Literature Notes by I. J. L. Aaron’s Rod (D. H. Lawrence, 1922) The flautist Aaron Sissons

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Krapp, an aging man with a fondness for bananas, finds the tape “box three, spool five” that recounts details about his early life. Dissatisfied with his pompous, younger self, Krapp finally records a reel reflecting his experience of listening to his younger self before wrenching it off the recorder.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover (D. H. Lawrence, 1928)

    • Constance Reid’s sexual frustration with her upper-class husband Clifford Chatterley whose paralysis renders him impotent leads her into an affair with his gamekeeper Oliver Mellors, eventually culminating in their marriage.

The Lady or the Tiger? (F. R. Stockton, 1882)

  • A man sentenced for having romance with the king’s daughter must choose between the two doors, one with a hungry tiger and the other a beautiful lady whom he must marry. The story abruptly ends as the princess in dilemma points to him to choose the right door, leaving the readers to conclude themselves.

Lady Windermere’s Fan (O. Wilde, 1892)

  • Margaret Windermere questions Arthur Windermere’s fidelity as he insists upon inviting the disputable Mrs. Erlynne to her birthday ball. When frustrated with Mrs. Erlynne’s geniality with people she leaves Lord Windermere for Lord Darlington, Mrs. Erlynne, who intends to marry Lord Augustus, pleads her to return. Mrs. Erlynne conceals her maternity to Lady Windermere and leaves the town with her fan.

Le Misanthrope (Molière, 1666)

  • Alceste, whose rebellion against his culture’s polite social conventions causes him unpopularity, as seen in his refusal to compliment Oronte’s sonnet, demands his lover Célimène absolute truthfulness in all social relations. His friend Philinte represents moderation in all aspects, whereas Célimène’s cousin Eliante, who loves Alceste but probably will marry Philinte, reflects cognition of Alceste’s nobility as well. Other suitors, meanwhile, arrive to plague him. The prudish Arsinöé, in love with him, duels verbally with Célimène. The play ends as Alceste, rejected by Célimène, leaves to live by himself in the “desert” of the provinces.

Les Misérables (V. Hugo, 1862)

    • After nineteen years of imprisonment for stealing food for his starving family, the peasant Jean Valjean is released on parole but must carry a yellow ticket that marks him as a convict. Inspired by the benevolent Bishop Myriel, Valjean has become a wealthy factory owner after six years and is elected mayor of his town. Having broken his parole and assumed the false name of Père Madeleine to avoid capture by Inspector Javert, he meets the dying Fantine and her young daughter Cosette, whom he adopts from the innkeeper Thénardier, and they leave for Paris. While the angry students, led by Enjolras, prepare a revolution ten years later on the eve of the Paris uprising following the death of General Lamarque, the only French leader who fought for the working class, Marius Pontmercy falls in love with the beautiful Cosette. When the Thénardiers, who have moved to Paris, lead a gang of thieves to raid Valjean’s house, their daughter Èponine, who is in love with Marius, convinces the thieves to leave. The following day, Valjean saves Javert from being killed by the students and lets him go. Javert, unable to cope with the dilemma between his belief in law and Valjean’s mercy, commits suicide. Valjean saves the injured Marius, but everyone else, including Enjolras and Èponine, are killed. Escaping through the sewers, he returns Marius to Cosette, and they soon marry. Valjean finally reveals them his past and peacefully dies.

Little Women: or Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy (L. M. Alcott, 1868)

  • The novel focuses on the four sisters of the March family during the Civil War. The heroine Jo, who is early attracted to boyish activities and brimming with creativity, represents the independent and rebellious streak found in Alcott herself. She gradually softens and eventually marries Frederick Bhaer.

Lolita (V. Nabokov, 1955)

    • The scholar Humbert leaves Europe for U.S. and rents a room from Charlotte Haze after seeing her 12-year old daughter Dolores Haze (Lolita) sunbathing in the garden. When Charlotte, whom he marries to be near Lolita, finds his diary with written confessions of his impassioned lust for her daughter, she, in hurry to mail business letters before their escape, is hit and killed by a passing car. His sexual relationships with Lolita as he travels around U.S. end when the playwright Clare Quilty convinces her to run away with him. After his affair with the alcoholic Rita, he is contacted by the now 17-year old Lolita, who needs cash. After he tracks down Quilty and kills him, Humbert dies in prison of coronary thrombosis after telling his story to his lawyer.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (E. O’Neill, 1956, Ptz.)

