholic family in Glasgow, is a famous playwright and poet from Scotland. In May 2009 she was appointed Poet Laureate in Britain, besides which at Manchester Metropolitan University, she is Professor of Contemporary Poetry. In Scotland, she is the first woman and first openly LGBT to hold the position.

Literary contribution

Standing Female Nude in 1985, Selling Manhattan in 1987, Mean Time in 1993 and Rapture in 2005 are some of her winning collections. From 1988 to 1989 she worked for The Guardian as a poetry critic and was also an editor for the Ambit magazine. At Manchester Metropolitan University she was appointed as a Poetry lecturer in 1996.

Writing Style

Rich fantasy life of others and herself as well as everyday experiences are explored by Duffy in her work. Through language, memory and love, moments of consolation are discovered by her in dramatizing scenes from adult life, adolescence and childhood. Carol Ann Duffy uses simple words and language. By her own admission, while the words may be simple they are used in a complicated way.

The appearance of her poems is deceptively simply as she writes in a conversational everyday language. While exploring different identities and voices she used dramatic monologue and sonnet form, frequently. Dramatic scenes from her poetry idioms, adult life and childhood are used while creating dramatic scenes. For inspiration in writing, she uses fantasy and everyday experiences.

Significant themes

Issues like violence, gender and oppression are addressed in her poems in the most accessible language, due to which the poems have been popular in schools. She represents reality, gender issues, various forms of social inequality, oppression and alienation, contemporary culture and construction of self in her work.

Trivia

In 2009, Carol Ann Duffy became the first woman Poet Laureate in the United Kingdom. She succeeded Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion who had held the post from 1999 – 2009.  Besides getting a stipend of 5750 pounds annually, Duffy also gets a barrel of sherry equal to around 600 bottles, by a ‘Butt of Sack’ tradition. She had a relationship with Jackie Kay a former female Scottish poet from whom she has Ella, a daughter in 1995. According to reports by BBC, the father of Ella is Peter Benson, another writer.

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Eleanor Atwood is a poet, essayist, environmental activist, novelist, and inventor born in Ontario, Ottawa, Canada on November 18, 1939. She has won the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and is also winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Five times, she was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won it once. Several times, she has been finalist for the Governor General’s Award and won it twice. She founded a non-profit literary organization called Writer’s Trust of Canada to encourage the writing community in Canada. She is the founding trustee of the Griffin Poetry Prize amongst huge literature contributions in Canada. She is Director and Co-Founder of Syngrafi Inc a company that develops, produces and distributes LongPen Technology since 2004. Atwood is the developer and inventor of the Longpen and other technologies to facilitate remote robotic document writing.

Literary contribution

Margaret Atwood the most eminent Canadian, poet and novelist, writes books for children, short stories, radio scripts, screenplays and critical studies. Her work has been translated into more than 30 languages. The Circle Game in 1964 was her first poetry book publication, for which she received the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry in Canada. She introduced poetry collections like Interlunar in 1988, Morning in the Burned House in 1995 and Eating Fire: Selected Poetry from the period 1965 to 1998. She wrote short fiction books including Other Stories and Dancing Girls in 1982, Wilderness Tips in 1991 and Good Bones in 1992. The Edible Woman was her first novel in 1969, Surfacing in 1973, Lady Oracle in 1977, Life Before Man in 1980, Bodily Harm in 1982 and The Handmaid’s Tale in 1986. Cat’s Eye in 1989, The Robber Bride in 1993, Alias Grace in 1996, The Blind Assassin in 2000, Oryx and Crake in 2003 and other fiction are also her latest contributions.

Writing Style

Margaret Atwood uses a similar writing style in her poetry, short stories and novels. Her style of writing is not just distinctive but very effective as well.  One of her finest talents is her sense of description. She is known well for her novels in which creates enigmatic and strong female characters and also she excels in telling stories that are open ended.

Significant themes

Margaret Atwood’s work reinforces themes of political chaos and the effect it has on women in a patriarchal society. This feminist writer uses symbolism and parallelism as springboards. Her work deals with ways men empower women but also ways in which they manage to hurt each other. Through her writings she shows her concern with issues like male brutality in patriarchal society, female-male relationships, female sexuality and body image.

Trivia

Margaret Atwood is the middle child out of three siblings. She has a younger sister and older brother. Her full name is Margaret Eleanor “Peggy” Atwood. She skipped 7th Grade and was home schooled until the eighth Grade. She studied at the University in Toronto and earned her Master’s degree at Harvard at the Radcliffe College. She has had a long term relationship with the author Graeme Gibson. The novel Handmaid’s Tale was made into a movie.

Sylvia Plath

Personal profile

Sylvia Plath born in Boston, America, (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was a short story writer, novelist and poet. Before being acclaimed as a writer and poet, she studied at the University of Cambridge, Newnham College and Smith College where she excelled academically. In 1956 she married Ted Hughes a fellow poet who she met in Cambridge at a party on February 25, 1956. She lived in United States and later on in England. Together they had two children Nicholas and Frieda, after which in 1962 Sylvia separated from her husband. All through adult life she remained clinically depressed, took electroconvulsive therapy treatment many times and in 1963, she committed suicide.

Literary contribution

Sylvia Plath, the American novelist and poet is well known for her works preoccupied with self destruction, death and alienation. Her first short story for the Seventeen Magazine and a poem for The Christian Science Monitor, were the first literary contests she took part in while she was schooling. The Colossus, her first collection of poems were published in 1960. In 1963, The Bell Jar, a novel describing attempted suicide, mental breakdown and eventual recovery was published under the pseudonym “Victoria Lucas”. Growth of a enthusiastic and devoted following of scholars and readers sparked after her collection of poems called Ariel were published in 1965.

Writing Style

Autobiographical approach is intensely emotional and powerful in her work. Sylvia Plath’s personal experiences, mental illness, depression and pain have influenced her writing. She changed literature forever with her love for writing. Her life was greatly influenced with her passion for words. In a more abstract and not so straightforward way, this short story writer, novelist and poet expressed herself.

Significant themes

Themes of her poems are negative in nature with topics like issues of patriarchal societies, anguish, death and war. By becoming the thing-in-itself, she has been able to overcome the tension between the thing-in-itself and the perceiver, literally. To explain herself, she used history, unsatisfactory experiences, inner turmoil, cynicism and has also linked the grand theme of womanhood with destiny of modern civilization.

