A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

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As a coming-of-age novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man depicts the growth of the protagonist Stephen from childhood to adolescence. It tells the story of a child growing up in an Irish Catholic family. It is both an autobiographical novel and a work of fiction. This novel mainly describes how a young Dubliner Stephen Dedalus tries to get rid of all kinds of influences that hinder his development — family constraints, religious traditions, and narrow nationalist sentiments, and pursue the true meaning of art and beauty.

The novel is mainly composed of two narrative clues, one is the growing process of the hero Stephen, the other is Stephen’s psychological activities. The first chapter of the novel describes the birth and growth of Stephen, and the second chapter describes his experiences as a teenager and his budding pursuit of women that lead him to the brothels for pleasure. The third chapter mainly describes that Stephen frequented brothels and his sexual hunger was satisfied, but the contradictions in his heart became more acute.

He proudly refused to repent, knowing full well his guilt. One day he heard the sermon of the Father Arnall on death, judgment, hell, and heaven, and he began to hate himself and to loathe himself exceedingly. After much mental struggle, he went to the chapel to confess his sins to the priest, and at last found peace of mind. The last chapter is about Stephen’s hard works, which were appreciated by the church who gave him a glorious opportunity to enter the ministry.

Many of the details in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man are based on Joyce’s early life, and the novel’s protagonist, Stephan Dedalus, has much in common with Joyce. This autobiographical novel portrays the image of a young artist from childhood to maturity and expresses a flying theme. Joyce describes Stephen’s experiences at different stages of life in children’s style, youth’s style, and adult’s style, and demonstrates Stephen’s inner feelings and ideology by means of spiritual insight and stream of consciousness.

As a coming-of-age novel that describes the inner process of young people, Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man profoundly describes the psychological growth process of Stephen, a young artist, from his baby’s hazy period to his youth’s mature period. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is arguably the most profound novel that traces the inner workings of young people in the 20th century. Each chapter of the novel revolves around a major event in Stephen’s formative years. The parts are linked to each other and follow the course of events step by step. Readers can clearly see Stephen’s growth path from a child to a young artist, and truly feel his pain and joy.

-Coreen C.

Authors We Love: Mary Flannery O’Connor

Flannery O'Connor (Author of A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other ...

Flannery O ‘Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, and graduated from Georgia Women’s College and the University of Iowa. She is a Catholic American novelist, short story writer, and critic. O ‘Connor has written two novels, 32 short stories, and numerous book and film reviews. O ‘Connor is a southern writer whose works have a southern Gothic style and rely heavily on regional settings and grotesque characters. O ‘Connor’s work also reflects her Roman Catholic beliefs and often examines questions of morality and ethics. O ‘Connor’s “The Complete Stories” won the National Book Award in 1972, posthumously, and was hailed by online readers as “one of the best American National Book Awards of all time.” Flannery O’Connor is said to have taught her favorite dwarf chicken to walk backwards when she was five years old. The stunt caught the attention of Pathe Studios, and a cameraman from the North was sent to O ‘Connor’s backyard in Savannah, Georgia, to record the stunt. O ‘Connor never saw the funny film, although it was shown in many American cinemas in 1932.

By The time she wrote “The King of The Birds” in 1961, O ‘Connor was a literary and artistic celebrity with a cult following. She made her name by publishing two novels — “Wise Blood” and “The Violent Bear It Away” and “A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Newsweek magazine featured a photograph of O ‘Connor’s pre-World War II home in Milledgeville, GA. Harper’s Bazaar has a rather glamorous portrait of O ‘Connor while her work has also been featured in Vogue. In her work, O ‘Connor depicted the American South. Set mostly in the rural South, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” features at least four main characters — a widowed, conservative old lady and her unsociable daughter — living on a farm. These characters probably have something in common with O ‘Connor and her mother. As time went on, people began to notice that O ‘Connor herself was a devout Roman Catholic, and that her novels seemed to have something to do with religion. In the writings of a collection of essays and a collection of letters published after her death, O ‘Connor not only makes clear her own religious beliefs and the crucial role they play in her work, but also makes detailed interpretations of some of her own novels.

-Coreen C.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor

“Wise Blood”, the first full-length novel by American writer O ‘Connor, is a religious fable discussing salvation through faith. “Wise Blood” is set in The city of Taulkinham, Tennessee in the mid-20th century. The protagonist Hazel Motes tries to eradicate the influence of Jesus on him, and takes a path of spiritual disillusionment and conversion mixed with sadness and joy, which ends in failure. Hazel Motes, the protagonist, grew up in a family of village ministers and wanted to become a priest, just like his grandfather. His faith wavered during his years abroad as a soldier, and after his demobilization he tried to cast off his religious convictions. In Taulkinham, Hazel meets Hawks, a pseudo-believer who preaches-disguised as a blind man, his illegitimate daughter Lily, and an 18-year-old boy named Enoch. Hazel spoke to everyone about blasphemy as the only way to achieve truth, and publicly promoted a Protestant religion without Jesus. However, the public was indifferent to his words, and the Protestantism he preached was exploited by Hawks as a money swindler. After driving over Hawk’s fake prophet, Hazel blinded himself and fell into a gutter on a stormy night.

