Book Review: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

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“On the Road” is a novel by American Beat writer Jack Kerouac, first published in 1957. The novel, mostly autobiographical, loosely structured and episodic, depicts the absurd life experiences of a group of young people and reflects the spiritual emptiness and muddled state of postwar American youth widely regarded as a classic of the hippie movement and the beat generation in the 1960s. “On the Road” is the the protagonist Sal’s pursuit of personality along with Dean, Marylou, several young men and women across the continental United States to Mexico. They drank too much, talked too much about Zen in the East, blocked cars when they got tired, slept in villages, and wandered from New York to San Francisco. At the same time, the book embodies the techniques of improvisation and spontaneity that the author advocates: the natural flow of thought, counter-plot, heavy use of slang, colloquial language, long, ungrammatical sentences, and extensive references to American social and cultural mores. On the other hand, the book shows the mountains, plains, deserts, and towns in the vast land of United States.

Like the beat generation in real life, the characters in “On the Road” are rebellious young people who defy political authority, secular ideas, traditional morality and law. In the oppressive and depressing society of the McCarthy era, these young people felt unbearable oppression and bondage and were always looking for relief. They are frantically speeding back and forth across the vast continent as they seek instinctive release, self-expression, and spiritual freedom. Their addiction to drugs, sexual indulgence, and jazz music were also, to a larger extent, extreme manifestations of their search for soul liberation. “On the Road” isn’t just about how these young people are challenging mainstream culture, venting their frustration, and trying to break free of its constraints. That is to say, it is not just about denial, but more importantly, it is also about these young people’s painful exploration of new ways of life and beliefs. Perhaps the most profound thing about Kerouac is not so much the extreme life experiences of the beat generation, their rebellion and pursuit, their nirvana and misery, but his reflections on the beat movement itself. It is this kind of thinking that best illustrates the spiritual pursuit and endless transcendence demonstrated by Kerouac and the beat writers.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: The Hairy Ape by Eugene O’Neill

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The Hairy Ape is a classic drama of realism, expressionism and symbolism created by Nobel laureate Eugene O ‘Neill in 1921. The play consists of eight scenes. The work depicts in great detail the psychological process of people at the bottom of society from being happy and blindly optimistic to realizing their pathetic status in the society, reflecting the confusion and pain of laborers who lose their affiliation and find no way out in modern society with rapid industrial development. The author makes extensive use of expressionist dramatic techniques, such as the stream of consciousness, monologue, stage externalization of characters’ inner activities, non-line director’s instructions, etc. It is the foundation work of modern American drama.

The Hairy Ape describes the life of a seafaring worker. On a mail ship crossing the Atlantic, the firemen lived in the crowded forecastle. They were poor, irascible and eccentric. Yank the stoker was the most authoritative of them all. He had no family, no parents, no wife, no children, no relatives or friends. He lived in poverty and worked hard, but he did not worry about unemployment. He was uneducated, simple-minded, and confident in life. He did not feel at the bottom of society at all. He was always at ease, thinking that he was the foundation of the world and represented everything. His partners Paddy and Long disagreed. One day Miss. Mildred the capitalist came on board and called him a dirty beast. Yank’s pride had been hurt, and he was determined to take his revenge. After that, he unleashed his hatred by fighting in the street against a wealthy gentry, and was put in prison by the police. After he gets out, Yank tries to blow up Mildred’s father’s steel company but fails. After several rebuffs, he went to the zoo in great frustration, and poured out his heart to an ape in the cage. He opened the iron door and let the ape out. When he wanted to take revenge with him, the ape grabbed him, broke his ribs, and threw him into a cage. Inside the cage, Yank stood up painfully, looked around in bewilderment, and collapsed like a heap of flesh.

The big mail ship in The Hairy Ape symbolizes both modern life and ancient savage life. The play aims to explore the value of human survival, that is, to explore how people can be regarded as human beings, or how the contradiction between individuals and society can be resolved. The protagonist Yank is a symbol of modern people; he can not find a way out in modern life and wants to go back. But he couldn’t have gone back to his primitive life because he was a modern man after all and couldn’t have lived with a gorilla. In the author’s opinion, modern society makes people lose the essence of human being and makes people lose the universality of nature. In order to survive, people have to seek this kind of consistency. But when they have found it, they are of no avail but perish. The Hairy Ape reveals this embarrassing dilemma of modern people. The image of cages everywhere in the play is a symbol of this dilemma, and it also shows the author’s pessimistic mood about the future of human beings.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: All God’s Chillun Got Wings and Welded by Eugene O’Neill

Eugene O'NEILL / All God's Chillun Got Wings and Welded First ...