Trivia

A collection of correspondence of Plath between the years 1960 and 1963 reveal that one source of her inner turmoil was with her relationship with her mother.  Her unguarded personal commentary on marriage, college years, children, friendships,

The Fall of the House of Usher’

Introduction

The Fall of the House of Usher is written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1839. This short story has all the elements of a Gothic tale. Gothic tale had its early development in the 18th century. The Castle of Otranto published in 1764 marked the beginning of this style in writing. A Gothic story characteristically has supernatural events over which man has no control. There are gloomy houses, monsters or ghosts, curses, damsels in sorrow, romance, intense sentiments and lots of madness too. The Fall of the House of the Usher which was published in 1839 has all these elements and makes gripping reading till the end.

About the Playwright

Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19th 1809 in Boston. Very early in life he was orphaned because his father left him and his mother died early. He was taken in by John and Frances Allan. He was not very disciplined so he always had problems with John. He enlisted in the army but soon found that his interest was in writing. He was best known for his poetry and short stories. He is considered as the inventor of the detective fiction and also contributed to science fiction. Poe’s work influenced the literary circles of United States and other places as well. The Mystery Writers of America has constituted an award as the Edgar Award for writers who contribute work in the mystery genre.

Plot Summary

The narrator of this story is unnamed but is the childhood friend of Roderick Usher. Roderick writes to the narrator stating that he was sick and wanted his help. So the narrator reaches the Usher mansion to take care of Roderick. From the time he sees the house there is a sense of sadness in him. “There was a coldness, a sickening of the heart, in which I could dis- cover nothing to lighten the weight I felt.” Meeting his friend did not lessen this miserable feeling. He saw a pale and frightened Roderick whom the narrator was not familiar for as a young boy he was healthy and cheerful. Yet it was not completely surprising because he had received the letter indicating that Roderick was physically and emotionally ill. The inside of the house too was dark and dreary. In short there was nothing to cheer about in the Usher household.

The other person in the household was Lady Madeline who was afflicted with a disease from which no doctor could redeem. The picture was now completer for the narrator- the house, inside out, and the family members had reached a point of no return. The house would crash down so would the lives and Roderick. The narrator who came for friendship’s sake was terrified but he tried to bring ij some cheer with his songs, chats and reading. One day Roderick announces to the narrator that Lady Madeline is dead and that she would be put in a vault for a few days. The reason was strange- “He had decided to do this because of the nature of her illness, because of the strange interest and questions of her doctors, and because of the great distance to the graveyard where members of his family were placed in the earth.”

There were two things that the narrator notices that day. One was the similarity in looks between the brother and sister and they were twins he got to know. But the strange fact he realised was that the Lady did not look dead or feel dead. She was “soft and warm”. However she is put in a vault and locked. Following this were days of heightened misery as Roderick could not bear to hear any sound. Narrator tries to pacify by reading. Strangely as he read the sounds described in the book were being actually heard and erelong Roderick spoke in a low voice, “We have put her living in the vault! ….. I heard her first movements many days ago — yet I did not dare to speak! And now, that story — but the sounds were hers! Oh, where shall I run?” True enough Lady Madeline comes into the room bleeding after her struggle to escape the vault. She moves towards Roderick and falls on him. With that fall Lady Madeline and Roderick die. The narrator escapes from the mansion and as moves away he sees and hears the House of Usher crashing down.

Characterizations

The main characters of the story are the narrator and Roderick. Though Lady Madeline takes the centre stage in the end, she does not figure in the story as a person from the beginning. Roderick and Madeline are twins and are suffering physically and mentally. The narrator is different but is influenced by the surroundings he walks into.

Narrator

Nothing is known about the narrator. He is a childhood friend of Roderick Usher. He comes with the intention of helping Roderick but is unable to do much. In the process of bringing sanity to the Usher household it seems the narrator might lose his sanity.

Roderick

Roderick along with his sister were the last living person of the house of Usher. The family was known for being charitable and patrons of arts but had a lineage of people who were mentally disturbed. At the beginning when the narrator meets him, Roderick is on the verge of mental illness. But he could still play guitar and he was man who was well read. He is happy to see his old friends but his fears and disturbances kept increasing and when he realises his sister was entombed alive he becomes completely mad and finally dies.

Madeline

All that we see about the Madeline is that she is a sick woman but Roderick loved his sister a lot.

Settings

The setting of the story is the house of the Usher which is huge and eerie. The crack that runs from the roof to the floor is indicative of the situation inside. The dead trees, the dead lake, empty eye-like windows, gray walls gave the narrator the feeling “I was now going to spend several weeks in this house of sadness — this house of gloom.”

Themes and Motifs

Love and hate is a predominant theme in this story. Roderick loves his sister yet hates her because she is the cause of his suffering too. The narrator also wants to help Roderick but is fearful of all that is happening there. Death is impending in the lesson. We know for sure that Roderick and his sister would die in the end and the narrator escapes in time is a matter of relief for the reader. With the crash of the house the curse of the house seems to have ended but with it ended the dynasty of the Ushers.

The Trees Are Down

The Trees are Down is written by Charlotte Mew who was a popular poetess at the turn of twentieth century, a contemporary of Thomas Hardy, Ezra Pound, Virginia Woolf. Mew was born in 1869 in London and was the eldest daughter in a family of seven. While she was still a young girl she lost three brothers. Later one brother and sister were admitted into hospitals for the mentally disturbed. That left Charlotte and her sister Anne and both took a vow not to marry so as to pass on the mental illness to their children. In 1898 her father passed and the two sisters became very attached to each other. In 1926 Anne was diagnosed with cancer and died one year later. This shattered Charlotte went into delusions. She was admitted into a nursing home in 1928 but later that year she committed suicide in the nursing home.

Mew grappled with mental illness, loneliness, death and disillusionment from a very young age and this is reflected in her stories and poems. Though Mew was called “the greatest living poetess” by Virginia Woolf, she also wrote many stories; but she became popular for her poems. Her dressing and demeanour set her apart from others in the literary community. Mew published her poems and stories in journals like Temple Bar, Chap Book, Egoist, Englishwoman and the Yellow Book. But she became popular with the publication of the poem ‘The Farmer’s Bride’ in the Nation in 1912. With this poem she became popular and was introduced to the elite of the literary community. Alida Monro, her friend collected her earlier poems, edited it and published it under the title ‘The Rambling Sailor’ in 1929.

The poem The Trees Are Down is a lament for the trees that were struck down.  The lines in the poem are uneven and seem to be unorganized. The longer lines continue to the next line and it is mostly to keep rhythm and understanding of the poem intact. The whole poem brings out the sorrow and the need to allow the trees and animals the right to live and so it starts with a quote from “Revelation”- “Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees”.  In the first stanza she is describing what is happening while the trees are being cut. For many days the ‘grate of the saw’ was heard. Along with this ‘swish of the branches’ and ‘the crash of the trunks’ and the ‘rustle of trodden leaves’ was heard. With these words she creates a strong and complete imagery of the trees being cut. The most painful of these sounds were the ‘whoops’ and ‘whoas’ of the people cutting it and their talk and laughter which rose above the sounds of trees being cut.

