The Crucible by Arthur Miller

The Crucible is a novel based around fear. Every action that occurs is due to the fear of punishment and fear of others. It appears completely outrageous yet parallel’s the red scare in the United States and even some of the fear-based racism occurring in today’s society over the coronavirus. There is much to be learned from this novel and the chaos that fear-based decisions create.

However, it is an interesting story with intriguing insights into human nature. The entire story is based on a lie given by a girl, Abigail Williams, who does not want to get in trouble. She and her friends were caught dancing in the woods, something banned in the Puritan society in which The Crucible was set in. Instead of accepting blame for her actions, she blames Tituba of witchcraft as a scapegoat. From this, society degrades blaming everybody of witchcraft for one reason or another. Though truly, not a single person was a witch. People were blaming each other for witchcraft as either a scapegoat for themselves or to get vengeance on a neighbor.

The courts, the people, and the church all believe the web of lies that have been created. Falling into complete hysteria. Nothing matters other than catching witches. They leave their children, their crops, their animals, and their society in ruins just to accuse one another of actions that did not occur.

This plot is intriguing because it mimics many aspects of current life and, though it is a play it is still easy to read. It attempts to teach society the lesson of not allowing hysteria to control life which, is something that today’s society needs especially with the fear of the coronavirus. It allows readers to really reflect on their own lives and see the faults in their own society.

This is a must-read for everybody. The message it gives is something that every human in today’s society must understand to help society reign in their senses and not let the world collapse with fear of the virus.

-Ava G.

The Crucible by Arthur Miller is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

The Fifth Column by Ernest Hemingway

Fifth Column eBook by Ernest Hemingway | Official Publisher Page ...

The Fifth Column is a play by American writer Ernest Hemingway, first published in 1938. The play tells the story of Philip Rawlings, an active, attentive warrior at night, though ostensibly a bystander with no connection to Spain. This play is the only one that Hemingway wrote in his whole life and has a strong autobiographical character. Rawlings, the hero, was based on Hemingway. The Fifth Column is a three-act play depicting the Republican government in Madrid besieged by Franco rebels during the Spanish Civil War. An American, Philip Rawlings, and a German, Max, sent by the Republican government security service to spy bravely on the rebels, capture an important prisoner, and then let him escape.

Many fifth column members were subsequently captured. Under severe torture, they confessed their accomplices, and three hundred others were arrested. Rawlings and his assistant Max eventually break up the rebel spy ring in Madrid’s fifth column. In time of peace, everyone’s life is equal, and no one can deprive another person of the right to live. But when the smoke of war is in the air, it is easy to form a disorderly ethical environment. Especially when the unjust party temporarily wins, they do not care about ethics at all, but enjoy the privileges brought by the victory of war and indulge their desires to do whatever they want.

The evil side of human nature is concentrated. Hemingway’s writing has a special style, that is, colloquialism. It is in these seemingly plain colloquialisms in his novels that the atmosphere of the story is profoundly delineated, as is also the case in The Fifth Column, where the story appears to be simple, but the ups and downs of the characters are clearly revealed in the spoken language. The play focuses on Philip’s love affair with Dorothy, the daughter of a middle-class American, who is vain and incompetent. In the end, Philip gave her up for his political convictions in favour of a grisly Moorish woman. From Dorothy’s characterization, it is clear that Hemingway has begun to use the rich but insatiable American female as a symbol of a hostile class in The Fifth Column.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow

Humboldt's Gift (Penguin Classics): Bellow, Saul, Eugenides ...

Born into a Hungarian Jewish immigrant family, Von Humboldt Fleischer had the romantic temperament of a poet. Many things were sacred in his eyes, and he dreamed of transforming the world with art. But his success did not last long, and he was vilified by some unscrupulous writers. By the end of the 1940s his romanticism was out of date and the era of fanaticism and poetry was over. Art could not transform society, so he tried to get involved in politics, but his bad luck was so bad that he was sent to an insane asylum. Although he was released from the hospital, he soon died in a New York tavern and was buried in a funeral mound. Charles Citrine was the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. After his rise to fame, he went to New York to follow the great poet where Humboldt helped him to become a university lecturer and to write a historical play based on him.