“All God’s Chillun Got Wings and Welded” is a love tragedy about race. Ella, a white girl, marries Jim, a black young man, but the marriage is more traumatizing than it is happy, and eventually, it overwhelms them. If Ella embodies the entanglements of ethnic intermarriage, then Jim more reflects the essence of marriage. Jim is hardworking but kind. Unlike most black people who were resigned to their fate and went with the flow, he has been making efforts to improve his situation and status. But as a descendant of blacks, he was haunted by racial prejudice and discrimination. The powerful external pressure was a constant reminder of his black identity and a heavy burden on him. The harder he tried, the more he felt the intensity of racial prejudice and discrimination, which made him helpless even in the face of good white people. Simply because he had done something that many blacks would not or could not do, he was an outlier in the black and white world. If it was a naive child who drank lime-water as a boy and wanted to whiten his skin to have the same complexion as the girl he liked, it was a grown man who dreamed of going to law school and becoming a lawyer. For this, Jim made a hard effort, but he couldn’t get it. After growing up, most of the young people with the same color of skin were moving forward helplessly along the road of their parents’ life.

Only he was diligent and studied hard. He became one of the few people of his age, making him incompatible with black and white people. Maybe we can blame Jim for not being strong enough, but how can a person fight against the whole society? We can see the huge invisible pressure of society from his repeated failures. On the other hand, his failure was accompanied by care and sacrifice for his sick wife. As a man, he loved Ella, and he loved the innocent playmate of his childhood without regret. In the face of the girl he admired so much, her physical and mental pain made his heart ache. Jim hopes that his love for Ella’s ordeal will help her move on from her past. The past was over, but then Ella fell deeper into the misery of loving her husband but not being able to acknowledge his black identity from the bottom of her heart. All this made her suffer, she did not know what to do, the feelings of love and hate torn her heart. For Jim, Ella is his life, especially when they are ostracized by the whole society, and the husband and wife become a pair of unhappy lovers. For the sake of peace and happiness, they went to a foreign country, and he obeyed his wife, even as brother and sister, whenever she was happy. Instead, they found no peace in foreign lands. Although racial prejudice and discrimination did not exist there, what they heard and saw in their own country left a shadow in their hearts far more cruel and terrible than real life. Her union with her black husband made Ella feel ashamed and she tried everything to hide for peace.

There was nothing Jim could do about it. He loved his wife, but he could not relieve her mental pain. He could only blame himself for everything, even though he had done nothing wrong. Faced with his ailing wife, he felt guilty and could only try his best to take care of her to atone for his sin. Ella became more and more insane, and one more day with her was a greater risk of being killed. Sending her to a nursing home would liberate him, but it would kill her and she would die of shame which is something that Jim, who loved Ella so much, could never do. This is an ordinary man, on the one hand, he can not give up the dream, on the other hand, he is deeply in love with the woman. The woman he had married was sick, and it was the same woman who, fearing his success, had been trying to obstruct him. He must choose between this woman and his dream. In order to love this woman, in order to keep them together, he has to give up his dream completely. There was no hope of equality and harmony, no hope of success that would prove his worth and give his wife pride, and all that remained was a madwoman and a broken-hearted man. God created this world, and he also created human beings who live in it. But God has failed to instill in all men the capacity to accept and love all men. So in this world, no matter how good and how hard our protagonists work, they will face the only failure in the end.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: The Glass Menagerie

The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams, Paperback | Barnes & Noble®

The Glass Menagerie is a play by Tennessee Williams, an American playwright. It tells the story of an ordinary family in St. Louis during the Great Depression and how to escape the harsh reality and the painful memories that always haunt them. At the time of the story, the father of the family is long gone, but a photograph of him hangs in the center of the stage background. The mother Amanda was preoccupied with the memories of her girlhood visits. The son Tom loved writing and was a worker in a shoe factory. His sister Laura, who was born disabled, is crouched at home and likes to play with her glass animals. Mother asked Tom to find someone to marry for his sister, Tom took his colleague Jim home for dinner. Jim is warm and cheerful, and his visit awakens Laura’s pent-up enthusiasm and temporarily takes her out of the glass world. However, The sudden news that Jim is engaged forces Laura back into her closed world. Amanda blamed her son for this and eventually drove him away in anger.