In the second stanza she painfully states that all have a right to live. She remembered a spring many years before when she saw a ‘large dead rat’ in the drive of her house as she was getting out of her cart. She also recollects that she had thought a rat is ‘god-forsaken thing’ but in the month of May even that lowly creature should be alive. She believed that spring was the celebration of life and seeing a dead rat was aching. In the next stanza she says the work was done and just one lonely bough was left on the rope. The bough was high up and covered with leaves. Since it was the only one she says it was ‘lonely against the sky’.  And erelong that was also down. This act of cutting the last lonely bough completed the cruelest act that man can do in springtime and it was akin to the dead rat which she had thought should have been alive in spring.

The spring which was seen all around was present in the trees as well and when they were cut and carted away it was as if half the spring had gone away with the men who had cut the wood. The trees make many sounds when the wind blows and she calls the patch of trees ‘whispering loveliness’ and they were carted away. It is not half the spring that goes with the trees but it is her heart as well. Her heart had been ‘struck’ when the trees were struck down. The trees were a part of her life; be it when the sun beat down or when it rained or when it was windy or during the May breeze or even during the strong gales that blew form the seas, they were there with her. But now when they were leaving (dying) it was only a ‘quiet rain’. The trees, she says, must have heard the sparrows flying because their home was gone. The creatures in the earth also have lost their protection over their heads and like the poetess herself all the creatures which were dependent on the trees were left homeless and sad. The whole day she heard the angel crying, ‘Hurt not the tree’.

Mathew Arnold the poet and cultural critic wrote almost twenty years before Mew was born in his Dover Beach that people would destroy nature without any sense of guilt and there would very few left who would speak against it. One of the very few voices was Mew who after fifty years after Dover Beach used very simple but vivid words to paint the picture of destruction of nature. Mew emphasises the divine decree not to hurt the tree by referring to the Revelation before the poem and by bringing in the angel in the last lines of the poem.  One cannot but see an uncanny similarity between the poem and her life. Like the trees being cut, her siblings were dying around her and finally she was left alone. When all the protection and comfort around her was shredded she lost her mental balance and finally took her life. Why was spring chosen in the poem? Of all the seasons it is the spring season that stands for full bloom of life. When life is cut short at a time when it should be in its full glory, the pain is more. To heighten the pain of cutting trees Mew chose spring season in her poem.

Analysis of The Tree

‘The Trees’ is written by Philip Arthur Larkin was an English novelist, poet and a librarian. He was born on 9th August 1922 and graduated in English language and literature in 1943. He worked at the Brynmor Jones Library for thirty years and it was during this time that most of his work got published. There was a melancholy in his poems and Eric Homberger called him "the saddest heart in the post-war supermarket”. As a person Philip Larkin was a no-nonsense person who did not like fame and all the trappings that came with a celebrity. He lead a life much to his own with a limited circle of friends. He was offered the position on Poet Laureate in 1984 after of the death of Sir John Betjeman, that year.

Larkin was an admirer of the poetry of Thomas Hardy. Larking learnt to write the dreary and common place details of life from Thomas Hardy’s poems. Larkin’s first collection of poems was The North Ship and it was published in 1945. He wrote two novels after his first book of poems. His second collection of poems known as The Less Deceived shot him to fame and thereafter his poems always received critical acclaim. Larkin became a prominent poet of his period and he was the main voice of a group called ‘The Movement’. Apart from writing poems and novels he also contributed to The Daily Telegraph. In 2003 Poetry Book Soicety chose Philip Larkin as the best-loved poet of the previous 50 years.  In 2016 a floor stone memorial was built at Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.   The poem The Trees is from the collection the High Windows which was his last book of poems.

The Tree is a poem on nature and about death. At the first reading the poem only talks about the tree but as we read it again there is more to it – the indication of death and grief. There is suggestive mix of emotions and it delivered with very few words. ‘The Trees’ is also about the ability to be reborn. It is also similar to Philip Larkin’s another poem ‘Sad Steps’ which is about the moon being born again and again but the narrator has to meet the inevitable death. This poem has three stanzas with four lines in each stanza. The rhyme scheme is ‘ABBA’

In the first stanza the poet writes about the trees sprouting new leaves. ‘Coming into leaf’ is indicating that the leaves are appearing again. This means it is spring time. It is as if the tree is saying something. The buds are in a relaxed manner opening up to receive the warmth of the sun. As the leaves are opening up the greenness is also opening up. ‘Greenness’ connotes two meanings. One is direct which refers to colour and the other refers to naivety. Anything or anyone young is naïve, so too the young leaves are naïve. The poet goes on to follow the greenness with ‘is a kind of grief’. This tells that this poem is not only about trees but is something more than that. The main idea of these four lines is that the new leaves that are coming are a kind of grief. Why grief? Grief that the leaves will die soon and that there need not be any joy about it. This line can be interpreted as the poet’s grief that he is mortal while the tree will be reborn again. Greenness and grief is alliteration and there is a repetition of the vowel ‘e’ that creates a rhythm in it.

The ‘grief’ mentioned in the first stanza is explained in the second stanza. Though the new leaves appear again and again making us feel that the tree is born each time, the tree too, in reality, is aging. The age is ‘written’ in the rings of the trunk of the tree. Are the leaves a cosmetic makeover of the trees? Human beings grow old but not the trees. The poet is quick to add that it is not so. The leaves are just a façade of youthful appearance while the age is being recorded within the tree. The life-span of the tree and human beings are compared. Trees also grow old but it is slower and they trick us to be looking young as long as they live. They grow taller and bigger without anybody really noticing. This play of the tree goes on year after year. To pull down this façade or to know the age of the tree one has to cut a portion and check the rings of the tree. Humans cannot hide their age and even if they put on makeup, their age will show soon and there is no question of being reborn in the same form after death.

In the final stanza the tree is called a ‘castle’. It is a castle in many ways. When the tree is full of leaves it looks luxuriant. It is a home, a protection for all those who come under it or take refuge in it; for this reason too it can be compared to a castle. It is in May month one sees the tree in its full glory. The trees seem to say that last year is gone, a thing of past and is dead. But it is not gone forever. That departure is to begin afresh. By repeating the word ‘afresh’ three times, he is driving home the point it is not dead and is always being born again. The lyrical value is heightened by using the ‘afresh’ many times and it is as if the trees are themselves repeating this word. The Tree is a clear and compact poem giving the reader a glimpse into the inevitable part in human life, death, using tree as a metaphor. This brief lyric looks into man’s mortality; despite knowing it we still give the best. The Tree is a small poem packed with a lot to think about and it is through the simple tree in the nature.