While Humboldt was very poor, Citrine’s play was a hit on Broadway. Fame was followed by money and beauty and he lived a life of luxury. The temptation of material broke his worship of the authority of art and his pursuit of serious thoughts, which made him lose his creative inspiration. At the same time, he could not get rid of the intellectual disposition. His life is full of material and spiritual contradictions, both want to enrich the human soul, but also want fame and wealth. His soul was lost in uncertainty and anguish. After years of spendthrift, divorceable wives, dissolute mistresses, lawyers, and social gangsters trying to cash in on him, he went broke and ended up in a cheap boarding house in Spain. Just when he was at his wit’s end, he was presented with Humboldt’s bequest — two script outlines, one of which has been made into a movie and has become a worldwide sensation. Humboldt’s gift not only saved his life and future, but also gave him a deeper understanding of Humboldt’s pain and madness along with the fate of intellectuals.

“Humboldt’s Gift” is a genre painting of contemporary American society. No street, no building, no car, no dress, and no hairdo is imaginary. Even fictional characters are based on real people living in the real world. “Humboldt’s Gift” is a panorama of American society on a grand scale. From hooligans to senators, from the White House to chicken joints, from mystics to mafia-controlled booty shops, poets, scholars, cultural crooks, big money gamblers, judges, lawyers, psychiatrists, and moneymakers, the list goes on and on.

-Coreen C.

The Three Theban Plays: Tragedy, Tragedy, and more Tragedy!

Image courtesy of Britannica.com/biography/Sophocles

Oh, Sophocles–the man, the myth, the legend. According to my English teacher, he’s arguably one of the greatest playwrights of all time (don’t worry, Shakespeare, we haven’t forgotten you either). But personally, I kind of…yeah, okay, I have to admit it…despise plays (insert drop the mic gifs here). I mean, reading about two people yammering on in verse to one another for three hundred pages, versus being immersed in a totally epic duel between Harry Potter and Voldemort? I think the choice is obvious here, but who knows, maybe it’s just me.

So how do you get an anti-play person to read one? Answer: assign it for English homework! Now, English Honors as a freshman is pretty fun; I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t enjoying it so far. Then, well, the tables turn big time when the teacher straight up announces, “Class, we’re going to reading Oedipus Rex from Sophocles’ Three Theban Plays!”

English took a pretty big plunge down the “Favorite Classes List” after I heard that one.

I’d started dreading going to class, and all because of one dumb play. When you start enjoying Honors Algebra 2 Trig more than English, you know you’ve run into a serious problem, because I was always sort of a bookworm (where are my Percy Jackson fans at? Just checking).

Anyways, we started doing some background learning about Greek plays, especially tragedies. The Greek part interested me a little, since I’m a total mythology fan, but the Theban Plays looked pretty boring to me. I’d never read tragedies before–again, the awesome sword-fighting stuff in fiction books literally kills me, no pun intended.

So anyway, I pretty much figured out (with a considerable lack of enthusiasm, may I add) that the main characters of the play were this guy named Oedipus, who’s king of Thebes, his wife Jocasta, a blind prophet named Tiresias, Jocasta’s brother Creon, a Shepherd, a Messenger, and friends. So yep, boring.

I figured Greek tragedies, how tragic can they get? Probably a lot of death and stuff, but super tragic, as in “oh nooo, what a poor guy!” sort of thing? No way.

Ha…ha…nevermind.

I’m not really going to go into detail about what exactly makes Oedipus Rex tragic, because it’s, um, really tragic. But if you do read it, whether for fun or for school, let this be a warning that this sort of tragedy is unexpected. You might expect to feel sad or something along those lines (at least, that was what I was anticipating), but I ended up being…disgusted. Revolted. The whole, “WHAT?!” moment.

I know this is infuriating, but no, I simply cannot tell you the crux of this tragedy. If you’ve already read this particular play, good for you! We can be mildly–or highly–disturbed together! Just a side note, though: I’d only recommend this play for older readers, as the content gets pretty icky as the play goes on.

So after this whole ordeal? I actually think the Theban Plays are a pretty good read (collective gasp). I think I was too stuck up on my own definition of tragedy–the whole cliche, feeling depressed afterward, stuff like that. Nah, Oedipus Rex was more, “WHAT NO WAY DID HE JUST–NO, EW, ARGH, THAT’S NOT POSSIBLE, HOW COULD–NO, STOP RIGHT NOW!”

