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

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Literature Notes by I. J. L.

Aaron’s Rod (D. H. Lawrence, 1922)

  • The flautist Aaron Sissons journeys through Europe while exhausted by WWI. The flute representing the magic rod is ultimately destroyed in an anarchist explosion.

Absalom, Absalom! (W. Faulkner, 1936)

  • Quentin Compson and Rosa Coldfield non-chronologically narrate the rise and fall of Thomas Supten, a patriarch who, born into poverty in Virginia, forged a plantation out of the Mississippi wilderness.

The Aeneid (Virgil, 19 B.C.)

  • Leading his aged father and young son Ascanius, Aeneus assembles a fleet and sails the eastern Mediterranean Sea with the surviving Trojans to Thrace, Crete, Epirus, and Sicily before the shipwreck on the coast of Africa. Dido, the queen of Carthage, who falls in love with him, commits suicide after his departure. After landing at the Tiber River in Italy, Aeneas kills Turnus, the king of the Rutulians, in a war for the hand of Lavinia, the princess of Latium.

The African Queen (C. S. Forester, 1935)

  • Charlie Allnut, a roustabout who delivers supplies to various villages in his ramshackle boat the African Queen, meets Reverend Samuel Sayer and his proper sister Rose who run their village as if it were England. When the reverend is murdered by the Germans, Allnut and Rose concoct a plan to use the boat to attack the German war vessel.

The Alchemist (B. Jonson, 1610)

  • Subtle, Face, and Dol Common set up a fraudulent alchemical workshop to swindle gullible townspeople.

All Quiet on the Western Front (E. M. Remarque, 1929)

  • Paul Bäumer, a German soldier, arrives on the western front with his friends including Tjaden and Müller and meets Stanislaus Katczinsky, who as his mentor teaches him the realities of war. After receiving a period of leave from the army and returning home, Bäumer finds it difficult to understand the people at home ignorant of the war.

All the King’s Men (R. P. Warren, 1946, Ptz.)

  • Jack Burden narrates the life of an ambitious, unscrupulous, and populist politician Willie Stark. Through his study of the life of Cass Mastern, a 19th-century collateral ancestor and student of Transylvania College in Kentucky, Burden realizes every event has unforeseen and unpredictable implications and all actions and people are intertwined with each other. Stark’s Machiavellian nature eventually brings enemies and later causes his death.

An American Tragedy (T. Dreiser, 1925)

  • When the ambitious but naïve Clyde Griffiths, in an attempt to impress the materialistic Hortense Briggs, rides a stolen car and kills a child, he flees Kansas City and settles himself in the fictional Lycurgus, NY. Despite his vow of a sober relationship, he soon loves the poor and innocent farm-girl Roberta Alden and the elegant Sondra Finchley. Roberta becomes pregnant, and he takes her for a canoe ride in the Finger Lakes to rid her in an accidental manner. When she accidentally falls out of the boat and he lets her drown, the trail of circumstantial evidence points to murder. Following a sensational trial before an unsympathetic audience, Griffiths is found guilty and sentenced to death.

Anna Karenina (L. Tolstoy, 1875-77)

  • The work examines three marriages: that of the dry bureaucrat Alexei Alexandrovich Karenin and Anna Karenina, who has a passionate affair with a young army officer Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky; the stable and content marriage of Konstantin Dmitrievich Levin and Katerina Alexandrovna Shcherbatsky (Kitty); and the shaky but enduring marriage of Anna’s brother Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky (Stiva) and Kitty’s sister Darya Alexandrovna (Dolly). Excluded from a hypocritical society intolerant of her honest and candid expression of love for Vronsky, and torn by guilt over her adulterous affair and the forced abandonment of her son Seriozha, Anna takes her own life. Though beset by doubts about the meanings of his life and in anticipations of fatherhood, Levin at last develops faith in God.

Antigone (Sophocles, 442 B.C.)

  • Antigone bestows proper burial rites upon her battle-slain brother Polynices in defiance of the edict of Creon, the ruler of Thebes. The play concludes with the deaths of her own, Creon’s son Haemon, her lover, and wife Eurydice.