    • The action covers a night at the seaside CT home of the Tyrones on August 1912: James Tyrone Sr., an Irish retired actor with his appreciation of money bordering stinginess; the younger and intellectual Edmund, who suffers from consumption (tuberculosis) and disillusionment after sailing the world as a deck hand; the elder James Jr. (Jamie), an unambitious but affable alcoholic; and the mother Mary Cavan Tyrone, a morphine addict. The family’s constant revisits to old fights and opening old wounds left in the past develop the notion that this day is not remarkable but mundane for the Tyrones, filled with bitterness, fighting, and an underlying love.

Madame Bovary (G. Flaubert, 1857)

    • Set in the provincial Tostes, the recently wedded Emma Bovary, whose desire for luxury and romance have derived from novels, is bored of the provincial life with her dull husband Charles Bovary, a country doctor. Charles decides to move to Yonville for change, and she gives birth to Berthe. There, Emma flirts with the young law student Léon, who shares her appreciation for “the finer things in life,” and the rich landowner Rodolphe Boulanger after Léon’s departure. After her encounter with Léon in Rouen, she carelessly conducts an affair, and repeatedly borrows money from Lheureux. When people begin to suspect her adultery, Emma consumes arsenic and slowly dies in agony. Charles, distraught after finding Rodolphe’s love letters, soon dies after, leaving their daughter an orphan.

The Magic Mountain (T. Mann, 1924)

    • Hans Castorp is diagnosed with tuberculosis and joins the sanatorium in Davos before WWI after visiting his cousin Joachim Ziemßen. Quickly adjusted to the bizarre flow of time and the sick atmosphere, he befriends the humanist Herr Settembrini and the absolutist Jewish Jesuit Naphta. While his love for the exotic Russian Clavdia Chauchat fails and she leaves, Naphta commits suicide due to Settembrini’s reluctance to engage. Joachim rejoins his regimen against the doctor’s advice and soon dies due to health. Clavdia returns with her lover, an inarticulate but vital Dutch plantation owner. The outbreak of WWI calls Hans into war, and his imminent death on the battlefield is suggested.

Main Street (S. Lewis, 1920)

    • The idealistic and impractical Carol Milford marries the doctor Will Kennicott of Gopher Prairie, MN, the town she continuously but futilely attempts to reform to the images of the town she grew up in, Mankato, MN. Her rebellion is joined by several others: Guy Pollock, a law practitioner whose ideals have diminished; Erik Valborg, a fashion designer who eventually plays a minor role in a bad Hollywood film; Fern Mullins, a dismissed high school teacher after accusation of impropriety; and Miles Bjornstam (Red Swede), a self-taught socialist and labor activist who leaves the town after the death of his wife and child.

Major Barbara (G. B. Shaw, 1905)

    • Lady Britomart decides the dismaying necessity of monetary aid from her estranged husband Andrew Undershaft for her son Stephen and daughters Sarah and Barbara, the major of the Salvation Army in West Ham, London, each engaged to Charles Lomax (Cholly) and the Greek scholar Adolphous Cusins (Dolly). After observing Barbara’s patience, firmness, and sincerity at the Army shelter, Undershaft decides she is fit for his munitions factory and disillusions her by exposing the Army’s darker side by offering donation, refused by her due to its source but eagerly accepted by her superior. Cusins’ hypocrisy is revealed as he readily accepts the head of the Undershaft Munitions Foundry, and Barbara continues to bring her message of salvation to the factory workers after their marriage.

The Man Without a Country (E. E. Hale, 1863)

    • The young U.S. Army lieutenant Philip Nolan is tried as an accomplice to Aaron Burr, and is to spend the rest of his life on Navy warships in exile after denouncing his nation. After a young officer tells him what has happened to U.S. since his sentence, Nolan, who has learned the true worth of his country from deprivation of homeland, dies contented.