But anyways, Sophocles himself wrote one rollercoaster of a play, which, yes, I would like to commend him on. The use of dramatic irony, keeping the audience in suspense as Oedipus’s life unravels and chaos falls upon the city of Thebes, is incredible. And, I have to admit, interesting.

Besides, Greek tragedies–despite all their horror–reveal important life lessons through the Chorus, our a group of singing, chanting men who represent the city’s citizens. Again, read the play for yourself to discover the ultimate moral; I’ll have to keep you in the dark again.

So if you do decide to read the Theban Plays, well, I wish you the best of luck. But for now, I’ve got a character analysis on Oedipus I’ve got to write, which I’m totally looking forward to…but anyways, happy reading!!!

-Katherine L

The works of Sophocles are available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s classic play, “Romeo and Juliet,” sheds a light on young love and risky decisions. Depending on what you think of Fate, you either really enjoy this romantic story or get extremely annoyed with its resolution. It’s a light fun play that touches on youthful passion but ends on a dark twist.

Taking place in Verona, Italy, this tragedy illustrates the romance between two teenagers from two feuding families. Ultimately, Romeo and Juliet are enemies but after they meet at a party, their family names are nothing more but a barrier between them. They get married in secret with the help of a few characters and plan to run away together. However this plan is altered when a series of unfortunate events results in both of them tragically dying. Many simple mistakes and the tragic ending could all have been avoided with a little more communication and clear thinking but Shakespeare wanted Fate to play a huge role in the outcome of the play.

In my opinion, the best aspect of this play is the flow of words and the speech that brings everything alive. The writing style itself is beautiful and Shakespeare finds a way to use words to shape the plot. For example, Romeo’s speech is dull and full of misery when he is rejected by Rosaline but as the play progresses and he meets Juliet, his words are bedazzled with figurative language. Juliet also has lovely soliloquies that are fun to annotate and dramatically read aloud. Another way Shakespeare really enhances his play is the use of characters. He provides the young and inexperienced Romeo and Juliet, the hysterical and crude Nurse, the outspoken and verbal Tybalt, the self-righteous and semi-helpful Friar Laurence, among many others to advance the play and add comic relief. Shakespeare skillfully writes this play to demonstrate Romeo and Juliet’s forbidden and rebellious love and the painful cost that hateful feuds bring.

-Jessica T.

Romeo and Juliet, and collective works of William Shakespeare, is available for checkout form the Mission Viejo Library

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

We all know about Romeo and Juliet. The famous star-crossed teenage lovers and “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art that Romeo?” sort of stuff. Personally, I didn’t like the play. Romeo and Juliet, as actual characters, were plain and the best character is Mercutio, who not only dies halfway through, but is the reason why the play became a tragedy.

On the other hand, I really liked Shakespeare’s style of writing. He writes all about death, blood and of the era when stories of knights and magic were popular. So I thought, “gee, is there a story that is dark, has fantasy and a lot of blood and death, but also has a decent romance and lively characters? And I didn’t have to look any farther than Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”

For those who like dark themes, like myself, there is a lot in this play from duels and poison to talking to skulls. Hamlet, the main character of this play, is told by the ghost of his father that he was murdered by Hamlet’s uncle, who is not only the new king of Denmark, but is married to Hamlet’s mother (a sinful act in its time). Hamlet spends the rest of the play not only facing the burden of a promise that he is not sure to keep, but additionally has to deal with the depression and suicidal thoughts leading up to the start of the play, something that a lot of teenagers could possibly relate to. And of course, it’s one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, so almost all of the named characters die by the end. There’s a lot of troubled minds to question and analyze, so fans of psychology would love this play. On top of that, despite the frequency of death, “Hamlet” is actually a better love story than “Romeo and Juliet.” Hamlet and Ophelia are the only link to each other’s sanity.

Finally, the characters are amazing. I loved their development throughout the play and how they appeal to the audience in their decisions. Ophelia, although a dutiful daughter in the end, sasses her father and brother when they tell her to stay away from Hamlet. Polonius, being the nosy parent, spies on everyone and knows their private business. Hamlet, who not only has the role of the emo teenager, but also is clever enough to make fun of every single character in the play. And poor Horatio, who wonders how he got caught up in this mess.