Sin and redemption are the most important themes in O ‘Connor’s novels. In “Wise Blood” with strong religious color, both the narrative structure of the Bible and the image of the Bible are cleverly borrowed to highlight the theme of sin and redemption. The title “Wise Blood” symbolizes original sin in the Bible, and human beings are born with sin, which is also one of the most critical kernels in the humanistic concept of the Bible. In “Wise Blood”, Hazel’s sins are realized through violence. Violence against others became a means for Hazel to rebel against God. At the same time, he blinded himself with lime, tied himself with wire, and put on shoes filled with stones. Such violence against himself became a means of self-redemption. Hazel’s physical torture meant the death of his sins, bringing him back to the faith of his childhood, and giving him grace. The two world wars completely disillusioned people’s dreams, vanity of pleasure behind the appearance of concealing the human selfish hypocrisy, empty spirit, and withered soul. These people are immersed in the mire of crime and do not know, mankind is facing an unprecedented crisis of faith. O ‘Connor wants to make those who believe that God is dead realize their own defects and sins through violence.

-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: The Hunchback of Notre-Dame by Victor Hugo

The Hunchback of Notre Dame - Kindle edition by Hugo, Victor ...

“The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” is a story set in 15th century France with a quirky and contrasting approach. The novel exposes the hypocrisy of religion, declares the bankruptcy of asceticism, praises kindness, love and self-sacrifice of the lower working people, and reflects Hugo’s humanitarian thoughts. “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” is a tragedy in which the good innocent people were tortured and persecuted under the autocratic system. The heroine Esmeralda is a kind and pure young girl.

When the peddler poet, Granger, strayed late at night into a gathering place for vagabonds and beggars in Paris, and was about to be killed, she came forward and offered to marry him, taking him under her protection, though she did not love him. When Quasimodo was whipped in the blazing sun and cried out in pain of thirst, she was the only one who sympathized with the hideous bell-ringer who had hijacked her in the middle of the night. She thought the world was as pure as her, and she died in passionate love with the heartless Phoebus. She was steadfast in character, willing to die before Claude’s insolence. She was the darling of the vagabonds and beggars of Paris, but self-supporting and undefiled.

Hugo put such a bright image in the dark background of the Middle Ages, describing how the society ruled by despotism and rampant with the power of the church threatened her and persecuted her like a huge net, strangling her by horrible means. The religious fanaticism of Bohemian maidens, the vicious plots of church figures to satisfy their vile and animal desires, the brutality of the despotic state regime… all of these are described by Hugo in a romantic way as terrible as a nightmare.

Through this description, the author shows the darkness of the feudal autocratic society and highlights an anti-feudal theme of the work. Whether it’s Crowder or Quasimodo, they’re people of society at the end of the day. The division and conflict in their hearts reflected the division and conflict between theocracy and human rights, ignorance and knowledge seeking in their time, between the huge and heavy dark system and the struggling of vulnerable individuals, which finally led to the tragic end of all the characters.The literary value and social significance of “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame” have a far-reaching influence. This novel, breaking the shackles of classicism, is a milestone in romantic works. Since its release, the novel has been adapted into numerous films, cartoons and plays.

-Coreen C.

Book Review: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Dover Children's Evergreen Classics ...

The novel takes place in the first half of the 19th century in a small town on the banks of the Mississippi River. The hero Tom Sawyer is innocent and lively, dares to explore, pursues freedom avidly,but cannot bear to restrain his individuality and endure boring life. In the antebellum period of the novel, the small town of St. Petersburg is in some ways a microcosm of American society. Through the adventures of the protagonist, the novel satirizes and criticizes vulgar social customs, hypocritical religious rituals and stereotyped school education in The United States, and describes the free and lively hearts of children with cheerful writing.

Tom lost his mother in infancy and was adopted by his aunt. Clever and naughty Tom could not stand the control of his aunt and school teacher. Late one night, while playing in a cemetery with his good friend Huckleberry Finn, he happened to witness a murder. For fear of being discovered by the murderer they know this matter, Tom, Huckleberry and another small friend together fled to a desert island to become “pirate”. Their family thought they were drowned, but they turned up at their own “funeral”. After a fierce ideological struggle, Tom finally stood up and testified against the murderer. Soon after during a picnic, he and his sweetheart Betsy got lost in a cave and faced death for three days and nights. After he manages to escape danger later, Tom Sawyer found the treasure that the murderer buried together with his good friend Huckleberry Finn.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer marks further development of Mark Twain’s realistic creation. This book describes the free and lively psychology of children, and in contrast exposes the vulgar conservative life of small town citizens, highlighting their dull and dreary lifestyle. Mischievous and lively, full of fantasy and justice, Tom planned to go out for adventures in order to get rid of the shackles of reality and enjoy the full pleasure of freedom. All of this contradicts the capitalist living environment and is not allowed by secular morality and church precepts. Generally speaking, criticizing stagnation, vulgarity and religious hypocrisy of American local life can be seen as the main content of the novel.