The Bloody Chamber

Introduction

The Bloody Chamber is one of the collections of stories written by Angela Carter. It was published in 1979. Most of the stories in the anthology is based in folk tales or fairy tales. There are ten stories in the collection. They are ‘The Snow Child’, ‘The Courtship of Mr. Lyon’, ‘Wolf-Alice’, ‘ The Werewolf’ , ‘The Earl-King”, ‘The snow-child’ ,  ‘Puss-in-Boot’,  ‘The Lady of the House of Love’ ‘The Tiger’s Bride and the ‘The Bloody Chamber”.  The Bloody Chamber is an inspiration of a French folktale called the ”Bluebeard” is more than an inspiration. It is almost the same story tailor-made to the times in which Ms Carter lived. This anthology has won the Cheltenham Festival Literary Prize. Each story is of different length and The Bloody Chamber is the longest.

About the Playwright

Angela Cater is an English novelist who lived for 51 years. In the short span of time she made a name for herself and was known as short story writer and a journalist. She was a feminist and wrote about magical realism was most of her works were picaresque. She was rated as one among the 50 greatest of British writers since 1945 by The Times in 2008. Her father Hugh Alexander was a journalist and Angela Carter followed his footsteps. She was married twice and the second marriage also did not work. She moved to Tokyo in 1969 and continued to write from there. Angela then moved to different countries like the US, Europe and Asia. Between 1970 and 1980 she stayed in universities and continued to write. Angela Carter has written, on issues of her heart, for the New Statesman, The Independent and The Guardian. She adapted her stories for radio and wrote two dramas for the radio. Just before her death she started writing a sequel to Jane Eyre but could not complete it as she died in 1992. What is left is only a synopsis of her work on Jane Eyre sequel.

Plot Summary

The story of Bluebeard, a French folktale, is what one sees in The Bloody Chamber. The story is about a young girl and is narrated by her, whose name we do not know. The teenager marries French Marquis who is wealthy. She does not love him. When he takes her to his castle her dislike only increases because he enjoyed sadistic pornography. She is a good pianist and the piano tuner who comes to the castle likes her. But he is blind. Marquis hands over the keys of the castle to his young wife and leaves for a business trip. He warns her not to open one room. Her curiosity takes her to that room and when she opens it she finds bodies and skeletons of his previous wives. She is shocked and realises that her fate too was the same.  To her ill luck Marquis returns home sooner than expected and finds out that his young wife had opened the forbidden room. Now he has to kill her and the rest of the story is how the young piano tuner and the mother of the girl escapes his murder attempts. They kill him instead and live a peaceful life thereafter.

Characterizations

The Bloody Chamber is a story narrated by the protagonist who has no name. She is the main character and equally important and the one who takes the centre stage is Marquis. The young piano tuner, Jean-Yves is the character who was in contrast to Marquis and then there is the powerful mother of the narrator who comes to save her in the end.

The Narrator

The narrator was a young girl who was seventeen years old and she knew nothing about the world. She is a gothic type of a girl, very meek. She also comes from a poor background. So on seeing the riches of the Marquis, she decides to marry him; therefore it is not out of love but out of the desire to live in riches she marries Marquis. However she was not at ease in the luxurious castle. “You must remember how ill at ease I was in that luxurious place, how unease had been my constant companion during the whole length of my courtship…..”.  She was naïve and innocent and she herself realises that this was the reason that Marquis was interested in her. Though shocked initially she takes comfort in this. “To know that my naivety gave him some pleasure made me take heart.”

Marquis

Marquis is a rich man who lived in a castle with many servants. He was a strong, vile character. All through the story he controls his young wife. He is cruel but is overwhelming in his display of affection that the new bride does not really know what to believe. He was at once romantic and cruel. “My husband, who, with so much love, filled my bedroom with lilies until it looked like an embalming parlour.” But to consummate the marriage he involved in the act as if it was “like he was fighting with her.”  “Decapitation’… voluptuously” was his style of love making. That he was maniac is seen as the story proceeds. He killed his new brides and threw them into a room. He enticed the new brides with the keys of his castle and warning them not to open one. When they opened, which was always out of curiosity, he killed them.

Jean-Yves

Jean-Yves is a young piano-tuner with whom the protagonist falls in love with.  He is blind and timid and helpless. He has female qualities and is protected by protagonist’s mother. “Though they were blind, his eyes were singularly sweet”, is what the protagonist says about the young man. When Marquis finds that Jean-Yves is still in the castle and is by the side of his young wife he remarks “Let the blind lead the blind, eh?” He is not courageous must offers to stay up with the young bride to stand up against Marquis. Most of his description is about his timidity. He is also described as “humbly as a little dog.” He treats the young bride with tenderness and makes her happy and relaxed.

Mother

Mother is someone who is referred to by the protagonist. She remembers her mother when she is travelling to the castle with Marquis. Her father did not return from war and was presumed to be dead. She raised her daughter with a man’s will power. Unlike the protagonist or Jean –Yves , the mother was a strong lady. He features too were eagle -like. She “had outfaced a junkful of Chinese pirates, nursed a village through a visitation of the plague, shot a man-eating tiger with her own hand and all before she was as old as I?” She was not to happy to marry off her daughter to an older man who was still bereaving his wife.  In the end she comes in as a saviour of her daughter and shoots Marquis in the head.

Settings

The Bloody Chamber starts with the protagonist sitting in the train and recalling all that happened to her up to the point when she got married to Marquis. She was girl from Paris and was not very affluent. Her mother struggled to keep the hearth burning but she was a bold woman. She first met him while playing for a princess party. So from shambles she was moving as the wife of the richest man in France. After the train journey they move to the castle; they are received by the chauffer at the station and they were many women at the castle all ready to serve Marquis and his young bride. 'See,' he said, gesturing towards those elegant girls. 'I have acquired a whole harem for myself!' The events unfold in the bedroom, music room and he room that is under lock and key. Once they are in the castle that is the only place of action. Marquis goes out on a very short work but at that time the happenings in the castle are spoken about.