Arms and the Man (G. B. Shaw, 1898)

  • During the 1885 Serbo-Bulgarian War, the Swiss voluntary soldier Bluntschli bursts into the bedroom of Raina, a Bulgarian engaged to a war hero, and begs her to hide him. She thinks the man as a coward, especially when he tells her he carries chocolates, not rifle cartridges. Upon realizing the hollowness of her romantic idea and her fiancée’s values and the true nobility of the “chocolate-cream soldier,” she proclaims her love for Bluntschli.

Babbitt (S. Lewis, 1922)

  • George Babbitt, an unhappy middle-aged real estate salesman, lives a professionally successful life in the fictional Midwestern town of Zenith, whose chief virtue is conformity and religion is boosterism. When gradually disillusioned with his lifestyle, he futilely rebels against it and eventually returns to conformity.

Bartleby the Scrivener (H. Melville, 1853)

  • The unnamed narrator, a lawyer with offices on Wall Street, has three candidates: Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut. The first two are scriveners, and his business needs the third—Bartleby. Though at first competent, Bartleby later refuses to work and to leave when dismissed and is found to be living in the lawyer’s office. The lawyer moves offices to avoid any further confrontation, and Bartleby is taken away. He slowly starves in prison, and the lawyer suspects his previous career in the Dead Letter Office in Washington D.C. drove him to his bizarre behavior.

Beloved (T. Morrison, 1987, Ptz.)

  • When Sethe and her daughter Denver try to rebuild their lives after the end of slavery, a teenaged girl named Beloved shows up and is revealed as Sethe’s other daughter, whom she killed when two to save her from the life of slavery. Her return consumes Sethe to ignore her other children and her own needs, while Beloved becomes more demanding.

Beyond the Horizon (E. O’Neill, 1920, Ptz.)

  • Robert and Andrew Mayo have spent their lives on the family farm with opposite dispositions: the intellectual Robert dreams of a life beyond the horizon, whereas the pragmatic Andrew hopes to make the farm successful. When their uncle Dick Scott invites Robert for a journey, Ruth Atkins, whom both brothers love, professes her love for him, causing him to stay behind. Andrew, unable to bear the idea of living with the couple, takes Robert’s place on the trip.

Billy Budd, Sailor (H. Melville, 1891)

  • Billy Budd, a seaman aboard the HMS Bellipotent in 1797 suffused with innocence, openness, and natural charisma, somehow arouses antagonism of the ship’s Master-at-Arms John Claggart, who falsely accuses him of conspiracy to mutiny. Brought before Edward Fairfax Vere (Starry) to answer to the charges, Billy, unable to find the words to respond, involuntarily lashes out and kills Claggart with a single blow. Though convinced of his innocence before God, Vere follows the Mutiny Act and sentences him to death, arguing any weak appearance in officers and failure to enforce discipline could further aggravate the waters of mutiny throughout the British fleet.

Black Comedy (P. Shaffer, 1965)

  • Brindsley Miller has “borrowed” fancy furniture from his neighbor Harold Gorringe, who is gone for the weekend, to impress his fiancée Carol Melkett’s father Colonel Melkett. Things turn worse when, among others, the lights go out, Colonel Melkett arrives unimpressed by the blackout, his elderly lygophobic neighbor Miss Furnival becomes inebriated for the first time, and Harold returns early and Brindsley desperately tries to return the furniture in place.

Black Mischief (E. Waugh, 1932)

  • In the fictional African island of Azania, Seth, the grandson of Amurath and the Nestorian brigand who had united the local tribes into a nation, defeats his father in a civil war. When an Oxford graduate Basil Seal arrives in Azania, Seth employs him as the Minister of Modernization and tries to modernize his empire.

The Blithedale Romance (N. Hawthorne, 1952)

  • Told by the unreliable narrator Miles Coverdale, who is a professional poet given to voyeuristic acts, Blithedale is a utopian socialist community founded upon anti-capitalist ideas that is destroyed by the self-interested behavior of its members Hollingsworth, a philanthropic misogynist who intends to turn Blithedale into a colony for the reformation of criminals, and Zenobia, a strong-minded feminist who finds Hollingsworth’s misogyny irresistible.