-Coreen C.

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce

According to Greek mythology, Athens paid Crete seven virgins every nine years. The children were put into the Minos maze and, no matter how they walked, they died of thirst or were eaten by Minotaur, the monster of the labyrinth. Joyce associated this myth with Finnegans Wake. Finnegans Wake is a maze like the Minos Maze. Joyce created the maze with his own rules, a game he played his own way, in which he no longer had to obey other people’s rules, nor care about their recognition or participation. Just as the fate of children lurks in the Minos labyrinth, so the Finnega’s Wake contains a prediction of the fate of mankind that others may not understand, but will happen as predicted. From this perspective, Finnegans Wake is both a Minos labyrinth and an Eden created by Joyce himself, and also a prophecy about the fate of mankind.

In fact, In Joyce’s mind, Finnegans Wake was a work on a level with the Bible and other human sacred texts that readers must read with awe and shame. Finnegans Wake talks about a letter that the hen is constantly digging. The hen searched all the winding world for a very large piece of writing paper just as the clock struck twelve. The sentence, if read in Joyce’s way of making puns, could also be interpreted as the hen searching through all the complicated polysemous words at the stroke of twelve, looking for a piece of writing paper as big as God. Joyce also makes repeated references to the 6th or 9th century Irish holy book, The Great Book of Gaelic, and the hen digs the letter in Finnegans Wake is a stylistic parody of The Great Book of Gaelic. Historically, The Great Book of Gaelic had been buried like the letter dug up by the hen to protect it from the invading Danes, and centuries later it had been excavated and worn like a letter.

The letter, The Great Book of Gaelic, and Finnegans Wake are the same thing in Joyce’s mind, and if the hen is looking for the letter in a winding world, the reader is looking for clues to the Wake in Joyce’s labyrinth of complex and polysemous words. If the ragged book of The Great Book of Gaelic requires the reverence and patience of posterity, Finnegans Wake demands that its readers devote their lives to a book written, albeit by a contemporary writer. Most notably, Joyce actually regarded his Finnegans Wake as the same holy book as The Great Book of Gaelic. It’s as sacred and profound as The Great Book of Gaelic, and the process of reading it is the same as the process of interpreting The Great Book of Gaelic, the process of interpreting scripture. In this way the reader can understand why Joyce employs such obscure language in Finnegans Wake: Finnegans Wake is Joyce’s use of enigmatic language and content to reveal the mysteries of human destiny like The Great Book of Gaelic.

Book Review: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

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An excellent psychological description is the essence of the artistic charm of Anna Karenina. The psychological description of the characters is an important part of the whole work. Anna’s choice shows human error. In order to realize the narrow personal love, she did not mind leaving her family as a slave to her own lust. Leo Tolstoy profoundly reveals the origin of Anna’s tragic fate through this magnificent work, that is, the incomplete emotional personality determines Anna’s tragic fate. Although her life exploration is aimed at realizing the spiritual self-pursuit, her life force lacks rational coordination, support and control, resulting in a tragic ending of drifting with passion.

Anna vigorously pursues the extension of perceptual life, strives to explore the original existence mode of life, and earnestly calls for the return of human nature. This behavior mode and understanding of life are understandable, but it does not mean that we should completely abandon even a little bit of rational constraints. Anna in the pursuit of spiritual freedom and practice of the liberation of human nature at the same time fell into the sensual error of indulgence. The freedom she sought to cast off the shackles of society was a selfish freedom, a freedom without scruples, a satisfaction of emotional and possessive desires.

Freedom is not a simple sense of doing whatever you want to do, but a rational sense of active life stretch. If we abandon the principle of reason and only recognize the freedom of the individual, then the freedom of the individual can easily constitute a violation of the freedom of another person, harm the interests of the surrounding groups, lead to contradictions and conflicts, and ultimately make the freedom of the individual insecure and unstable. Just as the pareto principle in economics requires, the realization of individual freedom must be restrained by rationality to ensure the freedom of the whole society is not reduced, that is, the increase of individual freedom must be presupposed by respecting the freedom of other relevant individuals.