Themes

The theme that stands out in The Bloody Chamber is sadism.  Marquis is a criminal by all standards but a criminal need not be a sadist. But Marquis is one. He seeks pleasure in seeing his new bride squirm.  “….the old, monocled lecher who examined her, limb by limb. He, in his London tailoring; she, bare as a lamb chop. Most pornographic of all confrontations.” These were her feelings when she was first undressed by him. There is an in-built fear in the whole story. The mannerisms of Marquis seemed very strange and the crescendo of fear is when the young bride opens the forbidden rooms and finds dead bodies of women. From then on it is fear in the foreground and it required a lady beyond fear to bring sobriety and peace to story. Virginity is another theme and this is seen in most of Angela Carter’s novels. Marquis marries only young virgins and takes pleasure in being instrumental I taking it off. “We do not hang the bloody sheets out of the window to prove to the whole of Brittany you are a virgin, not in these civilized times.”

Motifs

Mirror is one of the motifs used to convey an idea very strongly. In The Bloody Chamber when the young bride sees herself stripped in the mirror she feels like a skinned lamb and soon realises Marquis’ pornographic inclinations. He sees her in that state in twelve different mirrors and takes great joy in that. She realises she is being objectified and to her horror she also realises she was enjoying being considered as an object of pleasure. Finally she understands that her complicity would bring her own destruction. The keys play an important role in the life of Marquis and the young bride. The blood stained on the key cannot be removed and when he presses the key on her forehead it is imprinted on it as well. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter which is on the folk tale Blue beard is a gripping novel but with predictable ending.

To what extent was the conflict between Israel and Palestine impacted/influenced by the resultant refugee crisis, between 1945 and 1950?

The only Jewish state in the world is located to the east of the Mediterranean Sea and is called Israel. The Arabs who are called Palestinians and control a part of Israel want a state for themselves called Palestine. The Israel-Palestinian conflict is over who controls the land and how it will be controlled. The Jews and the Arabs claim over this land dates back to many centuries before.  Jesus was born a Jew and the Hebrew Bible speaks of Israel as the land of Jews. Records show that Israel was conquered in 640 CE. One of the oldest mosques in the world, the Dome of the Rock, is found in the old city of Jerusalem. There is enough evidence to show that the conflict is an age old one.  The present conflict started in the early 20th Century and got stronger after the World War II.

The British had a role to play in this conflict because they had promised both the same land. British in the 19th and early 20th century ruled the world as they had colonies all over the world. Theirs was a ‘land where the sun never sets’. So whatever British promised then was considered the final word. The Ottoman Empire was a powerful state in the Middle East controlled by the Turks and British wanted control over it. In 1915 in a set of letters called ‘McMahon –Hussein Correspondence’ promised the Arabs that they would get their own state if they rebelled against the Ottoman Empire. Unknown to the Arabs British had a clandestine agreement with France and Russia to share the Ottoman Empire amongst themselves. This was called the Sykes-Picot Agreement which was signed on May16th 1916. The land promised to the Arabs did not figure in that treaty and the Arabs felt they given the raw deal.

In the next year the ‘Balfour Declaration was signed in November 1917 where the Jews were promised a state inside Palestine. The Jews all over Europe were tortured and suffered a lot. The political and social changes in Europe convinced the Jews that they wanted a land of their own. They were also sure that Israel was their land and got the sympathy of the world for this. Giving a land to them was the promise in the Balfour Declaration. Now there were three different agreements with different promises. It was clear that someone was going to be cheated and that happened to be the Arabs. They lost their place in Ottoman Empire and they did not get the promised land. The Sykes-Picot agreement carved the present day Middle East. The Arabs carry the grouse to this day. A lot of the present day terrorism can be traced to this in-built anger amongst the Muslims for being cheated.

After the World War I nothing much was done by the League of Nations. Between the years 1896 and 1948 came from Europe to the British controlled Palestine. The Holocaust only made matters worse and all escaped Hitler and took refuge in Palestine. The Arabs of Palestine saw this movement as a European colonial movement and started the fight with them.  The British were incapable of controlling this violence. The issue of Palestine was tabled at the UN and in 1947, UN decided to split the land into two. The land was not split with clear cut boundaries. Some parts on the West side were given to the Arabs while the Jews were all around them. In the same way in the East the Arabs were surrounded by the Jews. The division was made according to the settlements of the two nationalities.  The Jews accepted the division but the Arabs did not and continued to fight as they were twice more than the Jews in populations. They were now supported by other Arab states Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt. However the Israeli forces defeated the militia of the Palestine Arabs and took more than 70 lakh people as refugees. 57% of the British Palestine was allotted to the Jews but at the end of the war Israel had 77% of the land. West Bank, Eastern part of Jerusalem and Gaza Strip was with the Arabs, the rest of the area was the Israeli state. In all ways Israeli’s got their state but not the Palestinians. So the war still goes on in spite of cease fires and UN intervention.

Influence of the resultant refugee crisis

The 1948 war left 700,000 Arabs Palestinians homeless. Till date this has been a major issue and is not resolved yet. The mass eviction is known as ‘Nakba’ which means ‘catastrophe’ in Arabic. The peace negotiations between these two states have been the most difficult for the UN as both the sides are stubborn.  The peace negotiations were for the justice of the refugees; it was to give them the right to return home to join the families who were abandoned in 1948. Today it is over three or four generations who have been suffering this refugee status. Palestinians and Israeli’s remember the crisis differently. Palestinians think that Jews want to cleanse their state of the Arabs while the Jews think that Arab fleeing and the wartime accidents for the crisis. There population of the Arabs in the state of Israel is large and if the refugees are given their freedom they will outnumber the Israelis in Israel and then they will become minority. To avoid this refugee’s status is one aspect that Israel never compromises during the peace talks. The UN has failed time and again in its negotiations because both the sides are stubborn.  Limited resettlement and financial compensations are the ideas put forth but both the countries are not willing to accept it.

Effects of relocation

During and after World War II, Nazis deported many millions to Germany and they were mostly Europeans. The Jews who had survived the concentration camps or those who went into hiding did not want to go back to Eastern Europe after the war. They realised that there were anti-Semitism and they would be hunted down. They feared for their lives. In Kielce in 1946, 42 Jews were killed and they were holocaust survivors. Many of them wanted to move to America where they knew that they would be safer. The Allies had established camps in the Allied-occupied Germany for the displaced people.  In 1947, the population of the displaced people was at its peak with around 250,000 in many camps. Many Jewish agencies were active in these camps providing food and clothing and even vocational skills. The people here became so organised that they started their work for a Jewish state in Palestine. The Jew in the American and British occupied camp zones pressed for immigration to Palestine and the voice asking for a homeland grew louder.