The Metamorphosis (F. Kafka, 1915)

    • After his sudden transformation into a grotesque insect, Gregor Samsa, devoid of human contact and abandoned by his parents Herr and Frau and sister Grete, dies of loneliness.

The Mill on the Floss (G. Eliot, 1860)

    • Tom and Maggie Tulliver are siblings living in a mill beside the river Floss. The tomboy Maggie has romantic difficulties which lead to her disgrace. In the end, they are both drowned in the river during a storm.

Moby-Dick (H. Melville, 1851)

    • Ishmael narrates the conflict between Captain Ahab, the master of the whaler Pequod, and Moby Dick, a vicious white whale that tore off Ahab’s leg at the knee. Starbuck, Ahab’s first mate who objects to his quest, is unable to persuade others to turn back. When the whale is at last sighted and attacked, it rams the ship, killing everyone except Ishmael, who holds onto the coffin of his friend Queequeg.

Mourning Becomes Electra (E. O’Neill, 1931)

    • A trilogy of plays, the story fuses Aeschylus’ tragic Oresteia with the Civil War: Agamemnon is now Brigadier-General Ezra Mannon; Clytemnestra, his second wife Christine; Orestes, his son Orin; and Electra, his daughter Lavinia. When Mannon returns home to New England, the adulterous Christine induces heart failure on him. Lavinia persuades Orin to kill Christine, but he instead kills her lover Adam Brant, and she in misery shoots herself. Guilt about the deaths drives Orin insane and ruins both siblings’ lives.

Mrs. Dalloway (V. Woolf, 1925)

    • Clarissa Dalloway, a gracious hostess in her 50s whose husband is an uninspired politician, shares curious parallels with Septimus Warren Smith, a young ex-soldier suffering mental illness since his friend’s death in WWI. Taking place on June in London, they experience dizzying alterations in feeling: joy over the tiny leaves of spring, dread of onrushing time, terror over impending extinction, and guilt over the crime of being human. The novel ends with the announcement of his suicide at her party, from which she begins to understand her symbolic double, Septimus—his sensitivity, despair, and defiance.

My Ántonia (W. Cather, 1918)

    • Jim Burden, a successful NYC lawyer, tells of his friend Ántonia Shimerda, a girl whose family has emigrated from Bohemia to the prairies of NE in the late-19th century. Some years after Mr. Shimerda’s striking suicide, the Burdens move into town, and shortly thereafter Ántonia becomes the housekeeper of the neighboring house of Mr. Harling. Twenty years after his study at Harvard, Jim visits Ántonia, who has married the Bohemian Cuzak and happily raises their children. As he prepares to return, Jim walks along the outskirts of the town near his childhood home, reflecting in the moonlight on all that his past with Ántonia has meant to him.

Native Son (R. Wright, 1940)

    • The 20-year old Bigger Thomas, who runs from the police after accidentally killing a white woman, is caught and tried. The story tells inevitable fate of African-Americans as a result of racial inequality and social injustice.

Nicholas Nickleby (C. Dickens, 1838-39)

    • Mainly set in London, Nicholas Nickleby must support his mother and sister after his father’s death, and they are forced to throw themselves on the charity of miserly, scheming Nicholas’ uncle, Ralph Nickleby.

Of Mice and Men (J. Steinbeck, 1937)

    • Lennie is a large, strong man with the mind of a child, and George is a small man with wit who cares for him. After moving to Soledad, CA, they hope to escape the repetitive, wandering fate of the ranch workers by saving up enough money to buy their own farm. Though joined by the old, crippled swamper Candy and the black ranch-hand Crooks, their dreams begin to collapse, completely falling apart when Lennie accidentally kills the wife of Curley, the violent son of Boss. To spare Lennie from Curley’s revenge, George brings him to the river and quickly kills him with a luger.

The Old Man and the Sea (E. Hemingway, 1952, Ptz.)