Boris Godunov (A. Pushkin, 1825)

  • Boris Godunov becomes tsar after murdering the rightful young heir Dmitri. Though a humane ruler, the land falls into chaos and poverty. A young runaway monk Grigori claims to be the living Dmitri and marries Marina, a Polish noblewoman whose lust for power is disguised as passionate love. After the false Dmitri leads the Poles in an invasion of Russia, Boris, guilt-stricken and haunted by hallucinations, falls into madness and dies.

Brand (H. Ibsen, 1865)

  • Brand is a conservative, fundamentalist priest who insists rules and customs are strictly adhered to, and people should follow God with great fear. Believing in a “God of All or Nothing,” his inflexible attitude causes his demise. Upon his death, Brand screams out to God, “If you’re not the God of All or Nothing, then what are you?”. An unknown voice replies: “I am the God of Love.”

Brave New World (A. Huxley, 1932)

  • Set in London in A.F. (“After Ford”) 632, the story is of Bernard Marx, an Alpha who feels rejected from the society and loves Lenina Crowne, an attractive, promiscuous Alpha whose outlook on life has been conditioned by the government indoctrination. After John, the “savage” Bernard brings from a Savage Reservation in Malpais, is disillusioned of the “brave new world,” Bernard is exiled to the Falkland Islands and John commits suicide in grief.

Breakfast of Champions (K. Vonnegut, 1973)

  • Set in the fictional Midland City, it is the story of “two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.” Dwayne Hoover is an insane and aging Pontiac dealer who becomes obsessed with the literal accuracy of the writings of Kilgore Trout, a famous science fiction writer supported by his fan Eliot Rosewater. The novel’s name, originally from the Wheaties cereal slogan, is also what the waitress says each time she serves a martini.

Brideshead Revisited (E. Waugh, 1945)

  • After an unpleasant first encounter, Charles Ryder, an Oxford student, befriends Sebastian Flyte, a Christ Church undergraduate and the younger son of an aristocratic, Catholic family. Years after Sebastian introduces Charles to his family at the Brideshead Castle, Charles forms a relationship with Julia, who has separated. He plans to divorce his wife to marry Julia until she eventually returns to faith. After assigned to Brideshead during World War II, he realizes that builders’ efforts were not in vain, though their purposes may have temporarily appeared to be frustrated.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey (T. Wilder, 1927, Ptz.)

  • A disparate group of travelers in colonial Peru happens to be on a bridge when it collapses and kills them. The book explores the problem of evil, or the question of why unfortunate events occur to “innocent” or “underserving” people.

The Brothers Karamazov (F. Dostoevsky, 1880)

  • Fyodor Karamazov, the greedy and cynical old man who has been murdered, has three sons: Dmitry, the eldest who is passionate and emotional; Ivan, a detached intellectual; and Alexei (Aloysha), the youngest who is pious and loving. The faith of each man in justice of the world is challenged, but ultimately reborn. Dmitry is humiliated by the interrogation following his wrongful arrest for his father’s death; after a crucial dream in which he confronts the depth of human sufferings, he begins to admit his moral accountability for Fyodor’s death and to accept his responsibilities for others. Ivan makes powerful arguments for the injustice of God’s world, rejecting a god who permits innocent children to suffer and proposing a godless world in which people exchange their freedom for material security and comfort. Alyosha’s spiritual father, Zosima, argues that human beings must accept their share of the responsibility for evil in the world. All human actions are “interconnected,” and so “all are responsible for all.” Life’s justification is to be found in practicing “active love” by deliberately performing loving acts for others in daily lives.

Candide (Voltaire, 1759)

  • This sardonic, picaresque novel follows the naïve Candide from his first exposure to the precept that “all is for the best in this, the best of all possible worlds” to a series of adventures that dramatically disprove it even as he clings to it. The novel satirizes Gottfried Leibniz’s philosophy of Optimism through the tutor of Candide, Pangloss.