Though US supported the Jews, they put a restriction on their entry into the US. The British had a mandate from the League of Nations to administer Palestine. So British also, who did not want to go against Arab sentiments put heavy restrictions on Jewish immigration to Palestine.  Despite all the problems, Jews attempted to leave Europe. A unit called the Jewish Brigade Group was formed which organised Brihah, meaning escape. A great escape of 250,000 of Jews was planned. Ships were arranged but the plans were thwarted by the British. Many ships were intercepted and more than 50,000 people were returned to Germany and many were sent to Cyprus Island. These interceptions and detentions fuelled the struggle for freedom and the number of people leaving Europe kept swelling. The act of stopping the Jews was not well received and the world turned against the British policy regarding Palestine. As the problem escalated British submitted the issue with the UN. The UN decided to form two new states.

Economic conditions that amplified the situation

In mid May 1948 Israel was formed by the mandate passed in UN. But this was amidst the unrest and war with the Arabs, who were their neighbours. The economic problems were enormous. Their freedom came with a war and that had to be financed. The immigrants were coming in large numbers and the new government had to accommodate and meet the demands of these people. Basic needs of the old and the new population had to be met.  The economic challenges were huge. However the formation of the Israel was fairly smooth as the semi-governmental Jewish institutions that were formed were ready to govern the new state. Cease fire agreement between the two newly formed nations was signed in 1949. By that time there was a huge increase in the immigrants in Israel.

Austerity programs were imposed on the people. Prices were controlled and basic commodities were rationed. Though there was some solution to basic commodities, housing and employment took a long time. A new economic policy was enforced in 1952. There was devaluation in rate exchange. It was followed by relaxation of price controls and rationing. It also cubed monetary expansion through budgetary restraint. To consolidate the people who had already immigrated active immigration was not supported and encouraged. The fiscal policies and the steps taken to improve the economy saw a high economic growth in Israel during the years 1950 to 1965. Gross National Product was over 11% and per capita GNP was more than 6%. Large capital inflow from US was one of the main reasons for this growth which were in the forms of loans and unilateral transfers.  Some of the German reparations were diverted to Israel. State of Israel bonds was another way of generating income. Through these different ways there was enough money for domestic use and for investment as well.  The needs of Israel are huge because till date there are war damages and huge amount has to be kept away for battles and arms. Yet this state has managed and has changed and grown.

Territorial implications that sparked animosity

The division of Palestine into two states will look very strange to a common man. It seems to have been done without any planning. But this is not true. In 1947 when the General Assembly of the UN voted to divide the region between the Jews and the Arabs, it was done in almost equal measure. Then the 1948 Arab-Israeli war happened and things changed. Only 22% remained with Palestine.  The Arabs were divided between Gaza Strip and West Bank which were two separate areas with Israel in between them thereby curtailing any movement between the two areas. . "The aim has always been to create different atmospheres and cultures; here and there," says Dr. Nashat al-Aqtash, a political analyst and academic.

West Bank is a big piece of land east of Israel. West Bank has many holy places of the Jews like the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. In 1967 Israel took control of the West Bank and allowed the Jews to settle there.  It was called a Six Day war and Arabs had the support of Jordan, Egypt, Syria and since then Israel took control of the West Bank. Jerusalem is the holiest site for the Jews and Arabs.  Things are not made easy for the UN because Jerusalem is near the border between Israel and the West Bank. How to split the city is the fundamental problem. For the first 20 years after the Israel state was formed Jerusalem was divided. Jerusalem and its suburbs were controlled by Israel while all the other places were controlled by Jordan. Jordan controlled a hill called Temple Mount which has an ancient Jewish Temple, Western Wall, and Islam’s Al Aqsa Mosque. Israelis were not allowed to pray in the temple while it was under the control of Jordan. After the 1967 war Israel took control of East Jerusalem. Now Israel claims that Jerusalem is its undivided capital. But no other nations accept this claim, not even the US. Gaza is densely populated with Palestinians but surrounded by Israelis. For many years there was Israeli military presence in the Gaza Strip but it was withdrawn in 2005. However the Jews think that Palestinians will attack Israel from the Gaza Strip and this was strengthened after a rocket fire that hit Israel. Gaza is now governed by the Hamas which is a resistance group which came to political power in 2006. Over the years, the Arabs and the Israelis have created settlements to expand their territory.

Social implications  around ethnicities

The ethnic canvas of Israel is vast. This can be due to the fact that immigrants came from many countries. Same is the case with Arabs; there are many ethnic groups in Israel and Palestine. The majority is Jews and the non Jews are Arabs. The majority of the Jews are European/American born, followed by Israeli born, African born and a small minority of Asian born. The conventional division of the Jews are Ashkenazim and Sephardim. Ashkenazim are the Jews from Central and Eastern Europe and Sephardim are the Iberian Jews and the descendants of the Iberian Jews. But the more popular division is the Orientals and Occidentals. The Orientals considered themselves socially, economically and educationally disadvantaged when compared to the Occidentals. There are Arabs in Israel and they are the ones who remained in the Israeli border. Subsequently the Arabs born within the state and even the ones who re-entered agreeing to follow the rules of the land form the Arab population of Israel.

Most of the Arabs in Israel belong are Sunni Muslims. There is a small minority of Ahmadiyya. Ahmadiyya was a group that was formed in 1920s. The Sunnis and he Shias do not recognise this group. However Israel is the only country in the Middle East where the Ahmadi Muslims can practise their faith openly. There is a small minority of Alwaites who are affiliated to the Shias. Bedouins are another sect in the Muslims and they are divided into two. The ones in North Israel live in villages and towns and there are those who are nomads. A significant number of Arab Christians are seen in Israel.  Coptic community has its origin in Egypt and around 1000 people belong to this community in Israel.  A fairly large number of Arabs belong to the Druze group. This group immigrated from the British Mandate in Palestine and all of them became Israeli citizens. Though they came from British Palestine they preferred to be with Israel and many of them serve in the Israel Defense Forces.

However Druze are the only group of Arabs who are completely identified with Israel. Other Arab groups still yearn to belong to Palestine and some take the path of protest within the state. Hamas in the Gaza Strip keep the fire of protest going.  There is a wide gap between the progress between the two communities. While the Jews in Israel is developing fast the Arabs especially under the Hamas is far behind. Israel is leading in technology and many of the innovations have originated from Israel.

Influence of the US

After the end of World War II US has been in the forefront trying to bring peace in the area by encouraging and arbitrating cease fire accords between Palestine and Israel. US has been supporting Egypt and Israel with huge financial assistance and this is cited as its commitment for peace in Israel. Egypt has been the key supporter of the Arabs in Palestine and was the key player in the matters of Arab Palestinians. After the war in 1973 under the guidance of President Carter there were cease –fire talks between the two countries. Since then all the Presidents of the United States have spent considerable time trying to bring peace in that area.