    • Santiago has gone 84 days without catching a fish. Despite his parents’ ban, Santiago’s young apprentice Manolin continues to visit him each night. Santiago sets out alone the next day, and finds a giant marlin that he finally catches after three days. On the journey back, sharks are attracted to the trail of blood left by the marlin, and he manages to kill a total of seven sharks. Manolin later finds Santiago deep asleep on his bed, and when the old man wakes, they promise to fish together once again. Upon his return to sleep, Santiago dreams of lions on the African beach.

Oliver Twist (C. Dickens, 1837-39)

    • After escaping from the older, brutal apprentice Noah Claypole, Oliver Twist is taken by The Artful Dodger (Jack Dawkins), and befriends the criminal mastermind Fagin and his brutal ally Bill Sikes. In the end, Sikes is killed while being pursued by a mob after his murder of his lover Nancy, Fagin is arrested and hanged for his crimes, Rose Maylie, who has adopted Oliver before, marries her sweetheart, and Oliver lives happily with Mr. Brownlow.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (A. Solzhenitsyn, 1962)

    • The novel describes a single day of Ivan Denisovich Shukhov, sentenced to the concentration camp for 10 years after falsely accused of being a spy in WWII. The day begins with his waking up sick and late, for which he is forced to clean the guardhouse, an unfair but relatively minor punishment. It is late in the morning when he finally finishes his job, and he must work regardless as the doctor is unable to exempt any more workers. The rest of the day is filled with Shukhov’s squad, the 104th, their allegiance to the squad leader Tiurin, and the work that the prisoners do. He provides few services for Tsezar, an intellectual who does office work and shares food from his family with him. His friends include the Baptist Aloysha, who attempts to convert him to Christianity, the young and skillful Gopchik, for whom he has fatherly feelings, and Fetiukov, who has thrown away all of his dignity. Despite the harsh conditions, there exists a loyalty among the prisoners and happiness amidst the oppressive environment.

O Pioneers! (W. Cather, 1913)

    • The novel tells the story of the Bergsons, a Swedish family in Hanover, NE in the early-20th century. Alexandra Bergson, who develops a romantic relationship with Carl Lindstrom, devotes her life to making the inherited farm a viable enterprise at a time when others are giving up and leaving the prairie.

Our Town (T. Wilder, 1938, Ptz.)

    • After the Stage Manger’s guide through the fictional Grover’s Corners, NH, Julia Hersey Gibbs, Myrtle Webb, and Louella Soames discuss Simon Stimson, the church organist disputed for alcoholism. In three years, George Gibbs and Emily Webb announce their plan to wed. On their wedding day, Charles Webb tells him never to take advice from anyone about marriage. After the wedding, the Stage Manager introduces a graveyard atop a hill overlooking the town, where Sam Craig, Emily’s cousin, and the undertaker Joe Stoddard are passing through. Unbeknownst to the living, the dead observes them while seated on their “graves.” Among the dead are Mrs. Gibbs, Mrs. Soames, Simon, and Emily, who had died after childbirth. Despite Mrs. Gibbs’ advice, Emily decides to relive a day in her life—her twelfth birthday. She soon succumbs from joy to tears, unable to tell her mother of all the imminent misfortune. Simon, who had hung himself in the attic, reveals his soul’s bitterness, remarking that life was full of ignorant, uncaring people. As George approaches Emily’s grave and collapses in tears, she asks if any living person ever truly notices everything as they live. The Stage Manager responds no living person seems to truly appreciate every detail in their life. The play closes after his comments about the fragility of human life.

Pale Fire (V. Nabokov, 1962)

    • The novel is a satire on academic pretentiousness consisting of a 999-line poem by the famous American poet John Shade and a commentary by a demented New England scholar and Shade’s self-appointed editor, Charles Kinbote, who believes he is the exiled king Charles Xavier of the mythical country of Zembla.

Paradise Lost (J. Milton, 1667)

    • In 12 cantos, the epic poem tells the fall of Adam in a context of cosmic drama and profound speculations.