All in all I really enjoyed this play and hope that you get the chance to read it.

Hamlet, and all of its printed and film incarnations, is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. 

Antigone by Sophocles

oedipus_sophocles“Antigone” is one play in the book of The Oedipus Plays of Sophocles. Antigone starts after Oedipus passed away in Colonus. It is a famous tragedy set in the disastrous city of Thebes. Some popular themes featured in the play are male vs. female, family ties vs. civic duty, and morality vs. law.

Antigone and her sister, Ismene, decide to return to Thebes to help their brothers, Eteocles and Polynices. When they arrive at Thebes, the sisters come to know that both brothers have been killed. Eteocles has been given a proper burial, however, Creon refuses to do so for Polynices because he thinks he betrayed the city.  Antigone disobeys the law and buries Polynices anyway, in order to honor her brother and the life he lived. Creon finds out about the illegal burial soon enough, and when he locks Antigone up in a jail cell, she kills herself. The blind prophet Teiresias, Haemon, which is Creon’s son and Antigone’s fiance, and the Chorus beg to release her from prison, without the knowledge that she is already dead. Creon eventually surrenders, only to realize that she has killed herself. At the end of the play, Creon is left sorrowful and lonely, since nobody believed that his actions were justified.

-Nirmeet B.

Antigone is available for check out from the Mission Viejo Public Library

Two Plays: Blood Wedding by Frederico García Lorca and A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen

wells-theatre-210914_640While in contemporary times we do not perceive it as greatly as we once did, the theatre has unquestionably had an vast impact on art and culture. Since the days of Ancient Greece, the common man has flocked to the theatre to fulfill his urge to be entertained and engaged by stories. Today, drama is something of which the average person is latently cognizant, but it seems access to this artistic institution is increasingly hindered. Nonetheless, albeit the stage is the best mode to experience them, we do have access printed copies of these same theatrical works. I would like to briefly share two works which I recently read.

dolls_houseA Doll’s House (Et dukkehjem) is a late-19th century play composed by the prolific playwright Henrik Ibsen. In the spirit of realism, the major artistic movement of the time, the play does not aspire to amaze with a grand, heroic plot but rather observes the daily life of a typical, middle class Norwegian family. Set around Christmastime, the play follows Nora, a housewife, and her interactions with her husband, Tørvald, among others.

The driving factor of the play is that of Nora’s indebtedness to Krogstad, from whom she received a loan that saved her husband’s life. As Krogstad is about to lose his job at the bank, of which Tørvald will soon become the manager, the former man threatens Nora that she must persuade her husband to allow Krogstad to keep his job or he will reveal to Tørvald the loan, a shameful contract in which was not socially acceptable at the time for women to engage. Ultimately, Nora is paralyzed in her dire situation, and hopes for, as she says, “a miracle” that her husband may accept the actions she performed behind his back.

blood_weddingAlmost diametrically opposed to A Doll’s House in its stylistic features, Frederico Garcia Lorca’s early 20th-century play, Blood Wedding (Bodas de Sangre), is a work composed at the hight of modernism, the artistic movement focusing on symbolism and the usurpation of traditional theatrical norms.

Despite its utilization of the aforementioned devices, the central focus of the play is one that is not significantly out of the norm—a wedding. Lacking names for its characters, except for the antagonist, Leonardo, Blood Wedding depicts The Groom, a prosperous young man now in possession of a vineyard, and The Bride, Leonardo’s former lover whom she rejected for his poverty, in the days directly preceding their nuptials. Despite Leonardo’s quiet protestations, everything seems to be progressing smoothly. Soon the two youths are married, and the reception is at hand when the play take a turn for the worst. Leonardo and The Bride have eloped, and tragedy supersedes any prior joy.

Both plays discussed here have their merits in various aspects of their artistry, and though the components of their composition differ, perhaps the most fundamental concept that both is explore is the relation of the individual to society. Nora is suppressed in her domestic role and is largely ignorant of the word outside her door and herself. The Bride and Leonardo are prohibited from the free expression of their love because of the social limitations of economic viability and propriety. Both are tragic in their own right, but in their courage to present the problems of these individuals, they seem to support the individual and denounce society and the destructive forces that lie therein.

-Sebastian R., 11th grade