It is only under the guidance of reason that each individual seeks his or her own freedom that he or she will be recognized by the social subject. Freedom must be combined with reason to manifest and realize, so as to form a complete concept of moral self-discipline. On the contrary, freedom without reason is at best an empirical self, not a positive extension of life. Only by constraining oneself with the power of reason, realizing the unity of sensibility and rationality, and establishing a sound ideal personality, can we achieve the true state of freedom, which is the highest state that human beings should pursue.

Moreover, Tolstoy saw that in Russia, with the development of urban civilization and material civilization, people’s natural emotions were suppressed, subjectivity gradually lost, and they became the slaves of selfish desires. In the novel, Levin is a man who loses himself in the bureaucratic strife. Through this character, the author shows his reflection on rationality and his deep worry about the alienation of human nature. In the novel, Tolstoy also created two environments, two kinds of aristocrats, through the lives of Levin and Anna. One was the city, where the Karenin, the Oblonsky, and the Vronsky aristocracy lived.

The other was the countryside, where the Levin aristocracy lived. The former is far from nature, for selfish desire to slowly lose the natural emotion of people. In the competition between human beastliness and human nature, they gradually abandon the good self for their own selfish desires. And the latter is in the natural environment, in the real work to exercise the body, purify the mind, get real happiness. Tolstoy shows his opposition to urban civilization through different aristocratic attitudes towards nature. From the cultural point of view, Anna’s tragedy should be the manifestation of Russian cultural tragedy.

Anna struggled between emotional satisfaction and religious repression, lacking a rational regulatory link, a mental defect that showed the fragmentation of Russian culture. Russia is a latecomer to capitalism. It is a millennia-long religious and authoritarian system that keeps the state running. The scientific Enlightenment, which rose slowly in Russia from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century, was often led by the ruling class to serve the autocratic system, which resulted in a lack of real rational spirit and legal consciousness, let alone a sense of democracy.

In Russia, only a small number of intellectuals (such as Pushkin, Belinsky, Turgenev) were affected by western science, democracy and rational spirit. However, most intellectuals have a strong religious consciousness inherent in their minds (such as Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, etc., who best represent the characteristics of Russian culture). For the Russian people as a whole, their way of looking at problems and dealing with things is either instinctive desires or moral beliefs, and their instincts and beliefs are in a state of confrontation and division. Hence, Anna embodies the fractured nature of instinct and belief in Russian culture.

Just Above My Head by James Baldwin

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This is the sixth novel by James Baldwin, and again it is set in Harlem, New York where he grew up in. All of his books can be seen as children inappropriate but to some degree, I am just so engrossed in the realism aspect of these novels that I can’t seem to stop myself from checking out another one from the library. I actually really revered in the brotherhood of Hall and Arthur Montana. However, the character that made the most impression on me would certainly be Julia.

She was a child preacher from the age of eight and has since been a very devout Christian. Her parents always took huge pride in her which is also the reason why her brother hates her because she has all the attention of their parents. Gospel hymn quotations kind of adds a lyrical sense to the novel and thus suggests the fact that music has played a large part of the African American experience and life.

I know Julia did not want to be a preacher by heart or even believe in Christianity. However, she was a very filial girl and therefore would do anything to make her parents happy. By way of contrast when her mother passed away eventually due to health issues and his brother was sent away to her grandma because his father couldn’t endure him, Julia notices signs of degradation in her father. Which eventually, led to sexual assault and she was raped by her own father. Not only in the novel did I notice the main focus isn’t on racism anymore, but it just so much struck me when Baldwin employs a very vivid and strong way to protest against sexual abuse, a very morbid form when it was done by a father to his own daughter.

-Coreen C. 

Just Above My Head by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.

Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin

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This is another semi-autographical novel which makes it itself another classic and the first major work Baldwin has written. For one thing, I feel like a lot of children should be able to sympathize with John Grimes: we all wish and hanker to be our parents’ favorite child. We take care of our younger siblings because we want our parents to feel proud of us. But then a lot of times life treats us as unequally as how it treats John Grimes, his father abuses him because he wasn’t of his blood, but merely the child between his mother Elizabeth and another man he doesn’t know.

And then there is Gabriel’s sister Florence. In my opinion, she really hates her little brother again because of how unfairly their mother treated her. This religious woman, although strict toward her son, made Florence do everything and even denied her of her education. Sexism forced Florence to leave home and doubt religion altogether with the existence and faith in God because such a sinful man like Gabriel could become a preacher.

My two favorite characters: John and Florence both serve as the centers of the theme of injustice. They didn’t do anything wrong or egregious for their parents to hate them, but one because of her gender, the other of his blood denied them of any attention and love they could possibly get which really saddens me a lot according to the descriptions they were given in the book. Since this is semi-autobiographical I am surmising here that the author James Baldwin probably was not the favorite child either if not the least favorite child liked by his parents with eight siblings.

-Coreen C. 

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library