Amanda, Tom and Laura in The Glass Menagerie are representatives of a struggling Southern culture. Amanda came from a southern plantation owner’s family and was deeply immersed in southern mythology and culture. In the blooming years of her youth, she had many choices, but she fell in love with her husband the poet because he had a charming smile. Abandoned by her husband shortly after their marriage, Amanda spent her struggling life reminiscing about her ladylike days. In the industrial cities of the time, Amanda could find no place of her own. As a victim of a lost era, all she could do was frantically cling to it. Although Amanda knew that the south of the past had gone forever, she could not get rid of her attachment to the southern culture. She instilled her southern lady values into her daughter over and over again, stubbornly clinging to her beliefs regardless of the progress of time and the development of society.

Amanda’s son Tom and daughter Laura have been living under the shadow of her mother’s declining southern plantation culture, entangled in the contradiction between reality and ideal, until their characters become distorted. Tom’s menial labor was the main source of family income, and in southern culture, such work that was supposed to be done by slaves was not respectable. Nicknamed Shakespeare, Tom has inherited his father’s poetic temperament, a restless heart constantly called from afar, and the only way to cope with a boring shoe factory job, a stressful living environment, and his mother’s nagging is to spend night after night at the cinema. Tom knew that he was responsible for his family, but his dream of being a poet was incompatible with the reality, and his desire to break free and realize himself was so strong. Laura’s plainness and slight deformity of the leg were not a problem, but in a southern culture where women were supposed to please and cling to men by their looks, her disability was a major drawback. It was her mother Amanda’s implicit message to her daughter that led to Laura’s extreme low self-esteem and psychological disorder. The pure and fragile Laura is unable to communicate with people normally, has a pathological fear of the outside world, and is unable to survive on her own. She can only find comfort in a group of delicate and fragile glass animals she has collected. But her spiritual home, The Glass Menagerie, may disappear at any time.

The evil of slavery eventually led to the Civil War, and the defeat of the war was a fatal blow to the proud and confident southerners. Guilt, failure, poverty, and moral depravity became shadows of southern moral consciousness. Southerners consoled themselves by reminiscing and imagining the good old days. Hence the magical southern myth was born, an important part of the southern cultural tradition. The south, with cotton as the main product, enjoyed a stable and prosperous economy, and the people in the south were happy and harmonious. Even black slaves in plantations continued to breed under the protection of white people. There are even some southerners who believe that the mythical south is the real south. Yet conscience-conscious southerners were deep in their hearts torn between love and hate, memories and dreams, pride and fear, clinging and doubt for the sins of their forefathers, slavery, and lynchings.

-Coreen C.

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

Farewell to Arms tells the story of an American teenager, Frederick Henry who met Catherine Barkley, a British nurse, while volunteering as an ambulance driver in northern Italy during World War I. Henry was wounded by a shell while on duty at the front and was taken to a Milan hospital. Due to the shortage of nurses, Catherine also came to Milan; the two meet again. This time, Henry found himself deeply in love with Miss Barkley. During the medical treatment in Milan, the two were in love and had a good time. During this time, Catherine became pregnant. When Henry returned to the front from his wounds, he found the Italian army demoralized, full of defeat and despair. German attack finally crushed the Italian resistance.

The soldiers were very excited and anti-war enthusiasm was high.In front of a bridge, the Italian front army began to arrest officers who were alleged to have deserted their posts. Henry escaped execution by jumping into the river while others were interrogated. He finally realized that his duty as a soldier had been washed away with the river. At this time, he has only one purpose: to find Catherine, and then the two would escape the bitter sea of war. Henry travels to Milan and finds that Catherine has gone to a resort town on the frontier. When Henry found Catherine, they were happily together again. However, they were chased by the Italian police and had to flee to Switzerland. Catherine died in childbirth, leaving Henry alone in exile.

Hemingway in A Farewell to Arms successfully created the war-torn hero Henry as a strong, brave, confused, and desperate hero. Through Henry’s disillusionment from hope to disappointment and then to despair, Hemingway profoundly revealed to people the great destruction and injury caused by war to society and humanity. He called on people to have a thorough reflection and awakening to the war, to persist in opposing it as a major and far-reaching cause until one day all mankind can finally say “farewell” to weapons.

-Coreen C.

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, Paperback ...