Religious implication

In 1922 Churchill divided Palestine. He gave three-fourths of the land that lay east of Jordan River to the Arabs. The rest was retained by the British and was proposed for a Jewish state. This was not well received by the Arabs even then and in 1929 the Arab riots broke out. Following this the British tried further divisions but every effort only saw a bloodbath. But nobody wondered what was rubbing the Arabs the wrong way. Some opine it was a case of mistaken diagnosis. Many believe the conflict was not so much over than land but it was a war of religion and a conflict of ideologies. For the Muslims Israel is Waqf land, meaning a land that belonged to the Muslim religious Trust. At the time Jews quoted the Bible and said that Jews had complete right over the land.

The Six Day War in 1967 changed the political picture in Israel as the Jews got a massive victory. For the Arab who had been in the country from 1922 (officially) this was blow to their reputation and self esteem. On one side the Israeli Judaism strengthened and on the other political Islamism of the Arab world was being forged. It was not that Judaism was restricted to Israel but the American Jews also came out in support Israel and they tried to garner support from the evangelical Christians. It was this empathy that saw America supporting Israel over the years.

Arabs in Palestine before 1967 were quite liberal. One could see Muslim girls in short skirts. But the war changed all this. It is said that after the mosque al-Aqsa in Jerusalem and few other places of worships came under the siege of Jews the religious enthusiasm strengthened. Though the Arabs struggle for their existence, Ramadan celebration is getting more religious and grander. This is a clear indication that the religious sentiments are hurt and they will do anything to come back in full strength; it can be terrorism, wars, and revolts. For this they have the rest of the Arab world in support.

Though Israel occupied the Gaza Strip after the 1967 war, they handed the control to the Palestinians in 1993. The soldiers and the settlers were removed in 2005. In 2006 there was an election and the Hamas came to power. Now Hamas was a theocratic party. It is said that they came to power because the people were fed up with the corrupt Fatah party. When Hamas came to power they imposed laws which were akin to Saudi Arabia. The people have not welcomed these moves and there has been frequent bloodshed. In some areas these laws have not affected the people. One can still see women going around in tank tops and men drinking beer. Within the family itself there are different approaches to religion and this is accepted. But it remains a fact that Muslim women in Palestine are forced to cover but there are many who are doing so willingly.

Backing of the US

After the UN decided to create the new State called Israel, David Ben-Gurion, who was the head of the Jewish Agency announced the establishment of Israel on May 14th 1948. On the same day U.S . President Harry .S. Truman accepted Israel as an independent nation. The US –Israel relationship started right then.  This was the first public acceptance for the world to see. But talks to create the state had been going on for some time and it was the US who was pushing it the most. British wanted to maintain its good relationship with the Arabs and was not willing to speak about a nation for the Jews. Once Truman became the president, he formed a commission in 1946 to study the situation. All through 1947 the formation of Israel was studied and on November 29th 1947 the UN through Resolution 181 which was also known as Partition Resolution decided to create a new state Israel.

US support of Israel was always looked upon by the Arabs with trepidation. However when Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt after the Suez Canal was opened, Eisenhower, the president of US was furious and stopped the war.  During Kennedy’s administration (1961-1963) economic aids were increased and the US tried to form a special relationship with Israel which did not go down well with the Arabs. Lyndon Johnson (1963-1968) was busy with Great Society programmes and the Vietnam war. But the Six Day War brought his focus on Israel again. Johnson did put the navy on alert but forced Israel to cease fire on June 10th 1967. Jimmy Carter administration (1977-1981) saw huge aid being sent to both Israel and Egypt. But there were many untoward incidents which brought down the popularity of Carter’s administration. Ronald Reagan’s (1981-1989) administration supported the expansion of the Jewish settlements. George. W. Bush administration was not very effective in Israel. During Bill Clinton’s administration (1993-2001) a summit between Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak was arranged at Camp David in 2000 but it failed. George W. H. Bush supported the cause of the Arabs more than the Jews.

Current Situation

All through America has been involved in the affairs of Israel in one way or the other. US institute of Peace (USIP) was established in the 1990’s to work on peaceful relationship between Israel, Palestine and the Arab world. They have not only reduced the risk of violence but have given grants for innovations and progress in all fields. The current situation in Israel is one that is mixed. Positive talks are happening on one-side while strong control over the Arabs is happening on the other. Gza Strip and West Bank was sealed for 11 days for the Jewish festival Sukkot. Only emergency cases were allowed. Many workers who moved outside these areas were affected. Recently homes of Arabs in Silwan, East Jerusalem, were razed to the ground leaving many homeless. This the people believe was a retaliation for their protests in summer against the installation of metal detectors in al-Aqsa mosque.

The Israeli president Benjamin Netanyahu was one of the first foreign leaders to visit Donald Trump after his victory. Many believe it is not to strengthen the ties or improve the lobbies but it was for ideological unity and intelligence sharing. Israel’s insights and intelligence of the affairs of the Middle East is the best in the world. There is continuous pressure from the UN to treat the Palestinians properly and not extend their settlements. The US has given military aid to Israel and clearly right now their support is strongly favoured for Israel. While many of the Arab countries have come to terms with America supporting Israel, Iran is still a sworn enemy of the US.

 

Israel is one of the most stable countries in the Middle East now. Though the divided political scene calls for coalition governments there is a deep commitment to democracy in the parliament. From left =leaning views Israel has move to more liberal views over these years after it s formation. Economy has prospered but the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing. Young Israel’s are finding it difficult to find jobs and the price of basic items are on the rise. Amongst the Arab countries only Egypt and Jordan have accepted the State of Israel. The relationship with Egypt now is to be seen because pro-Israel President Hosini Mubarak has been replaced with an Islamist government.

The future of the Israeli-Palestine conflict does not look any better. Both the sides do talk about negotiations but it seems to be more lip-service than any real step being taken towards this. Amongst the Palestinians there are divisions. They are divided between the secular Fatah movement who are powerful in the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas of the Gaza Strip. There is an in-built mistrust towards the Arab in Israel. They also fear the growth of Iran in Palestine if the Jewish settlements in the Palestine areas of Gaza and West Bank are given up. With so many issues finding a lasting peaceful solution seems a faraway reality. Yet the world over knows that this problem has to be solved and are working towards it and maybe it will soon become a reality.

Beowulf

Introduction

Beowulf is considered one of the most important work in English literature both for its antiquity and its magnificence. It consists of 3182 lines in alliteration. The language is Old English and the book might be the only work existing in such an ancient form of the language. The theme of the poem is heroism like in all ancient poems and stories.  It is set in Scandinavia and is about the problems of the Danes and Beowulf coming in as a saviour. Beowulf’s fight with a monster, the monster’s mother and later with a dragon is the main plot of the poem.