Cannery Row (J. Steinbeck, 1945)

  • Mainly focusing on the local grocer Lee Chong, a marine biologist Doc, and the leader of a group of bums Mack, the novel is about the small strip of industrial land in Monterey called Cannery Row during the Great Depression.

The Canterbury Tales (G. Chaucer, c. 1385)

  • Told in frame narrative by the pilgrims heading from the Tabard Inn to Canterbury Cathedral, the shrine of St. Thomas à Beckett in a storytelling contest by the Host, the work portrays their personalities, quarrels, and diverse opinions of others. The Wife of Bath, an outspoken champion of her gender against the traditional antifeminism of the church, initiates a series of tales about sex, marriage (her fifth husband), and nobility. The Pardoner gives a chilling demonstration of how his eloquence in the pulpit turns the hope of salvation into a vicious confidence game.

Captain Courageous (R. Kipling, 1896)

  • When Harvey Cheyne Jr., the arrogant and spoiled son of a railroad tycoon washed overboard from a transatlantic steamship and rescued by the fishermen on the Grand Banks, cannot persuade them to take him ashore or convince them of his wealth, the captain of We’re Heres, Disko Troop, offers him a job as a crew until return to port. With the help of his friend Dan Troop, Harvey adjusts to the rough new life and makes fine progress. After his arrival at the port, his parents find in amazement that he has become an industrious, serious, and considerate young man.

The Catcher in the Rye (J. D. Salinger, 1951)

  • Holden Caulfield, a sixteen-year old junior just expelled from Pencey Prep, runs away and wanders around his hometown New York City for two days. In Manhattan, He finds the hypocrisy and ugliness of the world unbearable, and through his cynicism tries to protect himself from the pain and disappointment of the adult world. Drawn by his affection for his ten-year old sister, Phoebe, he abandons his spree and returns home.

Catch-22 (J. Heller, 1961)

  • Yossarian is a 28-year old B-25 bombardier whose suspicion of others’ want to kill him becomes paranoiac when he discovers he can’t leave due to Air Force red tape, get discharged from duty because his superiors keep increasing the number of required missions, or get a section 8 by pretend insanity because his superiors see it as a sign of perfect sanity (Catch-22). He therefore boycotts flying missions by feigning illness or inventing excuses to return to the base. He is also haunted by the final moments of Snowden, who was hit by flak fire during a bombing run and tended by him.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (T. Williams, 1955, Ptz.)

  • The play is of a Southern family in crisis, the turbulent relationship of Maggie (Cat) and Brick Pollitt, and their interaction with Brick’s family during the weekend gathering at the family estate in MS, ostensibly to celebrate the birthday of “Big DaddyPollitt. Maggie, through wit and beauty, has escaped a childhood of poverty and married into the wealthy Pollitts, but finds herself in an unfulfilling marriage without child. Brick, the oldest son and an aging football hero, becomes indifferent and drinks since the recent suicide of his friend Skipper. Although Big Daddy has cancer and will not celebrate another birthday, his doctors and family have conspired to keep the information from him and his wife “Big Momma.” His relatives are only hoping to receive the share of his enormous wealth.

Cat’s Cradle (K. Vonnegut, 1963)

  • The narrator, while researching what important people were doing when Hiroshima was bombed, becomes involved with the children of Felix Hoenikker, the Nobel laureate physicist who has created ice-nine, an alternative structure of water solid at room temperature that, when contact with liquid water, “teaches” the molecules of liquid water to rearrange themselves into ice-nine. They eventually end up on the fictional Caribbean island of San Lorenzo, one of the poorest countries where people speak rudimentary English, ruled by the dictator “PapaMonzano. He bribes for a piece of ice nine to commit suicide as he suffers from an inoperable cancer. The ice-turned body is disposed into the sea, turning all the water in the world into ice and causing the extinction of all life forms in only few weeks.

The Cherry Orchard (A. Chekhov, 1904)

  • The story concerns an aristocratic Russian named Lyubóv Andréevna Ranévskaya (Lyúba) and her family as they return to the family estate with a large cherry orchard, just before it is to be auctioned for mortgage payment. While presented with options to save the estate, the family essentially does nothing and the play ends with the estate’s being sold and the family’s leaving to the sound of the cherry orchard being cut down.