Biff, Mick, Copeland, and Jake, four people living in a small town in the south of The United States, all have their own ideas and goals. However, they fail in their attempts to communicate with the people around them, leaving them in a lonely situation that no one understands. Everyone is afraid of loneliness and unwilling to live alone but is lonely every day. Biff runs a cafe, and one of his favorite things to do is observe the diverse clientele sitting in the cafe. The marital life between Biff and his wife Alice is not harmonious and they seldom talk. Mick is a masculine little girl who loves music and painting and wants to get out of town and become a musician. But her dream was not supported by her family, and her parents only thought it was whimsical.

Copeland was a black doctor. He always had a strong sense of responsibility and mission. He made it his solemn mission to save the whole black race. He sacrificed his family for his ideal, leaving his wife and children behind. Jake was an active organizer of the workers’ movement with his own political views. He felt disappointed at the failure in his work and helpless at the whole social system. His heart yearned for someone who would understand him. To many in the town, Singer is the perfect man. He generously helped everyone in need. He was a patient listener who listened to their chatter with great interest, so everyone looked to him as a confidant and a source of support.

There are many legends about him in the town, and some people regard him as the incarnation of God. Biff, Mick, Copeland, and Jake all think that Singer understands what they are saying and agrees with the way they think and act. In fact, the irony is that Singer never understood them at all. Mr. Singer just needs them to cope with his loneliness. In the same way, they cannot really read Singer whose loneliness is so deep and hidden. As a child, Singer yearned for love and belonging. Singh and his best friend Antonapoulos lived together in the town for ten years.

Deep love for Antonapoulos was the backbone of his life. After a serious illness, Antonapoulos became irritable and was no longer content to stay at home quietly at night. When he went out, Singer followed him closely, and they went into a restaurant and sat down at a table, while Antonapoulos secretly pocketed sugar cubes or some silver. Singer always picks up the tab after him. Antonapoulos is eventually sent to an alien psychiatric hospital, and Singer’s life is filled with memories of their happy past and the prospect of a brief vacation together. Without him, Singer moves to a new house where he spends his boring time with Biff, Mick, Copeland, and Jake. When he went to see his companion for the third time, he received news of his death. Singer was then so desperate that he shot himself.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

Six Reasons to Not Like “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot | Tony's ...

“The Waste Land” is a long poem by English poet Thomas Eliot. “The Waste Land” consists of five chapters: The Burial of the Dead, A Game of Chess, The Fire Sermon, Death by Water, and What the Thunder Said. Eliot used a large number of allusions, including legends and myths, classical literature such as Dante and Shakespeare, religious elements such as Buddhism and the Bible, and even linguistic, anthropological and philosophical information. These allusions are not only the objective counterpart of the poet’s emotions, but also bear the whole structure of the poem through various metaphors. This collection of poems expresses the spiritual disillusionment of the Western generation and regarded as an epoch-making work in modern Western literature.

“The Waste Land” presents a big leap in thinking; the cohesion between images and scenes is often abrupt. The poet’s emotions lie behind strange images and symbols because these images and symbols correspond to the poet’s feelings. With many quotations, allusions, dialogues and scenes, it forms a colorful picture. The picture has different levels and contains an atmosphere that can fully arouse the reader’s imagination. The wilted wasteland — vulgar and ugly people who have died — the hope of resurrection running through the bleak and hazy picture of the whole poem composes the motif of “The Waste Land”. It profoundly shows the original appearance of the western society, which is full of human desires, moral depravity, despicable and dark life.

It also conveys the general disgust, disappointment, and disillusionment of westerners towards the world and reality after WWI. It shows the psychopathy and spiritual crisis of a generation, thus negating the modern Western civilization. At the same time, the poem attributed the depravity of western society to the sins of human beings and regarded the restoration of religious spirit as a panacea in saving the Western world and modern people. “The Waste Land”, a song lyric poem, has an eclectic style of expression, personifying symbolism and even metaphysics. It exhibits a riot of statements and sighs, of lyric and irony, of description and epigrams, of stately and elegant verses, of laughing and urban slang.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: Martin Eden by Jack London

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Martin Eden is a semi-autobiographical novel written by American writer Jack London. The story tells about young sailor Martin Eden to get acquainted with Miss Rose of high society by chance, be inspired by her, and began his hard creation career. Despite all the setbacks, he still refused to obey Rose’s arrangement to enter her father’s office and become a promising young man. Then his fortune suddenly changed, and manuscripts that had previously been rejected were published and he became a popular writer. Friends and relatives who despised him before fell over each other to invite him to dinner, and Miss Rose who had broken up with him also came to throw herself on him. This makes him see clearly this world as a cold society; the wonderful illusion that holds him to love also is also disillusioned thoroughly.