Peer Gynt (H. Ibsen, 1867)

    • The Norwegian Peer Gynt leaves Solveig, the daughter of the Dwarven mountain king, for his travels. During his journey, he meets Anitra, whom he tries to seduce, the Stranger Passenger (Lord Byron), who wants to use Peer’s corpse to find out where dreams have their seat, the Button-moulder, who maintains that Peer’s soul must be melted down with other faults unless he can explain when and where in life he has been “himself,” and the Lean One (Devil), who believes he cannot be accounted a real sinner for hell. Peer, in great despair, finally reaches Solveig who has been waiting for him since his departure, and at last finds redemption and contentment in her love.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (O. Wilde, 1891)

    • When Henry Watton tells youth is the only thing worth having, Dorian Gray wishes for eternal youth and beauty while his portrait ages instead. After the brilliant actress Sibyl Vane swallows prussic acid after his rejection, over the next eighteen years he indulges in the seven deadly sins, stabs the painter Basil Hallward to death, and sees Sibyl’s brother accidentally killed by a hunter, while his portrait disfigures. Lacking guilt and fearing the consequences of full confession, Dorian plunges the knife that killed Basil into the painting. The police later finds a bloated, ugly, and old man with a knife in his heart, and the portrait of Dorian as beautiful as he was eighteen years ago.

Pride and Prejudice (J. Austen, 1813)

  • The story searches suitable husbands for the Bennett daughters: Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine, and Lydia. The spirited Elizabeth is prejudiced against the wealthy landowner Fitzwilliam Darcy, scorning his lofty attitudes and pride. Both romantic and intelligence, they eventually give up their pride and prejudice to have a happy relationship.

The Prince and the Pauper (M. Twain, 1882)

    • The poor Tom Canty and the royal Edward VI switch their positions to experience each other’s life. After Henry VIII’s death, Tom is forced to remain in the palace, while Edward escapes the new, brutal life and befriends Miles Hendon, who believes the child is delirious but, nothing else to do, offers to help him return to the palace. Edward manages to exchanges places with Tom before the coronary celebration, and later rewards Tom and Miles.

Pygmalion (G. B. Shaw, 1913)

    • Henry Higgins, the professor of phonetics, wagers with the Cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle that he can pass her off as a duchess merely by teaching her how to speak with an upper-class accent. In the process, he becomes fond of her and attempts to direct her future, but she rejects his domineering ways and marries a young aristocrat.

A Raisin in the Sun (L. Hansberry, 1957)

    • Each of the Youngers has an idea of how to use Mr. Younger’s life insurance: the matriarch Lena (Mama), their own house; the son Walter Lee, an investment in a liquor store; his wife Ruth, while agreeing with Mama, provision for their son Travis; and his sister Beneatha, her medical school tuition. Rejecting the monetary offer to stay out of the white neighborhood, the Youngers decide to fulfill their dream, optimistic and determined to live a better life.

The Red Badge of Courage (S. Crane, 1895)

    • Through the death of Jim Conklin, Henry Fleming, who flees from his first battle in the Civil War and receives his wanted wound, treated by his friend Wilson, discovers the meaning of courage and the reality of battle.

“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (S. T. Coleridge, 1798)

    • The Mariner is forced to wear the albatross he has shot that had led the ship out of trouble around his neck. Death and Life-in-Death appear, each winning the lives of the crew members and of the Mariner. While all 200 crew members dies one by one, the Mariner lives on for seven days to see their deaths. His curse is lifted when he blesses the sea creatures, of which he had previously cursed them, and the albatross falls from his neck. The bodies of the crew, possessed by the good spirits, rise again and steer the ship back home, where it sinks in a whirlpool, leaving only the Mariner behind. He is forced to wander the earth and tell his story to those he meets.

The Rivals (R. Sheridan, 1775)

    • Set in Bath in the 18th century, Lydia Languish, driven by the romantic ideals of love from novels, finds the idea of eloping with the poor soldier Ensign Beverly, who in reality is the rich gentleman Captain Jack Absolute, romantic. His father Sir Anthony Absolute and Lydia’s aunt Mrs. Malaprop try to prevent their secret romance. While Lydia finds out Beverly’s identity and refuses to marry him, Jack’s friend Faulkland falls in love with Julia, Sir Anthony’s ward, but is rejected after testing her love. In the end, she forgives Faulkland, and Lydia admits her love for Jack.

The Scarlet Letter (N. Hawthorne, 1850)
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