The Cider House Rules (J. Irving, 1985)

  • Dr. Wilbur Larch, an orphanage director, trains the orphan Homer Wells in the realm of gynecology/abortions. After Homer leaves with Candy Kendall and her boyfriend Wally Worthington, Wally fights in WWII but his plane is shot down over Burma. Believing him to be dead, Homer and Candy have a boy named Angel. When Wally is found alive, they claim Homer had adopted the child, and Wally and Candy soon marry. When Rose Rose, Angel’s friend, becomes pregnant by her father, Homer performs an abortion on her. He decides to return to the orphanage after Dr. Larch’s death and works as the new director. Homer and Candy eventually tell Angel the truth.

The Color Purple (A. Walker, 1982, Ptz.)

  • Celie, a young woman sexually abused by her stepfather, marries a physically abusive widower with several children, Mr. –. Upon the sudden appearance of his mistress “Shug Avery, Celie feels threatened by this effervescent, liberated version of feminity—a form previously unknown to her. Despite the initial abuses by Shug, the two women bond, and Celie gradually learns the meaning of becoming an empowered woman in her own right through both sexual and financial emancipations and finds the strength to leave her tyrannical husband.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (M. Twain, 1889)

  • Hank Morgan, a 19th-century citizen of Hartford, CT, finds himself mysteriously transported to the early medieval England at the time of the legendary King Arthur in 528 A.D.. Hank uses his advanced technological knowledge and Yankee ingenuity to advance the extremely superstitious, brutal and ignorant old English society and secure high position for himself, but later falls victim to modern society’s own darker side.

Crime and Punishment (F. Dostoevsky, 1866)

  • Tormented from his murders of the miserly pawnbroker Alëna Ivánovna and her half-sister Lizavéta Ivánovna, the destitute Rodión Románovich Raskólnikov justifies himself as an “extraordinary” who has done the greatest good for the greatest number of people. He eventually confesses his crime, influenced by his loves for his sister Avdótya Románovna (Dúnya) and his friend Dmítri Prokófich Razumíkhin, the psychological probing of the detective Porfíry Petróvich, his repulsion at the pedophilic Arkády Ivánovich Svidrigáylov, and the selfless love and belief in God by a prostitute named Sónya Semënovna Marmeládov. Only in the end in Siberia does Raskolnikov realize that he has violated a human law as well as God’s and confess his love to Sonya.

Cry, the Beloved Country (A. Paton, 1948)

  • In the village of Ndotsheni, the black pastor Stephen Kumalo receives a letter from the priest Theophilus Msimagnu in Johannesburg asking him to come help his sister Gertrude. After convincing her to return to Ndotsheni with her young son, Kumalo searches for his lost son Absalom and meets his brother John, a carpenter involved in the politics of South Africa. He and Msimangu learn that Absalom has been in a Reformatory and impregnated a young woman and has been arrested for the murder of Arthur Jarvis, a white fighter for racial justice and son of Kumalo’s neighbor James Jarvis, who later decides to continue his son’s work. Absalom, sentenced to death, marries the girl before his father’s return to Ndotsheni. Kumalo returns with his daughter-in-law and nephew, and finds Gertrude gone. On the night of Absalom’s execution, Kumalo prays on a mountainside as dawn breaks over the valley.

Cyrano de Bergerac (E. Rostand, 1897)

  • The play concentrates on the love of Cyrano de Bergerac, a 17th-century French writer with an enormous nose as well as a rapier wit and master swordsmanship, for the beautiful Roxane, whom he is obliged to woo on behalf of the handsome, but less articulate, friend Christian de Neuvillette, with whom she is already in love.

Dandelion Wine (R. Bradbury, 1957)

  • In the fictional Green Town, IL, the 12-year old Douglas Spaulding enjoys the simple life of yesteryear. Dandelion wine symbolizes the packing of all the joys of summer into a single bottle.

Daniel Deronda (G. Eliot, 1876)
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