In the real American society where Jack London lives, the United States has entered the period of monopoly capitalism. The bourgeoisie not only monopolizes the material wealth of society but also monopolizes the spiritual wealth. The bourgeoisie believes that all good things in the society belong to them, no matter in material life or in spiritual life. In the face of the underclass they turned their noses up. Therefore, in Jack London’s novel Martin Eden, the criticism and accusation of the corruption of the capitalist system, the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie, and the inequality of class hierarchy can be seen everywhere. Through the description of the text, the reader can see different faces of the characters in the novel and feel the resistance behind feelings of the hero and heroine, their irreconcilable differences in values, and the nature each class in the capitalist society.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

The Sound and the Fury - Wikipedia

The Sound and the Fury follows the family tragedy of fallen landowners the Compson family in the South. Old Compson loafed and drank too much. His wife is selfish and cruel and complains about everything. The eldest son Quentin desperately clings to the so-called old traditions of the South because his sister Caddy’s liberal approach to sex is seen as a disgrace to the identity of a southern lady. The second son Jason is cold and greedy. The third son Benji is mentally disabled he has the intelligence of a three year-old at age thirty-three. Through the inner monologue of the three sons, the whole novel starts around Caddy’s depravity, and finally it is supplemented by the limited perspective of the black maid Dilcey Gibson. Faulkner adopts a multi-angle narrative approach in this book.

The relationship between children who live without love and warmth in a family is full of contradictions and discord. Jason was a victim of his parents’ cold war. His mother’s preference for Jason caused him to be isolated from the other children. While in childhood Caddy, Quentin, and Benji played together, Jason was far away alone. In order to protect the interests of Benji, Caddy rankled Jason. Growing up in isolation, Jason lacks a sense of security and trust in others and becomes callous and cynical. After taking charge of family affairs as an adult, Jason curses, sneers, and blackmails Katie as a kind of revenge. In the absence of maternal love in the family, all these problems potentially led to the decline of the Compsons.

As for Benji, Mr. Compson showed no love and care because of his mental deficiency. With Jason, Mr. Compson took a cold and dismissive attitude. Mr. Compson was partial to his daughter Caddy but neglected her proper guidance, letting her go as she pleased. Mrs. Compson as a mother exhibited the least care and love for her children and never thought of their welfare. She saw her mentally retarded son as a punishment from God, believed that Caddy had been hostile to her since childhood, and that Quentin’s suicide was an act of revenge against her. From The Sound and the Fury, we can also see Faulkner’s high level of understanding and summarizing ability of life and history. Although his work is confusing and sometimes dreamlike, it actually presents a side of historic change in the American South through the disintegration and dying of an old family. As you can see, the old South has indeed collapsed irretrievably. Its economic base has long since deteriorated, and its remaining superstructure is crumbling. Caddy’s fall implies the downfall of the Southern code of ethics. Benji had limbs but no ability to think, while Quentin had complicated thoughts but lost the ability to act. The other brother Jason saw only money in his eyes and simply abandoned his old values.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman: 9780451419170 ...

Leaves of Grass is a collection of romantic poems with more than 300 poems. The collection of Leaves of Grass is the representative work of the American poet Walt Whitman and the first collection of poetry with the national style in the history of American literature. It has created a generation of poetry style and has had a great impact on American poetry.

Leaves of Grass also has a major innovation in artistic form, the poet broke the long-standing format of American poetry and created a “free style” poetry form. In terms of the structure of the poem, the poet adopts a large number of forms such as refrain, row, long sentence and parallel structure. Whitman also resorted to the usage of symbols and metaphors. The collection is characterized by colloquialism, with a rich expressive force and eloquent style. The poetry is sincere and fervent. The style is bold and fresh, making one one feel sick after reading it.

Leaves of Grass plays a very important role in the history of American poetry and even in the history of literature. It is a world-renowned masterpiece that ushered in a new era of American national poetry and its influence on even the English language as a whole can be described as revolutionary. Whitman’s collection of leaves of Grass was first published in 1855 with only twelve poems. By the time of his death, the last edition contained nearly four hundred poems. He named his collection Leaves of Grass because they represented the most ordinary Americans at the bottom of our society.

-Coreen C.