About the Playwright

There is no indication of who has written it. The poem in the manuscript form is now housed in the British Library. It is known as Nowell Codex. There is no title for the poem so the name of the protagonist is given to the poem – “Beowulf”. This manuscript, along with other medieval manuscripts, was kept in Ashburnham House in London by Sir Robert Bruce. In 1731 it was damaged by a fire and whatever seen now is what was salvaged from the fire. But it is believed that the whole poem was retrieved. There are many versions by many scholars regarding the scribe, the language and the date and nothing final has been arrived at.

Plot Summary

King Hrothgar was the king of Denmark and he was a successful and prosperous king. The crown of his glory was the mead-hall which was called Herot. His warriors met there to revel in drinks, to receive gifts from the king, listen to bards and for merry-making. The fame of this hall had spread and had made Hrothgar very famous. The sound that emanated from the revelry angered Grendel a demon which lived in the marshes of the kingdom. Grendel enters Herot and kills many soldiers and carries their bodies into the swamplands, drinking their blood. The Danes could not fight back and Grendel’s visits became a regular affair. So many soldiers were slaughtered and the king could do nothing about it. The news about Grendel spreads and Beowulf, a powerful warrior from the land of Geats and his men come to Denmark to help King Hrothgar. Beowulf wanted to help the king for two reasons; one was to show his prowess and the other was to repay the favour done by Hrothgar to his father Edgetho. The king recalls the incident. He had helped Edgetho in a war.

“ I bought the end of Edgetho’s

Quarrel, sent ancient treasures through the ocean’s

Furrows to the Wulfings; your father swore

He’d keep his peace.”

When Grendel arrives that night, Beowulf, in a fierce and long battle, cuts off one arm of the monster. In fear and in pain he runs away to his safe haven, the marshes where he dies. The severed arm is hung in the hall as a trophy of the victory. There is great jubilation and the Danes think that their troubles are over. But not so; Grendel’s mother comes back to avenge his son’s death. She kills Aeschere, a close friend of Hrothgar, before slinking back to the marsh. Beowulf goes to the marsh lands and the fight happens there. Though a woman, Beowulf finds killing her more difficult than Grendel.  The Danes lose hope and go back to their homes while the Geats who accompanied Beowulf wait knowing that their brave warrior would be victorious. And they were right; he slits the woman’s neck and kills her and comes out with the head of Grendel. Now there are more celebrations because the Danes now know that they will not be disturbed by anyone. Beowulf goes back with a lot of gifts.

Beowulf and his men return and he becomes the ruler of his land and rules well for many years. Then comes his encounter with a dragon that had a treasure as well. This was his last fight. The fire from the dragon melts his shield and sword and all his men run away in fear except for one. Yet the two fight and kill the dragon but Beowulf also loses his life and a huge tower is built in his memory and the treasures are also buried with him. The people of Geats praise their king and with this the poem ends.

Characterizations

Beowulf

Beowulf is the epitome of a hero. All through his life he has been heroic. There are description of his brave conflicts with Grendel and his mother. Beowulf also recounts incidents of chivalry at the mead-hall to impress the Danes. Even when old he fights the dragon but does not survive. In the court of Hrothgar, Beowulf recounts his brave expeditions. “I drove five great giants into chains”; “I swam in the blackness of night hunting monsters out of the ocean.”  He tells that sword will be the last resort in a fight. However he is not proud and talks about his probable defeat at the hands of Grendel.

“God must decide

Who will be given to death’s cold grip.

And if death does take me……. Fate will unwind as it must!

 

Grendel

Grendel is a monster which kills the Danes especially when there is merry making in Herot. The king tries to appease him with wealth but he took none of it. He only wanted blood and sent shivers down the spine of the Danes. There is something human about him too and he does not touch the throne of Hrothgar. He never shows remorse and comes back for more.

Hrothgar

Hrothgar was the king of Danes and loved by the people. He was very worried about the deaths and laments over it though there is nothing much he can do about it. He was old and felt helpless against Grendel. So he gives full support to Beowulf when he comes to kill Grendel.  Life’s lessons made Hrothgar a sober person.

Unferth

Unferth is a youngster who is angry with himself as he cannot protect his people. And this anger is projected on Beowulf by scolding him about the swimming match in Breca. He is jealous of all the attention given to Beowulf. However in the fight against Grendel’s mother Unferth gifts his sword to Beowulf thereby bringing down the inhospitable nature of Unferth.

Wiglaf

None of his comrades,

Came to him…… they ran for their lives, fled

And only one of them remained ….. His name was Wiglaf, he was Wexstan’s son

When Beowulf was fighting the dragon, his last fight, no one stood by him except Wiglaf. Together they defeated the dragon. He was the younger version of Beowulf, valiant, strong, fearless and loyal. Wiglaf embodies the next generation of heroes and the future of their country.

 

Settings

There is some difficulty in being accurate about the period of the poem but it could have been the sixth or the seventh century and not later than that. It was after the Anglo-Saxons started their journey to England. It is believed that the people of Geatish origin brought it to England. There is little history and fiction in the poem. The raid of King Hygelac into Frisia is history while Beowulf is a fictional character. Recent excavations in Denmark revealed a mead-hall and some think it might have been the Herot. Stories cannot be spun from thin air. Some events must have taken place and there might have been brave warriors like Beowulf.

Themes

The theme of Beowulf is essentially heroism. It is heroism of people from good lineage and whom the people look up to. So the main characters are proud of their ancestors and also about their own achievements. Grendel and his mother being monsters stoop to the worst level but Beowulf and Hrothgar are dignified in their approach reflecting their upbringing. However there is a little negativity in the some of them which is soon rectified.  Differentiation between a good king and a good warrior is another theme of the poem.

Motifs

Motifs are that which occur often to strengthen the theme of the poem.  Monsters are the main and obvious motifs in the poem Beowulf.  The time when this poem was written was one wherein the western countries wrote very little. The oral tradition forms another motif of the poem. It was not considered arrogance in those days to praise oneself for that was one way to publicise what happened. The bards were also ones who passed on the news through their songs. The mead-hall, Herot is almost another character in the poem. The revelry and the killings all happen in the mead hall. Had the mead hall not been constructed, Grendel might not have come to devour the warriors. In his introductory speech Beowulf speaks about the mead-hall – “Sailors have brought us stories of the Herot, the best of all mead halls.” So it is for the restoring the glory of the mead hall and to kill the terrible monster, Grendel, that Beowulf comes to Denmark. The major part of the poem covers his confrontation of Grendel and his mother. Beowulf is successful and peace returns to Denmark and the celebrations continue in Herot.